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[Page 76]

Kražiai (Krozh)

5536' 2241'

Kražiai (Krozh in Yiddish) is situated in the Zemaitija region in the northwestern part of Lithuania, about 40 km. northwest of Raseiniai (Rasein), the district administrative center. The Krazante River that flows nearby gave the town its name. The pine forest at the outskirts of the town served as a recreation place for the townspeople, besides provided wood and heating materials.

Krozh is one of the oldest settlements in Lithuania. In 1414, the great Prince Vytautas built a Catholic church in Krozh, and the town came under his ownership; there he formed a Benedictine monastery. Eventually he designated the town as a district center.

The Jesuit monks, who were expelled from England, built another big Catholic church in the town, and established a high school where local aristocracy schooled their children, thus making the school famous in the region. In 1846 the school was transferred to Kovno, removing the source of higher education for Krozh children.

In the mid-sixteenth century, King Stanislav August approved two weekly market days and three annual fairs in town. In the nineteenth century Krozh was designated a county administrative center.

During Russian rule (1795-1915) Krozh was included in the Vilna Province (Gubernia), and from 1843 belonged to the Kovno Gubernia.

In 1848 fire ravaged the town; consequently its economy declined and its population decreased. In 1880 when the road to Prussia was constructed through Kelm and the Libau-Romni railway was built, Shavl (Siauliai) and Kelm (Kelme) became the important trade centers, while Krozh continued to decline. The nearest railway station was in Nemoksht (Nemaksciai), 20 km. away.

In 1892 a serious dispute erupted between the residents and the administration, caused by a move by the authorities to convert the local Catholic Church into a Pravoslavic Church. Cossacks were brought in to suppress rebellion, resulting in many injuries and mass arrests, and people exiled to Siberia. In the history of Lithuania this event was called “the carnage of Kraziai”.

During Lithuanian rule (1918-1940), Krozh once again became a county administrative center, affiliated with the Raseniai district administrative center.

In 1925, the first bus was acquired to replace horses and carts, and a round trip to Shavl could be accomplished in just one day.

In 1926, electricity was installed, and in 1927 sidewalks were paved and trees were planted in the streets of Krozh.

 

Jewish Settlement until World War I and afterwards

Jews probably began to settle in Krozh in the seventeenth century. The Krozh Jewish community was one of the oldest in Lithuania. During the period of Va'ad Medinath Lita (1623-1764) Krozh was included in the Keidan Galil (District), and it served as a meeting place for community leaders of the Galil area.

During the years 1675-1686 there were 40 Jewish houses in Krozh. During the “carnage of Kraziai” Jews managed to rescue quite a few of their Lithuanian neighbors from the wrath of the Cossacks.

According to an official poll, in 1766 there were 1,048 Jewish taxpayers in Krozh, while by 1888 the number increased to 1,125, or 31% of the total population of 3,375.

Krozh Jews made their living in commerce, trades and to a smaller extent in agriculture. In 1880, 192 Jewish trades people worked in 28 different occupations: 53 tailors, 30 brush makers, 25 shoemakers, 12 butchers, and other trades. There were also 129 merchants, 27 retailers, and 2 wholesalers; 18 horse merchants (who often traveled to Koenigsberg, Berlin and London on business). In addition, there were 15 farmers who leased plots for vegetable farms, and 12 farmers who grew fruit. There were also 12 liquor sellers, 3 tavern owners, 5 laundresses, 3 porters, 79 paid workers in various fields (60 of them worked at two pig bristle-processing workshops), and 2 peasants. There were also 12 Melamdim, 3 Shamashim, 2 teachers, 2 slaughterers, 1 paramedic, 1 rabbi, 1 doctor, 1 cantor. 29 persons were described as extremely poor.

Two Jewish men, Avigdor and Zalman, called “The Postmen,” would ride once or twice a week to the nearby post office to provide mail service to the local population. The post office in Krozh was opened in the 1890s.

Before World War I, the pig bristle processing factory in Krozh owned by M. Falk employed a few hundred workers.

The big fire of 1848, together with the construction of the highway and the railway in 1880 which bypassed the areas near Krozh, caused a decline of the economic situation for Krozh Jews; many of them emigrated to America, South Africa and Australia.

