“Shkud” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Skuodas, Lithuania)

56°16' / 21°32'

Translation of “Shkud” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Esther Etinger and Josef Rosin

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 690 - 693)

Shkud (Skuodas)

Written by Esther Etinger and Josef Rosin

Translated by Dov Edelman and Bob Kurtzman

(in Yiddish, Shkud)
A town in the Kretinga district

Year Total populationJewish population
NumberPercent
1766-576-
18331,387--
1847-1,872-
18973,8142,29260
19233,6141,31033
19404,4102,20050

Skuodas is in the Zhamut region in northwest Lithuania, two kilometers from the Latvian border and approximately 45 kilometers northeast of the district capital Kretinga. The Bartuva River crosses the town and divides it in half. The “Old City” is on the left bank of the river and the “New City” on the right bank with a bridge connecting the two parts. The nearest train station was three kilometers from the town.

In ancient Lithuanian chronicles, it is stated that in 1259, 3,000 inhabitants of the area attacked the Crusader Order near the town of Shkoudan. In 1568 King Sigmund-August gave the estate of Skuodas and the town which bore the same name to the nobleman from Zhamut named Hodkovitz (or Katkevitz) and from him it passed on to the Sapyega family. In 1572 the town received municipal powers and it was permitted to build a city hall, a court of law, and to have a coat of arms and a seal. The town dwellers were exempted from taxes to the estate for a period of 21 years. The town began to develop in the direction of the estate and for a short time was called Johannesburg. The population was made up mainly of Germans. In 1702 it was conquered by Sweden, but the Russian and Lithuanian armies expelled them within two years. During the period from 1795 to 1915 Skuodas was under Russian rule and belonged to the Vilna District, and from 1843 – to the Kovno District. In the first half of the nineteenth century there were already six streets, two city squares, two weekly market days and three annual fairs. At the end of the nineteenth century the town became a district capital and it continued to hold this status during the period of Lithuanian independence (1918-1940), during the short Soviet period (1940-1941) and also under the Nazi occupation (1941-1945). In January 1945 during the battles between the German Army and the Red Army most of the city hall was destroyed by fire.

Jewish Presence Until After World War I

The beginning of Jewish settlement in Skuodas was in the seventeenth century. At the time of the decrees of 1648-1649 (Translator's notes: a year of massacres of Jews initiated by Bogdan Chmielnicki, the Ukrainian Cossack leader) Jewish refugees came to settle there. Even before that in 1638, there were Jewish taxpayers in Skuodas. In the period of the “Council of the State of Lithuania” (1623-1764), Skuodas was considered as belonging to the District of Keidan, and Conventions of the District towns took place in Skuodas. The old protocols of the community date back to 1725 and, according to them, the Jews suffered in those years from persecution. The protocols mention one of the leaders of the community, Shlomo, son of the holyman Shevach. The leader of the community, Rabbi Michael, was imprisoned because the community could not pay a debt of 1,000 guilders.

During the period until the end of the First World War, the affairs of the Jewish community were managed by an elected committee of twelve people known as “The Dozen”. In the beginning of the eighteenth century the Skuodas community built a synagogue that was famous all over Lithuania because it was one of the three oldest synagogues in the country. It was built of wood to the height of 15 meters. Inside there was an elaborate Holy Ark, embellished with wood carvings of animals, fruit, animals, flowers, crowns and the tablets of the Ten Commandments which reached up to the ceiling. This synagogue was used only from Pesach to Succot, because it was so tall that it was impossible to heat in the winter. In the winter, services were held in a nearby Beit Midrash. For Shabbat and holidays, a 366 branch chandelier was lit in the synagogue. Each light in memory of one of the martyrs who, according to tradition, was killed “al Kiddush Hashem” (martyred) and was buried in the courtyard of the synagogue. There was a memorial stone in the courtyard with an inscription based on this tradition. Also in the old city there was a house of prayer that was in use all year long. In the new city there was a synagogue and two “kloisim” (prayer rooms), one of which was also used as the “heder” in which the children learned Torah after their secular studies.

The old cemetery was at the end of the Old City, which was maintained by the Chevra Kadisha. The poor people were buried in the new part of the cemetery, the rich in the old part and the middle class in the middle.

The Jews of Skuodas engaged in commerce and in crafts. Part of the trade was with Riga and Libau in Latvia. In 1888 there were 200 Jewish peddlers in Skuodas.

