“Dusetos” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania

55° 45' / 25° 51'

Translation of the “Dusetos” 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 204- 207)

Dusetos

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

(Yiddish, Dusyat; Russian, Dusyati)

A county town in the Zarasai district.

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1811 907 .. ..
1847 .. 486 ..
1897 1,278 1,158 91
1912 .. 250
families
70
1923 1,164 704* 60
1959 1,806 6 0.3

* 318 men, 386 women

Dusetos is located in northeastern Lithuania, near the Sartai Lake and Sventoji River, also called the Duseta River, from which the town got its name. The town originated as a small village whose residents worked as vassals in the nearby estate which was called the Dusetos estate and which was owned by the family of Prince Radzivil. At that time, the town had mostly artisans, merchants and peddlers. Subsequently, the estate and the town's land were handed over to the Plater noble family. In 1811, Dusetos had 907 residents, Jews, Lithuanians, Russians and Tatars, who lived in 145 huts. Due to the fact that the Plater family played a role in the 1831 mutiny, the Russian Czarist authorities expropriated their property and destroyed their palace in the estate.

The peasants in the area participated in the 1863 mutiny and in the 1905 revolutionary activities. At the beginning of 1919, the Bolsheviks established a “revolutionary committee” which ruled in Dusetos for a short while. During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940), the town was the center of the sub district and had, among other things: 2 bank branches, 2 flourmills, 2 schools, a plant for producing electricity, a candy factory, 2 pharmacies and 2 doctors. During the period of Nazi occupation, a battalion of Soviet partisans named after the Lithuanian woman-author, Zemaite, established itself in the area.

 

The Jewish Settlements Till After World War I

Apparently, the first Jews who settled in Dusetos did so already in the 16th century. They made their living mainly from labor and petty trade. Subsequently, they established community institutions, and among them, the Bet Midrash and a prayer house which they called “The Hasidic Minyan”. The Jews were the absolute majority of the population in the town until the beginning of the 20th century. Although they were well absorbed among their non-Jewish neighbors, the latter accused them more than once of being responsible for the frequent fires that broke out in the town. This they did once again after the fire that broke out during Easter, 1905, in spite of the fact that the fire harmed not only Christians but also Jews. In order to refute the accusation, the Jewish dignitaries in the town assembled in the synagogue and swore in the presence of Christian residents that their hands were clean. Nevertheless, the next day peasants from the surrounding areas conducted a pogrom against the Jews of Dusetos. The clearest version of all the versions that described what happened on that day is the one that was published in the Jewish-Russian weekly “Voskhod” a short while after the incident:

…When the peasants came out of the church, they attacked the Jewish houses and shops, destroyed everything completely, and looted their houses and shop's merchandise. Many Jews fled and hid in attics and cellars. Those who tried to defend themselves and their property were badly injured and they are now in critical condition. One of the Jews, Itzkhak (Itzkha) son of Avraham Baron, tried to stand up and defend his house, but the thieves threw him from the upper floor and then started hitting him with axes until he breathed his last breath. They also murderously beat up his father and brother who are now in extremely critical condition and may not live. The Jews who were robbed are now literally without shelter and without food and their condition is terrible. Please help immediately.
This pogrom reverberated throughout the general public. The Lithuanian Social-Democratic party, among others, published a strong public statement which denounced the atrocious act, and which, in its opinion, was the result of an incitement that was initiated by Czarist rule.

Subsequently, Israel Baron, one of Yitskhak Baron's five descendants, found his father's killer (a peasant by the name of Savitskas) and killed him. In the cemetery of Dusetos one can still see today the tombstone on Yitskhak's grave.

The fire that broke out in the town in 1910 hurt the Jews severely. It burned down all of the Jewish houses except two, and the synagogue of the Hasidim which was not damaged. Jews from the surrounding towns came to help the Jews of Dusetos and gave them food, clothing and money. Financial aid arrived also from those Dusetos descendants who lived in America and South Africa, which helped to restore within a year or two most of the houses and the Bet Midrash. Due to the fire and perhaps also due to other reasons, many Jews emigrated from the town: some emigrated abroad and others moved elsewhere. As a result, the number of Jews in the town decreased over time to about 250 families. Most of the Jews who remained in the town made their living from labor, peddling and by trading with the farmers in the surrounding areas, bringing their products to the weekly market (which took place on Wednesdays) and to the yearly market. Dusetos had 30 shops, all of them were owned by Jews. Other Jews engaged in agriculture on land they leased from estate owners, in fishing and in wholesale commerce, mainly with Dvinsk.

Almost all of the Jewish children attended a “Heder” - Dusetos had 5 or 6 of them - and a “Heder Metukan” (a progressive Heder), which was established a few years before WWI. Its principal was Rabbi Yekhiel Gerber. During WWI many Jews moved to larger settlements.

Many Jews from Dusetos made donations for settling Eretz-Yisrael. The list from 1914 contains the names of 60 Jewish donors from the town.

