Laizeve (in Yiddish) can be found in the northwestern part of Lithuania in the Zemaitija (Zamut) region, near the border with Latvia. It is 15 km. northeast of the district administrative center of Mazeikiai, near the Vadakstis River. Laizeve was mentioned in historical sources at the beginning of the seventeenth century. In 1713, it received permission to hold a weekly market day. By 1840, 62 families lived in Laizeve. At that time one could find several shops and taverns in Laizeve. At the second half of the nineteenth century, the Mazheik-Jelgava (Latvia) railway was built nearby, resulting in increased trade with Latvia. In the years 1855 and 1884, the town was heavily damaged by extensive fires.
Until 1795, Laizeve was included in the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom. The same year, according to the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times, Russia, Prussia and Austria, Lithuania was divided between Russia and Prussia. As with most of Lithuania, Laizeve became a part of the Russian empire, first in the Vilna Province (Gubernia), and from 1843 in the Shavl district administrative center in the Kovno Gubernia. During independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Laizeve was a county administrative center. At the end of World War II the town was destroyed and set on fire by the retreating German army.
In Laizeve it was thought by the elderly people of the community that the first Jews settled in town in the first half of the eighteenth century, and during the first hundred years they buried their dead in the cemeteries of Vekshne and other nearby towns. In the 1860s a Jewish cemetery was established in Laizeve. The original synagogue collapsed and a new wooden Beth Midrash was built, which was used until World War II.
|The Beth Midrash in Laizeve|
|The interior of the Beth Midrash|
The first rabbi to serve the community was Azriel, who was subsequently replaced by Josef Grab and his son Yits'hak, and later by Tsevi Pshedmesky, who died in 1926 following his return from exile in Russia. The rabbis lived for the most part in the shtibl beside the Beth Midrash.
Most of the Jewish homes in Laizeve were built on land belonging to a local Jew named Zhager. He sold the land to a Polish estate owner named Zabielsky who forbade the tenants from making any changes without his permission, including important maintenance work. Many Laizeve Jews suffered extensively under his management policy. Jews also endured many hardships during the Polish rebellion in 1831, when the rebels forced the Jews to support them and to be loyal to them. A document of the time contains a loyalty statement addressed to the rebels, signed by Shelomoh Zalkind, Yisrael Volf and Azriel Ben Tsevi, the heads of the community of Laizeve.
Relations between the Jews and the non-Jews in Laizeve and the surrounding villages were satisfactory, and at times better than that. In July 1884 a large fire destroyed almost all the homes in town. Meir Joel Vigoder, a young scholar and son of a highly respected family, appealed to all the Jewish communities for help through the Hebrew newspaper, HaMelitz. This appeal was also signed by the local rabbi, Yits'hak Grab and the official (nominated by the authorities) rabbi, Nisan Levin. About a year later the same newspaper carried a report by Vigoder indicating that approximately 300 rubles were received from Jewish individuals and communities. An additional hundred rubles were received from good and kind Christians, including Baron Nolken and the Lutheran priest, Bobe. The reporter also expressed gratitude to the Christian peasants of Kurland (Latvia) who left their work of plowing the fields to help with the restoration work.
Most Laizeve Jews made their living in the small trades and crafts. At the end of the nineteenth century Jews developed the pig bristle trade: part of the processing was completed in the nearby town of Akmyan (Akmene). The processed product was marketed in neighboring Kurland. Several families, including the Shif and Krofman families, succeeded in this business and became wealthy. Some of their children, along with other youngsters from Laizeve, emigrated to South Africa, United States and England, and a few to Eretz Yisrael. At that time a Gemiluth Hesed fund was established in town.
According to the all-Russian census of 1897, 931 residents lived in Laizeve, including 434 Jews (46%). During World War I, many Jewish families left Laizeve for different reasons. After the war about 35 families did not return to the town.
Following the passage of the Law of Autonomies for Minorities by the new Lithuanian government, the Minister for Jewish Affairs, Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections to community committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In Laizeve a Va'ad (community committee) with five members was elected. The committee worked for several years in all areas of Jewish life.
The first government census of 1923 recorded 845 residents in Laizeve, including 127 Jews (15%).
According to the government survey of 1931, the town had three Jewish- owned businesses: a butcher's shop, a textile shop and an iron products and tools shop. In 1937 three Jewish tradesmen worked in Laizeve; a locksmith, a carpenter and a knitter.
During this period of independent Lithuania, emigration from Laizeve to overseas countries continued and the numbers in the community decreased significantly. Public and cultural activities were restricted as well. Only 31 people voted in the elections for the nineteenth Zionist congress in 1935: 15 for the Labor party, 2 for the General Zionists A, 6-for the General Zionists B, 3 for the Grosmanists and 5 for Mizrahi.
At the beginning of the 1930s the Historic-Ethnographic Society of Lithuanian Jews maintained a correspondence with two elderly Laizeve men, Honeh-Mosheh Vald and the shohet Zalman-Reuven Rosenberg, on the history of the Laizeve Jewish community.
During Soviet rule (1940-1941) only thirteen Jewish families lived in the town. They were murdered, probably in Mazheik on August 9, 1941 (Shabbat, 16th of Av, 5701) where they perished together with the Jews of Mazheik and the nearby towns of Akmyan (Akmene), Vieksniai (Vekshne), Zidikai (Zhidik), Tirksliai (Tirkshle), Pikeliai (Pikeln), Klykouliai (Klikol) and Siad (Seda).
|The mass murder site near the Jewish cemetery|
The monument at the entrance of the murder site
with the inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian:
At this site Hitler's murderers and their local helpers
executed about 4000 Jews and people of other nationalities
Central Zionist archives-files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548
YIVO, New York: Collection of Lithuanian Communities, Files 542-549, 1526, 1666
Gotlib (Hebrew), page 93
Vigoder, Meyer-Joel: Sefer Zikaron, Dublin 1931
Vigoder, Meyer-Joel: My Life, Leeds 1935
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.
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