“Alsėdžiai” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Lithuania)

56°02' / 22°03'

Translation of the “Alsėdžiai” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by 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 144-145)

Alsėdžiai (Lith.)

Alshad (Yiddish)

Olsiadi (Russian)

A town in the Telz district

Written by Josef Rosin

Translated by

YearTotal
Population
Jewish
Population
Percent
1860600  
18971,8829527%
19231,04919919%
1940 About 30 Jewish families 

Alsėdžiai is in the northwest of Lithuania, in the heart of the Zhamot strip, 14 kilometers north-west of Telz. The distance from the railroad line and the main road from Shavel to Memel prevented its development. Alsėdžiai is mentioned in historical documents from 1253. The area and the adjoining lake were the property of the bishops of Zhamot, who lived in a luxurious castle that was built there. In 1702 King Augustus II gave permission for the town to have a yearly fair/market. In 1790 King Stanislav August gave permission for two fairs each year. During the period of Russian rule (1795-1915), Alsėdžiai was incorporated into the Vilna district and afterwards into the Kovno district. During the period of Lithuanian independence (1918-1940) it was the main city of the area.

The Jewish Community until the Second World War

From statistics of 1662, there were four Jews: two men and two women (not including children). With the years the numbers grew and before the First World War the number of Jews reached 300.

In 1908, the rabbis of the area gathered in Alsėdžiai in order to discuss Jewish education. Among the decisions were that secular studies would not be more than an hour and a half per day; and to publish a daily newspaper in Hebrew and Yiddish.

In the period of Lithuanian independence, the number of the Jewish population gradually decreased until just before the Holocaust there were only 30 families. The occupations of the Jews were merchandising, handcrafts and agriculture. According to a survey taken in 1931 by the Lithuanian government, there were several businesses in Alsėdžiai: food supplies, felt goods, butcher, pharmacy, and barbershop in addition to a few small business that were not included in the survey. In 1937 there were four businesses owned by Jews: bakery, hat maker, shoemaker, and butcher. Jews also owned four flourmills in the surrounding towns, two felt processing factories, a factory for boot/shoe lasts, and a factory for wooden screws which, even before World War I, were sold all over Russia. Most of the Jews of made their living by agriculture. The weekly market days and the four-times a year fair days were the main means of making a living for the Jews of Alsėdžiai. However, many of them were poor and needed supplementary support by their relatives living abroad. Over the years most of the Jews of the town emigrated to South Africa and Israel. In 1930 a fire broke out in the town and 35 out of the 40 Jewish homes went up in fire. With the financial support sent from abroad and the loans they received from the “Joint” they were able to rebuild within a short period of time, including a study house. In 1929 there were 9 telephones in Alsėdžiai, three of them in the homes of Jews.

Among the rabbis who held a position in Alsėdžiai were: Rabbi Tzvi Broide (beginning of the 19th century), Rabbi Avraham-Aba Zak (1890-1941), who was murdered by the Lithuanians. Study groups in Talmud, Mishnayot and Orach Chaim were active.

The children received their elementary education in “Talmud Torah” and in the Hebrew school of the “Tarbut” network. Many of Jews of Alsėdžiai were affiliated with the Zionist camp, including all the Zionist parties. The distribution of votes to the various parties to the Zionist Congresses in the 1930s were as follows:

Congress no.YearTotal “ShkalimTotal votesWorking Eretz YisraelRevisionistsGeneral ZionistsPoliticalsMizrachi
S.Z.Z.Z. A  B 
181933-1411-2--1
191935-6017-115-27
 National bloc
Total193921194-411

There was a branch of “Maccabi” in the town which had 25 members.

During the Second World War and After

With the absorption of Lithuania to the Soviet Union and the change to the Soviet Republic in 1940, the stores in Alsėdžiai disappeared, some of which were owned by Jews. All the political parties and youth movements were disbanded. Hebrew educational institutions were closed.

