Pinkas Hakehillot Lita: Kaunas (cont.)

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Kaunas (cont.)

Written by Josef Rosin

During WWII and Afterwards

During WWI

The First World War broke out on August 1, 1914. On May 18, 1915, the commander of the Russian army, Nicolai Nikolaevich, the Czar's nephew, ordered the Jews from the province of Kaunas to leave within 24 hours, including the city of Kaunas; anyone who failed to leave would face the death penalty. The Jews locked their homes and shops, took a few bundles of belongings with them and went by wagons and trains into the interior of Russia. Some of them were delayed in Vilnius. The sudden expulsion of Jewish merchants created supply problems for the Russian army and other governmental organizations. The chief engineer of the Kaunas fortress requested those Jewish merchants, who had a contract to supply wood, to appoint “due to their travel out of Kaunas”, a Christian representative who would continue to supply wood according to their contract, but the Jews refused.

On August 17, 1915, after 10 days of battle and after taking control of several of the fortress's forts, the Germans conquered Kaunas. The tens of thousands of Russian soldiers that were stationed at the fortress retreated. A few weeks later, on Yom Kippur, September 6, 1915, the Germans also conquered Vilnius. The refugees from Kaunas who were delayed in Vilnius greeted the German conquerors with joy, but their joy was short lived; the occupying army immediately started confiscating all the food and merchandise in the shops and houses. The situation of the Kaunas refugees became very difficult and when they were permitted to return to their city, they all grabbed this opportunity and returned to Kaunas.

The battles in Kaunas caused minor damages to the city, but very few residents remained there. In 1916 it had only 16,000 residents, compared to 90,000 before the war. Many of the Jewish shops were still locked and sealed with the stamp of the Russian government; other shops were breached and their entire content was burglarized by non-Jewish residents. Synagogues and other public institutions were also burglarized. The great synagogue “Ohel Ya'akov” (the “Chor Shul”) was damaged to a lesser degree. Most of the books that were hidden in the “Mapu” library survived.

Life under German occupation was not easy. The population suffered from expropriation of property and from forced labor. Only in 1917 did the situation improve a little. The forced labor was replaced by communal work which employed quite a few workers. Working for the German army brought livelihood and also profit. Some of the Jews managed to work in governmental institutions.

From 1917 until the German army left, the Jewish community had a representation in the city which was headed by M. Rabin and his assistant Y. Epstein. Its other members were: S. Shavel, Rabbi Y.G. Kark, and S. Vishtinetski. Among other things, the representation provided support to community institutions such as the orphanage, the schools, the women's association, the “Akhiezer” association, the communal restaurant (for a reduced price), the “Ezra” association, and the Talmud Torah. It was also involved in obtaining loans for the restoration of various businesses, in supporting the polytechnic gymnasia, in helping the poor people in the suburbs of Slobodka, Garliava and Aleksotas, and also in buying materials for the production of clothing and shoes.

On November 15, 1917, Lieutenant Herman Shtruk, who at that time served in the German army (he lived in Haifa from 1923 until his death in 1944) and later was a famous artist and engraver, established a workshop in Kaunas under the slogan “support through work”. The workshop provided work for the poor and people who were unable to do hard work. It produced shoes with soles made of wood and the upper part made of cloth. At first, they made them by hand and later they used machines which were brought from Germany. The shoes were distributed to school children and to the workshop workers. The workshop also sewed different types of clothes and most of those were also given to the needy.

 

During the Period of Independent Lithuania

Social Life

When World War I ended and the State of Lithuania was established as a result of its declaration of independence on February 16, 1918, those who were expelled from Kaunas began returning to their city. Those who returned from Russia continued to do so until 1923. Thousands remained in Russia even after 1923.

In the second half of 1918, as the Germans were preparing to leave Kaunas, Jewish communal workers (Dr. Menachem-Max Soloveitshik, Dr. Meshulam Wolf, Leib Garfunkel), in cooperation with Lithuanians and Poles, established a municipal committee whose purpose was to manage the city affairs and prevent chaos when the Germans retreated. In December, 1918, a municipal committee was elected with 71 members: 30 Poles, 22 Jews, 12 Lithuanians, 6 Germans, and one Russian.

While the German soldiers were leaving, Russian, Polish and other soldiers invaded Lithuania. The Lithuanians began organizing an army in order to defend their young country. Among the volunteers to the Lithuanian army were hundreds of Jewish men. Many of them fell in the forthcoming battles. Many Jews joined partisan units that fought the enemy. Later, the veterans of these groups established the Lithuanian "Marksmen” (Sauliai, or “The Shaulists”) association. The Kaunas branch listed 542 Jews who served in the Lithuanian army between 1918 and 1923; among them were 68 volunteers: 2 participated in freeing Klaipeda, 1 first lieutenant, 3 second lieutenants, 1 captain from the medical corps, 4 military doctors, 1 master sergeant, 18 staff sergeants, 20 sergeants, 16 corporals. 182 Jews participated in active combat; 10 were injured, 245 (out of 542 men) received Medals of Honor. Among the latter, 6 received the “Vytis” Cross, 26 the Founder's Award, 210 the Medal of Independence, 2 the Medal for Liberating Klaipeda, 1 the award of the Gedymin Order. The chairman of the Jewish Fighters Organization was the lawyer, Y. Goldberg; the Kaunas branch was headed by M. Bergstein. In 1939, a plaque inscribed in Lithuanian and Yiddish was fixed in the hall of the “Association of Jewish Fighters” in Mapu Street, 10, in Kaunas, in honor of the Jews who lost their lives in Lithuania's War of Independence. 73 names appear on the inscriptions.

The authorities in the city of Kaunas began annexing nearby suburbs to Kaunas, which until the war were quasi independent municipalities. Slobodka (Vilijampole) across the Vilija River was an older settlement than Kaunas, as noted above, was annexed in 1919. In 1923, Slobodka had 6,600 residents and in 1940, 18,000, of which 10,000 were Jews. The Sanciai suburb, which was located where the Nemunas curved, was Kaunas' big industrial area. Its lower part was annexed to Kaunas in 1919 and its upper part in 1932. In 1923, Sanciai had 15,200 residents and in 1940, 23,000. The Panemune suburb was annexed to Kaunas in 1931 and the Viciunai suburb, located on the left bank of the Nemunas, was annexed to Kaunas in 1933. In 1923 it had 297 residents.

In 1921, in the elections to the municipal council of Kaunas, 16 Poles, 14 Lithuanians, 12 Jews, and 3 Germans were elected. The engineer Josef Roginski was elected as deputy mayor and Dr. Meshulam Wolf as chairman of the municipal council. Jews were represented in all the important municipal committees. A fairly large number of Jewish clerks were employed in the municipality and its institutions. The entire democratic government of Lithuania was liquidated in December, 1926, when the Lithuanian Nationalist Party (Tautinikai) instigated a revolution and took control of the country. The new regime annulled the rights of the national minorities in the municipalities and restricted their representation by various means, for example, by adding settlements. In order to increase the size of the Lithuanian population in Kaunas, distant settlements and villages were added to Kaunas.

