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

56° 04' / 24° 24'

Translation of the “Pasvalys” 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 466-470)

Pasvalys

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

In Yiddish, Posvol

A county town in the Birzai district.

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1765 .. 430 ..
1831 1,239 .. ..
1847 .. 942 ..
1859 1,699 .. ..
1897 3,050 1,590 52
1914 .. 900?* ..
1920 1,000 525** 52
1923 2,211 748 34
1939 2,773 700*** 25

* 400 families
** 104 families
*** 180 families

Pasvalys is located in northern Lithuania, 28 km southeast of Birzai, the district's city. Most of the town is situated on the right bank of the Levuo River, near the place where the tributary of Svalys, or Svolka, as the Jews called it, connects with the river.

Pasvalys is one of the oldest towns in Lithuania. Apparently, during the period of Gediminas, the great prince of Lithuania, there was already a fortress there which was built to defend the area against Crusaders from the Livonian Order. During the middle of the 16th century, King Zygmunt August exempted Pasvalys from paying taxes in order to boost the town's development. And sure enough, the settlement, which was located in a fertile agricultural area and near the road to Riga, developed, and became a very important commercial center, especially for exporting crops, flax and horses. In 1775, Pasvalys already had 125 homes that belonged to the urban middle class, 111 houses that belonged to farmers, and 15 shops.

Pasvalys developed further during the 19th century. In 1879, it already had 3 flourmills, a factory for distilling alcohol, a pharmacy, and also the county's administrative offices. In addition to the weekly market days, Pasvalys also hosted regional fairs. During the period of Russian Rule (1795-1915), Pasvalys was administratively first part of the Vilnius Gubernia (region), and later it was part of the Kaunas Gubernia (within the district of Panevezys). During WWI, Pasvalys was conquered by the Germans, who built a narrow railway line from Pasvalys to Siauliai. In December 1918, towards the end of the war, Lithuanian Bolsheviks established Soviet rule in Pasvalys, which lasted for 5 months.

For a number of years during the period of Independent Lithuania, Pasvalys served as the center of the district, and from 1925 until the end of WWII, it was the center of a county.

The Jewish Settlement till after World War I

Historical sources dating from 1643 mention the Karaite Jewish community in Pasvalys, who were persecuted and had a malicious suit brought against them after it was libeled that its Jews stole the consecrated bread from the church. Subsequently, the Karaites' status diminished, and their population decreased so drastically that they almost disaapeared completely. “Rabbinical” Jews were permitted to settle in Pasvalys only during the middle of the 18th century. During the period of the Jewish Lithuanian Council, the (“Va'ad Medinat Lita” 1623-1764), the Pasvalys community was part of the Samogitia regional communities. At that time, most of the town's Jews made their living from trade and labor.

The Jewish community of Pasvalys grew as time progressed, and at the end of the 19th century they comprised a little more than half of the town's population. They established economically and were famous for their personalities, students and scholars. Among the latter were: Rabbi Abeli Posvoler, who served as the head of the community's Rabbinate from 1802 until 1832, and subsequently became the Rabbi of Vilnius; Rabbi Khaim-Yakov Bialostotski, who became known as the “Magid from Posvol” and was venerated by the Jews of Lithuania; Rabbi Aba-Shimon, the son of Rabbi Khaim Yitzkhak, a a Shokhet u'Bodek (slaughterer and examiner), and author of the book “Dorot Rishonim” (First Generations) [Kedainiai, 1935); Dr. Shakhne Mer, founder of the Hospital for the Poor in Panevezys; Professor Benyamin Bernstein, a famous mathematician, and others. Among the Rabbis who served in Pasvalys were: Rabbi Yitzkhak the son of Rabbi Khaim Zack; Rabbi Avraham-Shelomo (the father of Rabbi Abeli, who was mentioned above); Rabbi Avraham Leib Mintz; Rabbi Avraham, the son of Rabbi Dov Dimand, who introduced important improvements in communal organization; Rabbi Abeli Benyamin Remont, who served in the Pasvalys Rabbinate from 1870 until 1884, when he was forced to leave his post due to a severe disagreement within the community; Rabbi Mordekhai Rabinovtiz (served 1886-18890); his son, Rabbi Moshe Rabinovitz (served 1889-1902), author of the books “Torah MeTzion” (Torah Out of Zion) and “Kol BaRamah” (Uplifted Voice).

