Pikeln (in Yiddish) is situated in the northwestern part of Lithuania, in the Zemaitija region, 1 km. from the Latvian border. Pikeln was named after the nearby Pikelhof estate. Beside the town the Lusis River flows, and forested hills encircle it.
In the second half of the seventeenth century Pikeln became a town. In 1769 it received permission to maintain one weekly market and four yearly fairs. In particular the town developed at the second half of the nineteenth century. There were then in town about thirty shops, four workshops for processing leather, two liquor factories, and other workshops. Until World War I the town was an important center of trade with agricultural products. During the Russian rule (1795-1915) Pikeln was included in the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia and Telzh district. During Lithuanian rule it was included in the Mazheik administrative center.
The first Jews probably settled in Pikeln at the end of the eighteenth century. Over time, two prayer houses and other community institutions were erected. A yeshiva operated in the town, directed by Rabbi Ze'ev-Volf Avrekh and later by Rabbi Hayim Nathanzon. Over the next hundred years, the number of Jews in town increased to more than a thousand and became two thirds of the total population. According to the all-Russian census of 1897, 1,758 residents lived in Pikeln, including 1,206 Jews (68%).
In the decades before World War I the number of the Jews in Pikeln decreased as a result of a strengthened emigration abroad, so that by 1914 only about 150 families remained in town.
In a list of donors for the victims of the great Persian famine in 1871-72 the names of 130 Pikeln Jews are given, as published in the Hebrew newspaper HaMagid (see Appendix 1).
The Zionist movement became popular in these years, and in the regional conference of the Lithuanian Zionists that took place in 1900 in Vilna, a delegate from Pikeln, Z. Zaks, participated. Twelve Pikeln Jews donated money in 1898 for the Settlement of Eretz Yisrael as published in the Hebrew newspaper HaMelitz (see Appendix 2).
Among the rabbis who officiated in Pikeln were Mosheh-Shimon Vizitz; Benyamin Rabinovitz (1812-1870) 1832-1842; Avraham Harif (?-1877); Ya'akov Vilentchik (?-1888).
Personages born in Pikeln included writer and translator Dr. Aba-Yits'hak Krim (1893-?), who lived in America from 1906; the brothers Robert and Albert Shif, known philanthropists from New York; Rabbi Marcus Shif from Cincinnati; Rabbi Eliyahu-David Rabinovitz-Teomim (1842-1905), in 1901 emigrated to Eretz Yisrael and was elected as the rabbi of Jerusalem. He published many books on Judaism. The chief rabbi of Eretz Yisrael Avraham-Yits'hak Kook was his son in law.
At the beginning of World War I, by order of the Russian army, the Pikeln Jews were exiled deep into Russia. During the years 1915-1918 the town was under the German military rule.
The marking of the border between Lithuania and Latvia cut Pikeln Jewish traders off from the markets of Latvia and seriously reduced their livelihood. As a result they dealt now with small trade, peddling and crafts. Most of them maintained auxiliary farms next to their houses.
According to the government survey of 1931, three Jewish businesses operated in town: one grocery, one textile shop and one pharmacy. There were also two big flour merchants and two horse merchants in Pikeln. The Jews owned a bakery, a leather processing factory, a workshop for producing soap, two flour mills, one sawmill and two taverns.
In 1937 Pikeln had seven Jewish artisans: two bakers, two butchers, one glazier, one tailor and one shoemaker.
The Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank), directed by Mosheh Nathanzon, played an important role in the economic life of Pikeln Jews. In 1927 it had 97 members. Other public institutions in Pikeln were Bikur Holim, Gemiluth Hesed fund, a library and a Heder where just seven boys studied before World War II.
|The Leibovitz family with two German soldiers (1916)
First line from left: soldier, small boy, Hanah, Sonya
Second line: Hirsh, Ya'akov, soldier
(Courtesy of Naomi Musiker, from the Jewish Board of Deputies archive in Johannesburg, scanned by Barry Mann and Maurice Skikne)
During this period the rabbis who officiated in Pikeln were:
Josef Ben Zion Fridman (1858-1920)Despite the falling Jewish population in Pikeln, the public and political activities continued. By 1940 about twenty Jewish families lived in town.
Hayim Zalman Kron who in 1925 was the counselor for Jewish affairs in the Lithuanian Ministry of the Interior
Yisrael Farber, the last rabbi, murdered by the Lithuanians in 1941.
The table below shows how Pikeln Zionists voted for five Zionist congresses:
|Total Votes||Labor Party
In 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. During the year of Soviet rule (1940-1941), Zionist activity was disbanded, as in all Lithuania, and there were great changes in their economic circumstances.
