“Siaulenai” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Šiaulėnai, Lithuania)

55° 41' / 23° 24'

Translation of the “Siaulenai” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Dov Levin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1996


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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Lita: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Lithuania,
Editor: Prof. Dov Levin, Assistant Editor: Josef Rosin, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.


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(Pages 672-673)

Siaulenai

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shimon Joffe

In Yiddish, Shavlan

A county town in the Siauliai district.

Year General
Population
Jews %
1619 310 -  
1766 - 331  
1847 - 535  
1885 707 -  
1897 1,034 547 53
1905 1,178 -  
1923 801 237 30
1936 250
families
50
families
20
1940 1,000 20
families
 

The town lies in north eastern Lithuania, in the Samogitia province, on the left bank of the Susve River, approximately 32 km. from the district city of Siauliai. According to records of 1542 it then held 26 families. By 1619 it already had six streets and 65 houses. The town grew particularly in the 19th century. By the second half of that century it had 15 shops and taverns. Occasionally, large fairs were held in the central market square which had 4 streets leading into it. Most of the town land belonged, in turn, to the aristocratic families of Volovitz and Shamate.

At first, during the period of Russian rule (1795-1915) the town belonged administratively to the Vilnius province and after 1843, to the Kaunas province, within the Siauliai district. It also served as the county center for the neighboring villages. It retained this status during the period of Lithuanian independence and during the period of the German conquest in the Second World War.

The beginnings of the Jewish community in Siaulenai date back to the 17th century. The Jews lived mainly by peddling, petty trade and craftwork. Jews also grew fruits and vegetables. In the middle of the century a synagogue was built, one of the oldest surviving in Lithuania. It had a Holy Ark, beautifully carved in wood. Not far from the synagogue was the cemetery, it too, ancient. For many years the town was considered as having one of the largest Jewish communities in the region.

The town became famous as a result of the blood libel in the nearby village of Dirviniskis in 1861, an affair had then caused great agitation within the Jewish populace of Russia. Just before Passover that year, a quarrel arose between Yankel (Jacob) Itsikson and his son Lipa. In order to revenge himself on his father, the son hid a bottle of wine in the Holy Ark and told the local Poritz (Polish nobleman and estate owner) that the father and other householders in the community had slaughtered a Christian child and collected the blood for the Passover celebrations. The father was arrested and questioned. As the investigators confirmed the story, there arose the danger that the peasants of the vicinity would riot against the Jews. After repeated requests by the Jews, the provincial governor, Nazimov, sent the Graf Tolstoy and the academic L. Levanda to investigate the matter. It transpired that the evidence given by the son and the other witnesses was false. The father was freed and the son sentenced to hard labor.

Fifty years later, the community again went through a period of turmoil, when the synagogue was closed by the authorities. The excuse for the closing was an accident with a toy pistol during the reading of the Esther scroll in Purim. The worshippers were forced to pray in a different synagogue.

During the year of famine in Lithuania, 1869, the community received a little assistance from the welfare committee in Klaipeda. In 1872 the community is mentioned in the lists of donors for the sufferers of hunger in other towns in Lithuania. In the list of donors of 1899 for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael, appear a few names of Siaulenai Jews.

Many families in the town were forced to rely on assistance from relatives who had emigrated to the USA or to South Africa.

During the First World War the Siaulenai Jews were exiled to regions in the Russian interior. Among the rabbis officiating then were: rabbi Shaul son of Rabbi Moshe Luria; Rabbi Shemuel Rabinowitz (1872); Rabbi Mordekhai Uri Samonov; Rabbi Mordekhai Kriger (died 1907); Rabbi Ze'ev-Wulf Broide (1903-1915).

After the establishment of Lithuanian independence (1918-1940), many of the Jews who had been previously banished returned to the town. In accordance with the Law of Autonomy a community council was elected consisting of 5 members, and it functioned until 1926. Among others, it dealt with the issue of the right of the Jews to graze their stock on the grounds of the estate owners. Because of the limitations in making a living in trade and craftwork the town Jews began to grow vegetables and fruits. The Jews still retained in their hands flour mills, a mechanical metal works and a number of shops. According to a survey conducted by the Lithuanian government in 1931, there were in Siaulenai, a haberdashery shop, a textile shop and two general stores, all Jewish owned. A wool combing plant and a flour mill were also Jewish owned. In 1937 the town had 11 Jewish artisans; 3 shoemakers, 2 bakers, 2 tailors, 2 butchers, a cloth dyer and a stitcher.

The number of Jews in the town fell annually as a result of people leaving for the large towns and abroad. As a result, it did not have a Jewish school. Some of the children studied in a Lithuanian school and others in a Kheder under the direction of the local rabbi. In the period of Lithuanian independence the following rabbis served the community; Rabbi Shemuel Henich (1921); Rabbi Yisrael Rozendorf (died 1929); Rabbi Akiva Berlin, who was murdered in the Shoah.

In those years the town enjoyed an active Zionist presence, and had a HaShomer HaTzair branch. The following were the results of the voting for the Zionist congresses;

Congress
Nr.
Year Total
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
Revisionists General
Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrachi
Z”S Z”Z A B
16 1929 3 - - - - - - - -
17 1931 - 4 - 2 - 1 - - 1
18 1933 - 15 8 - 6 - 1 -
19 1935 - 32 6 - - 7 - 19

The young of the town considered the Jewish public library and its reading room to be of the greatest importance. In the period of the Soviet regime, the town also underwent many economic and social changes. All Zionist activity was banned.

After the German army conquered Lithuanian in June 1941, Lithuanian nationalists came to the fore and embittered Jewish life with their cruel maltreatment. During the days of the Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days) of September 1941 the Jews were transferred to Zagare and there massacred together with the local Jews on the day after Yom HaKipurim (October 2, 1941). They were all buried in a mass grave in the “park” in Zagare.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M-1/E-1032/93, Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, file 102; 0-57, testimony of Israel Leibenson.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files Z-4/2548, 13/15/131, 55/1788, 55/1701.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: file 1310, pp. 60541-60608.
Lifshitz, Jacob, Jacob's Memories, vol. 2, pp. 12-13.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] (Kaunas), 15.11.1928.
Folksblat [The People's Newspaper] (Kaunas), 20, 26, 27.1.1936.
Lituanus, 27/3 (1981), pp. 63-65.

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