Naishtot-Tavrig (in Yiddish) is situated in the Zemaitija region of Western Lithuania, near the Sustis River, about 2 kilometers from the border with East Prussia and 35 kilometers northwest of the district city of Tavrig (Taurage).
Until the First World War it was called Naishtot Sugint in Yiddish. Naishtot is mentioned in the official land registry in the year 1650, in 1750 the town being granted commercial privileges and in 1792 the right to self-government. After the third division of Poland in 1795, Naishtot became part of Russia, as did most of Lithuania, its name being changed to Aleksandrovsk having been annexed to the Vilna Gubernia (Province), and as from 1843 to the Kovno Gubernia. During the second half of the nineteenth century the town developed considerably, to the extent that there were 165 houses in 1860 with 1,600 people living there, the majority being Jews.
Its proximity to the German border and the existence of a customs office boosted its commerce. There were warehouses for merchandise, 30 shops and taverns, 3 flour-mills, 3 workshops for leather processing, a hospital, an elementary school, with two yearly fairs and two weekly markets being held in the town. By 1897 the population had increased to 2,445, including 1,438 Jews (59%).
When World War I broke out in 1914, most of Naishtot's houses were burned down, and being too near the front, its inhabitants evacuated to safer places. During the years 1914 - 1918 Naishtot was ruled by the German Army, and after the war, when independent Lithuania was established, the Germans returned the town to the new state. From the middle of the 1930s it was called Zemaiciu Naumiestis, the new town of the Zemaitija people.
The Jewish Community until the end of World War I
Jews settled in Naishtot at the beginning of the seventeenth century and made their living by trading, mainly grain and flax, with Memel, Koenigsberg and Hamburg. They also owned shops and a few families grew vegetables.
In due course the Jews built two synagogues - a Beth-Knesset and a Beth-Midrash. Among the Rabbis who served in Naishtot were Avraham ben Shelomoh-Zalman, (a brother of the Gaon of Vilna), the author of the book Ma'aloth Hatorah (Steps of the Torah) published in Koenigsberg, 1851 (5611); his son Eliyahu ben Avraham; his son Shelomoh-Zalman ben Eliyahu; Ya'akov Bendetman who died in 1861 and whose book Zikhron Ya'akov was published by his grandson in Vilna in 1875 (5635); Eliezer Yehoshua Shapira (from 1898).
Zionist ideas began to find roots in Naishtot in the 1880s. On the occasion of Mosheh Montefiore's 100th birthday in 1884, a special prayer Mi Shebeirah was offered in his honor by Torah readers, and contributions were given for the settlement of Eretz-Israel. The money raised was sent to the editorial board of the Hebrew newspaper HaMeilitz in St. Petersburg in order to be transferred to Eretz-Israel. There were, however, many opponents to Zionism in Naishtot.
During those years, hundreds of Naishtot's Jews emigrated to South Africa, England and America. Some Jews returned to Naishtot after having lived in South Africa for a few years, bringing a lot of money with them. In 1884 about 200 young men emigrated to South Africa, of whom 10 returned home to Naishtot, after becoming wealthy. In those years there were families in Naishtot whose only income was the money sent to them by their relatives from South Africa.
In Naishtot, like in most of the Jewish communities, mutual aid funds existed. When a pogrom took place in the city of Nizhni-Novgorod in Russia in July 1884 and Jews were murdered, money was raised for the kinsmen of the victims. The emigrants from Naishtot in South Africa also raised a considerable sum of money, which was sent to its destination via the Rabbi of Kovno, Yitshak Elhanan Spector.
During this period a Jewish physician (Dr. Paul Valk) and a Jewish pharmacist (Julian Vainstein) were active in Naishtot and both were very devoted to helping the sick and poor of the town.