From the end of the 19th century and onwards, many single Jews and Jewish families emigrated to South Africa and the United States. Many of the Jews from Pasvalys who emigrated abroad supported their relatives who remained in the town.

The Khibat Zion movement had many followers in Pasvalys. 9 names from Pasvalys appear on the 1886 list of donors “for the sake of our colonist brothers” in Eretz-Yisrael. Donor lists from the years 1898-1899 also note many Jewish names from Pasvalys. The delegates were the teacher Zalman-Yakov Mikhaelevitz and the head of a Yesihva Segal.

On April 28, 1915, about 6 months after the outbreak of WWI, all the Jews were ordered to leave their homes and move to the interior of Russia. The expelled people were loaded into sealed freight trains and after being transported for 10 days, arrived at their destination completely exhausted.

During the Period of Independent Lithuania

Some of the expelled people returned to Pasvalys after WWI, when the town was already included within the borders of Independent Lithuania. In 1920, Pasvalys had 525 Jews (104 families). Subsequently, the Jewish population in the town grew by about 200.

During the first years after their return from Russia, the Jews of Pasvalys established a community council and were able to maintain an organized community. On 22 Tamuz, 1918, 232 people (out of 266 eligible male and female voters, who had to be 18 or older) participated in electing a 9 member council: 3 for Tzeirei Zion (among them was one woman); 2 for the General Zionists; 2 for the non-Partisans; 1 for the “Masoret VeKherut” (Tradition and Liberty); and 1 for the Socialists. During October 1922, the results of the elections to the first Lithuanian Seimas in Pasvalys were as follows: 257 votes went to the Zionist party, 45 votes went to the religious “Akhdut” party, and 6 votes to the Democratic Party.

Most of the town's Jews made their living from commerce, which concentrated mostly around the bi-weekly market fair in Pasvalys. In addition to the dozens of cloth, haberdashery and other shops, the town also had a large wholesale store, which was owned by the Mariampolski brothers. Some of the town's Jews made their livelihood from labor and from trading in grains.

According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census, Pasvalys had 40 businesses; 27 of those (67%) were owned by Jews. The division into the various business branches is shown in the table below:

Branch or Type of Business Total Owned by Jews
Grocery 1 1
Crops and flax 1 1
Butcheries and cattle trading 2 0
Restaurants and taverns 8 2
Commerce in food products 4 4
Clothing, furs and textiles 7 7
Leather and shoes 3 3
Medicine and cosmetics 1 0
Radios, bicycles and sewing machines 1 1
Tools and iron products 5 4
Heating materials 1 1
Paper, books and writing materials 2 0
Miscellaneous 4 3

According to the same census, Pasvalys had10 factories, of which 6 were owned by Jews (60%): 2 flourmills, a power station, a chocolate and candy factory, a leather factory, and a rope factory.

In 1937, the town had 43 active Jewish artisans, who belonged to the National Jewish Workers Union in Lithuania. Among them were 10 tailors, 6 shoemakers, 5 butchers, 3 tinsmiths, 2 hat makers, 2 knitters, 2 "Tapars" (Hebrew, "tapar", which refers to “a craftsman in shoemaking who makes the uppers”), 2 photographers, a baker, a glazier, a carpenter, a blacksmith, a barber, a painter, a leather worker, a watchmaker and 3 others.

The Jewish popular bank (Folksbank), which was managed in Pasvalys by Barukh Dorfan, played an important role in the economic life of the town's Jews. In 1927, it had 186 listed members. In 1939, the town had 68 telephones, of which 20 were owned by Jews. Approximately 10 Jews in Pasvalys worked in the free professions: 2 doctors, a female dentist, a few teachers, and a lawyer by the name of David Kirshon, who was one of the town's prominent scholars and, among other things, taught economics in the local Lithuanian high school.