In the following years, the leaders of the municipality were nominated from the ruling regime and a nationalistic and anti-Semitic spirit filled the municipal offices. The allocation of funds to Jewish educational, cultural and welfare institutions were decreased and the number of Jewish clerks in the municipality also decreased more and more. Of the 800 municipal clerks that worked in the municipality in 1936, only 8 or 9 were Jews. Their aim was to restrict as much as possible the influence of the Jews, who made up at least 25% of the entire population of Kaunas and whose share in the city's economy was much larger than that.

6 Jews were elected to the municipal council in 1931: Y. Roginski, L. Ozhinski, R. Rubinstein, Dr. M. Wolf, Dr. S. Khoronzhitski, T. Shapira. In 1935, the following were members of the municipal council: L. Khadash, the lawyer Y. Goldberg, D. Itzkovitz, Dr. A. Finkelstein, and R. Rubinstein.

In the elections to the first Siemas in Lithuania on November 12, 1922, of the 28,107 participating voters 5,300 people voted for the Jewish parties. The Zionist party received 3,367 votes, the Democrats 875, and the Volkspartei 1,061. In 1919, when Jews were granted autonomy, a major cultural and economic awakening occurred among the Jews of Lithuania in general and in Kaunas in particular.

From July 1919, elections to the community council were held once every two years as shown in the table below:

 

  Year
Party 1919 1921 1923
Zionists 14 8 10
Achdut (Agudat Yisrael 12 8 6
S”Z (Social Zionists) 10 - 3
Artisans 4 4 4
Volkpartei - - 2
Mizrahi - 3 3
Tzeirei Zion (Hitachadut) - 4 2
Workers - 12 3
Merchants and shop keepers - 4 6
Democrats 1 - -
Slobodka1 - 5 91
Aleksotas2 - 1 12
Viciunai3 - 2 23

  1. 2 Neighborhood parties.
  2. Neighborhood party.
  3. 2,973 of them in Slobodka.

 

The community council was active from July 1919 until March 1926 through various subcommittees in all areas of Jewish life in the city. It had subcommittees for finance, culture and education, welfare, religion and for administration. The council's revenue came from taxes levied on Jewish homes and businesses, payments for documents and various types of certificates of approval, and rented property that belonged to the community. At the end of 1922, Kaunas already had 1,494 tax payers to the council; in 1924, the number of tax payers increased to 2,463. Below is a table which details the professions or types of occupation:

 

Profession or business Number of
employed
Profession or business Number of
employed
Groceries 284 Hats and fur 36
Hotels and restaurants 68 Bakeries 75
Shoe shops 26 Books and paper 35
Industrialists 189 Furniture shops 17
Jewelry 43 Wood traders 71
House wares 23 Banks 34
Fabric shops 179 Paint shops 11
Pharmacies 43 Butcheries 71
Technical offices 21 Clothing manufacturing 33
Workshops 147 Import and export 10
Doctors and paramedics 47 Breweries 67
Barber shops 18 Dentists 28
Sewing shops 116 Fruit shops 9
Iron ware shops 41 Leather 51
Lawyers and engineers 18 Customs offices 28
Real estate 102 Others 522
    Total 2,463

 

Between 1922 and 1924 the council's revenue amounted to 774,025 lit (today [2010] $1 = 2.65 lit. At that time, $1 equaled 10 lit.) 16.8% of that revenue was collected by means of the police. The council's expenses were as follows: 35% for welfare institutions, 30% for cultural and educational institutions, 9-10% salaries to Rabbis, 8.5% tax to “Nationalrat” (The National Council), 17% for the council's expenses (salaries, rent, etc.). Most of the educational, cultural and welfare institutions in the city were either built or repaired during those years.

As a result of nullifying the autonomy for the Jews in the middle of the 1920's, the community councils all over Lithuania were disassembled. The community in Kaunas was led by the “Ezra” (aid) and the “Adat Yisrael” associations, but they did not have the same authority and influence as did the community councils. The situation deteriorated in the course of time and the “Adat Yisrael” association, which controlled the cemeteries, taxes collected from slaughtering and other assets, tried to gain full control of the community's life. In 1937, as those two associations were reregistered, an attempt was made to reorganize the community and coordinate the two. The two associations turned to the Jewish public in Kaunas and asked them to register as tax paying members to the associations in order to turn them into popular unions.

 

Economy

During this period, the Jews of Kaunas were involved in commerce, industry and labor. Subsequently, they were pushed out from trading in crops, flax, cattle and agricultural products, but they managed to keep in their hands the trading in textiles, building materials, lumber, and especially the business of importing industrial products. The Jews developed many industries in the city and the surrounding areas, which employed thousands of Jewish and Lithuanian clerks and workers. The clothing factory of the Ulyamperl brothers, for example, employed 200 workers; the textile factoring of Klis-Posivianski employed 100 workers. From the beginning of 1921, due to the Joint's assistance, the various types of industries and Jewish labor were restored. The standard of living of the working Jewish population improved and a stratum of wealthy Jews came into being.

In 1925, Kaunas had 59 doctors, 42 dentists and 17 dental practitioners, all of them Jews. The local Jewish national bank (Folksbank) was established in 1920 and at that time it had 388 members. In 1927, its membership grew to 3,170, and in 1929 it increased to 3,526. This institution fulfilled an important role in the economic life of the Jews of Kaunas. The headquarters of the Unified Credit Union for Jewish Farmers was in Kaunas and it had 31 branches in Lithuania.

According to the Lithuanian government census of 1931, Kaunas had 1,216 shops and businesses, 909 of them were in Jewish hands (75%), as shown in the table below:

 

Branch or Type of Business Total Owned by Jews %
Grocery 45 43 95
Crops and flax 9 9 100
Butcher shops and cattle 185 101 55
Restaurants and taverns 85 40 47
Commerce in food products 69 53 77
Beverages 22 22 100
Milk and milk products 9 3 33
Clothing, furs and textiles 145 134 92
Leather and shoes 51 41 80
Tobacco and cigarettes 10 10 100
House wares and sewing 130 121 93
Medicine and cosmetics 50 37 74
Watches and jewelry 24 22 92
Radios, bicycles and sewing machines 37 26 70
Tools and iron products 42 31 74
Building materials, wood and furniture 48 34 71
Heating materials 41 37 90
Machinery and inland transportation 47 30 64
Paper, books and writing materials 57 35 61
Miscellaneous 110 79 72

 

According to the same census there were 754 light industry factories, 525 of them were owned by Jews (70%). The division into branches is shown in the table below:

 

Branch or Type of Business Total Owned
by Jews
%
Metal, machinery, iron shops, metal working, power stations 57 32 56
Headstones, glass, bricks, cement products 22 17 77
Chemical industry: ethyl, soap, oil, cosmetics 37 27 73
Textiles: wool, flax, knitting, spinning mill, coloring 64 54 84
Wood industry: sawmills, furniture, tar production 40 30 75
Paper industry: printing, binding, cartons 50 37 74
Food industry: mills, bakeries, beverages, candy and chocolate, sausage, sugar - - -
Chicory, juice 154 121 79
Clothing and footwear: sewing, furs, hats, shoes 192 108 56
Leather industry: production, leather workshops, barbers, hog bristles processing 19 17 89
Photography shops, goldsmiths 119 82 69