The German Army occupied Naishtot at the beginning of the First World War, as mentioned before. They transferred Jewish youth from Poland to Naishtot, placing them in the synagogues which had been turned into labor camps, surrounded by a wire fence, its inhabitants occupied in various tasks of forced labor and as conditions were very bad, hunger and sickness prevailed. Naishtot's Jews helped the imprisoned far beyond their ability, in spite of the fact that it was strictly forbidden to maintain any contact with the prisoners.
During the Period of Independent Lithuania
At the beginning of the 1920s Naishtot elected a community committee of nine members, in accordance with the Autonomy Law for Jews. This committee acted via sub-committees in most spheres of Jewish life and existed until the end of 1925. The committee owned some agricultural land of a few hundred hectares outside the town, a part of which was sold to local Jews and another part was leased, this area being owned by the community until Lithuania became a Soviet Republic in 1940.
According to the first survey of the Lithuanian Government in 1923, there were 1,771 people, of them 664 Jews (37%), in the town.
The Jews made their living mainly from commerce, while some of them were craftsmen. The German border being near, the export of horses, geese, flax, eggs and other agricultural produce went by way of Naishtot, many Jewish families earning their livelihood from this trade, although the main exporters were local Germans.
According to the government survey of 1931, Naishtot had 33 shops, 22 (63%) of them owned by Jews according to the table below:
|The type of the business||Total||In Jewish Ownership|
|Butcher shops and meat trade||7||4|
|Restaurants and taverns||8||4|
|Textile products and furs||3||2|
|Leather and shoes||2||1|
|Haberdashery and cooking utensils||1||1|
|Drugs and cosmetics||1||1|
|Watches and jewelry||2||2|
According to the same survey the Jews in Naishtot owned a power station (S. Rabin), a wool combing workshop and a bakery. In 1937 there were 25 Jewish craftsmen: 6 tailors, 4 shoemakers, 4 butchers, 2 tinkers, 1 baker, 1 hatter, 1 carpenter, 1 barber, 1 watchmaker and 4 other tradesmen in the town.
|The Market Place|
The Folksbank, established in 1925 and claiming 102 members was accepted as a member of the Association of the Folksbanks in Lithuania in 1930 and contributed much to the economic life of the town. In 1939 there were 40 telephones, of which 10 belonged to Jews.
Jewish children were educated in the local Hebrew school established in 1920 and many of them continued their studies in the Hebrew High Schools and Yeshivoth of the state (Tavrig, Telsh, Kelm, Slobodka). There was also a Heder in Naishtot with very few pupils as well as a Jewish library with several hundred books in Hebrew and in Yiddish.
From time to time there were theatrical performances by local amateurs. The synagogue (shul) which was burned down in 1914, was rebuilt as a magnificent brick building thanks to the donation of 1,000 pounds from the former citizens of Naishtot, Sami Marx and the brothers Luis and Max Rothchild from South Africa. The initiative for this enterprise came from Rabbi Ya'akov Mosheh Lesin, who was also the last Rabbi of Naishtot (see plaque on the synagogue below).
This building still stands as can be seen in the photo above that was taken in 1996. In the shul prayers took place only during the summer, because it was too cold in the winter. In the other synagogue, the Beth-Midrash, where most middle class people prayed, all were acquainted with the Torah, they would study a page of the Talmud in the evenings. There was an additional house of prayer (Klois) for the craftsmen of Naishtot, which also served as their meeting place. In this Klois, in addition to praying, they would learn a chapter of Ein Ya'akov (a collection of tales in the Talmud). Some boys of Naishtot were organized in Tifereth-Bakhurim, an organization whose task it was to learn Torah and to be engaged in public and social activity.
Naishtot's welfare institutions consisted of Linath Hatsedek and Gemiluth Hasidim, helping those in need, as well as the Ezrah and Adath-Israel societies, who competed with each other with regard to managing the community's affairs.
Many of Naishtot's Jews supported the Zionist idea and there were supporters of all the Zionist parties. In the elections to the first Lithuanian Seim (Parliament), which took place in October 1922, 161 Jews voted for the Zionist list, 105 - for Akhduth (Religious) and 3 for the Democrats.
