“Seta” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Shat, Lithuania)

55°17' / 24°15'

Translation of “Seta” chapter
from Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Josef Rosin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1996


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Acknowledgments

Project Coordinator

Ada Green

Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
for permission to put this material on the JewishGen web site.

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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(Page 679)

Seta (Shat)

A small town in the Kedainiai district

Written by Josef Rosin

Translated by Joseph Woolf, who was born in Seta

YearTotal
population
JewsPercentage
of Total
Population
1847 - 802 -
1859868 - -
18971,6701,135 68
1923877440 50
19401,450350 24

General

Seta is situated in the center of Lithuania. It was 17 km from the regional capital Kedainiai and connected by a dirt road. Seta is first mentioned on historical documents during the 17th century. Early in the 18th century it was burnt down during the Swedish invasion. In 1785 the town was granted permission by the king to hold two fairs per year. From 1795 until 1915 Seta fell under czarist Russian rule, firstly as part of the Vilna province and from 1843 part of the Kovno province. In the 19th century Seta developed at a very fast rate, holding large fairs and market. During this period there were approximately 40 stores, bars, wine distilleries, a factory preparing pelts, flour mills and a drugstore. Towards the end of the Russian rule and the period of Lithuanian independence 1918-1940, Seta was the center of the region. During the autumn of 1915, heavy battles took place between the armies of Germany and Russia in the vicinity of Seta and a fire caused heavy damage in the town. For a short period in 1919, it fell under Bolshevik rule. Once again in the Second World War the town was burnt down by the Germans. [Translator's note: But some wooden homes and parts of homes, plus the beit hamidrash seemed to have survived].

Jewish Settlement until after the First World War

The Jews first settled in Seta at about the middle of the 17th century. It is recorded that the Karaites settled there in 1664 and in the years 1679-80 there was a blood libel against the Karaite community. The Karaite rabbi Joseph ben Itzhak lived in Seta for a number of years in the beginning of the 18th century and the last time that the Karaite community was mentioned in historical documents was in 1709. at the time of the autonomous Jewish Council of Lithuania 1623-1764 Seta was included in the Birzh (Birziai) Circuit. The Jews livelihood was in trade and crafts and in transport as cartsmen. In the nearby villages of Bukantz and Truskova Jews were engaged in farming.

The town suffered frequently from devastating fires from time to time. In the years 1860 and 1878, 100 homes were burnt down, including the synagogue and beit hamidrash, and in 1892 again 115 homes were burnt down. The Squire Montvilla assisted those made homeless in the fires and in 1868-69 also assisted many in the years of drought and hunger. Every year he donated 25 rubles to the fund for disinfecting the town.

Until 1898 the Jewish children were only taught at the cheder but in that year a Jewish school was established by the initiative of the Rabbi-Reb Israel Levin. He rented a large and wide house and partitioned the rooms to provide a separate room for each class. He also hired good experienced teachers of various subjects, including Hebrew and Hebrew grammar, the Bible, etc.

The beit hamidrash was the center of the religious life of Seta. Of their rabbis were Eliahu ben Yakov Ragoler (1794-1849) who served as rabbi in 1821 and who also established the large yeshiva of Slobodka in Kovno; Rabbi Naftali bar Ephraim; Rav Meir-Michel Rabinowitz, who served Seta for 20 years and died in 1902 and author of the book HaMeir L'Olom on the logic of studying the Torah; Rabbi Nahum Shapiro (died 1902) prodigy of Rabbi Israel Salanter; Rabbi Zev-Wolf Abrech (served in Seta in 1875); Rabbi Avraham Druskowitz (served Seta 1897-1902).

In 1900 the town founded the institution Righteous Lodging that assisted those suffering diseases of the eyes. In the same year the Zionist Council was established under the chairmanship of Zundel Rubensohn. In the lists of those who donated to assist in the settlement of Eretz Israel from the years 1900 to 1903, quite a number of Jewish donors of Seta are recorded, Wittenberg, Bezalel Hirsch Meitkis and in 1903 Kurlanchick.

The bund was organized towards the end of the 19th century followed in 1903 by the young bund. On the first yarzeit of the mourning for the pogrom of Kishinev, the members of the young bund climbed onto the bima of the synagogue and would not allow the cantor to intone the memorial prayer to honor that sad day.

The Period of Lithuanian Independence (1918-1940)

In this period the Jews earned their livelihood from trade, crafts and transport. The weekly market day was on Tuesdays and they held two fairs per year, both being important for the livelihood of the Jews of Seta. According to the census of 1931 conducted by the Lithuanian government, of the 12 stores and other business enterprises of Seta, 9 of them (75%) were Jewish.

Type of Business TotalOwned
by Jews
butchers and cattle dealers20
restaurants & inns33
furs, clothes & textile stores44
radio, electrical goods & sewing machines11
iron & steel, tools11
others10

In the same census it also listed a factory for soft drinks and a wool spinning and material weaving mill, both Jewish-owned.