The Zionist movement had a great following in Pasvalys. We know this fact because the only Beth Midrash in the town served on more than one occasion as a forum for speakers from the Zionist camp. The community's last Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzkhak Agulnik, was also an enthusiastic Zionist and played an important role in maintaining an atmosphere of tolerance in the community.

The “Tarbut” network established a Hebrew school in Pasvalys in 1921, despite the opposition from the orthodox section in the town against boys and girls studying together. This establishment was located in a two-story building, which was donated by Rabbi Mordekhai Moshe Zalut. Studies were in the Hebrew language and in the spirit of Zionism. One of the institution's graduates, Ari Glazman, subsequently became a talented author and journalist in the daily newspaper “Di Yiddishe Shtime. A few Jewish children studied at the Lithuanian gymnasia in Pasvalys and some other Jewish children studied at the Hebrew gymnasia in Panevezys, about 40 km from Pasvalys.

A large part of the cultural and social life of the Pasvalys Jewish community concentrated around the library, the school, and organizations such as “Maccabi”, “HaPoel”, the Zionist Socialist Party, and the fire brigade, which was entirely composed of Jews, including its chief, Milo Samuel. Just as in other towns in Lithuania, Pasvalys also had its own charity institutions, such as “Linat Tsedek” and Khevra Kadisha. In 1935, the “non-Partisan Union for Continuing Education in Jewish Religious Sciences” was established in the town. Among the Zionist youth movements in the town were: “HaShomer HaTzair – Netsakh”, which began its activities in 1931 and was the most prominent in the town; “Beytar” was also active but on a smaller scale; and the “Bnei-Akiva” youth movement.

The division of votes to the Zionist Congresses in Pasvalys is 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 22 15 10 - 2 3 - - -
16 1929 110 21 11 3 - 7 - - -
17 1931 72 38 28 3 1 5 - - 1
18 1933 .. 146 130 4 10 - 2 -
19 1935 .. 296 225 - 66 2 2 1

Relations between the Jewish population and the Lithuanian majority in the town were generally good. However, from time to time there were anti-Semitic outbreaks, such as in May 1930, when Lithuanian students desecrated the tombstones in the Jewish cemetery.

During WWII and Afterwards

At the end of 1939, khalutzim who fled from Poland arrived in Pasvalys. They were warmly welcomed by the town's Jews and were hosted in a house that was owned by the Feldman family, where they managed their lives according to the Kibbutz Hakhshara framework.

In August 1940, after Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union, the sovietization process also harmed many Jews in Pasvalys, especially those who owned property and businesses. All of the Zionist organizations were disbanded and the Hebrew school was shut down.

The German soldiers entered Pasvalys on June 26, 1941, 4 days after the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. At that time, the internal affairs of the town were in the hands of armed Lithuanians, who started stealing from and torturing their Jewish neighbors. The first Jews to be arrested were those who tried to escape to the interior of Russia but returned to the town. They were murdered in the Simbeline Forest, which is not far from the town. The Lithuanians attacked B. Dorfan, the former manager of the popular Jewish bank, and robbed him of his watch and boots; they tortured to death Sheine Kretchmer, one of the communist activists in the town, and arrested Nekhemia Milin, Khanan Forman and David Shapira. During July 4 – 10, Lithuanians arrested at least 150 Jews. Some of them were locked up in the local prison, and others were locked up in the grain warehouse that belonged to Joel Farber. All of them, plus 18 other people who were designated as political prisoners, were transferred to the Siauliai prison, and then murdered in a forest near Kuziai. Only a few of those who were arrested, mostly women, were taken back to Pasvalys.

