By a Mariampoler
Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross Our town of Mariampole is spacious and pretty, and is considered to be one of the loveliest provincial cities in Lithuania. The citizens of Mariampole are proud of their town. The Mariampole town garden is one of the most beautiful in Lithuania. Outside of the town are high green mountains, velvety green valleys, and flowing through a valley, the pleasurable, calm, clear waters of the most celebrated Lithuanian riverthe Sheshupe. An air of magic surrounds everything that your eye beholds.
Mariampole is an old town famous the world over for her Talmudic scholars and maskilim [enlightened adherents of haskalah movement]. This town was once known as Staripolya or Staripole (19 kilometers from Kalvariye).
Initially the Staripole Jewish religious community was led by the Kalvariye rabbinate. The first Mariampole rabbi was R' Khaim Shershover (1780), who served for 40 years. Following him, filling the same position of rabbi, was his son-in-law, R' Yehuda Leyb Kharlap. Among other famous rabbis were Rabbi Eliyahu Klotzkin and Rabbi Popel.
Mariampole has a population of 11,000 and is ranked as the sixth largest town in Lithuania. The Jewish population of Mariampole numbers 3,000.
However, this prosperity was short-lived. The dark shadow of crisis began to spread itself over our town as well. The building of new houses ground to a halt. Shopkeepers, more precisely, the Jewish shopkeepers, began to suffer. One could sense that all was not as it had been.
Nevertheless, it is true that our Town Council had four elected Jewish representatives and a Jewish Vice-Mayor. The agenda of the Town Council included the question of whether to build a Jewish school following the style of the Lithuanian school, but for inexplicable reasons this item was removed from the agenda. It is worth noting at this juncture that even though our Town Council has many members, you won't find a single Jew on the Council regardless of the fact that the Jews pay quite heavy taxes.
When we speak of the economic situation in Mariampole, we must take into account not only the condition of the general population, but that of the Jews as well. During a walk along the main streets of Mariampole, one can look with wonderment at the beautiful tall brick buildings and large modern shops with attractive window displays, as well as shelves well-stocked with merchandise.
The situation of the Jewish worker and craftsman in Mariampole has recently also worsened. The carpentry trade has suffered a decline. Most of the Jewish carpenters are currently unemployed. The government trade school, as well as the carpentry division of the religious community, hire outside carpenters, and the Jewish workers cannot compete with them because their work is done by machine and they do not incur any labor costs. The locksmith trade is suffering heavily as well.
As for the tailoring industrythat too is experiencing a great downturn. The reason for this may well be that a large number of tailors from Kovno came here and, as a result, there is not much work for the local tailors. The dressmakers are finding it even more difficult to earn a living because many provincial Christian dressmakers arrived here and charge much lower prices.
There is a large percentage of employed among the Jewish workers, but their wages are minimal. We have a large number of young people who are unemployed, but they are mostly the children of wealthy parents. In all of Mariampole, there are two Jewish government officialsone is the secretary of the district court and the second is employed by the town jail. The district court also has a Jewish assistant secretary. The mills are still run by Jews, as is the electric company.
With regard to the organizational sphere, the artisans wield the only real strength. Other than Zionist-Socialists, you will not find any other political parties here. However, they are active in the Workers' Front, which sells shekels to the Zionist Congress.
Christian dressmakers have arrived from the villages and they compete with one another. Therefore, it is possible to find one dressmaker who charges 2 lita to sew a shirt and others who charge only 85 groshn. Such a difference.
Despite this competitiveness, the shopkeepers envy these workers who at least are earning some money. The larger shopkeepers are complaining but we hear more of this from the smaller ones. Workers are of the opinion that shopkeepers lead a better life than workers do, regardless of the fact that due to the competition, there is still a substantial crisis.
By Berl London
Translated by Mindle Gross
A very valuable historical document once existed in Vilkovishka pinkas [Jewish community register] written 400 years ago. At the time when the Jewish National Council still existed in Lithuania, the well-known Zionist social worker, Dr. Britzkus, borrowed it for research purposes and to this day, the pinkas is not to be found in Lithuania.
According to a tradition written in a 175-year-old pinkas from the local khevre mishnayes [Mishnah Society], the Jews were already a presence in Vilkovishk at the end of the 14th century. For example, the pinkas notes that when the Lithuanian Duke Yagello was making preparations to marry the Polish Princess Yadwiga, Vilkovishk was the meeting-place of the two lovers. Their marriage took place in 1385. One can find 365-year-old headstones in the old Vilkovishk cemetery.
At the beginning of the 16th century, Dutchess Bona, wife of Zygmund-August II, granted a gift of timber to the Vilkovishk populace to erect prayer houses. She also gave lumber to the Vilkovishk Jews for the purpose of building a synagogue. During the long period of its existence it was renovated, and the original Holy Ark, made of oak, can still be found there today, with its beautifully depicted carvings of animals.