In 1937 there were 37 Jewish craftsmen as follows: 8 tailors, 5 stove and fireplace builders, 3 glaziers, 3 carpenters, 3 blacksmiths, 2 bakers, 2 tinsmiths, 2 butchers, 1 felt-boot manufacturer, 1 metal-grinder, 1 shoemaker, 1 barber, 1 leatherworker, 1 shoe stitcher, 1 other. The Jewish Peoples Bank (Volksbank) played an important role in the economy of the town; in 1927 there were 129 depositors. Two years after that there were only 105.

In the middle 1930's the Jewish population was considerably reduced and the economic crisis which caused it was due to the boycott and pressures organized by the Lithuanian Merchants Association (Verslas). Those who left sought a livelihood in other places. A large portion of them emigrated to South Africa, some attempted to emigrate to the U.S.A. For many years there existed a "Shatter Association". In 1939 there were 13 telephones in Seta, 7 of them were owned by Jews.

About 30 Jewish children studied at the cheder and 70 at the Hebrew elementary school belonging to the Tarbuth network. There was also a Jewish library which held approximately 500 books in Hebrew and Yiddish. But very few Jewish residents of Seta used them. There was very little cultural activities, mainly because of the difficulty in reaching Seta, especially during periods of rain. There was no decent road and also no railway line. Electricity was non-existent.

Of the Jews of Seta who participated in Zionist activities, most belonged to the Zionist parties. In 1925 a branch of the Zionist Socialist Party consisting of 10 members was formed. Many activities were organized by the "Grosmanists" and there were a number of Zionist Youth Groups, amongst them Bnei-Akiva and Hashomer-Hatsair. The proportion of members of the various Zionist organizations was influenced by the voting patterns of the Zionist Congresses between the years 1929-1939. The following chart reflects this:

Congress
Number
YearTotal
Shkalim
Total
Voters
Labor Party
Z"S    Z"Z
Revisi-
onists
Gen. Zionists
A        B
Gros
Manists
Mizrahi
16192932- --         ----
17193116152        2--8        --3
181933--251616        ---2
191935--12559 1       1649-
        Nationalist
211939--2923--1 5

The religious life of Seta was centered around the beit hamidrash and kloiz (prayer room). After the resignation in 1935 of the Rabbi Shlomo Rabinowitz after 30 years service to the community, the town was without a rabbi for some time until the election of Rabbi Elchanan Weiner, who was the last rabbi of the Seta Jewish Community. Through all the years of the history of Seta, the Jewish Community always had a shochet (ritual slaughterer). The Gemilus Chesed (charitable loan fund) was also important in the life of the Jewish community in providing interest-free loans to the needy.

Well-known native born of Seta were Rabbi Moshe-Itzhak Rabin (1834-1902) who served for 40 years as the authorized rabbi of Ponevezys and for many years the principal of the famous Ponevezys Yeshiva; Dr. Ephraim Kaplan (1879-1943) who emigrated to the U.S.A. in 1904 who edited Der Morgan Journal (The Morning Journal) in New York; Mordechai-Menes Moneshevitz (1857-1928), an educator and author who founded a well-known school in Leipaja, Latvia. Later on emigrating to the U.S.A., he became principal of a school there and also was a publisher of poems, essays, Hebrew educational books and plays.

The Second World War and After

In 1940 Lithuania was absorbed into the Soviet Union and became a Soviet republic. This caused the disappearance in Seta of all the factories and most of the stores, the majority having been Jewish-owned. All the Jewish Zionist movements including that of the youth broke-up. Hebrew educational institutions were closed. The middle class, the majority being Jewish, were badly hit and their standard of living dropped.

The war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out on the 22nd of June 1941. A few days later, after a heavy battle with the Red Army, the Germans captured the town of Seta. Even before that armed Lithuanians were already roaming the town waiting for Jews who had returned from the forest or the adjoining village after fleeing from the heavy battle. The Germans arrested Joshua Aharon Levy, a respected resident of Seta, and ordered him to tear the Torah-scrolls of the beit hamidrash and when he refused, killed him by gunfire. Lithuanian Auxiliary police forcefully rounded up the males of all ages and cruelly abused them. On the 20th of August, all the Jews of Seta were transported on trucks to the regional capital Kedain. There they were kept at the stables until the 28th August, after which they were murdered together with the Jews of Kedain, first the males, and then the women and children. It is known that some of the Jews of Kedain and Seta resisted the murderers. Names of the Lithuanian murderers are recorded at the archives of Yad Vashem.

After the war, survivors of Kedain and Seta built a memorial on the mass grave. On it was inscribed in Yiddish, Russian and Lithuanian, "The Victims of Fascist Terror". [Translator's note: Since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. the inscription has been changed. It now reads in Yiddish, Hebrew and Lithuanian, "Here rest 2076 Jews, victims of the Nazi murderers and their willing helpers".]


See also:
“Seta” - Jewish Cities, Towns and Villages in Lithuania until 1918

“Seta” - Volume I: Lite (Lithuania)

“Seta” - Yahadut Lita (Lithuanian Jewry), Vols. 3 and 4


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