Vabalninkas (Vabolnik in Yiddish) is situated in the north of Lithuania, about 24 km. south of the Birzai (Birzh) district administrative center. The settlement is mentioned in historical documents dating back to 1554. In 1619 Vabolnik received permission to conduct markets. Between 1709 and 1712 an epidemic ravaged the town, and three-fourths of its population succumbed to it. In 1775 Vabolnik was granted the Magdeburg rights for self-rule.
Until 1795 Vabolnik was included in the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom. According to the third division of Poland in the same year by the three superpowers of those times: Russia, Prussia and Austria. Lithuania was divided between Russia and Prussia. As with most of Lithuania, Vabolnik became part of the Russian empire, first under the auspices of the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 the Kovno Gubernia.
During World War I (1915-1918) the town was under the military rule of the Germans. During the years of independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Vabolnik was considered a county administrative center in the Birzh district.
Jewish settlement till after World War I
According to a document from 1667, the first Jew settled in Vabolnik around that time. With the passing years the number of Jews increased, but in 1717 they were expelled from the town. After several years Jews returned to live in Vabolnik. In 1738, there were fifteen Jewish families among its total of 160 residents.
In 1741 the Bishop of Vilna granted the Jews permission to build a synagogue. At that time all shops and stores were owned by Jews.
It is said that in 1818, Russian Czar Alexander I passed through Vabolnik with his entourage, and one of the carts broke down. A local Jew named Tsevi repaired the cart and later received a considerable sum of money for his work.
In 1858 there were 545 Jews (46%) living in Vabolnik, among a total population of 1,178.
The Hebrew newspaper Hamagid #17 of 1872 presented a list of 41 Vabolnik Jews who donated money for the benefit of the victims of the great famine in Persia (see Appendix 1).
In the 1880s the economic situation of Vabolnik Jews was difficult and many of them were very poor. In 1881 at Hanukah, a meeting was organized in town, and participants pledged to donate money every month as they were able. This money was to be spent on rye flour for bread that would be sold to the poor at half price.
In 1883 a huge fire rendered 200 families homeless. The synagogue and the four Batei Midrash burned down as well.
According to the all-Russian census of 1897, 2,333 residents lived in Vabolnik, of whom 1,828 were Jews (78%).
From 1901 a Linath HaTsedek society was actively involved in the lives of Vabolnik Jews; its task was to support the needy and the frail and to supply medicines free of charge.
As was usual in those times, some children studied at a Heder and others in a Russian public school. In 1886 five out of the seventy-two students were Jewish.
Jews of Vabolnik began to emigrate to Eretz-Yisrael before the Hibath Zion movement was established. At the old cemetery on Har HaZeitim (Mount of Olives) in Jerusalem at least five tombstones belong to Vabolnik Jews who died there in the second half of the nineteenth century.
The list of contributors to the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael dating back to 1900 contains many names of Vabolnik Jews. Another list from 1914 gives the names of twenty Vabolnik Jews.
During World War I, in July 1915, retreating Cossacks instigated a pogrom against Vabolnik Jews: they plundered property, raped women and left many families destitute. The Russian army exiled the Jews far into Russia, and the town with its four prayer houses and its Pinkasim and books was set on fire. Only the Sifrei Torah were saved, because the people who were forced into exile took the books with them.
During the German rule of 1915-1918 some Jews returned to Vabolnik, and managed to renovate the remaining Kloiz of the Shamashim which was more solidly built.
During Independent Lithuania (1918-1940)
With the establishment of independent Lithuania some Vabolnik Jews began to return home. The first census taken by the new Lithuanian government in 1923 confirmed that only one-fourth of the Jewish population who had lived in Vabolnik before World War I returned; i.e. 441 Jews, or 32% of its total 1,361 residents.