 

In 1937, the Jewish Workers Union in Kaunas had 500 members; in 1939, it had 700 members and it managed a money box which provided small loans without charging interest, and it also managed the “Artisans Bank”. The union had a “Kupat Kholim” (Health Services), which together with a number of doctors was connected to the “Bikur Kholim” hospital, and to the chemical-bacteriological laboratory. The union had evening courses for learning the Lithuanian language and provided consulting advice about taxes and other matters. It also published a periodical entitled “The Jewish Artisan”. Not all of the artisans were registered with the union. According to the 1937 census conducted by the national bank, there were 1,455 Jewish artisans in Kaunas. The division into professions is shown in the table below:

 

Profession Number of
Employees
Profession Number of
Employees
Profession Number of
Employees
Tailors 488 Knitters 38 Photographers 22
Shoemakers 117 Welders 34 Seamstresses 21
Barbers 76 Bakers 33 Electricians 21
Butchers 61 Oven builders 31 Goldsmiths 19
Stitchers* 55 Girdle seamstresses 30 Printers 16
Carpenters 52 Glaziers 30 Bookbinders 12
Painters 49 Furriers 29 Smiths 10
Tinsmiths 48 Watchmakers 28 Chemical sanitation 5
Hat makers 44 Leather workers 25 Others 61

* (Translator's note: I could not find a better word for the Hebrew “tapar”. What it actually refers to is “a craftsman in shoemaking who makes the uppers”.

 

More than half of the artisans (59%) did not employ salaried employees; 10% employed 2 salaried employees and only 2.8% employed more than 4 salaried employees. The total number of salaried employees was 1,233. 2,975 people were employed by artisans, including salaried employees, apprentices and family members. More than half (57.6%) of the artisans worked in their homes; 32.8% of them had workshops; 9.6% of them, such as, glaziers, painters, oven builders and electricians did not have workshops. 59.5% of the artisans were below the age of 40, 35.4% were between the ages 40-60, and 5.1% were above the age of 60. About 50 Jewish families worked in agriculture in the lands around Kaunas.

The economic crisis that occurred in Lithuania in the 1930's and the open propaganda of the Lithuanian Union of Merchants (Verslas) against buying from Jews hurt the economic conditions of many Jews. The anti-Semitic atmosphere in Germany also had its influence and the living conditions of the Jews in the city became more and more difficult. At that time, many of them emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael and other countries such as South Africa, where a strong association of Kaunas Jews was established.

The number of Jews in Kaunas decreased due to emigration, lower birth rate, and the large number of deaths. In 1924, the natural birth rate of the Jews of Kaunas was 283 births and in 1937 only 172. The number of deaths in 1935 was 224, in 1936 it was 498, and in 1937 it was 528.

As time progressed, it became more and more difficult for the Jews to observe the laws of Jewish slaughtering and maintain the signs that had Hebrew letters on them. At the start of the Lithuanian autonomy, the names of new streets were written in Lithuanian and Yiddish. The signs of Jewish businesses were also written that way. Already in February of 1923, and with the knowledge and support of the government, all of the signs written in Yiddish were smeared with tar during one single night. A few years later, signs written in Hebrew or Yiddish were formally forbidden.

During the period under discussion, there were occasional anti-Semitic outbursts and economic harassments of Jews. Every now and then, Jews were also physically hurt. On August 2, 1929, about 20 rioters, among them 3 policemen, attacked Jews in Slobodka. In 1938, Lithuanian students at the University of Kaunas started to provoke Jews. They demanded that “Ghetto seats” be allocated to Jews on the left side of the lecture halls. Following this demand, in the autumn of 1939 a severe clash between Lithuanian and Jewish students, including fist fights, occurred at the University of Kaunas. The Lithuanians also demanded to forbid Jews to speak Yiddish to each other and made additional discriminating demands.

The government of Lithuania, which pushed away the Jews from commerce and industry, began to “Lithuanianize” labor. A new law was passed which required artisans not only to “know” their professions but also to show proficiency in speaking and writing the Lithuanian language. They were also required to manage their bookkeeping in Lithuanian.

 

Education and Culture

In the beginning of the 1920's, the “Tarbut” (culture) network established their first elementary schools in Kaunas. The “Yavne” network established their schools a little later. The language of instruction in all of those schools was Hebrew. In 1924, the Jewish elementary schools in Kaunas had 1,427 pupils (569 boys and 858 girls), comprising 24.7% of all elementary school pupils; the Jewish population comprised 27.7% of the entire population. 28 Jewish teachers taught in those schools, making up 20.9% of all the elementary school teachers in the city. In 1937, Kaunas had 43 schools, 10 of them were Jewish with a student body of 2,181 children.

In addition to the kindergartens that were attached to the gymnasias (which were usually attended by children from wealthier families), 4 more kindergartens were opened for poor children that taught in Yiddish.

The technical gymnasia was established already in 1915, during the German occupation. It was initiated by Rabbi Dr. Josef Karlibach (later he was a Rabbi in Hamburg) who came to the city as an officer in the German army. He supported physical punishment for educational purposes. The language of instruction was German and many hours of study were devoted to Judaism.

The technical gymnasia in Kaunas developed during the period of Independent Lithuania and it had 19 classes: 3 preparatory classes, 3 classes for boys, and 8 classes for girls. On January 1, 1921, the gymnasia had 607 students. The studies were conducted in two rented buildings. In 1927, a large and magnificent building with a courtyard was built for the gymnasia on an area of 3,000 square meters (32,292 square feet) with the support of Azriel Mordechai Chase, who was born in Alytus but lived in the United States,. The two parts of the gymnasia were then combined and everyone moved to the new building. At its peak, the gymnasia had 1,000 students and 40 teachers. In 1924, a Hebrew kindergarten was opened next to the gymnasia. The principals were: Dr. Y. Tsherna followed by Z. Feldshtein. Among the teachers were: N. Grinbalt (Goren), M. Livshin, S. Kapit, C.N. Shapira and others.

Azriel Mordechai Chase also established a scholarship fund for students born in Alytus and the surrounding areas. Thanks to those scholarships, dozens of students completed their studies in the gymnasia. From 1928 to 1933, 34 students in the gymnasia benefited from this fund.

The “Kaunas Hebrew Gymnasia” was established in August, 1920, on the ruins of the Russian School of Commerce. The latter attempted to reestablish it in 1919 but failed to do so. On January 1, 1921, the gymnasia had 11 classes. Until 1924/25 the language of instruction in the upper 3 classes was in Russian and in the lower classes it was in Hebrew. The number of students in the “Gymnasium” in its first 5 years of existence is shown in the table below:

 

  Number of Students  
Year Boys Girls Total Number of
Graduates
1920/21 188 228 416 46
1921/22 303 253 556 67
1922/23 302 257 559 39
1923/24 301 263 564 39
1924/25 328 248 576 30

 

The principals were Dr. Moshe Schwabe and Kopel Velutski. In 1924, Dr. Schwabe emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael where he was a lecturer in the Hebrew University, and then the dean of the Humanities department and rector of the university. The next principals of the “Gymnasium” were Dr. Aaron Berman, who later was the principal of the new high school in Tel Aviv, and then Yoel Brutskus. The new building of the institution, which was located on the banks of the Nemunas River, was inaugurated in 1927. It was built with the aid of the “Joint” and a long-term governmental loan. The general public used to call this institution “The Schwabe Gymnasium”.

