“Čekiškė” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania

55° 10' / 23° 31'

Translation of the “Cekiske” chapter
from Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Josef Rosin

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 510- 511)

Cekiske

Written by Josef Rosin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

(Yiddish, Chaykishok, also Chaykishaki; Russian, Chekishky)

A county town in the Kaunas district.

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1880 697 .. ..
1897 668 432 65
1902 790 .. ..
1914 .. ~200
families
..
1923 577 324 56
1940 .. ~60
families
..

 

Cekiske is located in central Lithuania, near the Dubysa River, about 35 km northwest of Kaunas.

Authoritative information about Cekiske goes back to the beginning of the 17th century. In 1762 the town was granted the privilege to hold a weekly market day and a yearly fair. During the period of Russian rule (1795 – 1915) the town belonged to the Vilnius Gubernia (region), and from 1843 to the Kaunas Gubernia. From 1915 until 1918 Cekiske was under German occupation. During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918 – 1940) the town was the center of the subdistrict.

The Jewish Settlements Till After World War I

Apparently, Jews began to settle in Cekiske at the end of the 18th century. It is known that during the second half of the 19th century Cekiske had an organized Jewish community, headed by a Rabbi.

Names of Cekiske inhabitants appear many times in the 1871 list of donors for the hunger stricken in Lithuania. The donations were made through the Klaipeda (Memel) Aid Committee. The delegates for the donations were Nakhman Shlezinger and Yisrael Segal.

In 1887, a fire broke out in Cekiske that burned all of its houses, including the two prayer houses and their valuable books. A young woman was burned to death. Only 3 houses remained intact. About 160 families remained without shelter and without any means. Among them was the Rabbi of the town, Rabbi Avraham Levental, who was a wealthy man and who lost his entire property in the fire. Jews from the nearby towns of Vilkija, Seredzius, Raseiniai, Girkalnis and other towns were the first to bring wagons loaded with bread and foodstuffs to the stricken families, who were living under the open sky. A call for aid in their names was advertised in the “HaMelitz” on July 1887. It was signed by Eliyahu Gorland

In 1915, during WWI, the retreating Russian army committed pogroms against the Jews in many towns and local peasants also took part in them. Men were tortured and women were raped with extreme brutality in Cekiske. Later, when they were forced into exile to Russia, the town's Jews regarded the exile decree as a form of relief from the intolerable situation that prevailed in the town.

After the war, only some of those who were exiled returned to the town and the number of its Jews decreased gradually. At the beginning of WWII, there were only about 60 families in Cekiske.

The Period of Independent Lithuania

In accordance with the law of autonomy for the Jews that was legislated by the government of Independent Lithuania, a ruling committee of 7 members was voted in Cekiske: 4 from “Tzeirei-Zion” (The Youth of Zion), 2 from “HaMizrakhi” and one from the artisans. The committee was active for a number of years – basically until 1926 – in most areas of Jewish life in the town. The Jews of Cekiske made their living from storekeeping, commerce, and labor. According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census, Cekiske had 12 shops, all of them owned by Jews: 6 cloth shops, 3 restaurants, a shop for trading grains, a pharmacy and a shop for assorted products. According to the same census, Jews also owned a wool carder, a leather processing factory, and a felt factory. Later, there was a flourmill powered by steam, and a saw mill. During the summers, many of the town's Jews used to lease fruit orchards and sell fruits.

In 1937, the town had 11 Jewish artisans: 3 tailors, 3 butchers, 2 shoemakers, a baker, a glazier, and a barber.

The National Jewish Bank (The Folksbank), which was established in 1920 and was one of the first in Lithuania, played an important role in the economic life of the Jews of the town. At that time, it listed 39 members in the town; in 1927 it had 72 members, and in 1935 it had 60 members. In 1939, the town had 8 telephones, only one of them belonged to a Jew.

The Jewish children in Cekiske attended the Yiddisher elementary school. Next to the school was a library with about 500 books.

Some of the town's Jews started adopting the Zionist idea already during the first Zionist Congresses. A delegate from Cekiske participated in the Galilean committee of the Zionists in Russia that was held in Vilnius in 1899. During the period of Independent Lithuania, many of the town's Jews belonged to the various Zionist parties. The division of votes to the Zionist Congresses in the 1920's and 1930's in Cekiske was as 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
14 1925 40                
15 1927 6 6 4 2          
16 1929 29                
17 1931 30 11 3 3   3     2
18 1933   25 18   4   2 1
19 1935   108 102   4 1   1

 

The Zionist Youth Organizations that were active in Cekiske were Z”S (“The Haskalah Association named after Nakhman Sirkin”), “HaShomer HaTzair”, and other organizations. Sport activities were held in the “Maccabi” branch, which had, on average, 40 members.

The synagogue in Cekiske was built from bricks. After the great fire that burned down the Beit Midrash, the synagogue was also used for teaching Torah Studies. Among the Rabbis who served in Cekiske were: Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Levental (from 1859 until his death in 1894); Rabbi Avraham Gordin (from 1903); Rabbi Ya'akov Abramovitz (in the 1920's). Cekiske's last Rabbi was Rabbi Shemuel-Ze'ev Melamed. He was murdered during the Holocaust.

Among those who were born in Cekiske were: Rabbi Mordechai Eliashberg (1817 – 1889), an enthusiastic lover of Zion, of whom Hachad Ha'Am wrote that his book “The Book of the Golden Path” (Warsaw, 1896) has greater value than settling Eretz-Yisrael; Rabbi Moshe Silver (who died in Jerusalem in 1949), was the father of Rabbi Abba-Hillel Silver, one of the most renowned Zionist leaders in the United States.

During World War II

In 1940, when Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union and it became a Soviet Republic, some of the factories and shops in Cekiske that were owned by Jews were also nationalized. All of the Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded.

A week after the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, German soldiers entered Cekiske. The Lithuanian nationalists took control of the town even before the Germans arrived. They arrested Jews, tortured them and also murdered 18 Jewish men. According to Nazi documents (The Jaeger Report), 22 Jewish men, 64 Jewish women, and 60 Jewish children, were murdered on the 4th of September, 1941. It is known that Jews from Cekiske were also murdered in Ariogala and in Vilkija.

Bibliography

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, 0-3/1015.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: file 1539, pages 69705-69706.
Dos Wort (Kaunas), 10.9.1935, 2.1.1939.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] – (Kaunas), 16.4.1923, 28.12.1937, 23.2.1938, 19.9.1938.
Dar Yiddisher Kaparater [Jewish Cooperation] (Kaunas), # 2-3, 1930.
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 8.7.1887, 17.7.1887, 28.7.1887, 9.3.1893.
Folksblat [The People's Newspaper] – (Kaunas), 15.8.1935, 2.1.1938.

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