In 1887, Eliezer Levenberg, who was born in Dusetos, emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael. He settled in Rosh Pina, lived there for 30 years, and participated in acquiring the land of Kfar Saba, Rafiakh, and Sarona.

Among the rabbis who served in Dusetos during this period were: Rabbi Menakhem-Mendel, who was born in Lublin and was the author of the book “Tamim Yakhdav” (Innocent Together) (Vilnius, 1807); Rabbi Natan-Neta Zilber and his son Rabbi Bunim-Tsemakh Zilber, both of them born in Dusetos.

 

The Period of Independent Lithuania

When Independent Lithuania was established, Dusetos still had more than 100 Jewish families. In accordance with the declaration of autonomy for the Jews that was legislated by the Lithuanian government, a ruling committee of 9 members was elected in the town and it managed the community's life until 1926: 2 from “Tzeirei Zion”, 2 from “Akhdut”, and 5 nonpartisans. In 1922, the town listed 421 voters for the community committee and for the National Committee. In 1923, 358 people of the 388 eligible voters participated in the community committee elections which took place during Succot. A committee of 9 members was elected: 3 from “Tzeirei Zion-Hitakhdut”, 2 from the “Mizrakhi” 3 from “Akhdut” (Agudat Yisrael) and 1 nonpartisan. For the elections to the sub district committee, there were 375 Jews who were eligible to vote (21 years or older).

Commercial activities declined very much in Dusetos after the town was disconnected from Dvinsk (which became part of Latvia after the borders were redrawn). As a result, most of the Jews made their living from petty trade and labor. In 1937, among the 32 artisans in Dusetos there were 8 needle workers, 6 butchers, 3 blacksmiths, 3 shoemakers, 2 bakers, 2 cloth painters, 2 stitching workers, a glazier, a hat maker, a tinsmith, a knitter, a leather worker and others. The town also had several farmers and fishermen. Jews owned two flourmills and a power plant for producing electricity. The pharmacist in the town was also a Jew (Haim Aharon Shein). According to the 1931 government census, Jews owned in Dusetos 6 grocery stores, 6 clothing shops, 2 inns, 2 shops for crops, a shop for iron wares and work tools, a restaurant, and an agency for the Singer sewing machines. Jews also had a bakery and a weaving factory. In 1925, Dusetos had a Jewish doctor (David Droyan).

The “Folksbank”, which was established in Dusetos in 1924, played an important role in the economic life of the town. At that time, it had 143 listed members. In 1939, there were 15 telephones in Dusetos, 4 of them belonged to Jews. During the second half of the 1930's, tensions between the Jews and Lithuanians in the town increased due to incitements on the part of the local branch of Verslas, the Lithuanian Union of Merchants.

In addition to the two prayer houses (of the Mitnagdim and Hasidim), Dusetos also had socities for Torah Studies and welfare associations such as, “Linat Tsedek” and “Gemilut Khesed”. From 1928, the Rabbi who served in Dusetos was Rabbi Tuvia-Dov Shlezhinger, author of the books “Bet Va'ad Lakhakhamim” and “Knesset Yisrael” (1938).

Cultural activities continued to flourish in the town in spite of the fact that many young Jews emigrated to South Africa and to Eretz-Yisrael. More than 60 pupils studied in the Hebrew school that was established in 1921 by the “Tarbut” network. The local “Heder” had 10 students. The principal of the school was Hillel Schwartz; the teachers were Yehuda Slep, Leib Gordon, Tsvi Hammer, and Yitskhak Poritz (who was named after Yitzkhak Baron, the town's hero who was killed in the pogrom of 1905). The teachers were active in the community's social life and they belonged to the Zionist camps, as did many among the younger generation. A library and a drama club operated next to the school. Hebrew courses were given in the evening. Most of the Zionist movements had branches in Dusetos: “Tzeirei Zion”, “HeKhalutz”,” HaShomer Hatzair” (at its peak this movement had 80 local members), and the “Maccabi” (50 members). The distribution of the votes in Dusetos to the Zionist Congresses during the 1920's and 1930's was as shown in the table below:

Congress
Nr.
Year Total
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
Revisi-
onsists
General
Zionists
Grosm-
anists
Mizrachi
Z”S Z”Z A B
14 1925 25 - - - - - - - -
15 1927 30 26 - 18 - - - - 8
16 1929 23 - - - - - - - -
18 1933 .. 45 44 - 1 - - -
19 1935 .. 176 119 - 25 2 3 27
              National Camp
21 1939 76 71 67 - 2 2

Before WWII, 35 Jews who were born in Dusetos emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael.

Among those who were born in Dusetos were: the author Mordekhai Yaffe; the journalist Yisrael Zhofer (Yoffe); Dov Gerber, the conductor of the “Bet Ya'akov” synagogue choir in Kaunas; Rabbi Eliezer Zilber, the son of Rabbi Bunim-Tsemakh Zilber, who was a Rabbi in Cincinnati, USA, and the chairman of the presidency of the Rabbis Association of the United States and Canada.