In 1928, the “Yavne” Hebrew Gymnasia for boys was opened in Kaunas. It had a 10 year program for its students. It managed to complete only 2 graduation classes. The principal was Rabbi Yitzhak Shmuelevitz. A “Yavne” Hebrew Gymnasia for girls was opened in 1925 and it completed 8 graduation classes. The principals were: Dr. Yitzhak-Rafael Halevi Holtsberg-Etsyon, Rabbi David Karlibach and others.

The lack of instruction books in the Hebrew motivated the teachers of the Gymnasias to publish instruction books in Hebrew for the subjects of Hebrew, mathematics, grammar, Roman, nature, physics and others. The Hebrew language, which at first was used as the language of instruction for all of the subjects, was pushed aside over the years due to the Lithuanian Ministry of Education policy, which required more and more subjects to be taught in Lithuanian.

A progymnasia that taught in Yiddish was established in Kaunas in 1926, and it had 35 students. In 1928, it was transformed into a gymnasia for commerce and was named after “Shalom Aleichem”. In 1938, it had 400 students and 27 teachers. The first graduation class was in 1936/37. The principal was Dr. Shemuel Levin. An elementary school, a kindergarten and a large library were active next to the gymnasia.

In the 1930's, when the Nazis gained control of the government in Germany, many Jewish students left the big German Gymnasia in Kaunas and transferred to Jewish schools. Most of them, who came from assimilated and mixed families and did not know Hebrew or Yiddish, started studying in the Jewish-Lithuanian gymnasia whose language of instruction was in Lithuanian. That gymnasia was opened in 1933. The principal was Dr. Shemuel Girshovitz and his deputy was B. Shulgaser.

In 1920, “Tzeirei Yisrael” (Youth of Israel) opened courses in Kaunas for religious teachers, and they also initiated the founding of the “Yavne” educational network. Both of these initiatives received support from the Rabbis of Lithuania. The courses were managed by Dr. L. Deutschlaender. 26 young teachers completed the courses and received teaching certificates. In 1921, the “Yavne” Seminar for Teachers was founded in Kaunas. It functioned in the city for one year and then was transferred to Telsiai.

The Teachers' Bet Midrah next to the “Tarbut” center was active in Kaunas from 1921 until 1932/33. This institution certified 164 teachers for elementary schools. Between 18 to 35 students studied there from 1921 until 1928. Starting in the 1930/31 school year, Kaunas had a “Biennial Pedagogion” for gymnasia graduates. This institution functioned until 1933 and certified about 100 teachers. The Pedagogy Department at the University of Kaunas was opened in the same year and the government closed all the seminars. Among the principals of these two institutions were: Dr. S.Y. Tzherna, Yehoshua Margolin, Dr. Eliyahu Segal, Dr. Rafael Rabinovitz and others.

The main concern of the “Ort” association, whose center was in Kaunas, was the vocational education of Jewish children and especially the youth in Lithuania. In 1920, “Ort” established in Kaunas a school for mechanical welding, for sewing women's clothes and for tailoring. The school developed, especially the mechanical welding department, in spite of the difficult conditions in the old building where studies took place. In 1929, this institution became a 4-year school and had the same privileges as did the national schools. It accepted students who completed their elementary education. Subsequently, a new building was constructed for it on Jonava Street and it was called “The Labor House on behalf of L.M. Bramson”. The government took part in maintaining it and it included the following departments: galvanoplasty, electromechanics, mechanical welding, auto mechanics, metal molding, sewing women's clothing, sewing men's clothing and tailoring. More than 500 boys and girls ages 14-18 studied in the school. The vocational classes for girls and the other courses were studied in the old building.

For two years (1921-1922), the “Ort” association maintained a class in the governmental technicum in Kaunas whose language of instruction was Yiddish. 67 students studied in that class. “Ort” also opened workshops in elementary schools in Kaunas and supplied the materials and work tools.

In 1921, “Ort” opened shearing courses in Kaunas for tailors with a 4-6 month curriculum. In 1923, it opened an evening course for mechanical welding with a 1.5-2 year curriculum. There were also courses for shoemakers and tinsmiths. “Ort” was also the “patron” for apprentices and activated an institute for consulting on how to choose a profession. “Ort” also initiated a cooperative union for production called “Economia” where 25 tailors worked. Subsequently, “Ort” activities declined and towards 1939/40 only the departments of mechanical welding, auto mechanics, electricity and sewing women's clothing remained in the school. The courses that continued to be studied were shearing women's clothing, shearing men's clothing and girdle making.

Hundreds of Jewish youth from all over Lithuania continued their education in the Lithuanian University of Kaunas. The number of Jewish students in that university is shown in the table below:

 

Year Total number
of Students
Jews %
1922 1,168 368 31
1925 3,000 500 17
1931 4,000 1,000 25
1932 4,553 1,2091 26
1935 3,334 7802 23
1937 .. 600 ..
1939 .. Approximately
500
..

  1. See more below.
  2. A different count had it at - 591.

 

The number of Jewish students in the different departments in 1932 was as follows:

Humanities: philosophy - 3; philology - 111; history - 41. Total: 155.
Law: law - 162; economics - 127. Total: 289.
Mathematics and Natural Sciences: mathematics - 18; physics - 43; biology - 98. Total: 159.
Medicine: medicine - 197; pharmacy - 101; dentistry - 103. Total: 401.
Engineering: building - 135; technology - 70; Total: 205.

From the middle of the 1930's, graduates of the faculty of law were blocked from being accepted to the labor market in their profession. Only a very few were accepted to study medicine. In 1937, 3 Jews out of 60 were accepted to the medical department. In the same year, only 15 out of 90 Jewish students passed the entrance examinations in the Lithuanian language which were instituted for Jewish students in the latter part of the 1930's. Out of the 411 faculty members in the university, only 6 were Jews. Among them was H.N. Shapira who was chair of Semitic studies.

The Azriel Chase Fund provided also scholarships to students who enrolled into higher educational institutions in Kaunas. Most of the recipients of the scholarships were either born in Alytus or in the area that surrounded it. From 1928 to 1933, 36 students received such scholarships. Among them were two people that the Fund funded their studies in universities in Germany: the author, Meir Yelin (who studied architecture) and the poetess, Lea Goldberg (who studied Semitic languages). Throughout the years, the fund's committee was headed by Dr. Tsemach Feldshtein and among its members were writers, educators and public personalities.

