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Translation of the Erzvilkas chapter
from Pinkas Hakehillot Lita
Translation of the Erzvilkas chapter
Written by Josef Rosin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 1996
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 1996
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
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.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
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(Pages 157 - 158)
Translated by Shaul Yannai
(Yiddish, Erzhvilik; also Erzhvilki)
A county town in the Taurage district.
Erzvilkas is located in western Lithuania, on the right bank of the Saltuona River, 32 km to the east of Taurage, the district's city. The town is mentioned in documents from the beginning of the 18th century. In 1706, a church was built in the town. Starting in 1745, the town served as the center of the sub district. During the period of Russian Rule (1795-1915), Erzvilkas was first included in the Vilnius Gubernia (region) and later as part of the Kaunas Gubernia. During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Erzvilkas was the center of a sub district.
The Jewish Settlements Till After World War I
Apparently, Jews settled in Erzvilkas at the beginning of the 19th century. They engaged primarily in petty trade. About 100 Jewish families lived in the town on the eve of WWI. The number of Jews in Erzvilkas decreased gradually during the period of Independent Lithuania and prior to WWII the town had only 45 Jewish families. Many of the town's Jews emigrated abroad. In accordance with the declaration of autonomy for the Jews that was legislated by the Lithuanian government, a ruling committee of 7 members was elected in Erzvilkas: 4 from the General Zionists and 3 were nonpartisans. The committee was active for a number of years in most areas of Jewish life in the town. In 1921, in the elections for the sub district committee, 22 members were elected and 2 of them were Jews.
During the period under discussion, most of the town's Jews engaged in petty trade and some of them in labor. Almost all of them had a piece of land, horses and cattle, and they managed their lives in the village like their Lithuanians neighbors, with whom they generally had good relations. Quite a few Jewish families received support from their relatives abroad. Generally speaking, the economic conditions of the town's Jews were good. According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census, the town had 5 stores, 4 of them were owned by Jews: one inn and 3 general goods stores. In 1937, Erzvilkas had 6 Jewish artisans: a glazier, a carpenter, a tailor, a barber, a butcher and a watchmaker. In 1939, the town had 23 telephones, 4 of them were owned by Jews.
The town's Jewish children studied in the town's Hebrew school. The town also had a library with books in Hebrew and Yiddish.
Religious life concentrated around the Bet Midrash. Among the Rabbis who served in Erzvilkas were: Rabbi Ze'ev-Wolf Lerman (from 1890); Natan-Netz Doglianski; Rabbi Ze'ev Rapeiko (from 1933), who perished in the Holocaust together with his congregation.
The Jews of Erzvilkas were involved in Zionist activities even during the period of Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion). Tzvi Shapira, who was born in the town and who later became a professor of mathematics at Heidelberg University, was one of the leaders of Hovevei Zion and one of the founders of Keren Kayemet LeYisrael. Zionist activities continued in the town during the period of Independent Lithuania, and the town's Jews supported all Zionist parties. The results of the votes to the 18th and 19th Zionist Congresses in Erzvilkas are shown in the table below:
Branches of HeKhalutz and HeKhalutz HaTzair were active in the town from 1932. Among other things, they were also active in fundraising for the national funds.
Erzvilkas is the birthplace of Rabbi Shimon Glazer (1877-1939), who translated Maimonides' Mishneh Torah into English (New York, 1926), and published in English the book History of the Jews (6 volumes, New York, 1930).
During World War II and Afterwards
In 1940 Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union, becoming a Soviet Republic. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded. The Hebrew educational institutions were shut down. The petty merchants, who made their living mostly from their ancillary farms, were not harmed economically under the new regime.
On the first day of the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941, the German army entered Erzvilkas on that very evening. Many of the town's Jews, who tried to escape to the villages in the surrounding areas, were forced to return to their homes a few days later because the Germans were already in that area and the farmers, with whom the Jews were acquainted before the invasion, were no longer willing to help them. When they returned to the town, they discovered that their Lithuanian neighbors had emptied their homes of their belongings. The better houses were taken by the Germans. Lithuanian police made lists of those who returned to the town and gathered all of them in the Bet Midrash. Two days later, they were ordered to settle themselves in seven houses in the Public Bath street. They had to report every morning at the market square and do work which included washing toilets with their bare hands, burying dead soldiers from the Red Army, washing the floors where Germans and Lithuanians resided, and so on. They were guarded by the Lithuanian auxiliary police who beat and tortured them. Those very same Lithuanians also guarded the 7 houses in the ghetto, which was fenced by barbed wire. The Lithuanian guards used to threaten the Jews, and took from them money, valuables, boots, and other things. On August 21, 4 young Jews who were active during the period of Soviet Rule, were shot to death together with 4 Lithuanian communists. On August 28, some Lithuanians brought several Jewish men who had farms in the villages in the surrounding areas and locked them up in the Bet Midrash together with 31 other local Jewish men. They were tortured at night and were forced to do physical exercises. The Lithuanians also took from them everything that was in their pockets and stole their clothes and boots. On the following morning, the Lithuanians led them half naked to a ditch across the municipality where coarse sand was extracted, and where 42 Lithuanian policemen were already waiting for them, ready to shoot them. The shooting was postponed for a few weeks because the German commander of the town arrived at the scene. The Lithuanians spread a rumor that the Jews will be transferred to the Batakiai camp, about 18 km from Erzvilkas. They also encouraged them to take with them as many things as possible. On September 15, 1941 (23 Elul, 5071), all the Jews of Erzvilkas were loaded on wagons, which were taken from farmers in the surrounding areas, and were transported to the police headquarters, where all Jewish adults were made to handover all their money and all the valuables that they still possessed. Their bundles were also searched. Then, the Jews were taken to the Batakiai camp where trucks waited for them and which transported them to the Gryblaukis Forest, 22 km northeast of Taurage. The pits were already prepared for them at a distance of 2 km to the right of the Taurage-Skaudvile road and where hundreds of people were already murdered there earlier. The Jews of Erzvilkas were murdered with extreme brutality in those pits. According to Soviet sources, about 1000 victims, mostly women and children, are buried in those mass graves.
A few dozen Jews were hidden by Lithuanians in the villages, but most of them were caught very quickly, including Rabbi Rapeiko and his family, and were murdered. Of all the Jews of Erzvilkas, only 22 survived by hiding with the help of Lithuanian farmers. They were quite often forced to change their place of hiding. After the war, the survivors reported to the Soviet authorities the names of the murderers, many of whom were caught and punished; a few of them were hanged. When the war started, 8 Jews from the town were able to escape to the Soviet Union (2 of them passed away there). The names of some of the Lithuanian people who rescued Jews are kept in the Yad Vashem archives.
Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M-9/15(6); M-8/45/36/291, 278; Koniukhovsky Collection 0-71, files 40 41.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
Dos Wort (Kaunas), 17.12.1934.
Di Zeit [The Time] (Kaunas), 4.10.1933.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murders in Lithuania) Volume 2.
Sviesa (Yarburg), 13.4.1991.
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