Most of the Jewish children learned in schools such as “heder” and “Talmud Torah”. In 1879, the maski of the town, a Mr. Solovetchik, established a school, which he also administered and in which he taught. The language of instruction was Russian. In Hamelitz (Jewish newspaper), of June 3, 1879, there appeared an announcement inserted by the “Committee for Dissemination of Haskala to the Jews of Russia” that they supported his attempts to establish a school in the town and that they sent him a 100 ruble donation. In 1884 a heder metukan (advanced heder) was established. The teacher was Yisrael Schaff and the supervisor was Luira. The school was still active in 1894.

In 1910, twelve leaders of the community helped set up a Russian school, composed of four classes. It was located next to the Russian church. Some of the Jewish children learned general studies there, in addition to their studies at the “heder”.

On the eve of World War I, Dr. Karshtet opened a new school. He was a doctor who was one of the first organizers of cultural activities in the town, particularly for the youth. The first teachers were Yudel Mark, Tzernovsky, Weiner, and Shimon Band. Several of the teachers were brought in from other places. In addition to his devoted efforts on behalf of the school, Dr. Karshtet also gave medical and sociological help to the poor and the unfortunate in Skuodas. Because of his socialistic tendencies he was exiled by the government.

During World War I the German conquerors changed the Russian elementary school into a German school. Among the teachers in this school were: Hindel Helman, Mrs. Shleminess, and Mrs. Feinstein.

Throughout the existence of the community, and especially from the beginning of the twentieth century and on, life in Skuodas was vibrant. Many of the members of the Jewish community took part in the various aspects of the cultural, educational and public affairs of the city. They were also active in Zionistic and other organizations. The Jews of Skuodas were actively involved in promoting municipal services such as the Postal Service, delivering mail (1903), and maintaining the bathhouse and mikve, supervising the slaughterhouse, taking turns in manning the Fire Department, etc.

In 1905 echoes of the resistance to the Tsarist regime, also reached the streets of the Jewish Skuodas, and the young people participated in demonstrations against the government institutions.

Among the rabbis who held positions prior to World War I were: Rabbi Aharon ben Rabbi Yakov Horowitz (during the 60s of the 18th century); Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Zak (from 1779 until his death in 1788); his son, Rabbi Yitzchak Zak (1788-1801); Rabbi Eliyahu Baruch Kamai (1868-1879); Rabbi Yechiel Michel Hovsha who held the position for 38 years (from 1880 until his death in 1917). In addition to his serving in the rabbinate Rabbi Hovsha was active as a community leader and managed all of the charitable institutions in the town. During World War I he did much for the poor of the town. He wrote articles for Hatzfira and in the periodical Haivris which appeared in Berlin. Among his articles was one published in 1911in which he advocated the establishment of a Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. This was widely read and discussed by rabbis and scholars. In 1912 Rabbi Hovsha participated in the founding convention of “Agudas Yisrael”. Among his books are: Water Tank (5659 - 1899), Babylon, the Correct Explanation of the Book of Books, a controversial book that was translated into German, (5675-1915), And Shmuel Died (Warsaw, 5658 - 1895), a book about Rabbi Shmuel Mohliver, and other books.

Jews from Skuodas immigrated to Eretz Yisrael even before “Hibas Tzion”. In the old cemetery in Jerusalem one can be find at least five gravestones of Jews from Skuodas who were interred there during the second half of the 19th century. A Zionist organization was founded in Skuodas in 1897. In 1896 a delegate from Skuodas was among the 160 delegates from 93 cities and villages who participated in a congress of Russian Zionists.

The Period of Lithuanian Independence
Society and Economy

In 1921 a Community Council comprising 11 members was elected in Skuodas under the Jewish Autonomy Law legislated by the new Lithuanian government. There were 3 Zionists, 2 Mizrahi, 1 craftsmen and 5 independent . The first chairman was Mr. Mendel Chatzkles or Chatzklewitz. The Council dealt with most of the areas of Jewish life in Skuodas until it was abolished in 1926. In 1926 the organization “The Help” (Ha'Ezra) was established which managed community matters until its destruction. Its activities included supervision and responsibility for ritual slaughter in the slaughter houses, payment of salaries to the rabbi, to the ritual slaughter and to the cantor, certification of candidates and new religious ministrants, help to school teachers, loans to needy Jews on easy terms etc. Pasture lands, which had been owned by Jews, were placed under the jurisdiction of “Ezra” and were leased for agricultural purposes. This was a source of income for the organization. The first chairman of “Ha'Ezra” was Mr. Michal Fogelman. The last one to serve in that capacity was Mr. Meir Henich Bloch. The organization also supervised the public bath house and the hekdesh, namely, the hostel for needy migrants.