Below are the results of the elections to the Zionist congresses in Naishtot:
|Total Votes||Labor Party
|The Synagogue in Zemaiciu Naumiestis (Naishtot-Tavrig), Lithuania April 1996|
The Plaque on the Synagogue
Here until June 22, 1941 was synagogue which was led by the world famous Rabbi J. M. Lesinas (Rabbi Lesin in Yiddish)
(Photo and translation supplied by Gerrard Rudmin)
Family of Rabbi Lesin
(Photo courtesy of Dr. Ben Lesin - son of Rabbi Lesin)
On the whole, relations between the Jews and the Lithuanian majority were more or less correct. But in the middle of the 1930s a branch of the Lithuanian Merchants Association Verslas was established in Naishtot, whose task it was to expel the Jews from commerce. In March 1936 there was an attempt to stage a pogrom on Naishtot's Jews as a result of a blood libel, but the police crushed it before it began. In April 1939 two Lithuanians were caught trying to erase signs of Jewish shops.
On the third of May 1939, during a big market fair in Naishtot, violence broke out against the Jews, when windows of Jewish houses and of the Beth-Midrash as well as the schools were smashed. During those several hours when the crowds rampaged, the local police did not intervene, and only forces summoned from outside stopped the raging crowd.
During this Pogrom 1722 windows and much furniture in 62 Jewish houses were broken (A partial list of the Jews who were injured in this pogrom is given in Appendix 1). The estimate of the damage amounted to 8360 Lit (A worker earned 3-4 Lit per day).
The authorities intervened and 21 Lithuanians were punished in that same month: 18 were sent to a labor camp, the other three were fined. As a result of these and other events the number of the Jews in Naishtot decreased to 120 families, many Jews emigrating to South Africa and America, and the youth to Eretz-Yisrael.
Among the native sons of Naishtot there were Sami Marx, in due course a millionaire in South Africa, a senator and friend of the former President of South-Africa Paul Kruger; N.D. Hofman, a correspondent of HaMeilitz and later the pioneer of the Jewish press in South-Africa; Shemuel Talpiyoth, an educator in Montreal, who was a correspondent of the newspapers HaMeilitz, HaTzefira, HaTzofeh and HaZeman and published many articles in the Kanader Adler; Eliyahu Ragoler served as Rabbi in several communities in Lithuania, and also Shelomoh Zalman Abel, one of the founders of the famous Yeshivah of Telsh.
During World War II and Thereafter
With the annexation of Lithuania to the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940, most of the industrial plants and big shops were nationalized. The supply of goods was reduced, and consequently prices rose. The middle class, mostly Jewish, was badly hurt, its standard of living reduced and several Jewish families were exiled to Russia. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were dispersed and Hebrew educational and cultural institutions were closed.
On the June 22, 1941, at 5 o'clock in the morning, the German Army entered Naishtot As a result of shooting from the dwellings of the Soviet officers, 14 German soldiers were killed, and in response the Germans arrested many Jewish men and imprisoned them in the local Lutheran Church. Only after the Lithuanian priest assured the Germans that the Jews were innocent, were they allowed to return to their homes. In the first weeks of the occupation the Jews were employed in various types of work, such as sweeping streets, repairing roads, and many Jews worked in a big German field bakery. They had to wear a yellow patch on their clothes and were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks.
At the beginning of July all the Jews were ordered to leave their houses and to concentrate in a few houses in the Pigs street, a derelict quarter near the Sustis River, which was the Ghetto of Naishtot's Jews.
Sometime in June the Jews were forced, by means of threats and beatings, to remove all the holy books, the Torah Scrolls, the Aron Kodesh and even the benches from the synagogue, to take them to the yard and to burn them.
The Germans and the Lithuanians took five Jewish girls from the Ghetto, and what happened to them is not known. They were: Rivkah Lesin, Menuhah Volpert, Sheine Glat-Shor, Gisa Berelowitz, Hanah Shnaid and Rachel Lerman.