The Vilkovishkers, as well as those in the surrounding area, all speak with the sound i <ee> at the end of a word rather than <e>, for example, bulki instead of bulke,
moyshki instead of moyshke, and so forth. This stems from the German dialect where i and e combine and are pronounced <ee>. In addition, you will often find that the Vilkovishkers use the sound <au>. A Vilkovishker will never say toyznt [thousand] but tauznt, not boykh [stomach] but baukh and so forth. This stems from the German <au>. One can hear yet other distinctive oddities in Vilkovishk speech that have no relationship to the German dialect, for example, the inability to pronounce <h>, saying artz [heart] instead of hartz, or un [hen] instead of hun and so forth. This is the source of the nickname for Vilkovishkersener (for hener, hens).
Regarding the history of Napoleon in Vilkovishk, there is also a letter in a New York museum written by Napoleon to his wife. (A copy of this letter was sent to Mr. M. Pustapedski in Vilkovishk by the New York Public Library through H. Levinson.)
Prior to leaving Vilkovishk, Napoleon delivered a speech to the populace and promised them that after he won the war, he would turn Vilkovishk into a miniature Paris. Vilkovishk, at that time, was virtually the furthest point of Lithuania, adjacent to the German border. As Napoleon's army was retreating from Russia, many soldiers froze in their attempt to flee across the border to Prussia, and others drowned in the lakes in and around the town. To this day, one can find remnants of cemeteries where many of the retreating French military were buried. Eighty French soldiers and three French generals are buried behind the Alviter courtyard, several kilometers beyond the town.
Vilkovishk is close to the German border on one side, and on the other was the first Suvalki-Kalvariye-Mariampole railway connection. Since other towns in the area did not have railway access, Vilkovishk was a vital economic center of commerce and employment for the entire region thanks to these two factors.
The brush workers in Vilkovishk, who numbered in the hundreds, were a very important economic element. These factories were owned by Messrs. Sobalevitch, Rosen, Vindsberg, and others. The brush workers of Vilkovishk were organized over 50 years ago and incorporated into their agenda political activism, such as fighting against Tsarism. The Vilkovishk workers organized the brush workers of the entire Pale [of Settlement] of what was formerly Russia, wherever they worked. Ultimately they founded the brush workers' section of the bund [Yiddishist Zionist Socialist labor party]. During the years of its existence, they published To the Jewish Brush Workers of Poland and Lithuania in June 1898. Also making its debut 1898 was the brush workers' newspaper veker [Alarm], a periodical publication. The Vilkovishk brush workers produced many educated workersactivists in the workers' movement.
Following the Great War [WWI], after all had been liberated from the German occupation, Vilkovishk returned to life with renewed fervor. Once again, the underground Jewish workers' organizations sprang up as if automatically. At the end of 1918-1919, elections took place in a number of kehillot [Jewish communities]. The Jewish workers' parties in Vilkovishkthe bund [Yiddishist Zionist Socialist labor party] and poale tzion [Zionist Socialist labor group]received the absolute majority of the votes and dominated all aspects of Jewish life in the town. On behalf of the Jewish workers' parties, a Cultural Society was created and organized as well as a public university, a Jewish public school, a workers' cooperative lebn [Life], and a professional brush workers' union, the headquarters of all the brush workers' unions in Lithuania. This same union also established a sizeable sick fund.
The second local factor contributing to the downfall of Vilkovishk was the decline of the brush trade. The Soviet government did not permit the export of any raw material and consequently, there was a shortage and the local brush workers could not perform their jobs. The small amount of raw material that we got from the Lithuanian market did not suffice for the Lithuanian workplace and unfortunately, half-finshed goods were exported. Today, there are 50 workers in Vilkovishk. One can find no more than 150 brush workers in all of Lithuania, and the greater percentage of them is unemployed.for months at a time.
In the last few years Vilkovishk has experienced a number of financial crashes. Large, well-established businesses closed their doors and became ghosts of their former grandeur. The middle class too suffered a decline. There had been many craftsmen in Vilkovishk, such as tailors, shoemakers, bricklayers and others, but now they are unemployed and search for some little bit of work.
A separate stratum of peddlars also existed but is gradually disappearing as well. The flax business has been monopolized. A truly healthy class of landowners does exist in town, but unfortunately they number only about 35 families in all.
An important factor in the local economic life is the folksbank, which gives aid through short- and long-term loans to the town's shopkeepers, craftsmen and general citizenry. At the present time the bank has 368 members. According to social classifications, the members are divided into: 12 industrialists, 48 businessmen, 36 shopkeepers, 43 merchants, 21 wagon drivers, 8 employees, 22 professionals and 42 without professions [error in original text: these figures add up to 298, not 368]. The
Vilkovishk folksbank has a capital of 55,000 lita, has distributed 300,000 lita in loans, and has deposits of 170,000 lita.
