“Uzventis” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Užventis, Lithuania)

55° 47' / 22° 39'

Translation of the “Uzventis” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Dov Levin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1996


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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Lita: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Lithuania,
Editor: Prof. Dov Levin, Assistant Editor: Josef Rosin, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.


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(Pages 117-118)

Uzventis

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

In Yiddish, Uzhvent

A county town in the Siauliai district.

Year General
Population
Jews %
1833 279 .. ..
1897 927 330 35
1923 792 173 22
1940 900 100 11
1959 1,704 4 0.23

Uzventis is situated on the right bank of the Venta River, in the Samogitia region in northwest Lithuania, about 50 km southwest of the district city of Siauliai. The settlement in Uzventis (the meaning of the name is “beyond the Venta') is mentioned in historical sources that go back to the 15th century, when Uzventis belonged to the great duke of Lithuania. During the first half of the 18th century, Uzventis was granted royal privileges to be a town, the right to engage in commerce, the right to hold weekly market days and 3 annual fairs. During the period of Russian Rule (1795-1915) Uzventis was included in the Vilnius Guberina (region), and from 1843 it was part of the Kaunas Gubernia. At the end of 1918 and the beginning of 1919, the town was ruled by Lithuanian Bolsheviks who were affiliated with the Russian Rule until they were defeated by the forces that fought for Independent Lithuania. Between the two world wars, the offices of the county were located in Uzventis. During that period, the town had a number of stores, a sawmill, a flourmill, and small factories that produced alcohol and bricks.

The Jewish Settlement Till World War II

Apparently, Jews began settling in Uzventis during the 18th century. The majority of them made their living from petty trade, and a minority from crafts. As time went on, a well-organized community evolved in the town, which maintained the synagogue, Beth Midrash, Talmud Torah and the Rabbi's house. The town also had religious and social institutions which other towns had at that time. In 1831, when the Polish rebellion also spread to Lithuania, the representative of the rebels in Uzventis ordered to summon the leaders of the Jewish population and obligated them to aid the rebels in collecting information for them. In addition to that, the Jews would be the ones to blame in case the Russians attacked the rebels.

As the situation in the region stabilized, the economic conditions of the Jews in the town improved. The names of many Jews from Uzventis appear on the 1903 list of donors for “building Eretz-Yisrael”. The list was published in the “HaMelitz”. At about the same time, 6 Jews from Uzventis signed the composition “Beit Yedidia” by Shaul Yedidia Shokhet (Piotrkow, 1906).

After WWI, during the period of Independent Lithuania, the number of Jews in the town decreased significantly. Most of the Jews made their living from crafts and petty trade, but almost each family also had an auxiliary farm with a small garden and a cow, which provided some of the foodstuffs they needed.

According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census, Jews owned the following businesses in Uzventis: a leather workshop, a fabric store, a metal and working equipment store, a store for heating materials, a grocery store, a barbershop, a wood carder, and an ethanol factory. A local Jew (A. Tzvik) operated 2 passenger buses.

In 1937, the town had 8 Jewish artisans: 3 tailors, 2 shoemakers, a tinsmith, a butcher, and one other one. In 1939, there were 17 telephones in Uzventis; 6 of them were owned by Jews, of which 1 belonged to the owner of vehicles that transported passengers and freight.

In June, 1939, a big fire, which mostly hurt the Jewish population, broke out in Uzventis. It was suspected that anti-Semitic factors ignited the fire. The buildings that burned down were among others: the synagogue, the Beth Midrash, the Talmud Torah, the Rabbi's house, and 5 residential homes. About 30 families were badly hurt. A public appeal for aid signed by the local Rabbi, Rabbi Ya'akov Wolpe, was published among the Jews of Lithuania.