On Saturday, 24th of Tamuz 5701 (19.7.1941), all men 14 years old and above were ordered to assemble in the yard of the synagogue, where the old and the sick, about 70 people, were separated from them. Ten men were released in order to take care of the women and children in the Ghetto and the remaining 27 men were put on trucks, to be transferred in the direction of the German border. At their request, the S.S. men allowed them to take warm clothes from their homes. The same evening they arrived in Heidekrug, about 15 km from Naishtot, where they were imprisoned in a labor camp. On that day all the old and the sick from Naishtot and the neighboring town Vainutas were forced to dig a big hole, after which they were made to take off their clothes and were then murdered by Lithuanian policemen in the valley of Siaudvyciai. Trucks of Jews from Pajuris, Shvekshna, Verzhan (Veivirzenai), Riteve (Rietava), Khveidan (Kvedarna) and Laukuva were brought to this place and all were shot and buried there. More Jews from other towns were brought to the Heidekrug camp, where Naishtot's Jews found many acquaintances and even friends with the S.S. and the foremen, but these people distanced themselves and behaved badly to them. The Jews in the camp worked very hard, suffering from hunger and abuse, and the women in the Ghetto were taken to work with peasants in the vicinity. One day, probably the 4th of Tishrei (September 25, 1941), the ten men, all the women and children were taken to Siaudvyciai and murdered there. The Jewish men were kept in the Heidekrug camp for more then two years, during which time some were murdered by the Germans, but at the end of July 1943 those still alive were transferred to Auschwitz. On their arrival there (the first of Av 5703) a selection took place and 99 of them, among them some of Naishtot's Jews, were sent to the crematorium. In October 1943 thousands of men, among them the survivors of Naishtot, were transferred to Warsaw, where they worked to clear the debris of the ruined Ghetto. Their material and sanitary conditions were so bad that typhus broke out and many of them died. When the battle front approached Warsaw in the summer of 1944, some of the forced laborers were sent to a camp near Dachau, others were left in the same place and worked in explosive blasting. Only a few of Naishtot's Jews who were left in Warsaw, were eventually freed by the Red Army, the others, who had been sent to Bavaria, were freed by the American Army. Of those Naishtot Jews who had been forcibly sent to the Heidekrug labor camp, only seven survived. The Berelovitz family, one of the few Jewish families who managed to escape to Russia at the beginning of the war, returned to Naishtot at the end of hostilities. During the night between the 11th and the 12th of May 1946 their houses were blown up by Lithuanian nationalists and the mother of the family Nekha Berelovitz, her daughter Hanah Berelowitz, her brother Asher Joselevitz and Mordehai Berelovitz were killed. Shelomoh Berelovitz, who fought with the Red Army in freeing Lithuania from the Nazis, was badly injured. In his trial the murderer testified that he killed the Jews because he could not tolerate the fact that Jews were returning to Naishtot and settling there again.
The survivors and a few other natives of Naishtot who returned from Russia managed, after great efforts, to set up a tombstone on the mass graves on which they wrote: Here rest citizens of the Soviet Union who were murdered by the Nazis.
|The mass graves near the village Siaudvyciai, 3 kilometers east of Naishtot-Tavrig where the Jews of this town, the town of Vainutas and the vicinity were murdered and buried.|
Plaque for Naishtot-Tavrig in the Holocaust Cellar at Mount Zion in Jerusalem
The translation of the plaque is:
In eternal memory of the Naishtot-Tavrig Martyrs who were murdered by the Germans and the Lithuanians in 5701-1941.
Memorial day is on the 24th of Tamuz.
We will remember them forever.
Former citizens of the Naishtot Community in Israel and in the Diaspora.
In Martef Hashoah (The Holocaust Cellar) on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, the former citizens of Naishtot in Israel erected a memorial plate for their community.
