Suvainiškis (Suveinishok in Yiddish) is situated along the shore of the Nereta River, which marks the northern border of Lithuania with Latvia. It lies about 15 km. north of the county administrative center of Panemunis and about 30 km. northwest of the district administrative center of Rokiskis. The village and the estate that bore the same name are mentioned in historic sources from the eighteenth century. After the third division of the Polish Lithuanian Kingdom in 1795, Suveinishok, like almost all of Lithuania, became part of the Russian Empire. Suveinishok was first included in the Vilna province, and from 1843 in the Novo-Alexandrovsk (Zarasai) district of the Kovno province Gubernia). In 1856 there were 14 houses and 53 residents, but during the second half of the nineteenth century the town’s population multiplied.
According to the Russian census of 1897 there were then 855 residents, of whom 684 were Jews (80%). A new road connected Suveinishok with Riga, Latvia's capital, the main market town for its products. The merchants and peddlers of Suveinishok also made their living from the market in the Latvian town of Nereta, attended by many peasants from the region.
Suveinishok's market square was in the center of the town and four streets branched out from it. During the German occupation (1915-1918) the town was connected to nearby Skopishok by a narrow gauge railway.
|The Beth Midrash|
After the establishment of independent Lithuania in 1918, and the subsequent delineation of the border with Latvia, travel across the border to Riga and Nereta became more difficult.
The first Jews probably settled in Suveinishok at the end of the eighteenth century. Public life was concentrated around the Beth Midrash. The children studied in a Heder and there were several of this kind in town.
Most of the Jews made their living by trading in grains, timber, cattle and furs. During World War I Suveinishok Jews were exiled deep into Russia by the Russian army.
|The Jewish cemetery|
After the war, when independent Lithuania was established, exiles returned to find most of their houses had been ruined and their property stolen. With help from the Joint, economic life was partly rehabilitated.
Following the Law of Autonomies for Minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government, the Minister for Jewish Affairs, Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections for community committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In Suveinishok a five-member community committee was elected, which was active during 1922-1925 in all fields of Jewish life. At this time a Hebrew elementary school of the Tarbuth chain was established, with about forty pupils, and another fifteen boys studied in a Heder. Some youths continued their studies in the Lithuanian gymnasium in Rakishok (Rokiskis) or in the Yeshivah there.
In 1921 the town had a population of 250 Jews (60 families).
Because of traffic limitations to Riga and Nereta, the activities of Jewish merchants were restricted. Some subsisted on small trade with agricultural products and horses, others smuggled goods over the border. More prosperous Jews were the owners of the flourmill, the sawmill and cloth workshops.
|Celebration of the volunteer fire brigade of Suvainishok|
According to the government survey of 1931 in Suveinishok, there were two horse traders, one butcher's shop, one restaurant and three mixed goods shops owned by Jews. In 1937 there were eleven Jewish artisans: six butchers, three tailors, a glazier and a watchmaker. In 1939 only one Jew, a member of the Ginzburg family which owned the flourmill, possessed a telephone, out of a total of eight telephone subscribers in the town.
As a result of the decline in the opportunities to make a living, many Surveinishok Jews emigrated to America and South Africa or to Eretz-Yisrael.
The following table shows the involvement of Surveinishok's Jews in politics and how they voted for four Zionist congresses:
|Total Votes||Labor Party
In addition to the few educational and cultural institutions there was a Bikur Holim society and also a Gemiluth Hesed fund.
Rabbis who officiated in Suveinishok included Hayim-Yonah Itkin (1882-?) from 1905 in Suveinishok; Yehoshua haCohen Kaplan (1873-1941) in Suveinishok 1920-1926, murdered in Vidukle together with his community in 1941; Avraham-Mihal Viner, the last rabbi of Suveinishok, murdered by the Lithuanians in the summer of 1941.
After Lithuania was annexed to the USSR in 1940 and became a Soviet Republic, several Jewish owned shops and factories were nationalized and their owners dispossessed. Some of them integrated into the administrative and economic institutions of the new regime. The Hebrew school was closed and all Zionist activities were forbidden. At this time there were about fifty Jewish families.
The Germans entered Suveinishok in the first week of the war between Germany and the USSR which began on June 22, 1941. On August 15-16, 1941 all Suveinishok Jews were brought to the Velniaduobe Forest, 5 km. from Rokiskis, where they were murdered together with Jews from the surrounding towns.
|The mass grave and monument in the Velniaduobe Forest|
|The inscription on the tablet of this monument, in Lithuanian and Yiddish, reads as follows: On this site the Hitlerists and their local helpers murdered 3207 Jews, men, women and children, on 15-16.8.1941. Let their memory endure forever.|
Central Zionist Archives: 55/1788; 55/1701; 13/15/131; Z-4/2548.
Yahaduth Lita (Hebrew), Tel Aviv
YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Communities, files 1300-1309
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem, page 97
Yizkor Buch Rakishok (Yiddish), pages 362-365
Levin, Dov: Suveinishok, Pinkas haKehilot Lita, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1996
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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