At that time almost 120 Jewish children were enrolled in the Heder art institution. Some Jewish youngsters graduated to the Russian high school. Many of them continued their education in the bigger cities of Russia and Germany.
In 1888 a society named Dorshei Zion (Preachers of Zion) was formed in Krozh. It had about 60 members and its main purpose was to raise funds for Eretz-Yisrael, to be sent to J. M. Pines for Petakh Tikvah. Later, at the beginning of the twentieth century, representatives of Hovevei Zion visited Krozh on occasion, and the public would warmly welcome them.

In the Hebrew newspaper HaMelitz a list appeared of 17 Krozh Jews who contributed for the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael (see Appendix 4 ). A list of 24 Krozh Jews who donated money for the victims of the great famine in Persia in 1871-1872 was published in the Hebrew newspaper HaMagid (see Appendix 2).

The town had an old Beth Midrash with two Shtiblakh for prayers and Torah learning. In the middle of nineteenth century, a Synagogue was built where people would come to pray on Shabbat and holidays. Its arched ceiling was very high and the wooden Aron Kodesh was famous for its artistic carvings. Similar Arks could be found in Shukyan, Kelm, Yurburg and elsewhere.

Prior to the mid-nineteenth century the Krozh cemetery was used by the neighboring Jewish communities.

Krozh appointed its first rabbi at the end of the seventeenth century. Later, many famous rabbis provided services to the community of Krozh. For the list of rabbis (see Appendix 1).

Many Torah study societies and aid associations were formed in the nineteenth century: Gemara, Mishnah, Hayei-Adam, Ein Ya'akov, Midrash, Tehilim, Menorath Hamaor, Hafetz Hayim, two Hevroth Mikra, Nitei Sha'ashuim (for book purchase for the Beth HaMidrash), Tikun Sefarim (book purchase for the school), Pirkhei Shoshanim (to support purchase of wood for heating the Beth Midrash), Talmud Torah (to support the Melamdim in the particular Heder).

The aid associations of Krozh were Bikur Holim, Hakhnasath Orkhim, Hevrah Kadisha and, Beth Milveh (later the Gemiluth Hesed society). The very needy could obtain loans from Hayim Neta Zaks. In 1879, a Beth Hekdesh (Poorhouse) was established by the Hevrah Kadisha: its members worked on a voluntary basis and their honoraria were donated back as contributions.

In 1915, the Russian military exiled most of the Lithuanian Jews deep into Russia, but Krozh Jews were not affected. Dozens of refugees from Tavrig and other places found shelter in Krozh at that time.

 

During the period of independent Lithuania (1918-1940)

With the establishment of the Independent Lithuanian state in 1918, the Jewish population of Krozh decreased to half its size before the war. According to the all-Russian census of 1897, the number of Jews in Krozh reached 906, whereas the first census of the new Lithuanian government in 1923 counted only 470 Jews.

Following the Law of Autonomies for Minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government, the Minister of Jewish Affairs, Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections to community committees (Va'adei Kehilah ) to be held in the summer of 1919. Of the 600 eligible voters, only 216 voted and 9 members were elected to the committee. In the elections of 1921 only 7 members were elected to the committee. According to the archives of the committee preserved at YIVO in New York, 52 documents demonstrate that its activity was very limited and came to a complete halt in 1923.

 

lit6_076a.jpg
A street in Krozh 1927

 

Krozh Jews made their living in small business and trades. According to the government survey of 1931 there were 12 shops, 8 of them were owned by Jewish people.


Type of shop Owned by Jews
Grocery and farm produce 1
Butcher's shops and cattle trade 2
Textile products and furs 2
Hardware 2
Radios, bicycles, sewing machines 1


According to the same survey Jewish people owned a sawmill, a candy factory, a shoe factory and a bristle-processing workshop.

At the end of 1930s, there were 54 merchants and shopkeepers, 4 unskilled laborers and 12 persons in liberal and religious occupations (Klei Kodesh). Several Jews leased and cultivated land. In 1925, the first Jewish dental clinic was opened in Krozh.

In 1937, 23 Jewish skilled tradespersons worked in Krozh: four tailors, four butchers, four shoemakers, two watchmakers, one milliner, one blacksmith, one tinsmith, one photographer and five others in skilled occupations.

In 1932, the Jewish popular bank (Folksbank) had 132 members and a Gemiluth Hesed was formed.