Yad Vashem Archives, the Koniukhovsky Collection 0-71, files 4,16; M-1/E-1619
YIVO, Collection of the Lithuanian Jewish Communities, file 1532, pages 63819-815, 63797, 63804, 63808, 69607-610
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem, page 365
Our Town Naishtot, published by the Naishtot-Tavrig natives committee in Israel 5742-1982
Di Yiddishe Shtime (Kovno)- 13.1.1928, 28.3.1930, 3.3.1936, 4.3.1936, 5.5.1939, 8.5.1939, 12.5.1939, 16.5.1939
Dos Wort (Kovno) 5.5.1939
Volksblat (Kovno) 25.4.1939
Der Yiddisher Cooperator (Kovno) - Nr. 2-3, 10, 1930
Hameilitz (St, Peterburg) - 26.3.1883, 28.7.1884, 27.10.1884, 7.12.1884, 7.9.1886, 12.9.1886
A Partial List of the Jews of Naishtot-Tavrig Injured in the Pogrom of May 3, 1939
|Berelovitz Hayah-Riva||Kruger Bliuma|
|Berelovitz Faivel||Lapin Leib|
|Birk Mosheh||Levenberg David|
|Blumberg Hene||Leizerovitz Shemuel|
|Blumberg Motel||Levi Salomon|
|Blumberg Shelomoh||Levin Hirsh|
|Braude Berl (Beth Hamidrash)||Levinzon Aba|
|Davidzon Motel||Lipshitz Hayim|
|Disler G. Dr.||Joselevitz Leib|
|Dubinsky Efraim||Joselevitz Stere|
|Elert Avraham||Nosel Sholem|
|Falt Eliyahu||Rabin Salomon|
|Girshovitz Faivel||Rabinzon Meir|
|Glat Eliyahu||Shulman David|
|Grosman Grisha||Shvartz David|
|Kalner Avraham||Shur Yisrael|
|Katz Shelomoh||Zaks Avraham|
List of Naishtot-Tavrig Jews who fought with the Red Army during World War II
|1||Gold Izik||(Died in battle in 1943)|
|2||Lasky Leib||(Died in battle in 1943)|
|3||Kruger Izik||(Died in battle)|
|4||Shnaid Avraham||(in Israel)|
|5||Dubinsky Jeshayahu||(in Israel)|
|6||Leibovitz Jeshayahu||(in Israel)|
|7||Berelowitz Shelomoh||(in Israel)|
|9||Berelovitz Mordehai||(killed in Naishtot 1946)|
|10||Katz||(killed in Naishtot 1945)|
|11||Joselevitz Asher||(killed in Naishtot 1946)|
|12||Robinzon Benjamin||(in Israel)|
|13||Kaganovitz Yisrael||(in Kovno)|
|14||Kelner Dov||(in Israel)|
List of Naishtot-Tavrig Jews Living in Israel
|Abramovitz Elik||Levitan-Lapin Sarah|
|Adar- Lipshitz Hasiah||Levinzon Gedalyahu|
|Abramovitz Meir||Levinzon Shoshana|
|Aldema-Judelevitz Zehavah||Lifshitz Ya'akov|
|Alexander-Reznik Liuba||Lifshitz Shemuel|
|Akravi-Rabinovitz Jonah||Lifshitz Ze'ev|
|Avinokham-Judelevitz Tziporah||Lipnitzky- Rodner Matla|
|Elert David||Lokshen Tzirl|
|Elert Yisrael||Lubin-Khaitovitz Pola|
|Blumberg Aharon||Lubinsky-Kelner Slava|
|Berelowitz Shimon Aharon||Mendelson-Zakon Ida|
|Berlowitz Shelomoh||Miler-Judelevitz Nekhamah|
|Brukman-Davidzon Eta||Milner Mosheh|
|Bernshtein-Glukh Bela||Milshtein-Elert Nekhamah|
|Blumental-Abramovitz Hayah||Neuman-Reznik Batyah|
|Benjaminovitz Sarah & Yisrael||Nusovsky Nekha|