Uzventis had a Hebrew school and a Talmud Torah. Most of the younger generation belonged to the Zionist camp. The division of votes to the 18th and 19th Zionist Congresses in Uzventis is shown in the table below:

Congress
Nr.
Year Total
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
Revisionists General
Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrachi
Z”S Z”Z A B
18 1933 .. 33 20 8 - - - 5
19 1935 .. 21 16 - 3 - - 2

Among the Rabbis who served in Uzventis were: Rabbi Ya'akov-Mordekhai Dinezon (during the years 1880-1887); Rabbi Shelomo-Natan Kotler (until 1899); Rabbi Netanel-Josef Graz (until 1926); Rabbi Ya'akov Wolpe, mentioned above, was the community's last Rabbi.

Among the natives of Uzventis were: the painter and graphic artist Ruth Marcus-Shalit (born in 1896). While she lived in Berlin, she drew a series of 16 lithographs entitled “The Curved Mirror”, and later she drew the “Hebrew Tunes”. She also illustrated books by Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Heine, and those of many Jewish writers.

During World War II and Afterwards

Many economic and social changes occurred during the one-year Soviet Rule (1940-1941). Among other things, all Zionist activities were disbanded and the Hebrew school was shut down.

On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Immediately, many Jewish refugees from nearby places such as Kraziai and Kelme, arrived in Uzventis. Among them were a few Rabbis. At about the same time, a number of Jews tried to escape to the interior of the Soviet Union, but only a few managed to reach their destination. The first Germans arrived in Uzventis on June 24, but control of the town actually passed over into the hands of local Lithuanian nationalists whose leader was a lawyer. For 3 weeks, those Lithuanians beat, robbed and humiliated their Jewish neighbors and forced them to do various types of labor in the town. For a certain period of time, all the Jews were imprisoned in a cellar where alcohol was brewed, which was located in the nearby estate of Smilgiavicius.

On July 30, 1941 (6 Av, 5701), 91 of the Jews, most of whom were from Uzventis, were transferred together with 10 refugee Rabbis to the Pasilve Forest, 3 km southeast of Uzventis, where they were murdered by being shot to death. The remaining Jews were taken out of Uzventis and were transferred to Zagare. Their fate was the same as the fate of the other Jews who were taken there: all of them were murdered a day after Yom Kippur, 5702 (11.10.1941). For a number of months, 9 Jews were kept alive in Uzventis, but on December 8, 1941, they were also murdered. 20 Jews, who, as it were, had converted to Christianity in order to save their lives, were also murdered on that same day. Only a few of the Jews of Uzventis, including the sisters Rakhel and Miriam Davidov, survived; a local farmer in the surrounding area hid them for 2 and half months and later they managed to reach the Siauliai ghetto.

For a long time after the Jews were murdered, Lithuanian residents used to come to the mass grave and rummage through it for valuables and gold teeth that belonged to the murdered victims. This continued also after the war and also during the Soviet Rule. Thanks to efforts of the surviving members of the community, the victims' bones were transferred to Vilnius, where they were buried with dignity. A memorial was erected on the mass grave and on it an inscription in Hebrew:

This monument is a witness
And this memorial attests here to our lamentation
For the holy
From Uzventis
And two from Luoke
Who were murdered by the occupying enemy
Among them
Worldly just Rabbis
Ah, what a terrible price
Which God demanded
For these holy souls!
May their souls be bound in the bond of life.
The names of the Lithuanian murderers, and not to mention them in the same breath with the few righteous saviors, are kept in the Yad Vashem archives. After the war, a few Jews from Uzventis emigrated to Israel. In 1970 and 1979, there were 4 Jews in Uzventis. In 1989, there was only one Jew in the town.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M-1/E-1032/930; M-9/15(6); O-41/29.3.5; Koniukhovsky Collection 0-71, files 102, 105-106.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1788, 55/1701, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
“Lithuanian Jews in the 1831 Rebellion”, YIVO Blatter, 1947, p. 227.
Folksblat [The People's Newspaper] – (Kaunas), 7.6.1936.
Komunistu Zodis, 11.6.1988.

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