In this period the Jews of Skuodas made a living from commerce, trades, agriculture, transportation and light industry. Whereas before World War I commerce was mainly conducted with Riga and Libau which were in Latvia, after Lithuania took control of the Memel region in 1923, new markets opened which promoted the development of local industry, mainly in the footwear industry. Local factories produced approximately 400 pairs of shoes daily which were marketed throughout Lithuania, mainly in Memel. Many young Jews were employed in that industry. In Skuodas, spinning mills, wool dying, weaving, button and candy factories were also established.

According to the survey conducted by the Lithuanian government in 1931, there were 81 stores and business establishments in Skuodas, 66 owned by Jews (80 %). The distribution according to economic branch is presented in the following table:

Economic branch or type of businessTotalJewish
owned
Grocery1615
Grains and flax44
Butcher shops and cattle dealing128
Restaurants and bars62
Dealing in food products and eggs77
Beverages11
Clothing, furs and textiles109
Leather and shoes99
Sewing supplies and household utensils33
Medicines and cosmetics31
Watches and jewelry22
Radios, bicycles, sewing machines21
Tools and iron goods22
Heating material10
Machinery and overland transportation22
Sundry10

According to that survey there were 32 light industrial plants in Skuodas 24 of them were Jewish owned - (75%). The distribution according to economic branch is presented in the following table:

Economic branch or type of businessTotalJewish
owned
Metals, machinery, foundries, sheet metal working10
Textile: wool, linen, weaving54
Food industry84
Clothing and footwear1311
Leather products44
Sundry11

In addition, Skuodas had many Jewish craftsmen: bakers, builders, stove manufacturers, tailors, sheet metal workers, furriers, butchers, watchmakers, dressmakers etc. The butchers in Skuodas were famous for their quality meat products which they marketed throughout Lithuania.

Jewish teamsters made a livelihood from transporting goods to and from the railroad station. And also from transporting fish from Drubian, which is situated close to lakes rich in fish. Some Jews owned land outside of the city and they engaged in agriculture. Medical services were provided by two Jewish physicians that lived in the town.

The popular Jewish bank in Skuodas (Volksbank) gave merchants and craftsmen loans so they could develop their businesses. In 1928, 228 members were registered in the bank and its equity was 30,000 Lit. Among the founders of the bank were listed Eliyahu Tanur, Mendel Hatzkless, Ephraim B. Z. Ordena, and Michal Fogelman who was also its manager.

For many years all commerce in Skuodas was in Jewish hands until the Lithuanian Merchants Organization (Verslas) began to set up a chain of cooperative stores to take the commerce from Jewish hands. The first such store opened already in 1929. The Lithuanian Merchants Organization conducted open propaganda advocating the boycotting of Jewish stores.

In the middle of the 30's the government decided to destroy 40 old buildings in Skuodas that housed stores. A delegation of Jews requested the Minister of the Interior to revoke the decree. In those years many Jews from Skuodas emigrated to the United States, South Africa and the size of the community diminished.

Education and Culture

By order of the government, the institutions of the “heder” were combined even before the war. In this period the institutions were transferred to the buildings of the school in the old city. In 1921, the management of the school founded by Dr. Kirshtat was transferred to Michal Fogelman and the language of instruction was now Yiddish. The educational program was founded on Jewish sources and it was called “the Yiddish pro-gymnasium” (the Jewish pro-gymnasium). In 1921 the cornerstone was laid for a large building for an elementary school for the religious network “Yavne”. The building was established with the support of emigrants of the town in the United States and South Africa and the local chapter of “Ezra”. In 1922 also a Hebrew pro-gymnasium was established in Skuodas with four grades, which was part of the “Tarbut” network. Teachers from the school formerly run by Dr. Karshtat's transferred to the Hebrew pro-gymnasium, and excellent teachers were also recruited from outside of Skuodas. The institution expanded and two classes for external students were added. Among the teaching staff in the schools in the town were :the writer Yisrael Shaf, Chaim Aharon Hovsha, Tzvi Rosenzweig, Bat-Sheva Fon, Yisrael Fisch, Shimon Weinberg, Shlomo Weiner, Moshe Heshel Cohen, and many others, some of who made aliya to Eretz Yisrael. In 1927, a Hebrew kindergarten was founded in Skuodas under the direction of the kindergarten teacher Mrs. Marcus. In 1921 a Talmud Torah was founded in a building with 12 rooms with the help of contributions from the United States and from private donors from other places. The parents' committee of the school arranged social events from time to time and the income from these affairs were earmarked to cover deficits of the institution.

Skuodas had a drama group which presented two theatre productions every year. Among the productions were 'The Sale of Joseph”, “Mirele Efrat”, “King Lear”, “Yoske Muzikant” and others.[1] Members of the group also appeared in declamations and readings in Hebrew and the income was earmarked for educational and social programs. Among the producer/directors who worked with members of the group was Faivel Neiman. There also was a choir conducted by the pharmacist Mr. Zilberstein.

