“Papile” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Papilė, Lithuania)

56° 09' / 22° 48'

Translation of the “Papile” 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 470-472)

Papile

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

In Yiddish, Popelyan

A county town in the Siauliai district.

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1841 207 .. ..
1897 1,877 965 51
1923 1,432 257 18

Papile is located in northeastern Lithuania, in the Samogitia province, not far from the Latvian border. It is on the right bank of the Venta River, and is 47 km northwest of the district city of Siauliai.

A few artisans and merchants already lived in Papile in 1610. At that time, the town had a few taverns and public bath houses, which were owned by the region's Catholic bishop. Since 1702, the town had the rights to hold an annual market fair. The railway line between Libau in Latvia and Romny in Ukraine, which passed through Papile, was constructed during the years 1871-1873. As a result, the town began to develop economically and socially. A fire broke out in the town at the end of 1888 and all its houses burned down. Most of them were rebuilt. In 1895, a regional hospital was established in Papile. During the period of Russian rule (1795-1915), Papile was administratively part of the Vilnius gubernia (region) and from 1843 it was part of the Kaunas gubernia. The town burned down again during WWI. Papile was a county town during the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940) and also during the period of Soviet Rule (1940-1941).

The Jewish Settlements Till After World War I

The first Jews settled in Papile in the middle of the18th century. The peak of their population was reached during the years that preceded WWI. The location of the railway line helped their commercial activities. They exported crops, flax and timber to Germany, which stabilized their economic conditions. The Jewish population maintained a high level of social and cultural activities. In addition to those who studied Torah and the Talmidei Khakhamim (scholars) whose life revolved around the Beth Midrash, Papile also had quite a few graduates of gymnasias and universities in Russia and abroad. Most of the children and youth studied in institutions such as the “Kheder” and the “Small Yeshiva”. The Beth Midrash burned down during the big fire of 1888 and difficult economic conditions prevailed in the town at that time. A request for help which was published in the “HaMelitz” by Illa Abel, one of the community's dignitaries, said: “hundreds of families are scattered in the fields without shelter”. The truth of these words was confirmed in the same publication by Rabbi Eliezer Gordon (Gardan). In that year, the town's Jews organized a “volunteer firefighter's brigade”. Within a few years, the damages were repaired and the Jews once again enjoyed good economic conditions.

Among the Rabbis who served in Papile during that period were: Rabbi Shraga-Feivel, the son of Rabbi Josef (1827-1892); Rabbi Hillel-Arieh Lifshitz; Rabbi Tsvi, the son of Rabbi Azriel Valk; Rabbi David Regensberg; Rabbi Josef, the son of Rabbi Avraham Lamdan, who was known for his communal and public activities and was elected as a delegate to the 6th Zionist Congress in 1903, the year he became Papile's Rabbi. Rabbi Aba-Moshe Rabinovitz, a scholar and community worker, distinguished himself in religious and public activities in the town.

The lists of donors from the years 1898, 1899 and 1903 for settling Eretz-Yisrael note the names of 15 Jews from Papile. The delegates were: Yitzkhak-Aharon Kotler, Avraham-Yake Lemkhen, and Shraga Levinson. A delegate from Papile participated in the Regional Conference of Russian Zionists which took place in 1899 in Vilnius. In 1902, 53 “Shekalim” (tokens of membership in the Zionist organization) were sold in the town.

In 1915, the entire Jewish population of Papile, as well as their brethren in the surrounding areas, was expelled to the interior of Russia.

After WWI, only a small portion of Papile's Jews returned to the burned down town. In spite of their difficult economic conditions, many of them responded favorably to Rabbi Lamdan's request to help the Jewish refugees in Russia and donated 20,000 marks, a substantial sum during that period.

In the elections to the first Lithuanian Seimas in 1922, the following were the distribution of votes in Papile: 134 votes for the Zionists, 14 for the Democrats, and 0 for the Orthodox (“Akhdut”).

The Jews made their living from commerce, labor and light industry. According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census, Jews owned in Papile 5 fabric stores, 3 timber stores, 2 stores of iron materials and work equipment, 2 grocery stores, a store for sewing machines, and a fertilizer store. According to the same census, Jews owned in Papile a power station, 3 flourmills, a factory for processing leather, and a shoe factory. In 1937, there were 7 Jewish artisans in the town: 3 tailors, a baker, a hat maker, a shoemaker, and a butcher.