After the German army invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June, 1941 and Soviet rule ceased in Pikeln, Lithuanian nationalists took control of the town. During July 1941, Pikeln Jews suffered greatly from the abuse and oppression by their Lithuanian neighbors. On 5 August they were transferred to the Latz barns near Mazheik (Mazeikiai). The men were put to work digging pits, while the women and children were imprisoned in the barns together with the women from Mazheik and the surroundings, and kept there for four days under terrible conditions.
On August 9, 1941 (Shabbat, 16th of Av, 5701) all were taken to the same pits where a few days earlier the men were murdered, and there they too were killed in the most vile and cruel manner. Women were forced to undress. The children were thrown into a long ditch and many of them were buried under heaps of soil and lime while still alive. In the same place, together with the Mazheik Jews, Jews from the nearby towns of Akmyan (Akmene), Vekshne (Vieksniai), Zhidik (Zidikai), Tirkshle (Tirksliai), Pikeln (Pikeliai), Klikol (Klykouliai) and Siad (Seda) perished.
Yahaduth Lita (Hebrew), Vol.1-4, Tel Aviv
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, Files Z-4/2548, 13/15/131, 55/1788, 55/1701
JIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Jewish Communities, Files 869-875
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem (Hebrew), page 155
Hamelitz (Hebrew), St.Petersburg, No. 120 (1893), No 29 (1894)
|The mass murder site near the Jewish cemetery|
|The monument at the entrance of the murder site with the inscription
in Yiddish and Lithuanian: At this site Hitler's murderers and
their local helpers executed about 4000 Jews and people of other nationalities.
List of 130 Pikeln Jewish donors for the victims of the great Persian famine in
1871/72 as published in HaMagid #16, 1872
(from JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania> HaMagid by Jeffrey Maynard)
|HODES||Aharon||father of Meir & daughter Sheina|
|KATZ||Yehuda ben Moshe|
|NEIAWADIL||Boruch Netanel||s-i-l of the rabbi|
|OHRMAKER||Dov||nephew of Falk ben Moshe Yom Tov|
|PARNFELD||Leizer ben Tzvi|
|PARNFELD||Tzvi||father of Leizer|
|REIN||Yechezkel ben Michel|
|SEGAL||Moshe||brother of Shmuel Raphel|
|SEGAL||Shmuel Raphel||brother of Moshe|
|SEGAL||Tzvi ben Chaim|
|Abba ben Yitzchok|
|Avraham||Rabbi Gaon ABD|
|Avraham ben Aharon|
|Avraham ben Kadosh|
|Binyomin ben Eliahu|
|Chaim ben Noson|
|Chaim ben Yoel|
|Ches ben Aharon|
|Dov ben Eliahu|
|Dov ben Menachem|
|Dovid ben Yisroel|
|Eizik ben Shmuel|
|Eliahu ben Yehuda|
|Falk ben Moshe Yom Tov||uncle of Dov Ohrmaker|
|Leib ben Shlomo|
|Meir ben Nachum|
|Mordechai||s-i-l of Zev|
|Mordechai ben Yehuda|
|Moshe ben Yakov|
|Moshe ben Yehuda|
|Moshe ben Yitzchok|
|Nachum ben Aharon|
|Shalom ben Noson|
|Shaul ben Yehuda|
|Sheima son of the Rabbi|
|Shlomo ben Yitzchok|
|Shmaya ben Shraga||boy|
|Tzvi ben Elchanan|
|Tzvi ben Mordechai|
|Tzvi Dov||from Deselen|
|Yakov ben Nachum|
|Yakov ben Shmuel|
|Yakov ben Yechezkel|
|Yakov ben Yechezkel|
|Yekutiel ben Yitzchok|
|Yitzchok ben Abba|
|Yitzchok ben Binyomin||boy|
|Yitzchok ben Mordechai|
|Yosef ben Eliahu|
|Yosef ben Shraga|
|Zalkind||grandfather of Eidil son of his daughter|
|Zev ben Moshe||boy|
List of Pikeln donors for the Settlement of Eretz Yisrael as published in
(from JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania>Hamelitz by Jeffrey Maynard)
|Surname||Given Name||Comments||Town||Source: Hamelitz||Year|
|HARS||Fani fiancee of Avraham Segal of Shavel||Pikeliai||#201||1900|
|KWEIT||Dovid son of Rabbi Gaon Sh. Helman Kweit||Pikeliai||# 120||1893|
|ZAKS||N||husband of Devorah Sergei of Krotingen||Pikeliai||#156||1895|
|ZAKSH||Selig||at Chan Purim dinner in Vilna||Pikeliai||#77||1901|
|ZAKSH||Z||on occasion of Weisbord-Glemba wedding||Pikeliai||#185||1895|
The above article is an excerpt from Protecting 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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