“Silale” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Šilalė, Lithuania)

55° 29' / 22° 11'

Translation of the “Silale” 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 683-685)

Silale

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shimon Joffe

In Yiddish, Shilel

A county town in the Taurage district.

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1847 .. 747 ..
1859 1100 .. ..
1897 1,406 786 56
1921 .. 850 ..
1923 1,058 670 63
1939 1,300 350 27

Silale lies on both banks of the river Asutis in Samogitia province, in western Lithuania, 25 km. north of the district city of Taurage. A settlement named Szylowka is mentioned in historic documents of the 16th century. In 1660 it received the right to trade including market days. The town began to develop well in the 19th century. By 1859 it already had 1,100 inhabitants, mostly merchants and craftsmen living in 110 houses. Eight times during the year it had large market days and fairs as well as fairs for horse dealing. During the Russian regime (1795-1915) Silale was part of the Vilnius province, and after 1843, it was joined onto the Kaunas province and became a county administrative center. It enjoyed this status also during the period of Lithuanian independence (1918-1940) and after the Second World War. In the years 1906, 1912, 1930 and 1939 fires destroyed most of the houses in town.

 

The Jewish community until the end of the First World War

The community had its beginnings in Silale in the 18th century, but already in 1662, 4 Jews were to be found there (2 men and 2 women) not including children and the elderly. There was a large Jewish community at that time in the adjoining village of Balsiai. A few dozen Jewish families resided in another nearby settlement, Tubines. They lived mainly on trade with the local peasantry. This took place in the market, held once a week in Silale. A few great merchants (Yisrael Rabinowitz, Hirsh Levinson, Nahkman Reikhman, among others), dealt in forests and the sale of flax, and did business with German merchants. Silale also had expert artisans, metal workers, roof- tilers, oven builders and shoemakers. From the end of the 19th century many of the Silale Jews emigrated to the USA and to South Africa; few came to Eretz Yisrael.

For many years communal life centered around the study hall, the Shtibel (small synagogue) and the Synagogue. The latter was an old structure built in an original style. It went up in flames in the great fire of 1906.

Until the First World war the following rabbis officiated in Silale; Rabbi Aaron (later he moved to Kretinga and Pinsk and died in 1848), author of the book 'Aaron's Additions', (Koenigsberg, 1857); Rabbi Benjamin Ha'aderet; Rabbi Abraham son of Rabbi Shlomo-Zalman Rabinovitz, (died 1871); Rabbi Shaul son of Rabbi Abraham Katzenelenbogen (served from 1890 until his death in 1903), and known for his connections with great rabbis. Some of his correspondence with them, which dealt with religious practice, appears in the work 'Magen Shaul', printed in Jerusalem 1989; his son in law, Rabbi Josef-Yehuda Droya served in Silale during and after the First World War, until 1920.

In the year of famine in Lithuania, 1869, the community received aid (50 Rubles), from the Welfare Committee in Klaipeda. By 1871, the Silale Jews contributed to the alleviation of the starving in other towns in Lithuania.

The movement Khibat Zion (Lovers of Zion), had many adherents in the town, and in the three lists of donors for the settlement in Eretz Yisrael in 1898, many names of Silale Jews are to be found. The delegates were: Ya'akov Levinson, Ya'akov Cohen and Zisel Nowitz.

 

During Lithuanian Independence

In the period of Lithuanian independence, Silale had 70 Jewish families. In accordance with the Law of Autonomy for the Jews, a community council was elected consisting of 7 members. The council was active for a number of years and acted in most aspects of Jewish life in town.

According to a survey made by the Lithuanian government in 1931 Silale had 28 shops and businesses, 23 of them belonging to Jews (82%). The breakdown by sectors is given in the following table;

Branch or Type of Business Total Owned
by Jews
Grocery 3 3
Butchery, trade in cattle and horses 5 5
Restaurants and Taverns 4 1
Clothes, Furs and Textiles 5 5
Shoes, Leather 2 2
Haberdashery and household 2 2
Radios, Bicycles, Sewing machines 1 1
Tools and Ironware 1 1
Paper, Books and Writing materials 1 0
Various 3 2

In 1937, 14 Jewish artisans worked in town; 4 tailors, 2 hat makers, 2 metal workers, 2 butchers, 2 watchmakers, one cobbler and one barber.

The Jewish Folksbank played a role in the economic life of Silale Jewry. It was not active in town for many years. In 1939 the town had 37 telephones, around one third belonging to Jews. In 1925 it had 2 Jewish dentists.