There exists in Vilkovishk another important economic association: a gemilas khesed [interest-free loan society] called maskil el dal [Enlightenment of the Poor]. This association began its activities in 1918, with its founder the ever-active Y.M. Levinovitch. Its purpose is to grant loans without interest, repayable at the rate of 4 lita per 100 lita per week. For this express purpose, there was also a weekly repayment amount. The treasury began with insignificant sums of money but today has a capital of almost 20,000 lita. Many times people were evicted from their homes with their belongings and thrown into the street. Thanks to an interest-free loan, they were saved. Many small shopkeepers, enabled to obtain needed patents or craftsmen, were truly rescued by the loans from the maskil el dal.
With the establishment of the autobus concession in Vilkovishk, permission was given to utilize the Kibart-Vilkovishk-Mariampole railway linefour went to Christians and three to Jews. The previous year, it had been four and four. In addition, there are two autobuses that go to the train and to Naishtat-Shaki. There are small automobiles, two of which belong to Christians and one to a Jew.
The Vilkovishk Town Council is now constructing a two-story modern school building for seven grades. A building to hold the four grades of the local Hebrew school is slated to be built next year. Over the past several years, new Lithuanian neighborhoods have been built, with long, intersecting streets, and this is how, for example, the street that leads to the train evolved, as well as the street that goes to Virbalin and Mariampole. All of these new sections of the town were approved during the last Town Council elections and contributed to its becoming a major town.
There is still a four-grade public Hebrew school in Vilkovishk, a Hebrew kindergarten, a Sirkin society with its large Yiddish-Hebrew library. The azora [old-fashioned labor group] society was erected on the ruins of our national autonomy. Azora runs a forlorn relief effort within the limits of its ability.
The local Jewish front kemfer [Front Fighers] has approximately 35 members. There is still an old-age home in Vilkovishk. It is a fine facility and well-administrated. The beautifully landscaped orchard surrounding the brick building serves as a delightful area not only for the residents, but for the entire town. The Vilkovishk old-age home, together with its hospital division, also devotes itself to serving the sick and indigent residents of the town. There are many elderly men and women residents who find a restful and peaceful retirement at the home, which is supported by town donations, a subsidy from the Vilkovishk Town Council, and an annual subsidy of 2,000 lita from the government.
There are over 50 young students studying at the Vilkovishk Jewish trade school. In addition, a group of German students is enrolled there. The school is well-organized, with departments for locksmithing and blacksmithing. The school's economic condition is a sorrowful one. The town's Jewish population still does not value the importance of this institution, founded and supported by the Vilkovishk businessman and social worker Abba Sobalevitch.
The Vilkovishk OZA [locally subsidized infirmary and medical school] runs a medical program with visits to 250 children of the local Hebrew public school and the talmud torah [religious school for the poor]. OZA also ministers to the sick twice a week in its own outpatient facility.
The publication of a monthly logbook, The Jewish World of History, Science and Literature, began sometime during 1934-1935. The editor was A. Filipovski (Ben Yisroel).
The Vilkovishk society libhober fun visn [Lovers of Knowledge] has existed since 1925. It once had a large reading room where lectures were held. The society maintained contact with the sport club Y.S.K. Today Lovers of Knowledge owns a large modern library containing 1,500 Jewish books, and serves as a lending library to those many working-class readers who cannot afford to purchase books.
The artisans' union participates in various social work projects within the realm of its capabilities. There was a merchants' union at one time, but it no longer exists.
With regard to the non-Jewish organizations, we only need mention the local Lithuanian state high school named for Dr. Basanovicius. There are now six Jewish children enrolled there.
This is how Vilkovishk lives and struggles. Yet the town carries on with its labor traditions and with hopes for a beautiful and bright future.
Translated by Mindle Gross According to legend, Telz, the major town of Zhemeita [district], was founded by Dzhugas Tel, for whom the Dzugener Mountain is named. In bygone days, Telz was the largest commercial town in the area. Today, the approximate population of Telz is 8,000 residents, of which Jews comprise 30-35%. Of the twelve members of the Town Council, three are Jews. Telz is a beautiful town. During the summer, it displays much greenery, with many streets contributing to the impression of a garden town where the houses look like villas situated among trees and flowers. The town also has several squares [little gardens]. Beautiful Lake Mastis is nestled between mountains and valleys. There is a legend about the lake and a witch who supposedly transported it from a different location to Telz. It is named after her.
Telz has a folksbank with approximately 300 associates, and in addition, there is a gemilas khesed [interest-free loan society] with its own capital of 15,000 lita. The azoras poalim [old-fashioned labor group] also has a gemilas khesed with a capital of 3,000 lita. These were established with monies sent from America.
The OZA [infirmary and medical school subsidized by local community] handles the medical needs of the schools. The Jewish hospital was built with funds sent by Mr. Nathan David Kroll of America, who donated $6,000 for this purpose. There are sixteen beds, sewers, central heating and hot and cold running water in every room. For one and a half years, the hospital remained empty until through the initiative and tireless efforts of its director, Dr. Minukhin, who worked for two years without remuneration, it was successful in receiving a loan of 12,000 lita from the state savings bank. It was then that they were finally able to establish their inventory and the hospital became functional.
