Salakas (Salok in Yiddish) lies in northeastern Lithuania. Forests and lakes surround the town. One of the lakes, the Luodis, is about 1 km. (0.6 miles) from the town.
An estate named Salakas was mentioned in historical documents dating back to 1586. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century the town was owned by the Bishop of Vilna. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, during the Northern War with the Swedes, Salok was completely burned down.
Local fighting units were involved in the rebellion against the Czarist rule of 1863.
In 1731 the town boasted a flourmill, a beer brewery and a cheese factory.
In the second half of the nineteenth century large markets and annual fairs were organized in Salok. At that time, there were more than thirty stores and small pubs in town, most of them owned by Jews. Salok was known for its pottery production. There were a Catholic church, an elementary school and three Jewish prayer houses in the town.
At the end of the nineteenth century and in the first half of the twentieth century, Salok was a county administrative center with its own police.
In 1862 significant tension developed between the Jewish and gentile populations and there was a warning of a pogrom, but the timely intervention of the gubernator (governor) helped to avert a disaster.
In the middle of August 1886 a raging fire broke out in Salok and seventy Jewish houses burned to the ground, devastating their owners. The three prayer houses were also lost and the community was left without a place of worship. The Hebrew newspaper HaMelitz published an appeal for help, signed by several respected men of Salok; Asher son of Shneur Zalman and David Mosheh, Naftali Hertz and Dov Aryeh Rom. Another fire broke out in July 1901, destroying about 300 houses and affecting hundreds of people.
Elhanan Rapoport, a student, and M. J. Yafit sent reports of the fire to HaMelitz, while Matityahu Bravo reported it in HaYom.
In 1902 yet another fire erased the entire town but due to its proximity to the St. Petersburg Warsaw railway, the town was rebuilt and its population grew. However, six years later, on July 27th, 1908 fire again destroyed hundreds of homes.
At the end of 1918 a revolutionary Bolshevik committee started its activities. Consequently Soviet rule was enforced in the town. Its power lasted only until early 1919, when fighting broke out with the newly organized Lithuanian army, and the Bolsheviks were forced to retreat from the town.
|General view of Salok|
During the period of independent Lithuania, a plan was proposed to reconstruct Salok into a scenic vacation town, since the soil was not particularly suitable for agriculture.
The Jewish settlement in Salok was one of the first in Lithuania. The Jews earned their living by trading in agricultural products, timber and fishing. Their economic situation before World War I was relatively good.
In 1879, the local philanthropist Eliezer Matityahu Bravo built a fine new shelter for the poor, to replace the old one. The Bravo family was known to have been the first literate family in Salok.
The population census of 1897 revealed 2,386 residents in Salok, 1,582 (66%) of them Jews.
In Salok, between the years 1875 and 1899, there were 32 subscribers to rabbinic literature.
After World War I, the situation in Salok changed considerably. The new borders, redrawn as a result of the Polish army's occupation of the Vilna region, cut Salok off from the railway station of Duksht and from Vilna. In fact, Salok was left without any economic resources and many Jews left, emigrating to South Africa, Cuba and Eretz-Yisrael. The Jewish population was thus markedly depleted. Many young people enrolled in training kibbutzim, hoping to emigrate to Eretz-Yisrael. The remaining Jews scraped together a living, mainly by trading and peddling in the surrounding villages or working in small workshops as sock machinists, shoemakers and tailors.
Following the law of autonomies for minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government, the minister for Jewish affairs, Dr. Menahem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections for community committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. At the beginning of 1920, elections took place and seven members were elected, three from Akhduth (Agudath Yisrael) and four non-party men.
The first population census conducted by the Lithuanian government in 1923 showed that there were 1,918 residents in Salok, 917 (48%) of them Jews.
According to the government survey of 1931, there were eleven shops in Salok, all of them Jewish: three textile shops, three hardware stores, two restaurants, one grocery, one shop selling sewing machines and one butcher shop. There were nine small workshops, all Jewish: four weaving, three wool combing and two bakeries.
By 1937, there were 56 Jewish tradesmen in Salok: fourteen needle workers, thirteen shoemakers, six butchers, seven metal workers, four carpenters, a baker, a watchmaker and ten tradesmen working in other occupations. A few Jews were fishermen in the nearby lakes and many others were peddlers.
In 1939, there were eighteen telephones, six of them in Jewish homes.
