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

55° 06' / 23° 48'

Translation of the “Babtai” 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 161-162)

Babtai

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

In Yiddish, Bobt; in Russian, Bobti

A county town in the Kaunas district.

YearGeneral
Population
JewsPercentage
188010006....
19131,20090075
192377015320

Babtai is one of the oldest towns in Lithuania. It is located in central Lithuania, on the left bank of the Nevezys River, 25 km north of Kaunas. Boats and rafts loaded with lumber passed through Babtai on their way to Prussia (Germany). The river was also the main line of transportation to Kaunas and back throughout the year. In the 17th century Babtai was granted the rights of a city and its own city symbol. In the 18th century the town was severely damaged due to wars and frequent fires. It expanded mostly during the 19th century, after the Kaunas – Riga road was paved through the town. At that time it already had a fairly large and economically well-established Jewish community. The Jewish merchants developed especially in the trade of exporting lumber and agricultural products to Prussia.

Rabbi Moshe-Eliyahu, the son of Yakov Burstein, served in the town's Rabbinate from 1878 until WWI.

During the period of Independent Lithuania, after the railway line to Riga was built, the value of the town's road decreased and commercial activity in the town declined. As a result, the number of inhabitants decreased. Most of the Jews immigrated to the United States or moved to other city centers. With the declaration of autonomy for the Jews, a ruling committee of 5 members was voted in Babtai. The committee was active for a few years in most areas of Jewish life in the town. In 1930 Babtai burned down, but was rebuilt after a short while. The main street that divided the town from one end to the other in the past did so again, and in the middle of it were the market square and the Catholic Church. Crowds of peasants from the region flowed into the town on Sundays and during Christian holidays; these occasions enabled them to shop in the Jewish shops. Besides trading, the Jews made their living from labor, growing fruit, and boating merchandise on the river. According to the 1931 government census, Jews owned 2 wool carders, a shop for sawing machines and a brick factory. In 1937 there were 5 Jewish artisans in Babtai: 3 butchers, a baker, and a shoemaker.

In 1935, in the elections to the 19th Zionist Congress in Babtai, 39 people voted: 34 voted for the Eret-Yisrael Haoveded party, and 5 for the Grosmanists.

The Jewish population decreased to 40 families before WWII. For many years the Jews of Babtai relied on the services of Kedainiai's Rabbi, until Rabbi Shlomo Pudliash took office at the end of the 1930's.

When the Germans conquered Lithuania at the end of June 1941, members of the Lithuanian nationalist party took control of the town. Among them were the former mayor of the town, the chief of district's police, and others. On July 17, 1941, these Lithuanian nationalists murdered 8 communists and among them were 6 Jews. On August 28th, this former mayor commandeered, while he was riding his horse and had a whip in his hand, the murder of 83 of the town's Jews: 20 men, 41 women, and 22 children. Before he did this he extorted the victims for most of their money while making false promises that he will save them from death. The murdered were buried in pits that were dug up in advance by local residents in a grove on the bank of the Nevezys River, about 2 km from the town along the right side of the road that led to Klaipeda. The names of the Lithuanian murderers are kept in the Yad Vashem archives. A memorial was built there at the beginning of the 1990's.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M1/Q-1198/57; Konyochovsky Collection 0-71, files 143, 144.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murders in Lithuania) A, pages: 131, 138, 191 – 195.
Gotlieb, Sefer Oheli Hashem, Pinsk, 1912, p. 15.
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 5.1.1887.

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