At the beginning of the 1930s, the Lithuanian Merchants' Association (Verslas) began its open propaganda against Jewish shops, and gradually Jews were pushed out of commerce. The economic situation for the Jews became worse and the numbers of poor families increased. Many relied on assistance from relatives abroad.

In 1929, before Pesakh, an attempt was made to defame Krozh Jews in a blood libel. In 1935 another anti-Semitic outburst occurred in the town.

In 1939 there were 22 telephones subscribers; one of them was the Jewish doctor Asher Shmidt.

At that time Jewish children studied at the Hebrew elementary school established in Krozh in 1921. There was also a Heder. In 1924 a library with Hebrew and Yiddish books opened and many would come to read newspapers and participate in cultural events organized at the library.

From 1928 Jewish students were accepted to the Lithuanian high school. In the school year of 1930/31, among the total of 179 students, 27 were Jewish (16 girls and 11 boys). During the years 1931-1933, eight Jewish students graduated this institution.

After World War I the Zionist youth organizations Tseirei Zion and Tseirei Yisrael (a Zionist religious movement) began to work in Krozh. Later Hehalutz, HeHalutz HaTsair, Z”S and Betar were active in regular fund-raising activities for the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth) and Keren HaYesod. In 1925, there were 61 KKL boxes (for small donations) in town. Aba Bunimovitz, a devoted Zionist activist, promoted fundraising. Sports activities were organized at the local branch of Maccabi which had 32 members at that time.


Many of Krozh Jews belonged to the Zionist camp and they voted at the Zionist congresses for most of the parties, as we can see in the table below:


Congress
No.
Year Total
Shkalim
Total Votes Labor Party
Z”S Z”Z
Revisionists General Zionists
A B
Grosmanists Mizrakhi
14 1925 8
15 1927 24 22 2 2 8 10
16 1929 65 38 19 4 15
17 1931 65 54 20 18 3 13
18 1933 180 84 79 4 13
19 1935 88 64 2 3 19

 

Before World War I, two prayer houses were open for the community. Jews, including artists, came to Krozh from all over Lithuania to marvel at the artistic carvings on the Aron Kodesh in the synagogue.

Some Torah Study Societies ceased their activities at that time, but a branch of the Tiferet Bahurim organization was formed instead. Its members were unmarried men who prayed in a special minyan, studied the Bible together and listened to Drashoth (lessons).

A great celebration was organized for all Jewish residents on the occasion of the completion of the Talmud study. The celebration lasted a week in a specially arranged celebration area. It was a notable event involving all the surrounding towns.

For the list of the rabbis who performed rabbinical duties in Krozh during this period, refer to Appendix 3 ).

Most of the aid societies established before World War I continued their activities throughout this period.Linath HaTsedek society, providing medical help with overnight stay for the sick, was founded. All young people in the community participated in the work of this society.

Among the famous personages born in Krozh was H. A. Katz (born in 1905) who was active in the Lithuanian Communist party, and in 1942-1944 fought against the Nazis in the Lithuanian Division of the Red Army.

 

During World War II and afterwards

In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Under new laws, the majority of the factories and shops belonging to the Jews of Krozh were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and Hebrew educational institutions were closed. Supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, was hit hard, and the standard of living dropped gradually. In 1941, 525 Jews lived in town.

On June 24, 1941, the third day after the invasion of the German army into the Soviet Union, a battle erupted near Krozh, and the whole town burned down, including the two prayer houses and the bank. The Jews who had fled to nearby villages at the beginning of the war, returned to the town and crowded together in the house of the town butcher, B. Z. Itskovitz, who had already managed to escape with his family to Russia. They gathered in the large yard, in the stable and the store houses while the Lithuanian auxiliary police brought in Jews from the surrounding villages as well.

On July 8, 1941 all Jews were ordered to take their belongings and gather at the market place. There the Lithuanians searched their pockets, body, shoes and baggage for valuables, money, watches and other property, taking everything away. Afterwards about 400 persons were ordered to go to the Sajukste farm, about one kilometer from the town. They were imprisoned in a barn which they named “The camp of the Jews”. The Lithuanians allowed them to bring food that could be retrieved from the cellars of their burnt down homes. Every day a number of Jews would be taken out of the “camp” to sweep the streets and remove the debris.