In 1939, after Vilna and its region were annexed to Lithuania once again, Salok experienced some recovery. When the city of Vilna became affected by severe shortages of food and heating fuel, Salok Jews supplied it with timber and agricultural products, as well as exporting a variety of goods to Russia. But this prosperity was short-lived and ended on June 15th, 1940, when Lithuania was occupied by the Red Army and annexed by the Soviet Union as one of its republics.
At this time the Kletsk Yeshiva (Polish) was moved to Salok from Janeve (Jonava). According to one source, thirty-three students of the Yeshiva, together with their teacher, managed to escape to Russia.
Many of the Salok Jews were affiliated with the Zionist camp. The Zionist Socialist (Z. S.) party was very active in Salok. Zionist youth organizations HaShomer HaTsa'ir and Betar had branches in Salok while the Maccabi sports organization had just twelve members.
Salok Zionists bought Shekalim and voted at elections to the Zionist congresses. The division of votes for each party is presented below:
|Total Votes||Labor Party
Religious life was concentrated around the Beth Midrash, the Kloiz and the Hasidic Shtibl (Prayer room). Among the Jewish organizations of Salok, the welfare society Linath Hatsedek was well known. There were two Jewish cemeteries, the old and the new.
Rabbis who served Salok included the noted Rabbi Yehudah-Leib Mohliver, who died in Salok. His son, Rabbi Shemuel Mohliver (1824-1898), was a leader of the Hibath Zion movement, and later became active in the religious Zionist party. The kibbutz Gan-Shemuel in Israel is named after him.
Ya'akov Kelmes (1880-1952) was the rabbi during the years 1910-1914. Between 1926 and 1933 he was the Chief Rabbi in Moscow, subsequently emigrating to Eretz-Yisrael where he became a member of the Chief Rabbinate. He died in Jerusalem.
|The Hasidic Shtibl|
Eliyahu Mordehai, son of Tsevi Yehiel HaLevi Valkovsky (1874-1962), was Rabbi for a short period in Salok, emigrating to Eretz-Yisrael 1934. There he too became a member of the Chief Rabbinate. He published eleven volumes of his research on the Talmud, and died in Jerusalem.
The last rabbi, Ya'akov Ralbe, was murdered by the Lithuanians in 1941, together with his community.
Notable Jews born in Salok include Dr. Aryeh Behm (1877-1941), delegate to the fourth Zionist Congress and an ardent campaigner for a Jewish State in Eretz-Yisrael. In 1914 he moved to Eretz-Yisrael where he established the first Pasteur Institute in Jerusalem and became a founder of the Medical Council there. He published brochures on medical and health issues. Dr. Behm died in Tel-Aviv.
Ya'akov Kronitz was one of the leaders of the Revisionist party in Lithuania and a delegate to Zionist congresses. He died in 1939 in Kovno.
In June 1940, Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new laws, light industry enterprises owned by Jews were nationalized. A number of Jewish shops were nationalized as well, and commissars were appointed to manage them. Supply of goods decreased and prices soared. The mostly Jewish middle class bore the brunt and the standard of living dropped. All community institutions, Zionist parties and youth groups were disbanded; the Hebrew school was closed.
On June 22nd, 1941 the German army invaded the Soviet Union. At that time about three hundred Jewish families lived in Salok.
|A group of Salok children
(Picture courtesy of the Archives of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel)
The Germans entered Salok on June 29th, 1941. The first week after the invasion, Jews were subjected to a virulent range of anti-Semitic acts by their Lithuanian neighbors. Heavy decrees were imposed on them: they were forbidden to leave town, they were ordered to stitch the letter J or a yellow Magen David on their outer garments, and on their homes the word Jude was scribbled in paint. The market was strictly out of bounds and to approach a German was forbidden. They were forced into labor on the farms of the Lithuanians, and in addition, the Lithuanians extorted money from the Jews on every possible occasion. Lithuanian auxiliary policemen fulfilled German orders with enthusiasm even when there were no Germans in town. This occurred incessantly. Under the orders of the Lithuanians, a Judenrat was established, its members being Rabbi Ya'akov Ralbe, Faivush Gilinsky and Avraham Bakh.
The first casualty was Berl Krupnik, a shoemaker, who was accused of being the director of the cooperative grocery shop during the Soviet rule. Another Jew was murdered because his children were members of the Comsomol (The Communist youth organization).
