“Kavarskas” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Lithuania)

55° 26' / 24° 55'

Translation of the “Kavarskas” 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 556-558)

Kavarskas

In Kovarsk; in Russian, Kovarsk

Written by Josef Rosin

Translated by Shimon Joffe

A county center in the Ukmerge (Vilkomir) district.

Year General
Population
Jews %
1847 .. 342 ..
1897 1546 979 63
1923 1941 436 42

Kavarskas lies in central Lithuania, 24 km. from the district town Ukmerge, on the right bank of the Sventoji River.

Kavarskas is mentioned in historic documents of the fifteenth century. From the sixteenth century on, the town and surroundings belonged to Polish estate owners, Oginski, Tiszkewicz and others. During the period of Russian rule (1795-1915), Kavarskas was first included in the Vilna province and from 1843 - it became part of the Kaunas province. The town grew and developed during the middle of the nineteenth century and merchants settled in. It had fairs and market days and became a county center. During 1915-1918 Kavarskas was under German occupation. In the period of Lithuanian independence (1918-1940), it again became a county center.

 

The Jewish community until the Second World War

It would appear that Jews settled in the town during the eighteenth century. It is known that in the second half of the nineteenth century Kavarskas had an organized Jewish community with a rabbi and a Shu'b (a ritual slaughterer and examiner).

Jews lived off trade in flax, grains, corn and timber. Large scale timber merchants used to come to the town and purchase large tracts of forests in the neighborhood. Tree felling, their transport to the river and floating them down in rafts, provided income to dozens of Jewish families. Kavarskas Jews also engaged in the export of geese and fruits. The town had large food and textile shops owned by Jews.

In 1883 a fierce argument developed in the town on the subject of the local ritual slaughterer and examiner, who had served the community for the past twenty years. The same year a great fire broke out in the town. The victims received assistance from the 'Porits' Cziczinski.

In 1899 the community divided into two camps, on the subject of the election of a new rabbi, after the demise of the rabbi who had served the community for the past thirty years. The one camp wished to offer the seat to the deceased rabbi's young son, after he had received his rabbinical certification, whereas the other camp wished to appoint Rabbi Yisrael-Yehoshua Segal. After many bitter arguments Rabbi Segal was appointed and peace was restored to the conflict torn town. After him, Rabbi Yosef Kanowitz filled the post (from 1907), Rabbi Haim Rudnia (officiated already in 1910), and Rabbi Shmuel Kriger (in 1913).

The list of contributors to the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael includes many names of Kavarskas Jews. The donee was M. Luria.

During the First World War, in July 1915, the Jews of Kavarskas were forced to leave their town and well over half the town was burnt down. The retreating Russian army rioted against the local Jews, and Cossack regiments robbed, murdered and raped. After the war only half the exiles returned to the town.

In accordance with the Law of Autonomy legislated by the independent Lithuanian government, a community committee was elected consisting of 7 members.

The committee was active in most aspects of town life for many years. During this period the Jews lived off trade, shop keeping, peddling, handwork and small industry. The weekly market and four fairs per annum provided reasonable income.

The survey conducted by the Lithuanian government in 1931 shows that there were 15 shops in the town, 11 of these in Jewish hands (73%). The detailed breakdown is as follows:

Branch or Type of BusinessTotalOwned
by
Jews
Grocery11
Corn and flax33
Butcheries and cattle trade33
Restaurants and taverns20
Clothing, furs and textiles22
Medicines and cosmetics10
Radio, bicycles, sewing machines10
Heating materials11
Paper, books and stationery10

According to the above survey there were 7 Jewish owned plants in the town, 2 wool- combers, 2 flour mills, a hide processing plant, a bakery and a light drinks plant.

In 1937 Kavarskas had 24 Jewish artisans, 7 tailors, 3 shoemakers, 3 ceramicists, 2 smiths, 2 butchers, a hatter, a knitter, a maker of felt boots, a harness maker, a tailor. In 1925 Kavarskas had a Jewish doctor (Ber Kapur).

The Peoples bank (Folksbank), played an important role in the economic life of the town's inhabitants, which opened its gates in 1920 with 31 members. In 1927 it grew to 104 members, in 1935 it decreased to 90 members. In 1939 Kavarskas possessed 12 telephone subscribers, 2 of them Jewish.