After about two weeks, on 27 th of Tamuz, Lithuanian police came with a list and took seventeen young men out of the camp, whom they transported by truck in the direction of Kelme. The men were told that they were going to work in Zhager. After a short time the truck returned and a bigger group of men and women was collected to go to work at the same place. On that day the truck made many trips until most of the Jews were removed from the camp. All were driven to the forest of Kupre, about 7 km. east of Krozh on the way to Kelme, and there, on July 25, 1941 (1 st of Av, 5701), they were shot beside pits that were dug by that first group of the seventeen young men.

There were still 64 children under the age of thirteen left in the “camp,” and also five adults, Rabbi Kremerman among them. Peasants from the nearby farms brought food for the children; they told the children that their parents were alive. A few of the peasants wanted to take the children with them but the rabbi ordered the children not to go with the peasants.

On August 2, 1941 (9th of Av, 5701) S”S men and Lithuanian police arrived at the camp and ordered the children and adults out of the “camp,” leading them to the Medziokalnis forest about one kilometer northwest of Krozh. There they forced them to undress, pushed them into the freshly dug pit and shot them. Two girls and eight boys aged 10 to 14 somehow escaped from the massacre. The girls manage to go into hiding at a wealthy farmer's property not far from the town, where they stayed until the end of the war. After the war they were baptized and continued to live in the villages. The boys wandered from place to place, hiding in the forests. Most of them were caught and murdered; five were killed, their heads smashed with spades. Only three managed to survive, and emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael after the war.

The names of the murderers and the names of the Lithuanians who made the rescues are preserved in the Yad Vashem archives.

In the early 1990s a monument was erected in Medziokalnis with an inscription in Lithuanian, Yiddish and Hebrew:

“On August 2, 1941 in this place, the Hitlerist murderers and their local helpers killed 71 Krozh Jews; 6 men and women and 65 children.”

 

lit6_076b.jpg
 
lit6_076c.jpg
The mass grave and the monument in Medziokalnis

 

On the mass grave at the Kupre forest a monument was erected with the inscription in Lithuanian, Yiddish and Hebrew:

“On July 25, 1941, in this place the Hitlerist murderers and their local helpers murdered 370 Krozh Jews; men, women, children.”

 

lit6_076d.jpg

 

lit6_076e.jpg
The mass grave and the monument at the Kupre forest

 

Sources:

Yahaduth Lita, (Hebrew) Tel-Aviv, Volumes 1-4
Lite, New-York 1951, Volume 1 (Yiddish).
The Small Lithuanian Encyclopedia, Vilnius 1966-1971 (Lithuanian).
The Lithuanians Encyclopedia, Boston 1953-1965 (Lithuanian).
Yad Vashem archives: M-9/15(6)
Koniuhovsky collection 0-71, files 51, 52, 161
Central Zionist archives: files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548
Moresheth archives, Givath-Havivah-A-401
YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Communities, files 1017, 1018, 1677
Abrahms B., Ayarati Krozh (My shtetl Krozh) (Hebrew), Barkai No. 169, October-November 1952, pages 54-55
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem (Hebrew) page186
Yahaduth Lita (Hebrew) Vol. 1-4. Tel Aviv
Dos Vort, Kovno (Yiddish) 20.1.1935
Di Yiddishe Shtime, Kovno (Yiddish) 28.8.1919, 18.6.1929
Hamelitz, St. Petersburg, (Hebrew) 25.12.1878, 29.10.1883, 9.11.1889
Haintike Nais (Today's News), Kovno, (Yiddish) 1.8.1934
Folksblat. Kovno (Yiddish) 21.8.1935
Tsum Yugent (To the Youth) (Slabodka-Kovno), (Yiddish),
Tifereth Bahurim Movement, Mars 1928
Naujienos (News) Chicago (Lithuanian) 11.6.1949
Komunistu Zodis (Word of the Communists), Kelme, 11.6.1988


Appendix 1

A partial list of rabbis who served in Krozh until World War I


Ya'akov HaLevi, at the beginning of the eighteenth century
Yehudah-Leib Ziv, late eighteenth and early nineteenth century
Yehudah HaLevi Hurvitz, born 1821 in Krozh, moved to Vilna to become the teacher of the Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu's children.
Yom Tov Lipman, at the end of the eighteenth century
Mordehai Rabinovitz, at the beginning of the nineteenth century
Ya'akov son of Menakhem, born in Krozh, son of a poor laborer, officiated as rabbi for forty years, died in Jerusalem
Simhah HaLevi Horovitz, know as an active Hovev Zion and public worker, died in 1894
Zevulun-Leib Lipman, an ardent Hovev Zion, served during the mid- nineteenth century
Yits'hak Lipkin, son of Yisrael Salanter, was a distinguished sage and a famous orator.

