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

54° 46' / 24° 48'

Translation of the “Vievis” 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 217-219)

Vievis

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

In Yiddish, Vevye

A county town in the Trakai district.

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1866 346 150 43
1897 725 647 89
1923 412 304 74
1940 900 350 39
1959 2,279 18 0.8

Vievis is located in southeastern Lithuania, along the Vilnius-Kaunas railway line and highway, one km north of a large lake also called Vievis. The town originated as an estate that belonged to the Oginski aristocratic family. Vievis developed significantly during the period of Russian Rule (1795-1915) and especially during the middle of the 19th century, when a train station was built in the town. From the end of the 19th century and onwards, Vievis was the center of a county. The town was administratively part of the Vilnius gubernia (region) and from 1843 it was part of the Kaunas gubernia. The town was severely damaged because of military activities during WWI and also because of battles between the army of Independent Lithuania and Bolshevik and Polish forces during the years 1919-1920. Vievis became a remote border town after the Poles conquered the Vilnius region and train traffic from it to Vilnius stopped. This brought a downturn in the town's economic conditions. During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918 – 1940) Vievis had 2 long streets and 3 minor streets which bordered on cultivated fields and uncultivated land.

Apparently, Jews settled in Vievis at the end of the 18th century and became the majority in the town within a few decades. They made their livelihood mainly by selling their agricultural products (vegetables, fruits, milk products, poultry and eggs), to Vilnius. The town's Jews were forced to leave their town during WWI after their houses were set on fire by Cossack soldiers who served in the Russian army.

Only some Jews returned to Vievis after the establishment of Independent Lithuania. At that time, the community of Vievis received financial aid from “YeKoPo”.

When the new government of Lithuania declared autonomy for the Jews, a ruling committee of 5 members was voted for in Vievis and it was represented as follows: 1 from the General Zionists, 1 from the Artisans Party, 1 from the Labor Party, and 2 were non-Partisans. The committee was active for a number of years in most areas of Jewish life in the town.

In 1922, of the 123 Jews who were eligible to vote to the first Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament), 115 voted for the Zionists, 6 for the Democrats, and 2 for the religious “Akhdut” party.

Even after restoring their homes that were destroyed during the war, the Jews of Vievis were forced to continue their difficult economic struggles because the town was disconnected from Vilnius and also due to the pressure that was imposed by organizations of Lithuanian merchants.

According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census, Vievis had 29 businesses: 27 of them (93%) were owned by Jews. The division into business branches is shown in the table below:

Branch or Type of Business Total Owned
by Jews
Groceries 7 6
Grains and flax 6 6
Butcher shops and cattle 4 4
Restaurants and taverns 2 2
Commerce in foodstuff 1 1
Beverages 2 2
Clothing, furs and textiles 3 3
Medicine and cosmetics 1 0
Tools and iron products 2 2
Heating materials 1 1

There were also 5 workshops, which were all owned by Jews: a bakery, a barbershop, a wool carder, a photo store and a leather workshop.

Things improved in the town at the end of 1939, when Vilnius was returned to Lithuania.

In 1939, the town had 35 telephones; about a quarter of them belonged to Jews. The Jews of Vievis were nicknamed the “Vevyer Nezer” (those with the noses), perhaps because it was their custom to carefully check and even smell the merchandise before they bought it. Another nickname which was associated with them was “Baitsh Shteklakh” (whipping sticks), perhaps because of the coachmen that were among them.

During the period under discussion, the Beth Midrash continued to be the center of public life for the elderly. In addition to it, the town also had a Hebrew school that was part of the “Tarbut” network, a library, and a number of Zionist organizations: “Maccabee”, “HeKhalutz”, Tzeirei Zion”, “Beytar”, and others. The results of the votes to the Zionist Congresses in Vievis are shown in the table below:

Congress
Nr.
Year Total
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
Revisionists General
Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrachi
Z”S Z”Z A B
15 1927 6 6 4 - - 1 - - 1
16 1929 13 13 3 - 10 - - - -
17 1931 20 18 5 1 7 4 - - 1
18 1933 .. 30 20 3 6 6 - 1
19 1935 .. 125 58 - 58 1 5 3
  National party
21 1939 28 22 10 - 2 10

Among the Rabbis who served in Vievis were: Rabbi Yehuda-Meshel HaCohen (1861-1876); Rabbi Eliyahu Fein; the last Rabbi in Vievis (from 1939) was Rabbi Nekhemia Fein, who was murdered in the Holocaust.

During the Period of Soviet Rule (1940-1941), the larger businesses in Vievis were nationalized, including those that belonged to Jews. The Hebrew school was shut down and all Zionist activities were disbanded. Some of the Jewish breadwinners were integrated in economic and other institutions of the Soviet authorities.

On June 22, 1941, when the German army invaded the Soviet Union, many of the town's Jews abandoned Vievis and went to farms in the surrounding areas. After the Germans entered Vievis, the Jews were forced to leave their sheltered places and to return to the town. When they returned, they were subject to murder, persecution, torture and robberies by their Lithuanian neighbors, and mostly by the local police. The Jews were forced to wear a yellow patch. Some of the Jewish men and women were forced to do difficult work, for example, to pave roads and to clean the houses and farms of Lithuanians, including the priest's estate. The commander of the Lithuanian police demanded and received from the Jews each day the sum of 400 rubles.

On the day of the Jewish New Year (September 22, 1941), small groups of police and armed Lithuanians went to the Jewish homes and expelled all of the Jewish: men, women, children and even those who were mortally ill. While they were beaten and tortured, all the Jews were concentrated in the market square, where they were arranged in groups of 3 and their names were checked in accordance with a prepared list. It turned out that 11 Jews were missing; they had slipped away from the town on the prior evening. After the assembled Jews were robbed of their property, they were taken to the nearby town of Semeliskes, where they were locked up for two weeks in a sort of ghetto. On October 6, 1941 (15 Tishrei, 5702), the Jews of Vievis were murdered together with the Jews of Semeliskes and were buried at the edge of the forest, 200 meters northeast of Semeliskes. A few of the Jews who had earlier managed to escape joined the Soviet partisans in the region. Only a few reached the day of liberation.

After the war, some of the town's Jews returned and settled in Vievis, but their number decreased gradually as time passed by. Of the 18 Jews that were in the town in 1959, only 9 were there in 1989.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M-9/15(6); Q-3/2740, 3002, 3681, 6642; Koniukhovsky Collection 0-71, files 81, 82, 87.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YTA Builetin (Yidisher Telegraph Agentur), 2.7.1921.
Forverts (New York), 30.5.1946, 5.7.1946.
Ghette Yediot (Vilnius Ghetto), #33, 4.4.1943, #42, 6.6.1943.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] – (Kaunas), 29.1.1932.

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