Until quite recently, Telz did not have a railroad line. Construction began on a branch line about seven years ago. Prior to that, there was a coach to Papelyan and Mazheysk.
The educational institutions are entirely in the hands of the militant orthodoxy, beginning with kindergarten which is state-run and ending with a yavne [Mizrakhi Zionist school] for girls and a teachers' seminary. Lately, WIZO [Women's International Zionist Organization] also supports a Hebrew kindergarten. There are two public schools as well. One-hundred and twenty girls are enrolled at the beis sefer l'banos [girls' school] in addition to the official curriculum they study the Pentateuch with the commentaries of Rashi [renowned eleventh century commentator], laws, prayers and so forth. In the beis khinukh l'banim [boys' school] the young boys are exposed to a very intensive course of religious study. They further their education at the meykhina [religious school for older boys]. There are five levels in the meykhina after which they continue on to the yeshiva. There are no other educational institutions in Telz.
When the girls complete the public school curriculum, they enter the yavne high school where their education continues in the same vein: musar [ethics] and religious discussions are an important part of the high school curriculum. Even when outside the confines of the school, the students feel its influence on them. At the time that Dr. Holtzberg was the director, there were girls enrolled not only from Telz but also from other areas, as well as daughters of rabbis and orthodox Jews from all over Lithuania.
The yavne Teachers' Seminary and pedagogical courses prepare teachers to staff all the yavne schools in Lithuania. All of these educational components have left their mark on the Jewish life of Telz.
The Telz orthodoxy is militant and has penetrated all aspects of Jewish life. There is not one establishment where it is not represented, whether it be OZA [infirmary and medical school subsidized by local community] or a gemilas khesed or a folksbank. They seek to be represented everywhere. That is the reason for displaying a heter iske [business permit allowing the charging of interest], and every bank deposit book carries a stamp that certifies it is in accordance with the laws of heter iske.
On Sabbath afternoons one can see men and women walking through the streets with the Bible under their arms on their way to study. WIZO improved upon this by offering lessons in Jewish history every Sabbath.
Telz is also the center of tzeirei agudas yisroel [anti-Zionist traditionally observant youth group]. Der yidisher lebn [Jewish Life] is published in Kovno, but it is edited here. It is for these reasons that Telz is the true citadel of the Jewish orthodoxy in Lithuania.
There is a highly developed social life in Telz. Foremost among the Zionist parties are the Zionist-Socialists. They own a comprehensive Hebrew-Yiddish Library. Following them in popularity are the revisionists.
By N. Ben-Chaim
Translated by Mindle Gross Raseyn is an old town. Mention is made of it in Lithuanian history of the 13th century. As recently as 80 years ago, it was still the largest town in Lithuania with a population of 12,000 residents, second only to Kovno. Since the completion of the Libove-Romner railroad, however, a new town, Shavl, has developed and Raseyn, with neither a railroad connection nor a highway, began to go downhill, until just before the Great War [WW I] its residents numbered only 6,000.
The town covers a large area, but the houses are mostly wooden, old and small, some of the few in Lithuania spared by the Great War. Large battles were fought eighty kilometers from the town, on the banks of the famous Dubiseh that snakes around Raseyn, and the town itself was left unharmed.
Immediately before the war our town had an attractive appearance: the streets were paved and there were wide cement sidewalks. The houses were in good repair and painted and there were some nice new buildings. Prior to the war of 1914, two-thirds of the 6,000 residents were Jewish and one-third were Christian. During the past several years, the proportion has changed to two-thirds Christian and one-third Jewish.
This was once a town of maskilim [enlightened adherents of haskalah movement] and learned men. Mention is still made of the Russian-Jewish writer and intellectual Adolf Landau (1842-1902), who for 20 years was editor of the Petersburg Voskhod [Russian: Sunrise]. Raseyn had a number of well-to-do heads of household and a residence for important rabbis. Today it is largely impoverished.
During the war when many Lithuanian towns ceased to exist, abandoned by their residents who had been forced to leave, Raseyn stayed alive. Trade with the occupying forces was brisk. Various businesses opened that supplied merchandise throughout Lithuania. Thousands of dollars and pounds flowed in from American and South African relatives. This good fortune did not last long, however. Within several years these large businesses closed, the proprietors became refugees and were forced to emigrate to America, Africa and Mexico. Raseyn was once again left with little shop-booths and a groshn [penny] economy. Commerce returned to Shavl and other towns that recovered after the war. Christian cooperatives opened in Raseyn selling a variety of merchandise and most of the sales went to them.
Jewish shoemakers and tailors were left without a livelihood, since during the past few years, shoemakers, tailors, carpenters and bricklayers from the Lithuanian villages arrived and settled in town. Previously employed egg-exporters, lumber traders, and grain and flax merchants were left without bread.
We have an azora [old-fashioned labor group] that took over the management of the old-age home from the former kehilla [Jewish community], a bikur kholim [society for visiting the sick], and a library. All of these institutions were created prior to the war [WWI].