Some of the Jewish children (15 in number) studied in a Kheder and others (33) in the Jewish school affiliated with the “Yavneh” network. After the town received a considerable donation from across the sea for public purposes, a conflict arose between the young, who asked for the money to be used for the erection of a school, and the elderly of the community, who wanted the money to be used for the building of a Mikveh for ritual cleansing. By that time the influence of the rabbi had diminished after he had pronounced a Kherem (ban) on entertainment shows in town which in his opinion caused the desecration of the Sabbath. The Council decided that for three months he would not be granted the honor of Aliyah l'Torah KeShlishi (being called up to read the Torah after the Cohen and Levi) in the Saturday prayers. The struggle continued for a long time between the secular and the religious camps over the control of the Jewish school. Most of the town Jews were involved in Zionist activity and participated in the raising of money for the Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael campaigns.

In the second half of the 1930's, social life centered more and more around the activities of the local 'Agudat Zion' (Zionist League). This was a non party framework devoted to Zionist activity; it held Hebrew evening classes, gave performances and collected monies for the national funds. The League purchased a large boat for sailing on the river and the income was given to the Keren Kayemet. In addition, the League had a Zionist library as well as a drama circle. The Zionist parties were active as well, particularly during the elections to the Zionist congresses. The breakdown of the voting to the congresses in the twenties and thirties is given 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   119 - - - - - - -
16 1929   62 - 5 7 9 - - 5
17 1931   20 1 2 - 9 - - 5
18 1933   - 17 2 8 - 1 6
19 1935   112 47 - 5 8 5 45
  National Block
21 1939   60 20 - 4 26

Bnei Akiva Zionist youth movement was active among the youth movements. The last rabbi officiating in town was Rabbi Kalev-Meir Ziv.

Although relations between the Jews and their gentile neighbors were generally good, nevertheless the windows of the study hall were on occasion broken and the cemetery desecrated. Much damage and great losses were suffered by the Jewish population from the fires which broke out during this period. Five out of the eight houses that burnt down in 1930 belonged to Jews and ten families were rendered homeless. In 1939, 50 houses burnt down, 45 of these belonged to Jews and 43 families (180 souls) were left homeless.

 

During the Second World War and Afterwards

In 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and was turned into a Soviet republic. Great changes took place in the economic and social life of the Jews as a result of the Sovietization process. The large shops were nationalized and the Zionist parties disbanded.

On June 22, 1941, war broke out between the Soviet Union and Germany. A number of Jewish families attempted to flee to the Russian interior but only a few succeeded as armed Lithuanian nationalists blocked all the town exits. The German army entered the very next day. The Lithuanians immediately began mass arresting their Jewish neighbors. They singled out for particular maltreatment women whose husbands were suspected of having collaborated with the Soviet regime. After severing body parts they were murdered by shooting in the Jewish cemetery. On July 7 the Lithuanians imprisoned over 100 Jewish men in the study hall. Some of them were killed by a hand grenade thrown into the building by the Lithuanian guards; the rest were taken the next day to the cemetery and murdered by shooting. Before that, the old synagogue “Shamash” (beadle) managed to bite the throat of one of the guards.

The women and orphaned children continued to live in the town in difficult conditions until the autumn. One day the women were ordered to leave, to work gathering potatoes, as it were. They were ordered to take money, good clothing and valuables with them. After they were concentrated together with the children and their possessions, they were taken to the forest near Tubines. They were all murdered by shooting. The dead bodies were cast into pits already prepared beforehand. The following were saved from the massacre by local peasants and remained alive; Reuven Zeligman, Hadassah Miler and Sara Grosman. The sister of the latter, Tzipora Grosman, found shelter in a monastery and converted to Christianity. A monument was raised on the mass grave at Tubines with an inscription stating that this is the place where 500 Soviet citizens are buried and who were murdered by the Fascists.

According to the cartographic survey of the Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania made in 1990, two graveyards are to be found in the vicinity of Silale: one in the Balsiai village and the other in the Zhakaime village.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M-9/8(3); M-33/984; TR-10/892, Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, files 8, 163.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files Z-4/2548, 13/15/131, 55/1788, 55/1701.
Gotlieb, Ohalei Shem, p. 205.
Kazenelenbogen Shaul, Questions and Answeres – Magen Shaul, Jerusalem, 1988.
Kamzon, The Jews of Lithuania, p. 61.
Dos Vort - (Kaunas) – 28.4.1935, 29.6.1939.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] (Kaunas), 6.1.1922, 21.1.1922, 25.4.1922, 31.5.1922, 28.7.1922, 28.12.1928, 8.7.1930, 7.10.1930, 29.6.1939.
Folksblat [The People's Newspaper] (Kaunas), 7.7.1930.
Folks-Shtime (Warsaw), 1.9.1965.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murders in Lithuania), vol. 2, p. 407.

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