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[Page 307]

Seredžius (Srednik)

55°05' 23°25'


Seredžius (Srednik in Yiddish) is situated on the right high shore of the Neman (Nemunas) River, where its estuary, the Dubysa,joins it. Srednik is 38 km. northwest of the district administrative center of Kovno (Kaunas). In documents dating from the sixteenth century Srednik is mentioned as a village next to the estate of the Grand Prince of Lithuania. At the turn of the seventeenth century many merchants and craftsmen lived there. In 1762 the town was granted permission to operate markets and fairs.

Until 1795 Srednik was included in the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom. According to the third division of Poland during that year by the three superpowers of those times, Russia, Prussia and Austria, Lithuania was divided between Russia and Prussia. As with other towns in Lithuania, Srednik became part of the Russian Empire, first under the auspices of the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 under the Kovno Gubernia in the Kovno district. At that time Srednik became a county administrative center, maintaining this status during the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940). In 1829 the town was flooded by the Neman River and many buildings were destroyed.



Jewish settlement until after World War I

Jews settled in Srednik at the beginning of the eighteenth century, making their living in the timber trade, peddling and crafts. A few worked on rafts on the Neman River for German timber merchants. The timber was brought from the Kovno and Vilna Gubernias.

There were two Batei Midrash and a Hasidic Shtibl established by Jews from Belarus, who had come to Srednik in order to trade in timber.

Among the rabbis who officiated in town during this period were Hayim Lifshitz who died in 1866, and his son Ze'ev-Dov Lifshitz, who officiated in Srednik from 1866 until his death in 1900.

Several Srednik Jews were named in the 1895 list of donors for settlement of Eretz-Yisrael.

In 1847, the town's population numbered 1,090 residents. By 1897 the all-Russian census reported 1,648 people living there, of whom 1,174 (71%) were Jewish.

At the beginning of World War I, in the spring of 1915, the Russian military exiled Srednik Jews to central Russian territories. After the German army conquered Lithuania, some of them returned. They found their possessions had been stolen and their property burnt, including the two Batei Midrash and the Shtibl. From the end of the nineteenth century until 1914 many Srednik Jews emigrated to America and South Africa and the Jewish population decreased to two-thirds of its previous size. By 1914 only about 800 Jews remained in town.



During independent Lithuania (1918-1940)

After the end of the war and the establishment of the independent Lithuanian state in 1918, only half of the exiled Jews returned home. With the assistance of the "Joint" organization they rebuilt their houses and businesses.

Following the passage of the Law of Autonomies for Minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government, the Minister for Jewish Affairs, Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections to community committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In 1921 a Va'ad (community committee) with seven members was elected in Srednik: two from the Tseirei Zion party, two from Mizrahi, two craftsmen and one independent. The committee was active in all fields of Jewish life until the end of 1925.


lit6_307a.jpg
Srednik; the bridge on the Dubysa River


During this period Srednik Jews made their living from commerce, peddling, crafts and agriculture. Because the Polish army cut the Vilna region off from Lithuania in 1920, export of timber to Germany was reduced and many of the raft workers lost their jobs.

The first government census of 1923 showed 931 residents, 449 of them Jewish (48%).

According to the government survey of 1931 there were twelve shops and businesses, all Jewish owned. The distribution according to type of business is given in the table below:


Type of the business Total
Butcher shops and cattle trade 1
Barrooms and restaurants 3
Textile products and furs 4
Flax and grains 1
Medicine and cosmetics 1
Iron products and tools 1
Other 1


According to the same survey there were two wool combing workshops, two bakeries and a small factory making men's hats, all Jewish owned.

In 1937 twenty-eight Jewish craftsmen worked in Srednik: ten tailors, five shoemakers, three bakers, three barbers, two butchers, two photographers, one hatter, one tinsmith and one stitcher. There were also five or six carters.

Most of the Jews of Srednik owned their own houses, with a small plot of land where they grew vegetables and fruit. Others rented fruit gardens from the surrounding Lithuanian peasants. Some Jews dealt in river transport, because the only access to Srednik was by boat on the Neman River. After the construction of the Kovno-Yurburg road which passed through Srednik, their livelihood was restricted. Generous aid to the town's Jews was extended by relatives who had emigrated to America and sent them money and parcels.

The Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank) played an important role in their economic life, and by 1927 some 172 members had registered in this institution. In 1939 there were twenty-two telephone subscribers; nine of them were Jewish houses and businesses. A slight improvement in their economic situation happened in the late 1930s when the building of barracks for the army began and many workers came into the town.

From the middle of the 1930s the number of Jews decreased, as the Lithuanian economic crisis and the open incitement of the Lithuanian Merchants Association (Verslas) to boycott the Jewish shops caused Jews to look for their future in other places. A slight improvement in their economic situation took place in the second half of the 1930s when building began on an army barracks and employed many workers in the town.

At this time there was also a Hebrew school from the Tarbuth chain with about 150 pupils.

Religious life concentrated around the synagogue, which had been built after the war. These were some of the rabbis who officiated in Srednik:

Yisrael HaCohen Kaplan (1878-1926), who served in Srednik from 1901-1920, and was active in religious education and one of the heads of the Mizrahi party, and the first military rabbi in the Lithuania army, from 1920. In 1925 he was a delegate to the fourteenth Zionist Congress as well as to the international Mizrahi conference in Vienna.
Mosheh-Yonah Katz, in Srednik from the 1920s until his death in 1936.
Zalman Karbuz, the last rabbi of Srednik, murdered by Lithuanians in the summer of 1941.

Linath HaTsedek and the Gemiluth Hesed Fund were among the local welfare societies.

Many Srednik Jews belonged to the Zionist movement, with many members in all Zionist parties, as can be seen by their votes for Zionist congresses in the table below:


Congress
No.
Year Total
Shkalim
Total Votes Labor Party
Z”S Z”Z
Revisionists General Zionists
A B
Grosmanists Mizrakhi
14 1925 40
15 1927 11 10 4 3 3
16 1929 23 13 4 5 1 1 2
17 1931 13 2 7 1 1 2
18 1933 75 62 2 8 3
19 1935 218 136 3 15 42 22


Zionist youth organizations included Tseirei Zion, Hashomer HaTsair and Hehalutz with its 100 members. Sports were organized by the local Maccabi branch.

Srednik-born personages included:

Rabbi Dov-Aryeh Levintal (1864-1952). He emigrated to America in 1891 and officiated as rabbi in Philadelphia. Levintal was one of the founders of the Yits'hak-Elhanan Yeshiva in New York and of the Association of Orthodox Rabbis in America and Canada. He was the delegate of American Jewry at the peace conference in Versailles after World War I.
Meir Yelin (1910-19??), a writer who published many books in Lithuanian and Yiddish, mostly against the background of the Shoah.


During World War II and afterwards

In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union, becoming a Soviet Republic. Under the new regulations, some shops and workshops belonging to Jews in Srednik were nationalized. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded, and Hebrew educational institutions were closed.

The supply of goods decreased and as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore most of the brunt and the standard of living dropped gradually.

At this time the town had 1,200 residents, about 500 of them being Jews (about 42%).

On June 22, 1941 the German army invaded the Soviet Union. Several days later the Germans entered Srednik. As there were no survivors from Srednik, there are no details relating to their fate and the destruction of this community. Relying on testimonies from neighboring towns it can be assumed that with the appearance of the Germans, the Lithuanian authorities imposed discriminatory regulations against the Jews. Single men and small groups of men were murdered and probably all Jews were concentrated in the local synagogue.

It is known that the Jewish men were murdered on August 28, 1941 in the Pakarkles Forest near Vilki (Vilkija). The women and children were murdered on September 3, 1941 (11th of Elul, 5701) in the village of Skrebenai, two kilometers away.

After the war the Soviet authorities uncovered a mass grave at this location and found the remains of 193 victims.

In 1992, at the site of the Jewish cemetery, a stone monument was erected with an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “The old Jewish cemetery. Sacred is the memory of the deceased. ”


lit6_307b.jpg
The mass grave and monument at the Pakarkles forest near Vilki


Sources:

Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, file 3785/55
YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Jewish Communities, file 700
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem, Page143
Folksblat, Kovno, 8.8.1935

 

The above article is an excerpt from “Protecting 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.

http://yurburgfriends.com/Rosin/Heritage.html


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