We have a Hebrew high school with an enrollment of 60 students, a yavne [Mizrakhi Zionist school], a public school, and numerous political parties. The latter, with their talk of kibbutzim [collective farms] and khalutzim [pioneers], dominate in the Jewish streets.
The Jewish folksbank with its 600 members is the economic axis around which the economic life of the Jews of Raseyn revolves.
By an Utianer
Translated by Mindle Gross Utian was graced with much natural beautylakes at either end of the town and a river snaking through its very center. There were four bridges, three concrete and one of wood, uniting the two halves of the town. Little children avoided using the bridges, preferring to march barefoot through the river.
Long ago Utian was famous for its mud marshes, not curative mud as in Birshtan, but actual filthy mud. During spring and autumn, the town had the appearance of a small Venice. The difference, however, was that while Venice was under water, Utian was drowning in mud.
It is difficult to pinpoint with any degree of accuracy how long the Jewish community has existed in Utian; however, we can be certain of an approximate length of 300 years, as witnessed by the gravestones in the old cemetery. Originally the town was situated four kilometers away from its present-day site. Its existence in its previous location must have served a strategic purpose.
It is also difficult to establish when the town relocated, but from the end of the 18th century it has been at its current site, and during the time of the French [Napoleonic] war was an important transport center. The Petersburg-Warsaw highway, which cuts through Utian, served for communication purposes. The small Ponovezh-Gluboke railroad line became operational 37 years ago.
Prior to the war, Utian was a sizeable town. The population consisted of about 600 families and was 95% Jewish. The town did not occupy a large area. The houses were wooden, the majority covered with straw and built close together, so whenever the red rooster flew [i.e. a fire started], half the town became engulfed.
The Utian residents earned a living from hard labor and small businesses. Utian possessed neither large businesses nor any industrial capabilities. Life prior to the Great War [WWI] was troubled: poverty, difficulty in earning a living, cramped living conditions, tattered clothing and shoes. This was the condition in which a large portion of the population found itself. It is true that they did not suffer from such modern afflictions as protests, high blood pressure, bankruptcy, tax collectors, bloye markelekh [blue coupons, anti-Semitic tactic that discounted prices in Lithuanian shops in order to discourage shopping in Jewish shops], unemployment, competition, etc. If someone sold an item too cheaply or worked for less, he would be brought before the rabbi on charges of undercutting the price.
The condition of the economy before the war of 1914 was poor. A mass exodus to America, South America and South Africa began. Specifically, immigration reached its height during the reactionary years. The younger generation, persecuted by the Tsarist power, desiring to avoid miitary service, and finding itself without any prospects for the future, streamed to the goldene medine [golden land, i.e. America] in droves.
Thanks to this mass immigration, our town has close ties across the ocean. We still have many American pensioners, those who receive holiday subsidies from their American relatives, as well as beautiful clothes that could not be purchased with the wages earned here. The crisis time is differentiated from the prosperity time in that during the good years, there was an abundance of money and todaythere's only a trickle. Today people struggle to earn a dollar, and the locals sweat it out before they are paid. During wartime, when the front came closer, a large portion of the population was evacuated. The Germans took the town in September 1915. Prior to the German occupation the town had beautified its appearance. The streets were paved, houses were made more attractive, and new houses were built.
The Germans also built a prison that was always filled to capatown with hundreds of arrestees [civilians]. There were no courts of justice other than courtmartials with a single result: to remove human rights and the right to life. The sentence was carried out on the same day or at the latest, the next day. The graves of those executed are without stones or markers.
Forced labor became a routine occurance. All the town's Jewish men were gathered together and their beards were shaved offwhen fathers came home, their children did not recognize them. Then an edict was issued that all Jewish women, young and old, must appear for an examination and have their hair cut short and close to the head. These were among the minor orders issued.
Now this once muddy little town became modernized. The town's area has doubled in size, and its population has tripled. New streets have been created and the area of the new town divided into blocks. I should note that in 1922, during the honeymoon period of our national autonomy, the Russian term krome yevreyev [Jewish-owned shop] was already in use. The hundreds of blocks in the new town were divided among the Christians, and not one Jewish request was granted. Today the town is divided between the new and the old. Virtually all the streets in the old town have paved sidewalks on both sides. The new town has large, beautiful buildings. The government buildings, such as the emisieh bank and the shiser house have added much to the lovely appearance of the town. The six-grade public school is a magnificent structure, and the state high school is a palace.
The population numbers about 6,000 and is half Christian. The economic situation is poor. The flax merchants suffered through a fire (and were not insured). Other tradesmen are also not doing well. Shopkeepers who are earning a living are few in number. There are also many laborers and artisans suffering the same fate. The shoemakers are in a much better position and there are also many tailors and carpenters. In general, we can say that the Christians are well represented in all the professions. Within the Christian population, Lithuanian businessmen encourage Lithuanians to purchase from their own kind. These businessmen are strongly organized here. The flyers and the bloye markelekh [blue coupons, anti-Semitic tactic that discounted prices in Lithuanian shops in order to discourage shopping in Jewish shops] are fairly successful.