Following the Law of Autonomies for Minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government, the minister for Jewish Affairs, Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections to community committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In 1920 a Va'ad (community committee) with five members was elected in Vabolnik, and was active in all fields of Jewish life from April 1920 until the end of 1923.
|A street in Vabolnik|
In the autumn of 1920 recruits of the Lithuanian army began to riot in town; they smashed windows in Jewish homes and robbed Jews. Following a complaint by a community committee to the Ministry of Jewish Affairs, fourteen of the rioters were charged.
At that time Vabolnik Jews made their living in small trade, crafts, light industry and agriculture.
According to the 1931 government survey there were ten stores in Vabolnik, seven of them owned by Jewish persons. There were also small shops. A Jewish doctor was first mentioned by name in 1925.
The distribution according to type of business is given in the table below:
|Type of business||Total||Owned by Jews|
|Textile products and furs||3||2|
|Leather and shoes||1||1|
|Medicine and cosmetics||1||0|
|Radios, sewing machines||1||1|
|Iron products and tools||1||1|
According to the same survey, Jews owned eleven light industry factories: three flour mills, two bakeries, two wool-combing workshops, one spinning mill, one leather factory, one felt factory and a power plant.
In 1937, sixteen Jewish tradesmen worked in Vabolnik: three needle trade workers, two bakers, two shoemakers, two metal workers, two butchers, one glazier, one painter, one book-binder, one watchmaker and one tailor.
The Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank) played an important role in the economic life of the Vabolnik community and numbered 97 members in 1927. In 1939 there were twenty-two telephone subscribers in town, six of them Jewish.
Following the great fire, the Beth Midrash, with its solid structure, remained with only its walls intact, and was renovated in 1931. As previously mentioned, The Kloiz of the Shamashim was renovated during the German rule. The other two prayer houses, the Kloiz of the Grocers and the Kloiz of the Craftsmen, with its two buildings, were never rebuilt. Not all of the Sifrei Torah removed by the people who were exiled were returned.
Many Vabolnik Jews belonged to the Zionist movement and most of the Zionist parties had supporters, as seen by the results of voting in the Zionist congresses:
|Total Votes||Labor Party
Among the rabbis who served in Vabolnik were:
Mosheh Harif (?-1874)
Shalom-Elhanan Yofe (1858-?), born in Vabolnik, was the rabbi from 1889. Following his emigration to America he served as a rabbi in St. Louis and Brooklyn. He published many books on religious issues.
Yehudah-Leib Furer, served in Vabolnik from 1907
Zalman Rokhlin from 1934.
The most active Zionist youth organization was Gordonia with 40 to 50 members.
Among the personages born in Vabolnik were Shemuel Yatskan (1874-1936), journalist, editor and publisher, who published articles in the Hebrew newspapers HaMelitz and HaTsefirah; he also founded the Yiddish Haint (Today) newspaper in Warsaw and later the Pariser Haint. Benyamin Kremer (1887-1942), educator and writer, was a literature teacher in the Krinsky gymnasium of Warsaw and published articles in the Hebrew and Yiddish press; Pinhas Shukyan (1856-?), Hovev Zion and a Zionist activist, who published articles in HaMelitz.
During World War II and later
In the summer of 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, the Vabolnik factories and shops, mostly owned by Jews, were nationalized. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded. Supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore the brunt and the standard of living dropped gradually.
On June 27, 1941, five days after the German invasion into the Russia, the German army entered Vabolnik. The local Lithuanian nationalists immediately detained every person with ties to the Soviet rule. Among them were many Jews who did not have anything to do with the Soviets. All the detainees were transferred to Kupishok (Kupiskis) and murdered. The Lithuanian nationalists walked the streets armed, looting Jewish homes. 86 Jews were murdered in the market place.
