“Krakes” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Krok, Lithuania)

55°24' / 23°44'

Translation of “Krakes” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Dov Levin

Published byYad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1996


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Acknowledgments

Project Coordinator

Ada Green

Translations

 
Yitzhak A. Oked Sechter
 

Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
for permission to put this material on the JewishGen web site.

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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(Page 679)

Krakes (Kroki)

A small town in the Keidan district

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Yitzhak A. Oked Sechter

YearTotal
population
JewsPercentage
of Total
Population
1667 350    
1841594    
1847--399  
18971,8461,090 59
1914--800  
1923--659  
1930--550*  
1941--470**  
* 165 families
** 150 families
The start of the settlement located in the center of Lithuania about 20 kilometers northeast of the county township Keidan. This settlement started out as an estate with the same name Krakes (Kroki) named in 1421 by the great Prince Vitaotas when he handed it over as a present to the Cardinal of Jzamut. A town started to develop next to the estate and in short time it became the administrative center for all the settlements in the surrounding area. In 1635 the town had three streets and in 1667 it had 53 yards (houses), a distillery, two inns, and a monastery. In 1790 Krakes (Kroki) was given permission to hold a market once a week and a fair three times a year. During the Russian administration period (1795-1915) Krakes became part of the Vilnius district and later on, part of the Kovno district. During this time and later on when Lithuania was independent, Krakes continued to be the region's administrative center.

The Jewish Settlement Until the End of WWI

Around the middle of the 17th century the first Jews settled in Krakes. With time these Jews developed strong ties with the older Jewish community in Keidan. During the years the Jewish community of Krakes built a large central synagogue and two smaller ones called Minyan, a congregation of 10 Jews. They also established other Jewish communal institutes. Among the Rabbis of Krakes, until WWI were: Rabbi Shimeon bar Shabtai; Rabbi Zalman Simcha Troyev (1863-1876); Rabbi Meir Rabinovitz (1880); Rabbi Eliahu Meir Favelson (1897-1907); Rabbi Yehoshua Yosef Preil (about 10 years), the author of Eglei Tal [which means "Dew Drops" in Hebrew] (Odessa 1897) and other books; Rabbi Benzion Notlevich (1907-1916) and Rabbi Chaim Meir Feldberg.

Before WWI Krakes saw a rise in the number of educated Jews who became involved in and improving the community life and its affairs such as in the fields of medicine and health. There were also arguments between the educated Jews and other members of the community concerning social matters and Zionism. The effect of these heated arguments could be seen also in the number of articles published about these subjects in the Jewish media of that time such as Hamelitz and other publications. These educated youths were also influenced by books published by Chevrat Mefitzei Haskala Berussia, the Propagation of Jewish Enlightenment in Russia whose center was in St. Petersburg.

These were also the years when there was a great increase and growth in the emigration of Jews to countries far from Krakes, mainly to South Africa.

The Jews of Krakes, like other Jews of Lithuania, were expelled from their homes at the start of WWI (1915) to internal areas of Russia. Some of those expelled found a temporary haven in Vilnius.

The expelled Jews returned to their homes in Krakes after the area was conquered by the Germans. But under the German occupation the Jews suffered very much from forced labor, shortage of food and other supplies.

During the Independent Lithuania Period

After WWI many of the expelled returned to Krakes and rebuilt their lives with the help and support from sources outside of Krakes. During this period (1918-1940) the Jews made a living from the following professions: leather industry, ironsmiths and teamsters. Some of them made their living from commerce, mainly connected to the weekly fair held every Wednesday in the town.

In Krakes there were several prosperous Jewish merchants: Abba Goldberg, B. Toker, Y. Alperan, who traded mainly in wood and cereals; Moshe Mirvis and Chaim Friedman traded in leather; Yeshayahu Karpov and others. There were also some Jewish families that were supported by their relatives living abroad, mainly in South Africa.

According to a survey held by the Lithuanian authorities in 1931 there existed in Krakes 20 stores and businesses of which 18 were owned by Jews (90 per cent) which was divided according to sectors as shown in the following table:

Type of Business TotalOwned
by Jews
grocery11
flax and cereals11
butchers, livestock trade44
restaurants and bars31
food supplies11
clothes, furs & textiles66
shoes and leather11
radio, bicycles & sewing machines11
others22

According to this same survey there were in Krakes nine small plants owned by Jews: 2 flour grinding stations, 2 leather tanneries, 1 power generating station, 1 wool combing, 1 sawmill, 1 weaving plant and 1 candy and chocolate production plant. In 1937 there were in Krakes 23 Jewish craftsman: 8 butchers, 3 shoemakers, 2 hat makers, 2 barbers, 1 felt boots maker, 1 oven maker, 1 glazier, 1 tailor, 1 wood engraver, 1 metal worker, 1 blacksmith and 1 carpenter.