 

Appendix 2


List of Krozh Jews donors for the victims of the great famine in Persia in 1872 as published in Hamagid #10, 1872

(from JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania>HaMagid, by Jeffrey Maynard)


BERMAN Shimon ben Zev  
HACOHEN Raphel ben Meir  
MANDEL Chaim Yitzchok  
ZAK”SH Chaim ben Yakov  
ZAK”SH Chaim Note Rabbi
ZAK”SH Eizik ben Yakov  
ZAK”SH Moshe Shlome ben Chaim Note  
ZAK”SH Tuvia ben Yakov  
ZAK”SH Yitzchok ben Moshe boy
ZILBERT Dovid  
ZIV Shrage Feiwes  
     
  Avraham ben Chaim  
  Binyomin ben Meir  
  Chaim ben Zelig  
  Eliezer ben Zevulun bridegroom
  Leib ben Meir  
  Matitiahu ben Asher  
  Mordechai Yakov  
  Shlomo Zalman son of the rabbi
  Tzvi Hirsh ben Yakov  
  Tzvi Yudil ben Shalom  
  Yechiel ben Boruch Rabbi - teacher of Talmud society
  Yitzchok ben Avraham  
  Zevulun ben Eliezer  

 

Appendix 3

Partial list of rabbis who performed rabbinical duties in Krozh during the years of Independent Lithuania


Ze'ev Volf Turbovitz (1840-1921), served in Krozh for 36 years, from 1885 till his death in 1921. Published many books on religious issues, and articles on ethics in HaMelitz and HaTsefirah.
Josef Avigdor Lipman, emigrated to the USA in 1923.
Kalman Magid (1874-1941), rabbi in Krozh for a short time, member of the praesidium of the Association of Lithuanian Rabbis and one of the leaders of the Mizrakhi party.

 

lit6_076f.jpg
 
lit6_076g.jpg
Rabbi
Kalman Magid
  Rabbi
Eliyahu-Mordehai Volkovsky

 

Eliyahu Mordehai Volkovsky (1874-1962), served in Krozh 1932-1934, emigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1934; he was a member of the Rabbinate in Jerusalem and published his 11-volume work on the Talmud. He died in Jerusalem.

The last rabbi of Krozh was Eliyahu Kremerman, who served in Krozh since the middle of the 1930s; previously he was Head of a Yeshivah in Kelm, and was murdered in 1941 together with his community.

 

Appendix 4

A list of Krozh Jewish contributors to the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael as published in HaMelitz
(from JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania>Hamelitz by Jeffrey Maynard)


Surname Given Name Comments Source Year
AHRENSON Shmuel   Hamelitz #122 1900
BEKER Moshe Tzvi husband of Feige Hirshowitz wed in Kroz 1 Nisan #122 1900
BROIDA Toibe wife of Mordechai Kriger wed 4 Cheshvan in Omoli #230 1895
DANELOWITZ Leah wife of Kalman Magid from Kovno wed 1897 # 206 1897
EDELMAN Yisroel Leib   #122 1900
FRIDMAN Yitzchok   #122 1900
GLOIN Yosef   #122 1900
HIRSHOWITZ Feige wife of Moshe Tzvi Beker wed in Kroz 1 Nisan #122 1900
KLEIN Moshe   #151 1898
LIPMAN Yitzchok   #122 1900
MILER Yeshiyahu government rabbi #122 1900
RABINOWITZ Mordechai   #69 1897
SHEINZON Elchanan   #122 1900
YANKELOWITZ Aharon   #122 1900
ZACHS Gitl   #122 1900
ZACHS Sheina   #122 1900
ZAKSH Devorah wife of Nachman Abramowitz of Telziai wed in Kraz # 171 1893

 

The above article is an excerpt from “Protecting Our Litvak Heritage” by Josef Rosin. The book contains this article along with many others, plus an extensive description of the Litvak Jewish community in Lithuania that provides an excellent context to understand the above article. Click here to see where to obtain the book.

http://yurburgfriends.com/Rosin/Heritage.html

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