In the middle of July 1941, a sort of ghetto was established in Pasvalys, which was located partly on Birzai street and on Palivene street. The town's municipal council was responsible in providing food to the imprisoned Jews in the ghetto and the administration of the food was overseen by the town's Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzhkhak Agulnik. At the beginning of August, Jews from the nearby towns of Joniskelis, Pumpenai, Vabalninkas, Vaskai and Salociai were brought to Pasvalys. The fate of the arriving Jews and of the local Jews was in the hands of Lithuanian nationalists, who often brutally tortured and robbed the Jews. On August 23, 1941, Rabbi Agulnik wrote to the head of the Siauliai ghetto: “We plead with you that you try to save us… there are no Germans here and that is why the Lithuanians do with us as they wish. Needless to say, they have completely robbed us. We live in horrific danger, which is liable to occur at any minute. Have mercy; try to influence the German authorities to save us”.

Apparently, during those critical days the town's council was discussing the fate of the Jews: should they be annihilated or kept in the ghetto? Most of the council members voted for annihilation. On August 26, 1941, and unrelated to that event, a decree was published, ordering all Jews to concentrate with their belongings and property in the Beth Midrash, which was located outside the ghetto. At the Beth Midrash, the men were separated from the women and children, and all of them were transferred on that very same day to the Zadeikiai grove, located 4.5 km from Pasvalys, where they were brutally murdered. While they were being transferred to the murder site, some of the Jews attacked the guards and starting beating them with their fists, feet and teeth. A few dozen Jews tried to escape, but were all caught, shot and thrown into pits, some of them while still being alive. Among the few who survived were Moshe Gutman and his wife Toiba (born Itskovitz). A woman by the name of Anna Maroz was able to escape. She reached the Siauliai ghetto and later the Kaunas ghetto, where her daughter and also some Jews from Pasvalys were. Some of those Jews, and also Jews who were able to escape to the interior of Russia during the summer of 1941, survived.

During September 1944, a short while after Lithuania was freed from German occupation, the survivors erected a temporary memorial on the mass grave of their loved ones and wrote on it in Hebrew that the Jews of Pasvalys were buried at that place. After that memorial was removed, in 1963 the survivors built two monuments inscribed in Russian and Lithuanian (as was customary in the country), that in that place are buried about 5,000 Soviet citizens from the towns of Pasvalys, Vabalninkas, Joniskelis, Daujenai and Krincinas.

The teacher Sheine Gertner (born Shakhar), who was among the Jews of Pasvalys before they were murdered, and who hid for a few years in the homes of peasants, brought to Israel ashes from the graves in the Zadeikiai Forest. In 1973, the ashes were given to officials from Yad Vashem, and were buried in Jerusalem. The Yad Vashem archives keeps the list of 16 Lithuanians from Pasvalys and the surrounding areas who actively participated in murdering their Jewish neighbors.

At the beginning of the 1990's, a stone monument was erected on the mass grave in Zadeikiai, and on it an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “On 26.8.1941, Hitlerite murderers and their local collaborators, murdered in this place 1,350 Jews – men, women and children”. At the same time, a memorial monument was erected in the cemetery of the Jewish community of Pasvalys and on it and inscription in Yiddish and Lithuania: “The old cemetery. Holy is the memory of the deceased”.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M-1/E-683-684; 0-3/3680, 3788; 0-33/1125; 0-41/31.1.1; Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, files 70, 71.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1788, 55/1701, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: files 629-636, pages 35747-36216.
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem, p. 145.
Kamzon, The Jews of Lithuania, p. 23.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje, (Mass Murders in Lithuania), Volume B, pp. 120-121, 391.
HaMelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 12.4.1881, 13.9.1881, 24.8.1883, 17.2.1883, 25.1.1884, 18.7.1884.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] – (Kaunas), 5.9.1919, 15.2.1922, 9.8.1928, 16.8.1928, 25.4.1930, 16.3.1933, 12.6.1934, 22.5.1935, 1.2,1939.
Dos Vort - [daily newspaper in Yiddish of the Z"S party], Kaunas - 13.12.1935.
Yiddisher Handverker [The Jewish Laborer], (Kaunas), # 17.
Sachar-Gertner Sheina, The Trees Stood Still, Mass. 1981.

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