On August 2nd, 1941 (13th of Av 5701) all Salok Jews were ordered to gather in one place, and from there they were led to the Sungardas forest, about ten km. (6 miles) southeast of the town. They were not permitted to take anything with them except a small parcel of food. About one hundred and fifty people in all, the educated and the public workers, including their wives and children, were selected from the crowd, and led to the village Pa'ezere. On the Sabbath, Shabbat Nahamu, on or about August 9th, 1941, all were shot and buried in the forest, a short distance outside the village of Rakenai. The remaining Jews in the Sungardas forest were brought back to Salok, but not to their homes. Instead, they were placed in a makeshift ghetto on Planova Street in apartments left vacant by Lithuanians. Before the Lithuanians abandoned their apartments, they took with them everything, including doors and windows. Before the Jews were allowed to enter their new living quarters, Lithuanian policemen searched them thoroughly and robbed them of all the valuables and money they could lay their hands on.
|The mass grave and the monument situated in the Sungardas forest,
about 10 km. (6 miles) from Salok
On August 26th, 1941, all the remaining Jews were ordered to gather at the market place and to bring their equipment and tools. They were told they were going to work on a government farm in Rakishok. The Lithuanian Chief of Police promised that no evil would happen to them and that they need not take anything with them except their tools and some food for the trip, as everything would be supplied at the new workplace. To gain more credibility he gave the three committee-members special certificates stating that Salok Jews were decent people.
The monument with the inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian:
Here in this place the Nazi murderers and their local collaborators
cruelly murdered Jews children, women, and men.
Blessed is the memorial of the innocent victims.
The people believed him. Maybe they were content to move away from their Lithuanian torturers. Women, children and the elderly were loaded on carts brought by the Germans from other villages, and the others went on foot surrounded by armed Lithuanians. The convoy moved in the direction of Dusiat and Antaliept, but ten km (6 miles) from Salok it left the road and preceded to a plot surrounded by barbed wire. On the fence there was a sign warning that anyone entering the area without permission would be shot. The carts and the cart owners were not permitted to return home lest it became known that the Jews were not led, as promised, to Rakishok.
Among the Jews in that group were men, women and children from the neighboring communities of Zarasai, Dusetos, Antaliepte, Dukstas and other communities. All the non-Jewish residents who lived within three to five kilometers away from this place were ordered to leave their homes for three days.
The unfortunate Jews spent the night outside in the open air, and in the morning the murders began. Group by group, the victims were led to the nearby Pazemis forest, about 500 meters (1600 feet) off the road from Deguciai to Dusetos directly to freshly dug, long, deep pits. There they were ordered to undress. The men obeyed but the women refused. Screaming, they tried to protect their children. The Lithuanians beat them with rifles and whips and pushed them all into the pits. A firing squad shot the victims with rifles and machine guns, sparing no one. Two of the cart owners went mad hearing the terrible screams. The murderers were Lithuanians, drunk on vodka freely supplied by the Germans. On a nearby hill two SS men stood and watched, barking orders. The cart owners were warned not to speak about what they had witnessed. The victims numbered 2,569 men, women and children. According to a Lithuanian source, a Lithuanian named Radzevitz and three family members were among the dead, murdered by Germans because they harbored Jews.
After the war a few survivors from Salok returned to their town. They found the two mass graves had been desecrated and were neglected. The pits were still uncovered and human remains were scattered around, left so by grave-looters who took what valuables and gold teeth they could find. The returned survivors covered the graves with earth, and a monument with an inscription in Yiddish and Russian was erected. In the 1990s a new monument was built with inscriptions in Yiddish and Lithuanian: see photos in the Antaliepte article.
Yad Vashem Archives-M-1/E-1613/1497; M-1/Q-1952/453; 0-3/1890; 319/210 (testimony of Yerakhmiel Korb)
Bakaltchuk-Felin, Melakh; Yizkor Bukh fun Rakishok un Umgegnt (Yiddish), Johannesburg 1952, pages 424-428
HaMelitz (St. Petersburg) (Hebrew) January 8, 1879; May 14, 1883; July 1901
Dos Vort, Kovno (Yiddish) 8.10.1934
Folksblat, Kovno (Yiddish) 3.8.1936
Yerushalayim D'Lita, Vilna (Yiddish) No. 7-8, September-October 1993
Naujienos, Chicago, (Lithuanian), 10.6.1949.
The above article is an excerpt from Preserving Our Litvak Heritage by Josef Rosin. The book contains this article along with many others, plus an extensive description of the Litvak Jewish community in Lithuania that provides an excellent context to understand the above article. Click here to see where to obtain the book.
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