“Gruzdziai” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Gruzdžiai, Lithuania)

56° 6' / 23° 16'

Translation of the “Gruzdziai” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Dov Levin 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 195-196)

Gruzdziai

In Yiddish, Gruzd; in Russian, Gruzdzi

Written by Dov Levin and Josef Rosin

Translated by Shimon Joffe

A county town in the Siauliai district.

Year General
Population
Jews %
1897 1,160 482* 41
1923 1,354 142** 10
1939 1,300 75*** 6

* Estimate; 120 families
** Estimate; 40 families
*** Estimate; 27 families

Gruzdziai lies in the Samogitia (Zhamut) region, north western Lithuania, 22 km. north-west of the district town Siauliai (Shavel). The estate and lands around it were owned by the aristocratic family named Zubov and from 1858 until the First World War, by a family named Narishkin. In this period the town was included in the Kovno region and was a sub-district center. She retained this position also after Lithuania gained independence (1918-1940). The Jewish community was established in Gruzdziai, it would appear, at the end of the eighteenth century. At the end of the nineteenth century the number of Jews there comprised almost half the local population. Most of the Jews were active in petty trade. A few families made a living of sundry activities and of trade dealings with the Narishkin estate, particularly with the neighboring cattle farm. In 1887 a fire destroyed the only study house and 22 Jewish family houses. The local rabbi, Yisrael Levin and four community elders asked for help from the Jewish communities, on the pages of the periodical 'Hamelitz'. In later years the study house was replaced, but because of the difficult economic situation, dozens of families emigrated from Gruzdziai overseas, principally to South Africa, the USA and Mexico. Not many made their homes in Eretz Yisrael. There were Jews in the community active in Eretz Yisrael settlement cause. In the list of contributors in 1886 (volunteers for our brethren, the colonists in the Holy Land), appear the names of a number of Gruzdziai inhabitants. The delegate was M. Shragai. In an additional list of 1914, more names are mentioned, headed by Rabbi I. A. Friedman. In those years an association named Khavatzelet Hasharon (The Lily of Sharon) was active in the town.

Among the rabbis who officiated in Gruzdziai were; Rabbi Moshe Shapira (served for 24 years, died in 1885), Rabbi Itskhak Eizik son of Yosef Friedman (from 1905), a leading member of Lithuanian Mizrakhi who authored many books; and the last rabbi, Rabbi Zisl Levin.

With the grant of autonomy to the Jews by the independent Lithuanian government, a community council of five was elected in Gruzdziai, one from the General Zionists, two from the Tzeirei Zion (Zion Youth), and two independents. The council was active for years in most matters affecting Jewish life in the town. The Jews eked out a poor living from shop keeping (mainly on market day on Wednesdays), craftwork and farming and received assistance from relatives overseas. According to a survey conducted by the Lithuanian government in 1931, there were among the Gruzdziai Jews: 3 grain merchants, a horse dealer, an iron and tool shop, a grocery, 4 textile shops and a shop for the sale of sewing machines. In 1937 the town had 7 Jewish artisans, 2 tailors, 2 hairdressers, a photographer, a potter and a butcher.

The local branch of the Jewish Folksbank, (Peoples Bank), played an important role in their economic life. In 1920 it had 26 members.

There was a constant emigration from the town. Gruzdziai had a Jewish school and some welfare offices, such as Gmilut Khesed (benevolent loan society) and Linat HaTsedek (a hostel).

With the annexation of Lithuania to the Soviet Union in the autumn of 1940, great changes took place in the social and economic life of the community.

On June 29, 1941, a week after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Lithuanian nationalists arrested many local Jews and incarcerated them in the study house. Surprisingly, they were freed the same day by order of the representatives of the German army who had reached the town. The Lithuanians were angry and protested. On November 5th, 1941, additional Jews (men, women but no children) were incarcerated in the same place. The following day they were transported to the Jewish cemetery which lies one kilometer southwards of the town and there they were shot. The bodies were tossed into a pit previously dug near the eastern gate of the cemetery. While the Lithuanians went about their murderous work, the Germans stood aside and photographed the deeds. The remaining Jews, men, women and children, were taken to the town of Zagare a month later and there murdered and buried together with Jews gathered from other places in the vicinity, and who had been gathered there on Yom Hakipurim (The Day of Atonement, 1941). The only Jew who remained alive and survived till the end of the war was Pinkhas Ulman. A Lithuanian peasant in a nearby village hid him.

Bibliography:

Gotlib, Ohalei Shem, p. 33.
Kamzon, The Jews of Lithuania, p. 161, 167.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murders in Lithuania), Vol 2, p. 403.
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 26.4.1887.

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