There is one Jewish doctor (of three), one Jewish dentist (of six), and two Jewish attorneys (of five). A well-established hospital in town is maintained by the District Council. All the government buildings have central heat. There are artesian wells in town. There are three cooperatives: two for general necessities, shoes and a manufacturing division, and one for writing needs and books.
Lietukis [state agricultural cooperative] is represented here with colossal quarters. Pienotzentras [dairy cooperative] has built a first-class dairy. The market-place, the most expensive property which the town's Jews still possess, is in danger of disappearing because the residents of the New Town have their eyes on it. All of this combined serves to push the Jew out of every position, and the businesses gradually are turned over to the Lithuanians. There are no Jewish landowners; Jews have gardens and orchards, but they are only leased.
The cultural scene is not faring well. There is a Jewish public school, a library with quite a large number of books. Jewish books are read quite eagerly. There are no town institutions and no kehilla [Jewish community group]. After the closing of the kehilla, an adas yisroel [Community of Israel] society was founded which was intended to replace the kehilla, but in reality it didn't exist for longer than a day. The property of the kehilla was turned over to the folksbank, thanks to the fact that the head of the bank was a well-known community activist. The bank became the central axis around which the entire local Jewish community revolved. Today, everything is at the point of extinction.
By Peisach Janever
Translated by Mindle Gross
In that year the Countess Maria Kossakowska, who lived at the Liukon courtyard, erected a small wooden prayer-house on the grounds of the family cemetery not far from the Lipniak courtyard, which today is a developed section of town. Later one of her sons developed the land on the right side of the Nevis River (the Vilye) into a town. He was influenced in this by a Polish magnate who at that time owned entire towns. The earliest residents were mostly fishermen and raftsmen who rafted on the Vilye and Nieman Rivers to deliver wood to Tilsit and Memel. Some of them would remain in these towns for longer periods of time, improving their knowledge and skills, primarily in carpentry, and upon their return home were able to apply these newly-acquired skills to earning a living. It is no wonder that the carpentry trade to this day remains the main vocation in Yaneva. The name of the town, Yaneva, stems from Jan Sobieski, the Polish King and Lithuanian Grand Duke who conquered the Turks.
The first Jews arrived in Yaneva in 1775 from the nearby village of Skarulu which, at that time, was considered to be a town and was home to more than 300 Jews. Most of these early residents were blacksmiths, fishermen, small merchants and raftsmen. The blossoming of Yaneva, however, is due mainly to the completion in 1852, of the Petersburg-Berlin highway [now the Kovno-Ezheren] which passed through Yaneva on its way from Dvinsk to Kovno-Warsaw and Berlin.
In 1873, the railroad line from Libau-Romania was completed, contributing to the further development of the town. The grain trade grew and flourished and large merchants and dealers in lumber also increased their business. In 1877, almost the entire town was flooded, and in 1895 and 1904 it suffered two devestating fires.
The Jews lived their lives peacefully until the Great War of 1914. In 1915 all the Jews of Yaneva were affected by the issuance of an edict ordering them to leave the town. They later returned during the years 1917-1921, to find that almost everything had been destroyed by the German occupation forces, who had converted many of the homes into stables for their horses.
From an historical viewpoint, mention should be made of the coffin found in the cellar of the Yaneva church in which rested General Jozef Korwin-Kossakowski [d. 1812], personal adjutant to Napoleon I. To this day, it still contains the hat, shoes, sword and uniform in which he was interred.
The esteemed Dr. Ralis figured most importantly in the social and literary life of Yaneva. It was he who translated Homer's Iliad and Odyssey into Lithuanian. The well-known Jewish personality and writer of the working class, Morris Vintshevsky, was born in Yaneva, as were the eminent artists/painters Kulyianski and Dovid Cahan.
The town has grown substantially in the past several years. The streets are straight and nicely laid out, and the town nestles in a valley surrounded by densely forested mountains, providing much natural beauty.
One of these mountains is named Shvindl [Disappearing] Mountain. Revolutionary groups planning uprisings used to go there in 1905. To this day, our mothers and fathers describe with great pleasure the Sabbath and holidays celebrated there, and the various songs which resounded from the forest-covered mountain. Now the trees have been decimated, the ground overgrown and the mountain stands there lonely, deserted by all its former good friends, serving as a silent witness to those beautiful bygone days of shared friendship.
During the early years of Lithuanian rule, Jews earned a fine living. Now, however, with the exception of several affluent persons, most struggle to support themselves. Despite their meager earnings, most of Janava's Jews are employed in various occupations.
Currently, Jewish artisans in Yaneva consist of: tailors 30, shoemakers 25, watchmakers 3, blacksmiths 20, locksmiths 2, carpenters 5, harness-makers 2,
felt-boot makers 1, ropemakers 3, bricklayers 3, painters 5, cabinet-makers 26,
upholsterers 3, bakers 6, kishke-makers 3, photographers 1, tinsmiths 3. In addition, there are a large number of butchers, porters, raftsmen or water-people as they are called here, carriage-drivers and general laborers who are prepared to do all manner of work in order to earn a little money for food.