|Ben Har (Blumberg) Betsalel||Peltz-Segal Gita|
|Cohen David||Perlshtein- Gordon Dinah|
|Columbus-Markus Tsesna||Priman-Levinson Slava|
|Davidzon Sarah||Rabinovitz-Kruger Rachel|
|Dubinsky Jeshayahu||Rapoport-Kaplan Hana|
|Disler-Robinzon Tzirl||Rafaeli-Shlomovitz Bluma|
|Disler Shimon||Raikh-Gordon Fruma|
|Fayet Eliyahu||Reznik Ber Hirsh, Rabbi|
|Filmeister-Kelner Sarah||Reznik Hanah|
|Goldberg Jehoshua||Reznik Gita|
|Goldberg Malkah||Reznik Betsalel|
|Gershenovitz Batya & Mosheh||Robinzon Benjamin|
|Gros-Jankelevitz Miryam||Robinzon-Kaplan Shoshana|
|Glesner-Rodner Miryam||Robinzon Betsalel|
|Glas Dov||Rodner David|
|Galperin-Elert Leah||Rodner Akiva, Rabbi|
|Glik Azriel||Rodner Perl-Peninah|
|Guselevitz Menakhem||Rozman-Zakon Ela|
|Hirshfeld-Fayet Jonah||Shalom-Reznik Jafah|
|Hartuv-Rabinovitz Malkah||Shavshevitz Yitshak|
|Hofman David||Solomovitz-Zaks Bluma|
|Ilan- Shavshevitz Tovah||Shavit-Shavshevitz Rivkah|
|Judelevitz-Nekhames Gita||Shlapobersky-Fayet Eta|
|Jafe Gita||Shlapobersky-Shapiro Pesia|
|Kadesh Shoshana & Yehudah Zerakh||Shnaid Avraham|
|Kaplan Azriel||Shnaider-Berelowitz Jokheved|
|Kelner Dov||Shor Mosheh|
|Kruger Mosheh||Troib Asnath & Elkhanan|
|Kuperberg-Joselevitz Hana||Troib Zalman|
|Kurland-Berelovitz Gita||Troib Yosef|
|Lasky Refael||Veis-Grosman Sarah|
|Leibovitz Shaya||Volpert Yitshak|
|Lesin Ya'akov Mosheh, Rabbi||Zaltzman-Volpert Bilhah|
|Levitan-Givshon Fruma||Zaks Aryeh|
List of Naishtot-Tavrig Jews Living Outside Israel
|Beker Hasyah||South Africa|
|Beker Khiene||South Africa|
|Beker Leizer||South Africa|
|Beker Avraham||South Africa|
|Beker Betsalel||South Africa|
|Blumberg Frida||South Africa|
|Berend-Ziman Esther||South Africa|
|Bernshtein Ita||(of the family of Meir-Leib) U.S.A.|
|Bernshtein Ete||(of the family of Meir-Leib) U.S.A.|
|Bernshtein Sarah||(of the family of Meir-Leib) U.S.A.|
|Bernshtein Eidke||(of the family of Meir-Leib) U.S.A.|
|Bernshtein Yisrael||(of the family of Meir-Leib) U.S.A.|
|Elert (Eli) Heiny||South Africa, Johannesburg #|
|Fayet Aryeh-Leib||South Africa|
|Fayet-Berend Miryam||South Africa|
|Hofman Aryeh-Leib||South Africa|
|Jankelevitz Zelig||South Africa|
|Katsev Hanah Roise||U.S.A.|
|Lesin Meir-Yisrael, Rabi||U.S.A.|
|Mendes Motel||South Africa|
|Shnaid Tzipke||South Africa|
|Shnaid Mosheh||South Africa|
The above article is an excerpt from Preserving Our Litvak Heritage by Josef Rosin. The book contains this article along with many others, plus an extensive description of the Litvak Jewish community in Lithuania that provides an excellent context to understand the above article. Click here to see where to obtain the book.
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