A very important factor in the economic life of Krakes was the Folk Jewish Bank (Folksbank), which was established in the early 1920's. By 1926 it had about 150 members (persons with accounts and deposits); its yearly turnover amounted to LIT 164,417. The bank was established by Meir Gordon who was also its director. Meir Gordon also owned a store that dealt with iron goods. Different voluntary Jewish organizations operated in the social and health fields, like the free loan society and burial society. Also the only two doctors and pharmacist in Krakes were Jews. In 1939 there were in Krakes 30 telephones, 12 of them in Jewish homes and businesses.

One of the telephones was connected to the local rabbi's home, Rabbi David Goldberg, who was in charge of registration among the Jews. Rabbi Goldberg was murdered during the Holocaust.

In the beginning of the 1920's, like in other Jewish communities, an elected committee (Vaad Kehila) was chosen to represent and run the Jewish affairs of the community according to the Lithuanian Jewish Autonomy Law. In the 1921 elections 11 members were elected: 3 from the Tzierei Zion Party, 4 from the Achdut Party, 2 from the Craftsmen Party, 1 from the Workers Party and 1 independent ticket (non-political). One of the most important achievements of the committee was the establishment of a Hebrew school under the auspices of the Tarbut chain of schools. About 80 students studied in the school. Outside of this school there were also other Jewish educational institutions in Krakes like a small yeshiva and cheder. Most of the Jews of Krakes had received a religious Torah education and continued to study Torah in their free time, belonging to such study institutions as: Shas, Chevrat Mishnayot, Chevrat Ein Yaakov and Tiferet Bachurim. The secular cultural activities centered around the A.P. Pearl Library where different cultural activities took place like a drama group and chorus group, all of which were under the auspices of the different Zionist groups. The eligible voters of Krakes voted in the following manner in the Zionist congress elections:

Congress
Number
YearTotal
Shkalim
Total
Voters
Labor Party
Z"S    Z"Z
Revisi-
onists
Gen. Zionists
A        B
Gros
Manists
MizrahiPoalei
Zion Left
17193126229       317         ---2--
181933--3916--20        -12--
191935--254147--41      10--56--
        Nationalist 
211939--7124--15 2111

On top of the above-mentioned Zionist parties, the following youth organization were also active in Krakes: Hashaomer Hatzair, Beitar and Maccabee. In 1931 there were in Krakes 58 active members in these organizations and in the Halutz (no number was specified) 45 of its members made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.

During WWII and Afterwards

In 1940 Lithuania was annexed to Russia and became one of the Soviet republics. The Sovietization of Lithuania brought about changes in the living conditions of the Jews of Krakes in all spheres. Most of the businesses belonging to the Jews were nationalized. Very few of the former owners continued to be active in the economic activities of their former businesses. All of the Zionist organizations were dispersed and the Jewish school was closed down.

In the end of June 1941, a few days after the beginning of the war between Germany and Russia, Krakes was taken over by Lithuanian nationalistic elements who started arresting Communists, which included Jews. Those arrested were transferred to Keidan, the regional governmental town, where it is believed they were executed. When these Lithuanian nationalistic elements did not find the Communists in their homes, they arrested their parents instead.

In the Jewish cemetery of Krakes, these nationalistic elements killed the old couple Toker because their children had once been members of the Communist youth organization. These nationalistic elements also badgered Jewish community leaders. The last rabbi of Krakes, Rabbi David Goldberg, was forced to put his head on a wooden block and then with the aid of a knife they cut off his beard. A few days later the rabbi together with shochet, Rabbi Shabtai Farber, and the shoemaker Reuven were taken outside of the town by these nationalistic elements and forced to dig a large grave and then were shot to death. The doctor Baruch Alperovitz was severely abused by this group before being executed. The rest of the Jews were allowed to remain in the town for several weeks, but were all forced to live in one street which became a ghetto. According to 17th August 1941 police records, 452 Jews lived in the ghetto, of which 337 were men and 115 were women. At the end of August 1941 more Jews were brought into Krakes from the surrounding villages of Baisogola, Gudziunai, Grinkiskis and Pociueliam. On 2nd September 1941 (10 Elul 5701) all of the Jews were marched to the village Pestinukai located 1.5 kilometers away from Krakes. There they were shot. Among those that murdered the Jews were local Lithuanian residents from Krakes. According to a German document, the Jaeger file, on 2nd September 1941 at Pestinukai, 448 male Jews, 476 female Jews and 221 Jewish children were murdered.

After WWII the deputy commander of the Lithuanian nationalist groups during the German Nazi occupation testified before a Soviet Lithuanian court that his group received encouragement and support to murder the Jews of Krakes from the Catholic bishop. The bishop's name as well as the names of all the Lithuanian murderers are listed at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum Archives.

See also:

“Krakes” - Jewish Cities, Towns and Villages in Lithuania until 1918

“Krakes” - Yahadut Lita (Lithuanian Jewry), Vols. 3 and 4


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