The cultural institutions in the town included the library which had 1000 volumes. The library was sponsored by The “Zirei-Zion” Association. The librarians who ran the library were teen age youths who worked voluntarily. The library lent books twice a week to readers. Besides all of these, evening classes were held in Skuodas for adults where they learned Hebrew, English and German on beginners and advanced levels. In 1926 a silent movie house began to operate in Skuodas. It projected silent movies in the new elementary school that was under the management of B.Z. Fogelman.

When the President of Lithuania, A. Smetona, visited Skuodas in 1926 he was greeted with great honor in the synagogue and there he was blessed by Rabbi Jacob Kaplanski who was a scholar and gifted preacher, who spoke in perfect Lithuanian and brought before him the peoples' requests to better the conditions of their lives.

Religion and Welfare

The rabbi who served as the Chief Rabbi of Skuodas in this period was the son-in-law of Rabbi Hovsha, Rabbi Jacob Chaim Trushkan who served in Skuodas from 1917 until he was murdered in 1941. He was a talented preacher and lecturer with a deep knowledge of Torah and other wide areas of interest. Rabbi Trushkan excelled in his tolerance and supported Zionism and education for Zionistic realization. He set up Torah classes and study groups and organized youth activities.

Beginning in the 20's, charitable organizations were set up in Skuodas. Some of them renewed their activities which had been interrupted by the War: “Gemilus Chasadim” Fund whose capital was recruited from the contributions of men of means gave interest free loans to the needy for long periods of time; “Linas Tzedek” Fund activated teenagers to nursing the chronically ill and established a duty roster by which every family sent someone to spend the night by the bed of an ill person; “Bikur Cholim” Society provided economic welfare and moral support to the ill and their families, saw to it that they obtained medical advice and medicines and lent medical equipment, which they had available, at no charge. The Society's income came from monthly contributions and collections made at special events and funerals. The “Maos Chitim” Society concerned itself with anonymous gifts of food products for Passover (Pesach). The “Lehchem Aniyim” Society was managed by women from Skuodas who gathered funds for the maintenance of the poor of the town. . The “Hachnasas Kalla” Society arranged weddings and raised money for dowries for poor brides; all monies came from monthly contributions and from pledges made in the synagogue, etc.

Zionist and Other Activities

Many Jews in Skuodas belonged to the Zionist movement. In Skuodas there was a systematic and orderly collection of contributions for the Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod. In Skuodas the Kupat Poalei Eretz Yisrael was also very active and worked on behalf of the “Eretz Yisrael Haovedes” movement.

The “Zeirei Zion” and Z.S. parties were very active and each worked separately in matters of culture and the national funds until they unified into one party. The “Mizrachi” had a respected place among the parties in Skuodas and enjoyed support from the Rabbi. The General Zionist party was also active in Skuodas.

In 1934 an organization was founded in Skuodas called “Haoved” and most of the craftsmen joined it. The members did not participate in special training programs for preparation for collective living in Palestine. But they and their wives participated in study programs on the history of Zionism and the Histadrut. The woman's organization “Wizo” engaged in public and social activities, and helped the national funds, the high school and other such groups. The distribution of the votes in Skuodas, in the 20s and 30s, for the Zionist Congresses is presented in the table below:

CongressYearTotal
shekels
Total
votes
Labor partiesRevis
-ionists
General ZionistsInd.Mizrachi
No.Z.S.Z.Z.A'B'
14192537--------
15192710077224239--10
1619292517615171028--6
171931156124193230--9
181933-302210-5822-48
191935-387258--228-99

In the beginning of the 20s a Zionist youth group was organized in Skuodas from among the student youths called “Hanoar”. The initiators were Shlomo London, Mendel Baskind and Ephraim Tzizling. The movement had about 80 teenagers but began to break up when “Hashomer Hatzair” and “Gordonya” came on the scene. The “Gordonya” Branch was founded in 1925 and its success can be attributed in no small measure to the teacher Tzvi Rozenzweig. Some of the members of this movement in Skuodas settled in Israel in kibbutzim and agricultural settlements. Also “Hashomer Hatzair” began its activities in Skuodas in 1925 strictly as a scout movement under the leadership of Harry Yudelman. Only in 1928 did they join the general “Hashomer Hatzair” movement of Lithuania. This branch in Skuodas was considered one of the better branches in Lithuania and it conducted well planned and comprehensive cultural programs. Many of its members went to training programs in collective living and settled in Israel.


Translator's notes

  1. These productions were probably in Yiddish. Return


Mass Grave in Skuodas

Old Jewish Cemetery in Skuodas

(Photographs are courtesy of Gilda Kurtzman)


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