Kaunas had a number of associations and organizations that were run by Jewish students. The following associations existed during the 1931/32 school year: the economic union, which was the umbrella organization that provided loans, grants, and meals for a low fee in a restaurant established for that and other purposes. In 1934, the union's administration was composed of 4 representatives from Z”S (Zionist Socialists), 2 representatives from the poor students, and 5 members from the “Corporations” (students' associations). In 1935, the administration had 4 representatives from Z”S, 3 representatives from the poor students, and 4 members from the “Corporations”. The Z”S student association had 80 members; “Al HaMishmar” had 70 members; “Moriya” (religious) had 30 members. Apart from the above, there was also the “Aurora” (anti-Zionist and communist) association. The student unions were: “Beitariya” (nationalists), “Yardeniya” (revisionists), “El Al” (revisionists), “Bar Giora” (assimilates), “Bat Amea” (revisionists - female students), “Unitas Feminarum” (nonpartisan female students). Each of these student unions had 15-30 members and each union had their own special cap.

 

Jewish female students, members of the Unitas Feminarum Union

 

Cultural Activities
The “Tarbut” association provided evening classes and in 1922 they were attended by 225 people. The association also initiated lectures in Hebrew. In 1938, for example, 80 such public lectures were given in Kaunas.

In 1933, the government permitted the “Society for Promoting Education among the Jews of Lithuania” to open the “Peoples University” in Kaunas. It was managed by Dr. Esther Elishav-Weisbort.

Throughout the period under discussion, a Yiddish theater operated in Kaunas and by the end of the 1930's there were even two of them. “The Jewish Drama Theater” began its activities in 1919. It staged an excellent repertoire of plays from the Jewish world and the world at large. Its director was Leonid Sokolov. Some of the more prominent actors in the group were Osip Runitsh, Rashel Berger, Sofia Erdi and many others. Due to various reasons, the number of theatergoers declined with the years and it oscillated from 90,632 in 1931 to 31,378 in 1936. Many Jews went to the National Theater in the city where tickets were inexpensive and which staged high quality plays, operas and ballets.

Throughout the years, the Jews of Kaunas were privileged to have had actors and theater shows from Poland, the United States and Eretz-Yisrael. In 1926, the “HaBima” theater performed in the National Theater Hall; in 1934, “HaOhel”; in 1938, The Yemenite Ballet under the direction of Rina Nikova. Ida Kaminska, Zigmund Turkov and the directors Menachem Rubin, Rudolf Sazlavski and many others also performed in Kaunas.

The Hebrew “Dramatic Studia” and the Choir named after Yoel Engel, both of which received support from the Lithuanian Ministry of Education and the city of Kaunas, were also active in the city. The Choir had 40 singers (male and female) and its conductor was Shaul Blecharovitz. Its repertoire consisted of folk songs, oratories and more.

“The Hebrew Studia” was found in 1923. It staged with great success “The Mischief of Scapin” by Moliere, “Migdal Oz” (A Tower of Strength) by RaMChaL (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto), “The Gold Chain” by Isaac Leib Peretz, and other plays. Among the “Studia's” directors were: Michael Gur, who was born in Lithuania and was also a director at “HaBima”, the Russian director Victor Gromov, Rafael Tzvi from the “HaOhel” theater and others. Many of the actors emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael (Zalman Leviush, Baruch Klas, Khanokh Paz, and others).

Kaunas had 2 large libraries: the “Mapu” library, as noted above and which was founded in 1908, and another which was founded by the Yiddisher Society “Shokharei Daat” (Seekers of Knowledge). On January 1, 1939, this library had 1,027 members (446 men and 581 women) and among them were: 275 clerks, 281 workers, 50 grocers, 27 teachers, 21 students, 40 pupils, 36 gold-collar workers (such as lawyers, accountants, engineers, etc.), 297 unidentified. In 1939, 37,000 books were borrowed: 53% of the borrowed books were in Yiddish and the rest in other languages. The “Balosher” library was another library in the city, and in 1930 it had 689 members.

“The Historical and Ethnographical Society of Lithuanian Jews” was founded in Kaunas on May 30, 1922. The society's regulations were formulated by: S. Veinshtein, Z.H. Kalmanovitz, Z.M. Lippman, Y. Berger, and K. Kliatzkin. The society was reorganized in 1930 and it established a museum and an archive in Kaunas, which was opened in 1931 in a small building on the municipality square. It collected about 3,000 items for display, which included portraits of famous Lithuanians, photos of synagogues, objects used in religious rituals and in daily life, record books of communities and societies, and more. It had a special display about the famous Rabbi of Kaunas, Rabbi Yitzhak Elchanan Spector (1817-1896). Jewish painters donated pictures to the museum: Z. Becker, Y. Shtreichman, C. Feinstein, and others. Jewish students from the University of Kaunas made use of the materials in the archives for their research which was supervised by professor A. Yanulaitis. The first chairman of the society was the lawyer, Khoronzhitski, and the last chairman was Abba Balosher. The secretary was Natan Yonasevitz, who also edited and published in 1939 the single annual of the society.

From 1919 until 1940, 109 books in Hebrew were published in Kaunas, which included text books, literature, history, and books on Judaism.

 

Newspapers and Periodicals

Daily newspapers and dozens of periodicals, most of them in Yiddish, were published in Kaunas. “Di Yiddishe Shtime” (The Jewish Voice), by the Zionist Federation, made its first appearance in July, 1919. Its first editor was the lawyer, Leib Garfunkel. From 1925 until it was shut down, the editor was Reuven Rubinstein. The newspaper included the weekly, “The Echo of Lithuania” (in Hebrew), and in its first years also the weekly, “Our Voice” (in Lithuanian) by the Jewish party in the Seim.

The evening newspaper, “Heintike Neis” (Today's News) started appearing during 1934.

“Folksblat” (The Peoples Newspaper) that belonged to the “Folkspartei” started appearing in 1930 and was published by the “Yiddishe Bildung Gesellschaft” (The Jewish Education Society). The editor was Yudel Mark and then it was Dr. Mendel Sudarski. In 1939, communist supporters, headed by G. Ziman, took control of the newspaper. During the same year appeared the “Oventblat”, an evening newspaper, whose editor was David Verbelovski.

The newspaper “Unzer Vort” (Our Word) by the Zionist Socialists, started appearing in 1933, and then, “Dos Vort” (The Word) started appearing in 1934. The editors were Efraim Greenberg and Berl Cohen.

The revisionists started publishing their newspaper, “Unzer Moment” (Our Moment) in 1933. It published many materials that appear in the Warsaw “Moment”. The editors were: Y. Moskovski (his pen name was Marian Zhid), Michael Yachinson, Eliyahu Glazer (Gal-Ezer), Morderchai Katz. The paper changed its format in 1939.

The weekly, “Yiddisher Leben” (Jewish Life) which started appearing in 1922, at first in Kaunas and later in Telsiai, was the mouthpiece of the younger generation of “Agudat Yisrael”. The editor was Efraim Gelfman.

The Center for Zionism was involved in publishing two weekly newspapers in Hebrew: “Netivot” (Paths) and “Olameinu” (Our World).

On June 16, 1935, the Jewish weekly “Apzvalga” (Survey) by The Jewish Fighters' Association for Lithuanian Independence appeared in Kaunas in the Lithuanian language. Its goal, among others, was to campaign against the increasing anti-Semitism and to respond immediately when Jews were harmed. At the same time, it aimed to bring Jews closer to the Lithuanian culture and the Lithuanians to Jewish culture. Its editor was Y. Lipshitz. The weekly was closed down on June 25, 1940.