The German army came into Alsėdžiai a few days after the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out. Even before the Germans arrived, the local Lithuanian government organized attacks on the Jews. Several times the Jews were taxed 50,000 rubles. On the fifth of July the Jews were taken to a ghetto, which had a synagogue, a bath house and two houses. Every morning there was a muster call the men were forced to run in a circle bent over and the Lithuanian guards beat them with whips .After that they were taken to various jobs such as removing weeds from gardens and parks and cleaning latrines. Armed Lithuanians who came from Telz requested to murder Jews from Alsėdžiai, but the local priest (Dumbrauskas) informed them that they could do that only after they had murdered him first.

In the beginning of July all of the Jews were transferred to the Rainiai camp near Telz. The elder rabbi who was then 83, Rabbi A.A. Zak, and the other elders were transported in automobiles and the others in carts. Before that they were compelled to give the Lithuanians their money and silver and gold jewelry and other valuables. Each one was allowed to have about 100 rubles for expenses. On the road they were robbed of most of their valuables and goods. When the Jews of Alsėdžiai were brought to Rainiai there Jews from Telz were already imprisoned there. After a few hours some of the men, women and children were transferred to the Viesvenai estate, some 4 kilometers distance from Rainiai. Also transferred there were Jews: men, women and children from the shtetls Vorna, Tavor, Navron, Zaren and Loykava Some of the men from Alsėdžiai remained in Rainiai and were sent to scatter lime on the large mass grave where the males from Telz were buried. After a few days they were also murdered in the same place. The Jews who were brought to Viesvenai were quartered in five silos. The hunger was great and the dirt and lice exhausted what remained of their endurance. From here women were taken to work for local farmers. Parallel to this the Lithuanians continued to maltreat the men forcing them to drilling exercises with terrible beatings. In the course of these drills some Jews died or were shot. On July 15 in the evening there came to the camp a truck with more armed Lithuanians and some Germans. They moved all males aged13 or more to a nearby woods and shot them. The next day they took out older youths from the silos and shot them. The clothes of the murdered were brought to the yard of the camp and the women recognized the clothes of their dear ones. By the piles of clothes documents and photos of the murdered were scattered. On that very day the women and children that survived were transferred to the Geruliai camp and there their fate was the same as the women and children of Telz imprisoned there. Some women succeeded in staying alive with the help of Lithuanian farmers. Some Jews from Alsėdžiai succeeded in getting to Shavel ghetto.

To get revenge on the priest who opposed the murder of Jews the Lithuanians brought 30 women and children to Alsėdžiai from the ghetto of Telz to the home of the priest. They shot them and buried them there. This happened on the day of the liquidation of the ghetto, December 24, 1941 (4 Tevet 5702).

The family of the ritual slaughter (shochet) of Alsėdžiai, Reb Yosef Ber Factor, owned a tannery. They were allowed to remain in the shtetl to finish treating the remaining supply of hides. As they approached finishing the work, the family fled from the shtetl and hid in the home of a Lithuanian farmer friend until the Red Army returned in the fall of 1944. Before that Reb Yosef Ber took out the Torah Scrolls and other holy books from the study hall (Beis Midrash) and gave them to the Priest Damauskas to watch over them .After the war the priest returned the Scrolls and books to the Factor family.

According to Soviet sources a mass grave was found about 2 kilometers from the Viesvenai estate. Buried there are some 40 families.


Pictures from Alsėdžiai of today (September 6, 2004)

Gilda Kurtzman relates: Our guide was very excited when he saw the synagogue. As Alsediziai was not on the regular "tourist" track and it being a relatively small town, he had never been there before. When an old man pointed out the wooden building that had been the "shul" it was a discovery for all of us. Our guide told us that they knew of five wooden shuls that remained in Lithuania and now we had discovered a sixth. It now looks like a storage barn.
The front of the synagogue

The side of the synagogue
The small windows of the women's section on the second floor

The town center


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