With the advent of the automobile, the carriage-drivers went out of business. Today their sons are either bus-drivers or conductors on the Kovno-Ezheren railroad line. Yaneva operates four large steam factories, a sawmill, one rollermill, a watermill, a match factory, a confectionery factory and other small business enterprises that employ a substantial number of workers. There are two Jewish doctors who are part of the general
medical establishment, two dentists, and two midwives.
The majority of the artisans are organized into the United Laborers' Union which has a membership of 140, with a local which is combined with the front kemfer [Front Fighters]. Without any aid from the broader community, they have accomplished much for the social and material betterment of the membership.
Yaneva has three Jewish schools: a public school, a tarbut [Zionist school], and a yavne [Mizrakhi Zionist school]. There are two Lithuanian public schools and a high school with a number of Jewish students. There is a town library containing approximately 4,000 books inYiddish and Hebrew, as well as a library run by the Lovers of Knowledge containing about the same number of books. In addition, there is a smaller library operated by yavne. Yaneva also has a movie house, a theatre auditorium at the firefighters' union, which is 50% Jewish, a Jewish folksbank which is financially sound, two Lithuanian banks, one Polish bank and one Russian bank. There is a total of seven synagogues and houses of study.
The social life is similar to that of other towns. The youth here is active and lively and the parents are inclined to belong to the same organizations and movements as their children. Zionism is represented here in all of its diverse hues. Especially strong is the movement to promote a viable land of Israel. This became very evident during the last election to the Zionist Congress when 60% of the votes were in Israel's favor.
And so this is how Yaneva lives, the town of thefamous furniture that adorns the homes of countless young couples in Lithuania and of our own people.
Regardless of the fact that the people of Yaneva are modern, they have not forgotten how to attend the houses of study or the synagogues and they still debate the finer points of a shlishi [third Torah portion] or maftir [final Torah portion leading to the haftorah, a selection from the Prophets].
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Dr. Sonia Kovitz Before the war [WWI], Tavrik lay at the Russian-German border. It was no different from any of the other Jewish towns, but still had its own charm and special qualities. The town was a kind of bridge between Europe and Asia. Its close proximity to Germany (eight kilometers) left its mark on the town. Jews controlled all the trade with Prussia. All the branches of trade were concentrated in Jewish hands.
The town lived as if there was a permanent fairthere was a lot of noise and it served as a bazaar for the entire area. The Tavrik Jews were not lazythey showed what they were capable of. Hundreds of wagons loaded with grain, fowl, geese, and fruit were transported to Tilsit and Koenigsberg. The entire wood trade was in Jewish hands. Jews were also contractors and furnished the military regiments, who paid well.
The Tavriker merchants were not stingy and did not spare rubles when it came to various institutions. So before 1914 Tavrik already had fine institutions that were maintained with the help of the pani [Polish nobles] of that time. They also provided for the children to study.
Iser Ber Wolf was born in Tavrik in 1844. Later he became one of the most respected men in Kovno. Also Shaul Pinkas Rabinovitch [Saul Phinehas Rabbinowitz in the Encyclopedia Judaica], the Jewish historian who became known under the acronym SHePeR (1845-1910), was born in Tavrik.
There was no quota for Tavrik Jews. Jewish students were gladly accepted at the Prince Valilchikov private high school, since on their account all the non-Jews were able to study. And mind you, although many Jews were merchants, make no mistakethere were also plenty of Jewish artisans and laborers who worked hard. I still remember how at Purim, hundreds of Jews, young and old, would be allowed to make shingles in the woods for the Jewish lumber merchants. Some would travel to Prussia to put up roofs. This would continue until late fall. Before rosh hashanah [New Year] they would impoverish themselves so that their wives and children would be decked out royallyand the would have only a few rubles left for the winter.
The blacksmiths, carpenters, shoemakers, tailors, brickmasons and ovenmakers were Jews, and so that they would have the necessary materials, Tavrik also had its smugglers. If there was overproduction, it was no great misfortune. The shtetl's limitations did not apply to them, since former residents would send pounds or dollars back to their former home. Thus Tavrik was tied to Koenigsberg and Tilsit on the one hand, and to Johannesburg and Boston on the other. And so it went until the Great War [WWI] broke out.
After the war when some of the Jewish population, who had been forced to leave, returned home from Russia, help began to come from American relatives, the joint [Joint Distribution Committee], and the folksbank to rebuild the burned houses. The shelves were once again full of merchandise and merchants tried to gain back the trade they had lost during the war, but things were not the way they once were. Still the Tavrik Jewish merchants again took a place in the Lithuanian lumber market with thousands of workers.
There were respectable flax exporters with many workers in the granaries, who managed to be the largest providers of geese in all Lithuania. Tavrik held a respected place in Lithuania until the great crisis arrived and put an end to everything that had been built up with so much effort and labor. And the situation with Germany and the evil winds of Nazism do not help. The verslininkes [Lithuanian businessmen] are still around.