A number of weeklies and periodicals, most of them in Yiddish, appeared in Kaunas during the 1920's (“Di Welt”, “Di Woch”, “Unzer Zeit”, “Di Neie Zeit”, “Neis”, “Kovner Zeit”, “Kovner Tog”, “Unzer Ruf”, “Kovner Kurier” and others). The various parties also published periodicals and weeklies (“Unzer Rol”, “Unzer Weg” by the Zionists Socialists, “Arbeiter Gedank” by the Borochov movement, “Arbeiter Zeitung” by the “Poalei Zion” left, “Yiddenshtat” by the Grosmanists, “Der Emet” (The Truth) by the revisionists (1933), “Erd un Arbeit” by “Tzeirei Zion”, “Tsum Yugent” by the “Tiferet Bachurim” movement, “Koleinu” (Our Voice) by “Bnei Akiva”, “Bet Ya'akov” by a women's organization by the same name, “Knesset Yisrael”, a quarterly devoted to Torah and ethics by the Slobodka Yeshiva Students Association, and more). Furthermore, (until September 1935) some newspapers were published only occasionally or made a one-time appearance, most of them by various parties (“HeKhalutz” and “Yugent Shtime” by the Zionists Socialists, “Folk und Land” by the Mizrachi, “Socherishe Velt”, “Folk Gesunt” by “OZE”, “Maccabi”, “Di Zukunft” and “Di Neie Shtime” by the revisionists, “Unzer Handle”, “Grins Oif Shavuot”, Yom Tov Bleter”, “Pesach Zeitung”, Rosh Hashana Zeitung”, and others).

During that same period appeared the Hebrew weeklies “Galim” (Waves) and “HaTsofe” (The Observer), the bi-weeklies “Netivot” and “Petach” and the periodical “Al HaMishmar” by “HeKhalutz”. “Telalim”, a literary collection, and “Yediot” by the “Tzeirei Zion” in Lithuania were also published. “Beitar” published: “Ashmorot”, “Shevilei Beitar”, “HaLapid” (The Torch), “Khinukh VeTagar” and others.

The quarterly “Bemisholei HaKhinukh” (In the Paths of Education) by the Hebrew Teachers' Association in Lithuania made its first appearance in 1936. The editor was Avraham Kisin.

For 3 years (from 1932), appeared “Di Woch”, an illustrated weekly for the family. Its editors were G. Gurvitz and A. Idels. From 1927 until 1940 appeared the periodical “Weltspiegel”. Two Jewish weeklies appeared in Lithuanian, “Musu Zodis” (Our Words) and “Musu Garsas” (Our Voice) already mentioned above.

A group of authors and poets from the left published their works in Yiddish in the periodical “Vispe”. Among them were: H. Bloshtein, B. Orshanski, Yudika, D. Fraker, D. Fram and others. In the anthologies “Mir Alein” and “Shliachen” participated the following authors and poets: S. Aizen, N. Gotlieb, Y. Gotlieb, L. Heyman, Y. Kaplan. Also, the anthologies “Briken” and “Toyeren” appeared in Kaunas where the poet, A. Goltblat, the writer and critic Y. Yosade, the critic A. Elishav-Weisbrot and the author D. Umru made their contributions.

During that same period, the communist party published a couple of illegal newspapers in Kaunas: the weekly “Arbeiter Vort”, appeared in Kaunas 6 times in 1920. “Arbeiter Leben”, a weekly, appeared 25 times starting in July 1926. “Unzer Zeitung” (1925/26), “Unzer Emes” (1923-1934) did not appear consistently, “Unzer Fone” (1928/1929), and in 1926, 2 one-time publications of “Unzere Klangen” and “Unzer Fon”.

 

Religious Life

Most of the prayer houses that were damaged or destroyed during the war were restored during the period under discussion. In Kaunas and in the suburbs of Shantz, Karmelita, The Green Mountain, Aleksotas and other suburbs, operated about 40 synagogues, Batei Midrah and Kloizes (Prayer Houses), which were used for praying and for Torah study. Among them were: the old Bet Midrash, the new Bet Midrash, the “Ohel Ya'akov” synagogue, and the “Kloizes” of the tailors, butchers, undertakers, merchants, of the Hasidim, of “Poalei Zedek” (tailors), “Nakhalat Yitzhak”, in the name of Hoizman, Neviazher, Zatz, Merkel and many others. In Slobodka were the Bet Midrash of “Knesset Yisrael” and the Kloizes of the butchers, the New Kloiz, Zivchei Zedek, Or Hadash, and others.

The organizations that focused on Torah studies were: “Torah” (from 1837), “Shas”, (Mishna) “Mishnaiot”, “Ein Ya'akov”, “Khayei Adam”, “Menorat HaMaor”, “Tehilim” and others.

Kaunas had institutions such as “Talmud Torah”, “Yagdil Torah” and others which were attended by about 300 children in 1938; in Slobodka, the number of students in such institutions was 150.

The famous Yeshivot in Slobodka: “Ateret Tzvi”, “Etz Haim”, “Or Haim” and “Knesset Yisrael” attracted Yeshiva students from all over Lithuania and also from abroad. In 1938, 231 young men studied in Slobodka, including some from abroad. In 1924, Rabbi Moshe-Mordechai Epshtein, head of the “Knesset Yisrael” Yeshiva, started to move the Yeshiva to Hebron. The impetus to do so was the result of a decree that was published by the Lithuanian government which ruled that Yeshiva students are not exempt from military service. Since most of the students were of military age, it was feared that the Yeshiva will be shut down. A committee of Jews from around the world was established which helped 100 students to move from Lithuania to Hebron. This operation also made a great impression on the British Mandate in Eretz-Yisrael and it was publicized in newspapers around the world. After the students arrived in Hebron, the Yeshiva started attracting students from the Jewish world at large. In 1928/29 the Yeshiva in Hebron reported that it had 86 students from Lithuania, 85 from Poland, 36 from Russia, 37 from America, 7 from England, 25 from Eretz-Yisrael, 3 from Latvia, and 4 from Romania. During the 1929 pogroms in Hebron, the Arabs killed 67 Jews: 24 of them were Yeshiva students from Hebron. This event brought an end to Jewish settlement and to the Yeshiva in Hebron. After the Holocaust, the “Knesset Yisrael Slobodka Yeshiva” was founded in Bnei Brak in memory of the destroyed Yeshivas in Hebron.