From the 1930's and onwards, the livelihood of the Jews worsened as a result of the propaganda that was initiated by “Verslas”, the Union of Lithuanian Merchants, who called to boycott buying goods from Jews. The sources of livelihood in the town diminished and as time progressed quite a few of the younger generation emigrated to South Africa or to Eretz-Yisrael. During the 1930's, only about 200 Jews resided in Papile. Nevertheless, a few local activists, headed by Tsvi-Hirsh Blumenthal, were able to improve somewhat the economic and social conditions in the community. Among other things, they built a synagogue, a school, a library, established a branch of the Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank), which had 78 members in 1927. In 1939, Papile had 36 telephone subscribers; 6 of them were owned by Jews.

At that time, the Rabbi who served in the Rabbinate in Papile was Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Levin, who was the Jewish community's last Rabbi. He perished in the Holocaust.

Although the community was small and depleted, it nevertheless managed to maintain an active social life and it had branches of various political parties. The distribution of the votes in Papile to the Zionist Congresses 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
16 1931* 22 22 8 1 3 10 - - -
18 1933 .. 24 9 3 11 - 1 -
19 1935 .. 68 29 - 3 24 9 3

* The elections were held in the school

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

The Zionist youth movement, “HaShomer HaTzair”, had a branch in the town.

During World War II and Afterwards

Due to the fact that economic conditions of most of the Jews of Papile were dire, they were only lightly affected during the period of Soviet Rule (1940-1941), when Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union and all of their businesses were nationalized. On the other hand, other Soviet measures did affect them, such as, the disbanding all the Zionist organizations, the demand to work on Saturday, and so on.

The Germans entered Papile on June 28, 1941, six days after the German army invaded the Soviet Union. Armed Lithuanian, especially groups of nationalists, joined the German ranks. Those Lithuanians enthusiastically fulfilled the German orders, in particular with regard to anything that had to do with the Jews, such as, to disconnect their telephones, shut down the electrical power in their homes and confiscate their means of transportation. The Lithuanians assembled the Jews in the town's square and robbed them of all their valuables. Then, the Lithuanians forced the Jews to do all kinds of difficult and humiliating work, such as, to clean toilets, sweep streets, and carry timber. One of the things which entertained the Lithuanians was to tear off beards. Rabbi Avraham HaCohen Levin was especially tortured.

On July 7, 1941, S.S. personnel came to Papile and received from the Lithuanians a group of imprisoned Jews (among them were the lawyer Hirsh Rakhmil, the accountant Leib Itsikson, Moshe Sher and others). The Jews were led outside the town, where they were forced to dig graves for themselves, and were then shot to death and covered with earth. Some of them were buried while still alive.

A week later, the Jews were ordered to get out of their homes, to lock them up and to hand over the keys to the authorities. Then, they were forced to march through the town while holding pictures of Lenin and Stalin. All of them were led to the stables of an estate in Siaudine, near the village of Dilbyciai, and were kept there in harsh conditions while being tortured and humiliated.

On July 18, 1941 (23 Tamuz, 5701), dozens of armed Lithuanians broke into the stables, took the Jewish men to a nearby forest and after torturing and beating them, they shot them to death.

The women and children, who remained without food and in horrible sanitary conditions and who were sick and exhausted, were transferred on August 25 on wagons to Zagare, where they were locked up in the local Beth Midrash together with the surviving Jews from the surrounding towns. For more than a month, many of the women were tortured and raped by armed Lithuanians and Latvians. On October 2 (11 Tishrei, 5702), the women and children, together with the other Jews from Zagare, were taken to a nearby forest and where they were all shot to death. Only a very few of Papile's Jews remained alive.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, 0-33/284; Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, file 102.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1788, 55/1701, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
Gotlieb, Ohalei Shem, p. 146.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje, (Mass Murders in Lithuania), vol. 2, p. 405.
Di Yiddishe Shtime
[The Jewish Voice] – (Kaunas), 17.5.1922.
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 7.11.1888.

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