By I. R.
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Dr. Sonia Kovitz According to the census of 1934, Birz had 8,300 inhabitants, a third of whom were Jews (in 1923 the population was 5,315). Birz is an old town and was mentioned by Yagello as early as 1415. It played a large role in the economic and cultural life of Lithuania.
After the conflagration of the Great War, Birz began to rebuild. There are many beautiful brick buildings among which are the post office, high school, bank, and the district council building. They also restored the castle, which is consideredthanks to its lovely settingone of the most beautiful places to see in Lithuania. Among the firemen are many Jews.
Birz makes a pleasant impression because of the rivers that flow through it, the Amlana and Apashta. The four islands make a beautiful natural scene. The present economic situation in Birz is not very good, certainly not what it once was. Previously there was not much competition and the cost for labor and various products was high. Now there is a lot of competition and prices are low. Lithuanians are becoming involved in areas that in the past were always run by Jews. The craftsmen are having the hardest timethey are gradually being pushed out by the Lithuanians.
In trade the Jews are still the strongest, with 80 Jewish shops and only 38 Lithuanian, but even there the Lithuanians are making headway due to the propaganda, and less is being bought from the Jews. Yet in comparison to the situation in other towns, things are still not too bad in Birz. The folksbank is playing a large role in this, as well as the gemilas khesed (interest-free loan society).
There are two large Jewish mills in the town. One of them, the Apashte (formerly Yanson's factory), has seven partners: Leybe and Tuvia Tabakin, Orlovski, Uri Shokher (from Posval), Shmuel Zilberman, Shmuel Zindelevitch, and Zelman Etinger.
Many Jewish families make a living from the Jewish mills. Jews from Birz and the surrounding towns (Posval, Pokrau, Linkeve, Pumpian, Yonishkel, etc.) come here to buy or grind flour. Soft Birz flour is shipped throughout Lithuania.
In Birz there is an important spinning and weaving business. Both imported English wool and local flax are spun and woven here, and then exported to Czechoslovakia and other countries.
There is a library, but few are eager for books. From time to time a Jewish Theater troupe travels here with a cheap sort of melodrama. Since there is little else to do, people gather in the synagogue on Shabbat and talk about business and politics.
A ray of light in the town's Jewish cultural life is the well-organized Hebrew and Jewish public school.
The relationship between Jews and Lithuanians is not that bad. As the Lithuanians are not living in peace amongst themselves, they leave the Jews in peace. But what will happen when this young generation of Lithuanians later becomes anti-Semititic?
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Dr. Sonia Kovitz Keidan now has 9,000 inhabitants, a third of them Jews. The economic situation of the Jews has become very difficult. All commerce has declined. A large number of Jewish shops have been taken over by Christians. Also the number of Jewish artisans is almost down to nothing.
Keidan had from ancient times a lot of gardeners of fruit and vegetables. Keidaner gardeners used to support themselves with their produce not only in Shavel and Kovno but beyond. Currently more than 50 Jewish families are occupied with gardening. The profit is very small and only Jews who have their own land are able to make a living from the fruit they grow. The Jewish folksbank tries to help the Jewish merchants, artisans and gardeners.
Jewish social life cannot boast of a lot of activities, but Keidan has a large tarbut (Zionist school) with 200 students and four teachers. The Jewish public school has 35 students and 40 to 50 children study at the kheder [religious school]. There is even a Hebrew three-grade progymnazia [pre-high school], but it can barely be sustained. The young people from hashomer hatsair [Zionist youth group] maintain a library with many good books in Yiddish and Hebrew, which are in frequent demand.
Our community and cultural institutions are in a sad state at present. We are looking for willing landsleit [fellow Keidaners] in America to help. From the large New York group of Keidaners we are acquainted with the energetic Dr. Khaim Yankel Epstein, Philip Grinblat, and Bernard Richard. I was also told about a fine, former Keidaner who lives in the small town (so it is said in Keidan) of Waterbury, Connecticut, which is not far from New York. His name is David Stein and he is a social and cultural activist who lately made his mark also as a talented artist, according to M. Sudarsky.
The relationship between Jews and Lithuanians until the war (WWI) were excellent. It is important to mention that during the early years of the 20th century there was a close circle of intellectual Jews and Lithuanians who worked to free Lithuania. In 1909 the Jewish pharmacist Horvitz, following the advice of the old Lithuanian patriot Dr. Yarashis, was writing prescriptions in Lithuanian. Dr. Yarashis was not aware that the pharmacist had received a strong reproof for doing this from the Russian Medical Board, yet continued to write the prescriptions in Lithuanian. This is how both people lived together in peace during the years of the liberal leftist period. Lately the evil winds in the neighboring country (readGermany) have begun to blow on our side as well. Many Lithuanians are caught up in these currents, and if the process is not stopped, the earth under the feet of the Lithuanian Jews will become hot.
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