 

During World War II and Afterwards

In 1940, after Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union, life for the Jews of Dusetos also changed. The Sovietization process harmed them and the property of those who owned factories was confiscated. Barukh Krot, who owned 6 buses, was forced to hand them over, but was accepted to work as driver. David-Leib Eirses, who was accused of financial crimes, as it were, was arrested and expelled to Siberia. The fishermen and some of the artisans organized themselves into cooperatives. The Hebrew school was turned into a Yiddisher school (it was managed by Hillel Schwartz). All the Zionist youth organizations were disbanded and the Hebrew books in the local library were confiscated. Some of the young people in the town, who now found themselves without livelihood, chose to emigrate or moved to Kaunas or other places in Lithuania.

On June 22, 1941, when the German army invaded the Soviet Union, some Jews tried to escape from Dusetos by following the retreating Red Army eastward into the interior of Russia; 23 of them managed to reach the Soviet Union. One of them, who tried to infiltrate through the Iranian border in order to reach Eretz-Yisrael, was caught and imprisoned for a long time. 18 (including 3 women) actively fought the Nazis within the framework of the Lithuanian Division and other units of the Red Army; 8 of them fell in battle. 2 others who were born in Dusetos lost their lives while fighting alongside the partisans.

Yet most of those who tried to escape were forced to return to the town, where armed Lithuanian nationalists already controlled it. The Lithuanians attacked, harassed and robbed their Jewish neighbors even before the first Germans entered Dusetos.

Within a few days, the Jews were expelled from their homes and were concentrated in a sort of ghetto behind the bridge and in the warehouses and cowsheds next to them. The overcrowding was terrible. The prisoners suffered badly from the Lithuanian guards' behavior. The homes and the property of the Jews were immediately taken by local Lithuanians and some other Lithuanians from the surrounding areas. For a number of weeks, the Jewish men, while being tortured and beaten, were forced to do hard labor in the town and on the peasants' farms. On August 26, 1941, (3 Elul, 5701) all of the Jews, men, women and children, were taken by foot to the Deuguciai Forests, next to the village of Saviciunai, where they were murdered there together with the Jews of Zarasai. The last Rabbi of Dusetos, Rabbi Tuvia-Dov Schlezinger, was also among those who were murdered. One of the Jewish young men, Eliyahu (Elka) Baron, who was known for his great strength and courage, managed to escape from the field of slaughter. He hid for three years in the forests in the surrounding areas and cooperated with the Soviet partisans. A short while before the area was liberated in July 1944, by the Red Army, the young man drowned in the lake with his rifle on him.

After the war, a memorial was erected near the murder site, next to the entrance to the forest and on it an inscription in Lithuanian: “Let us hope that this will not happen again.”

Of the 58 Jews of Dusetos about whom we have information from the first day when the war broke out, 35 lost their lives: 9 in the town, 10 in the Soviet Union and in partisan units, 7 in ghettos and camps; but the fate of the other 9 of remains unknown. 15 of the 23 Jews who survived emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael. 13 of them were refugees and soldiers during the war in the Soviet Union, one was there as an exile, and one woman was imprisoned in ghetto Kaunas (she is one of the four survivors of the 12 Jews who were born in the town and who were put in ghettos and labor camps during the war).

Altogether, 64 Jews who were born in Dusetos emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael, many of them from South Africa and Argentina, and 43 of them were in the Zionist youth movements. 6 of them left Israel.

At the beginning of the 1990's, a large wooden memorial with two wooden tablets was erected in the former cemetery of the Jewish community of Dusetos and which still has more than 120 tombstones. The upper tablet has a Magen David on it, and the lower tablet has an inscription in Hebrew and Lithuanian which says: “The Old Cemetery. May the memory of the martyrs live forever”.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, 03/2520.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: files 966-1006, 1445-1446, 1676.
Bakaltshuk-Falin, M., Yizkor Book of Rakishok and Environs, Johannesburg, 1953, pp. 336-345:
Gutmacher, Michal, The Affinity of the Jews of Dusiat (Lithuania) to Eretz Yisrael, History Term Paper, The Hebrew Reali School, Haifa, March 1992.
Weiss-Slep, Sara, (Editor), There was a Shtetl in Lithuania – Dusiat Reflected in Reminiscences, Tel Aviv, 1989.
Zilber-Silver, Eliezer, Anfey Erez (Cedar Branches), Volume 2, USA, 1961.
Khoronzhitzki, S, On Jewish Pogroms in Lithuania, Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] – (Kaunas), 1.12.1922.
Kamzon, The Jews of Lithuania, p. 85.
Dos Vort - (Kaunas) - 18.6.1934
Der Emes [The Truth], (Kaunas), 12.12.1940; 11.1.1941
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), # 179 from 1893;#72, 120 from 1894 .
Folksblat [The People's Newspaper] – (Kaunas), 15.10.1940.
Folkshtime (Warsaw), 10.6.1967.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje, (Mass Murders in Lithuania), B, Vilnius, 1965, pp. 319-22, 414.
Voskhod (in Russian), #16, 23.41905, #17, 28.1905.

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