Among the Rabbis that served in Kaunas and its suburbs were: Rabbi Zalman Margalit (1851-1933), who served as a Rabbi in Karmelita for 53 years; Rabbi Israel-Nisan Krak (1867-1938), who was a “Moreh Tsedek” (teacher of righteousness) for 40 years, active in the community, an ardent lover of Zion, head of the “Mizrahi” in Lithuania, a delegate to the 12th Zionist Congress and who died in Tel Aviv; Rabbi Baruch Halevi Horovitz (1870-1936), who served as the Rabbi of Aleksotas from 1900 until his death and served as the teaching Rabbi in Slobodka for 20 years; Rabbi Avraham-Duber Shapira (1871-1943), who served as a Rabbi in Kaunas until he passed away in the ghetto. He was a Zionist, was active in the community, and was one of the founders and the president of the Rabbis Association of Lithuania; Rabbi Gershon Gutman (1872-1940), who for 30 years was a member of the Rabbinate and head of Judaic Studies in Slobodka, founded a public and inexpensive kosher kitchen and was active in founding a kosher kitchen for many of the Jewish soldiers that served in Kaunas; Rabbi Shelomo-Zalman Osovski (1883-1941), who was a rabbinical judge in Slobodka and was murdered together with wife and son in the pogroms that Lithuanians executed in his neighborhood during the first days of the Nazi occupation; Rabbi Moshe Shkarota (1888-1944), who was a Rabbi in Slobodka from 1937 and perished in the Holocaust; Rabbi Yisrael-Shelomo Roznson (1888-1940), was a “Moreh Tsedek” and “Magid” (preacher) in Kaunas from 1926. He was one of the administrators of the Central Bureau of The Keren Kayemet LeYisrael, one of the top executives of “HaMizrakhi” and later one of the leaders of the Union of the Revisionist Zionists in Lithuania; Rabbi Josef Zusmanovitz “HaYerushalmi” (1895-1941), was a rabbi in Slobodka and perished in the Holocaust; Rabbi Shraga Hurvitz (1900-1941), was the head of a Yeshiva (Rosh Metivta) in Slobodka and was murdered by Lithuanians during the pogroms.

 

The new synagogue in the Jewish quarter
(photographed after the war)

 

Aid and Welfare Activities

The difficult economic conditions that prevailed among the Jews of Kaunas after the World War forced the committee of the community to allocate a significant sum of its budget for welfare activities. Already in 1920, the committee supported the following institutions: the “Bikur Kholim” hospital, “Ezra Rishona” (first aid), the soup kitchen, a kitchen for children, the orphanage, “Hachnasat Orchim”, the women's association, and “Tomkhei Noflim”. The committee also took care of Jewish prisoners of war and soldiers during the Jewish holidays, of refugees, of people whose houses were burned down, as well as providing the needy with wood for heating and “Maot Khitim” (money for flour for Passover).

In 1926, 6.8% of the city's budget supported the Jewish welfare institutions.

In 1920/22, the “Bet HaYeladim” (Children's House) in Kaunas took care of orphans and half orphans who returned from Russia and many of them lost their parents. Within the framework of this institution also functioned other facilities: an infants' house for infants whose parents were not found, a public bath house for students in the city's schools, a “Tipat Khalav” unit (a facility which assists mothers to take care of their young children), and an infirmary for children which became famous due to its manager, Dr. Z. Lehmann, who arrived in Kaunas as an officer with the German Occupying Forces. It also established an elementary school in the place. In 1926/27, more than 100 students/pupils from this institution immigrated to Eretz-Yisrael, to Kfar HaNoar Ben Shemen, together with Dr. Lehmann, who managed the Kfar for many years. In 1932, the “Joint” helped build a large, modern building for the “Children's House” in Kaunas where 120 children below age of 7 stayed. This was the only institution in Lithuania that provided shelter for preschool age children.

Another well organized institution and worthy of its name was the “Orphanage”, which was named on behalf of Rabbi Yitzhak Elchanan. At the end of the 1930's, a large building was built for it, in spite of the economic crises that the Jews of Lithuania were going through at that time. In 1932, an orphanage for girls between 7 and 14 years of age was established in Kaunas in a rented building. In 1939, this institution had 70 girls and many more waited to be accepted into it. The communal committee, whose members were several dozen of men and women from the city's communal workers, started working on building a suitable building for this institution. But this plan did not materialize because of what eventuated at that point in time. The local municipalities and the government covered about 40% of the budgets of those institutions.

The Jewish old peoples' home in Kaunas, which was established in 1890, took care of, on average, of 115 old people. The “Bikur Kholim” hospital had 320 beds and was one of the largest and most advanced hospitals in Lithuania. It served all Jews in Lithuania and was open to non-Jews as well. The Jewish communities throughout Lithuania donated a yearly sum to the hospital. In 1930, the Jewish hospital for children, which was built in “The Green Mountain” in 1919, became an integral part of the “Bikur Kholim” hospital. In 1927, 1,976 patients were treated in the hospital, and in 1936, 6,448 patients. Some of the doctors who worked there were: Dr. B. Golach, Dr. B. Zacharin, Dr. Rabinovitz, Dr., Madam Kaplan-Molk, Dr. A. Elkes, and others. It usually also employed about 10 interns. The associations that took care of the patients were: “Mishmeret Kholim”, “Mevakrei Kholim” and others.

In 1928, the “OZE” society, whose headquarters were in Kaunas, received aid from the “Joint” and established the “Bet Briut” (The Health House), named after Dr. Frumkin. Most of the society's activities focused on maintaining the health of the Jewish population by providing comprehensive information and medical treatment to school children. The society maintained a service of “Medical Consultation for the Sake of Children”. Most of the babies were under “OZE's” medical supervision. Needy parents were also provided with foodstuff for their children. Next to the Health House was an infirmary which treated about 1,000 people a month. The society also trained Jewish nurses and until 1930, 85 nurses graduated from the courses provided by “OZE”. In 1936, an additional 38 nurses graduated. The graduates of the final class received the status of certified nurses.

The “Gemilut Khesed” association was reopened in 1924. Its chairman was the lawyer Dimentshtein and the secretary was Rabbi David Levin, a member of the community committee and one of the leaders of “Agudat Yisrael”.

 

Nurses' course within the “Bikur Kholim” hospital complex
(Dr. Elchanan Elkes is at the center)

 

Zionist and Other Activities

Many of the Jews of Kaunas belonged to the Zionist camp. The headquarters of all the Zionist parties in Lithuania were in Kaunas and each one had a branch in the city: the General Zionists A and B, the Revisionists, the Social Zionists (Z”S), the Grosmanists, the “Mizrakhi”, “WIZO”. The headquarters of the “Keren HaKayemet LeYisrael” and the “Keren HaYesod” in Lithuania were also in Kaunas and their local branches maintained dynamic activities. Many of the leaders of the Zionist parties in Eretz-Yisrael came to visit in Kaunas. Writers and poets also visited Kaunas. Among the latter were: C.N. Bialyik, S. Tchernichovsky, Z. Shneur, Y. Lamdan, Z. Jabotinsky (visited Lithuania and Kaunas a number of times: in 1923, 1925, 1930, 1938, and on May 5, 1939), D. Ben-Gurion, M. Usisshkin, S. Dubnov, U.Z. Grinberg, D. Berglson, C. Zhitlovski and many others.

