“Alunta” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Alanta, Lithuania)

55° 21' / 25° 18'

Translation of the “Alunta” 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 138-140)

Alunta

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

Also known as Avanta
In Yiddish, Alunte, also Avanta; in Russian, Ovanty

A county town in the Utena district.

YearGeneral
Population
JewsPercentage
1866177  
1923460*22248
1959418  

* 42 families

Alunta is located in the northeast of Lithuania, on the banks of a small river by the name of Alanta (also called: Virinta), 30 km southwest of Utena, the district's city.

Alunta is mentioned in historical documents from the 13th century as a town that passed from the hands of one royal family to another. During the Russian rule (1795-1915) the town belonged to the Vilnius gubernia (region) and to the Vilkimor district. At the end of the WWI, Bolsheviks and Poles ruled the town. Jews settled in Alunta and in the surrounding villages in the 19th century. Their economic situation was average. Most of them made their living from small commerce and auxiliary farms. Until WWI, the religious and social life concentrated around the Beit Hamidrash (Beit Haknesset) in the town. Among the Rabbis who served in Alunta were: Rabbi Binyamin Gitelson (between 1883 - 1878), author of “Hapoteach Vehachotem” (New York, 5658); Rabbi Shmuel Yitzhak Singer (from 1911).

In 1921, after the establishment of Independent Lithuania, a community council was elected with 6 members: 2 from the General Zionists, 1 from Tzeirei-Zion" (The Youth of Zion), 1 from Mizrahi, 1 from “Achdut” (Agudat Yisrael), and 1 independent. The council was headed by Amad Y. Charmatz. One of the council's main accomplishments was the establishment of a Hebrew School. The school was funded by the “Ya'akafa” foundation and a special tax levied on all members of the community. The school had two teachers and it was hard at task to keep itself going due to the meager aid it received from the Jewish Ministry in Kaunas. When Jewish studies were discontinued in the school, a dispute broke out with the orthodox circles in the town. Alunta had a library with books in Yiddish and in Hebrew.

106 (out of 113) eligible voters participated in the elections for the community council in September 1923 (5684). The elections were held on Hol Hamoed of Succot. There were 12 candidates and the results were as follows: Z. Rappoport (who received 98 votes), R. Kwaras (97), A.Y. Eingeltzick (64), Y. Gilinski (62), and Y.H. Glick (60). The elections for the National Jewish Assembly of Lithuania were also held on this occasion.

According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census, Jews owned the following businesses in Alunta: 2 grocery stores, a butcher shop, a pharmacy, a leather shop, a restaurant, an agency for sewing machines (“Singer”), 2 wool carding machines, and a flourmill. In 1937 there were 11 Jewish artisans in Alunta: 2 butchers, a baker, a stove maker, a tailor, a wood etcher, a carpenter, a blacksmith, a shoemaker, a leather worker, and a stitching specialist. In 1925 a Jewish dentist (Riva-Henia Rappoport) worked in the town.

In 1929 all 42 Jewish families that lived in the town registered as members with the Jewish Folks Bank that operated from nearby town of Moletai; and as a result, the bank opened a branch in Alunta. In addition to their activities in the few social and cultural institutions, the community members were also highly active in the political and public realms. The distribution of votes in Alunta to the Zionist Congresses is shown in the table below:

Congress
Nr.
YearTotal
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
RevisionistsGeneral
Zionists
GrosmanistsMizrachi
Z”SZ”ZAB
16192920        
171931222012213  2
181933 15142  1 
191935 4033  1 6

Alunta had a branch of “Hashomer Hazair”, a Zionist Youth Organization.

The relations between the Jews and the non-Jewish population were not good. They clashed on several occasions. One of the worst clashes occurred in the spring of 1939, when a blood libel was rumored against Zelig Rappoport, the local pharmacist. A furious mob of peasants from the surrounding area attacked the pharmacist and destroyed the pharmacy. The rioters also brutally beat a Jew by the name of Yermiyahu Gilinsky, attacked Jewish homes, shattered windows and ran rampant for a long time. The rage subsided only after the local priest succeeded in convincing the mob that the pharmacist is a decent person. A short while later the police found the female peasant, who was supposedly murdered by the pharmacist, alive and healthy. Yet the atmosphere of anti-Semitism, the result of methodical incitement by the nationalist, persisted in the town.

The Rabbi who served in Alunta at that time was Rabbi Zalman Dobzchensky.

In the autumn of 1940 Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union and it became a Soviet Republic. The Sovietization process hurt the Jews of Alunta also. Among other restrictions, all Zionist activities were prohibited and the Hebrew school was closed. The tensions between the Jews and Lithuanians intensified even more as the regime changed.

When the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out, most of the Jews of Alunta tried to flee into the interior of Russia through Moletai. But since the German army advanced very rapidly, almost all of them were forced to turn back. In the meantime, Lithuanian nationalists who were peasants from the local villages, took control of the town and began to brutally oppress their Jewish neighbors: Jews were tied to wagons and were forced to pull them while being whipped. One of the victims, a 24-year-old young man by the name of Alter Gordon, poured his rage on the perpetrators and promised them that a day will come and they will pay for what they did. He was shot and killed on the spot. Yermiyahu Gilinsky, the cloth merchant that was mentioned earlier, was also among the first who were murdered; the commander of the armed Lithuanians owed Gilinsky a large sum of money for merchandise he bought from him in the past, and now he took the opportunity to get rid of his creditor.

After the Lithuanians destroyed the Jewish homes and looted their contents they assembled all the Jews of Alunta in the Antaksciai Estate, which at one time belonged to Shalom Chezark. They were kept there while being humiliated and tortured until they were transferred to the town of Moletai. The Jews of Alunta were massacred in the Rase forest on August 29, 1941 (6 Elul, 5701), together with other Jews in the area and with some of the Jews from Utena. They were buried there in a mass grave. Only a few Jews who were hidden by peasants succeeded to survive. The names of the Lithuanian murderers, and not to mention them in the same breath with the names of the savers, are kept in the Yad Vashem archives.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, Koniuchowsky Collection 0-71, file 78.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: file 56, pages 3735-3758.
Gotlieb, Sefer Oheli Hashem, p. 3
Dar Yiddisher Kaparater [Jewish Cooperation] (Kovno), 1929 # (11) 37, p. 11.

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