About three weeks after the war broke out, the Jews were ordered to leave their homes, bringing the most necessary possession, and settle in a small alleyway where poor Lithuanians lived. The Lithuanian residents who lived in this alley moved to the empty Jewish homes. The alley, which became the so-called ghetto, was not fenced, but a few armed Lithuanians guarded it. The Jews were ordered to prepare a detailed list of all the residents of the ghetto under the pretext that the names were needed to prepare a correct supply of food for ghetto residents. In fact, they needed the list to prevent escape of the Jewish people from the ghetto. The list named 600 persons including a number of refugees from other places. Every day the Jews would be ordered to perform different jobs, such as sweeping the streets or washing the floors in town offices. They would buy food at peasants' farms or in exchange for clothes.
On August 18, 1941 the Jews were ordered to gather at the Beth Midrash and the Shulhoif and bring along food for three days. There, they were ordered to deliver their money and valuables. Many preferred to throw out the money in the washrooms instead of handing it over to the murderers. After a short time they were transferred by trucks to Posvol (Pasvalys). The transfer continued the next day as well.
Approximately forty Jews detained in the local school escaped, thanks to the efforts of teachers Sheine and Hayim Gertner who managed to convince one of the Lithuanian guards, also a teacher, to release the prisoners. Only three of them survived.
A local priest came to the ghetto and offered to convert the Jews to Christianity so that they could be rescued from imminent death. After a difficult inner struggle and referring to Rambam and other Geonim, seventy agreed to convert. It is not clear if they managed to become baptized. For some time these converts were kept apart from the other Jews, but their fate was the same as that of the other Jews in Posvol.
Jews from Posvol, Vabolnik, Salat and Jonishkel were kept alive until August 26, 1941 (3rd of Elul 5701). On the morning of that day all Jews were ordered on big trucks and taken to the Zadeikiai forest, about 4.5 km. from Posvol. There all were shot and buried in prepared pits. On that day 1,349 Jewish men, women and children were buried in these pits.
After the war survivors of Posvol and other towns built a monument at the site of the mass grave. In the 1990s another monument was erected with inscriptions in Yiddish and Lithuanian.
A local Lithuanian photographer, J.Daubaras, saved 134 photo negatives of Vabolnik Jews. A number of these were presented in an exhibition in Vabolnik in October 1990 organized by the State Jewish Museum of Vilna.
[Erected during the Soviet rule. Inscription only in Lithuanian. Indicated with white arrows are Hayim and Sheine Gertner]
|The monument with the inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: In this place on 28.8.1941 the Hitlerist murderers and their local helpers murdered 1,349 Jews - men, women, children.|
Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, O-33/1125; O-3/3680; M-45/1
Koniukhovsky Collection 0-71, files 70, 71
YIVO, New York, Lithuanian Jewish Communities Collection, files 162-177, 1513; pages 8544-9008, 69422/23
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem (Hebrew), page 49
Kamzon J.D., Yahaduth Lita (Hebrew), Tel Aviv page 95
Shakhar-Gertner, Sheine; How did they fight with the Satan (Hebrew), Tel Aviv 1985
Yiddisher Lebn (Jewish Life), (Yiddish), Kovno 11.7.1934
Di Yiddishe Shtime (The Jewish Voice) (Yiddish), Kovno 27.9.1928
Der Yiddisher Cooperator (Yiddish), Kovno # 3-1928
HaMelitz, St.Petersburg (Hebrew), 4.1.1881; 22.2.1881; 20.4.1901
Birzieciu Zodis (The word of the Birzher) (Lithuanian), Birzh 30.10.1990
Shakhar-Gertner, Sheina: The Trees Stood Still: Holocaust Survivors Publishing Co., Framingham, Mass., 1984
Naujienos Chicago (Lithuanian), 11.6.1949
List of 41 Vabolnik Jewish donors for the victims of the great Persian famine as published in Hamagid # 17, 1972
JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania> HaMagid by Jeffrey Maynard
|KADISHEWITZ||Leib||from Viesintos (Wishinte)|
|WALK||Eliezer Lipman||from (Primose)|
|Eli ben Tz|
|Pinchas ben Sh|
|Pinchas Zelig ben A|
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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