The division of votes to the Zionist Congresses in the 1920's and 1930's in Kaunas (including the suburbs of Shantz, Petrashun and Marevyanka, in the summer camps around Kaunas and in the headquarters of the ballot box) was as shown in the table below:

 

Congress
Nr.
Year Total
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
Revisionists General
Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrakhi
Z”S Z”Z A B
14 1925 235 - - - - - - - -
15 1927 783 292 61 44 79 78 - - 30
16 1929 2,275 649 142 118 204 129 - - 56
17 1931 .. 1,404 436 191 699 151 - - 75
18 1933 .. 3,269 2,072 304 306 - 311 196
19 1935 .. 8,406 4,516 - 544 969 1,713 664

 

The Zionist youth groups were organized in the “Noar of the Social Zionists”, “HaShomer HaTzair", “Beytar” (from 1928), “HaNoar HaZioni”, “Brit HaKanaim”, “Gordonia”, “Bnei-Akiva”, “Torah VeAvoda”, , “Brit HeKhayal” (from 1934), “Etzel” (from 1934). “HeKhalutz” had a Kibbutz in Kaunas from 1933 which ran a cooperative carpentry.

Other youth groups that were active in Kaunas were: the “Folkspartei”, “Tzeirei Yisrael” and “Agudat Yisrael”. The Jewish population also had communists who operated underground.

Sport activities for the Jewish youth in Kaunas were held in the clubs of “Maccabi” and “Maccabi HaTzair”, in “HaPoel” and in the “YAK” (Yiddisher Areibter Club). The “Maccabi” branch had basketball teams for men and women who already in 1924 excelled in their games. This branch also had a hockey team, a soccer team in league A, and teams in swimming, sailing, gymnastics, boxing and more. Members of the ping pong (table tennis) team of that branch were the champions of Lithuania (Hirsh Shimens, K. Dushkes, Hadasah and Fruma Horvitz, the Kurliandchik sisters and others). From time to time the gymnasts would perform for the public. These performances were accompanied by the branch's choir and a string orchestra, whose conductor was M. Grudnikov. The “HaPoel” club started functioning in Kaunas in 1930. The branch had about 600 members. The “HaPoel” branch had teams in soccer, basketball, boxing, a team that trained in weight lifting, and a string orchestra.

The “YAK” club had a soccer team in league B, teams in gymnastics, light athletics and more.

In Kaunas operated a volunteer firefighters' brigade that had many Jewish volunteers. In 1930, its commander was the engineer Binshtein.

Among the personalities who were born in Kaunas were: Avraham Mapu (1808-1867), one the fathers of Modern Hebrew literature; Yehuda Leib Klibansky (1817-1889), a communal worker and one its leaders, founder of the new Bet Midrash and one of the initiators for building a cemetery in Kaunas, and a “Khovev-Zion” (Lover of Zion); Avraham-Moshe Lunz (1854-1918), a researcher of Eretz-Yisrael who in his youth emigrated to Yisrael, became blind at the age of 25, and published many books in subjects dealing with the anthropology, the history, the archeology, and the geography of Eretz-Yisrael; Khaikel Shkliarsky (born in 1856), who was a “Mohel” (circumciser) and until 1921 performed 10,000 circumcisions in Kaunas; Shimon Merkel (1862--1935), a religious communal worker, an extreme oppositionist to Zionism; Ozer Finkleshtein (1863-1932), a lawyer and a communal worker, the leader of the Jewish Democratic Party in Lithuania and its delegate to the first Lithuanian Siemas and others, deputy to the president of the “Council of the Land” in Lithuania, active in Yivo and in the “Culture League”; Emma Goldman (1869-1940), an anarchist, editor of the party's newspaper in the United States; Leon Bramson (1869-1941), a lawyer and communal worker, active in “Ort”; Rabbi Tuvia Gefen (1870-1969), who from 1903 lived in the United States, was a Rabbi in New York and from 1911 a Rabbi in Atlanta; Aba Balosher (1871-1944), one of the first Zionists in Lithuania, a bibliographer and researcher in the field of folklore, one of the founders of the Hebrew Library in Kaunas on behalf of Mapu, he managed in the underground the writing of the “Notebook of Ghetto Kaunas” and perished in the Holocaust; Yisrael-Isidor Elyashiv (“Ba'al HaMakhshavot”) (1873-1924), a literary critic and translator; Rabbi Tzvi-Pesach Frank (1877-1961), from 1892 in Eretz-Yisrael, a Rabbi in Jerusalem, from 1936 head of the Rabbinate in Jerusalem; Helena Khazkles (1882-1978), educator and author, one the leaders of the Yiddishistic movement in Lithuania; Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik-Solieli (1895-1957), a researcher of the Bible and communal worker, was the minister of Jewish affairs during the period of autonomy in Lithuania, manager of the ministry of education of the national committee in Eretz-Yisrael and later was the manager of the radio station “Kol Israel” (The Voice of Israel); Yizhak Olshan (1885-1972), president of the Supreme Court of Israel; Alexander-Ziskind Macht (1892-1972), banker and communal worker in Kaunas, champion of Lithuania in chess, subsequently manager of the Industrial Bank in Tel Aviv; Professor Natan Feinberg (1895-1988), the first dean of the law department of the Hebrew University, world expert in international law; Leib Garfunkel (1896-1976), member of the Lithuanian Seim from 1922 to 1926, head of the Socialist Zionist Movement and head of the “Keren “HaYesod” Center in Lithuania, deputy to the head of the Jewish Committee in Kaunas Ghetto, from 1948 in Israel, was the Registrar of the Cooperative Associations in the State of Israel; Dr. Herzl Rozenblum (Vardi) (1903-1986), one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, editor of “Yediot Ahronot”; Dr. Noah Feller (1903-1989), a renowned surgeon, one of the founders of “HaSharon” hospital; Ya'akov Amit (Gotlieb, 1904-1986), a member of the main leadership of “HaShomer HaTzair” and a member of the central committee of “HeKhalutz” in Lithuania, from 1929 a member of Kibbutz Bet Zera, editor of “Al HaMishmar”; Yehuda Tuvin (born in 1908), a member of the central leadership of “HaShomer HaTzair” in Lithuania from 1926 until 1931, emigrated to Yisrael in 1931, volunteered to the Jewish Brigade in WWII and was active in the Rescue Committee in Europe, a member of Mapam's (Mifleget HaPoalim HaMeuhedet) central committee and of the HaPoel Committee of the Kibbutz HaArtzi, one of the managers of “Moreshet”, a member of Kibbutz Bet Zera; Ya'akov Gotlieb (1911-1945), a poet and a critic in Yiddish; Shemuel Bunim (born in 1919), director and painter in Tel Aviv; Sara Doron (born in 1922), a member of the 9th, 10th, and the 11th Knesset, and in the 12th Knesset was the chairwoman of the “Likud” party; Avraham Melamed (born in 1923), a lawyer, one of the leaders of Mafdal (Miflaga Datit Leumit), a former member of the Knesset; Dov Levin (born in 1925), professor of history at the Hebrew University and a senior researcher at Yad VaShem, escaped from Ghetto Kaunas and joined the partisans that fought the Nazis, arrived in Eretz-Yisrael in 1945 with an illegal ship during the “Ha'apala” period. He published many books and articles on Jewish resistance to the Nazis, editor of “Pinkas HaKehilot - Lita” (Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities. Lithuania); Kalman Park (born in 1930), professor of anatomy and physiology of animals in the Agricultural Department in the Hebrew University; professor Aharon Barak (Brick, born in 1936), a senior jurist, from 1995 president of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem; his father Tzvi was the manager of the “Jerusalem Economic Corporation”.

 

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