In 1919 a Lithuanian consumer co-operative was started and it immediately began to push the Jews out of trade. Also, the agitation against buying from Jews grew apace. That year Kavarskas had a Lithuanian army mobilization day and the Lithuanians attacked Jewish businesses and stole their goods. In a number of houses shutters were smashed, windows and doors broken. The mobilization officers put an end to the outbreak and succeeded in dispersing the rioters. Many Jews suffered great damage and were ruined economically. The economic crises which began in the 1930's greatly affected the town Jewry and many immigrated to South Africa, others made their way to Eretz-Yisrael.

The town children studied in the Hebrew primary school affiliated to the Yavne stream, in some of the classes subjects were taught in Yiddish. The school was placed in a building built by the community with money donated by a rich donor, a member of the community. In 1935 some 49 children studied in the school. Some of the children continued their high school studies in the Ukmerge Hebrew high school named Or.

The town had a library of about 500 volumes, both in Hebrew and in Yiddish. It had a wide reading public. The town also had a drama circle and it gave occasional performances. The income was used to purchase books for the library.

After the First World War, the Jews of Kavarskas built a fine House of Learning (Beth Midrash). A Lithuanian, born in Kavarskas, who had immigrated to the USA, came annually to visit his hometown and in 1930 and 1936 donated large sums of money for the completion of the House of Learning, as a goodwill gesture of his satisfaction at the good relations between the Lithuanians and the Jews. The same Lithuanian also donated a sum of money to the volunteer fire brigade, consisting mostly of Jews.

The rabbis officiating at that time were Rabbi Dov Shnitzer and Rabbi Dov Sukmansky. Both were murdered by Lithuanians in the Shoah.

Most of the Jews belonged to the Zionist camp. Almost all the Zionist parties had their sympathizers in the town. The following table shows the apportionment of votes to the Zionist congresses in the nineteen twenties and thirties.

Congress
No
Year No. of
Shekels
Total
Votes
Labor
No
Revis-
ionist
General
Zionists
State
Party
Mizrachi
Z S Zts. A B
16 1929 10 - - - - - - - 1
17 1931 16 7 2 1 - 3 - - 1
18 1933 .. 66 66 - - - - -
19 1935 .. 91 86 - 1 2 1 1

The Sirkin Association and the youth movement The Young Khalutz (Hekhalutz Hatzair)were active in the town.

One of Kavarskas' natives was Eliezer Heiman (1910-1944), an author who published a number of stories in Hebrew and Yiddish. He perished in ghetto Kaunas.

 

The Second World War and its aftermath

The annexation of Lithuania to the Soviet Union and its conversion into a Soviet republic, brought in its wake nationalization of shops and industry, mostly Jewish owned. All the parties and youth movements were disbanded. Hebrew educational institutes were closed. The middle class, mostly Jewish, was badly hit and their standard of living gravely reduced.

After the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Lithuanian nationalists took control of Kavarskas. They entered Jewish homes and plundered whatever came to hand, broke windows and set fires in the streets of Ukmerge (Lithuanian name of Vilkomir) where the Jews lived. They also arrested 30 Jewish men and women on the pretext that these had sympathized with the Soviet regime. It is most probable that the real reason was personal enmity. After the entry of the Germans into the town, on June 26, 1941, all the prisoners were shot on the banks of the river, near the village of Pumpuciai, to the south of Kavarskas. The situation of the other Jews in the town was desperate, they lived in deadly fear. The Lithuanians insulted, tormented them and robbed their property. Then, later, led them to Ukmerge and murdered them together with other Jews of the town and vicinity, in the Pivonia forest. (Pivonijos miskas). It appears, this event took place on September5, 1941.There were no survivors from Kavarskas. The names of the Lithuanian murderers are on record in the Yad Vashem archives in Jerusalem.

At the beginning of the 1990's, a memorial was raised near the village of Pumpuciai with a Yiddish inscription; 'At this place, the Hitlerite murderers and their local collaborators murdered, in 1941, the Jews of Kavarskas men women and children'.

The line below states in Lithuanian; 'Of Blessed Memory'.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M-33/978.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
Gotlib, Sefer Ohalei Shem, p. 161.
Kamzon, The Jews of Lithuania, pp. 29, 33, 36.
Dos Vort - daily newspaper in Yiddish of the Z"S party, Kovno -17.12.1934.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] – (Kovno), 29.8.1919, 31.5.1922, 23.2.1923, 15.7.1930, 16.6.1936, 14.9.1938.
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 23.11.1883, 28.12.1883, 13.6.1899, 4.8.1899, 5.11.1883.
Folksblat
[The People's Newspaper] – (Kovno), 10.7.1930, 15.7.1935.

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