“Linkmenys” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Lithuania)

55° 18' / 25° 57'

Translation of the “Linkmenys” 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 358-360)

Linkmenys

In Yiddish, Lingmyan

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

A county town in the Utena district.

Year General
Population
Jews %
1897 290 ..  
1909 379 200 50
1923 .. 80*  
1940 .. ~40  

* In the Lithuanian part

Linkmenys is located in northeastern Lithuania, between the Ziezdrys and Uslai Lakes, about 32 km southeast of Utena, the district's city. Linkmenys is mentioned in historical records in the German language in 1373 as a fortress by the name of Castrum Lenghmene when the Livonian Order campaigned in the area. Later, the Great Prince of Lithuania had an estate there. Subsequently, the town by the name of Linkmenys, which had a tavern and a brewery, became part of the estate. A few artisans lived there as well. The villages in the surrounding areas were known for cultivating flax. During the period of Russian Rule (1795-1915), Linkmenys was the center of a county and belonged to the province of Vilnius. After WWI, at the beginning of the 1920's, the Lithuanians and the Poles had a number of battles in the area. From that time until 1939, the demilitarized zone between the Lithuanians and the Poles passed through the town. The Lithuanian side remained with a relatively small piece of land and population. It was forbidden to cross the cease-fire line due to the continuous tensions between Poland and Lithuania. The two sides of Linkmenys were reunited only after Poland was defeated at the beginning of WWII, and thereafter the town was included in the Svencionys district.

Apparently, the first Jews who settled in Linkmenys did so in the 19th century and came from estates in the surrounding areas. Many of them made their livelihood there by fishing and by trading timber. One of the local traders, Meir Gavande, became a prominent seller of timber to Danzig and Hamburg in Germany. The timber business brought livelihood to dozens of Jewish wagoners who were nicknamed “Di Wozhakes”. The latter worked a few months a year while they transported the timber in the dense forests and abroad. While they were disconnected from their families, they lived in semi-collective frameworks and managed to keep the mitzvot and pursue their Torah studies. The Jewish population in Linkmenys had blacksmiths, shoemakers, and a large number of grocers and peddlers. Many of them maintained auxiliary farms. Although the town was removed from Torah centers and most of the town's Jews worked hard to make a living, they did their best to maintain their religion. They were meticulous in attending the local Bet Midrash, which was built of wood. In addition to praying, they used to study Mishnayot, or at least to recite Psalms. One of the 3 blacksmiths, Rabbi Yitzkhak Nafkha, studied Kabala and was highly respected by the public. The blacksmith Hirshe Leib, in addition to being a blacksmith, served also as the community's Rabbi without charging a fee for that service. On the eve of Yom Kippur many members of the community would come to his door in order to be blessed by him. His son-in-low, Rabbi Akiva Itskovitz, a scholar and a meticulous follower of the mitzvot, was nominated by the authorities to serve as the county's “Staroste” (governor) and was highly respected by the entire population. His nickname was “Dar Frumer Staroste”. The local teachers were highly respected among the Jewish community, especially Rabbi Shimon Ze'ev. Rabbi Neta, the shoemaker, served as the local undertaker. In addition to the local Bet Midrah, there was also the “Hasidic Minyan”. Among the natives of Linkmenys who gained renown in the world was the Great Rabbi Efraim Zer, who settled in Vilnius, and Dr. Shemuel-Leib Zer, one of the leading teachers and scholars of literature and the Hebrew Bible at the “Yeshiva” University in New York.

From the end of the 19th century, Linkmenys had young Jewish people who read extensively secular literature. They were assisted by the “Mefitsey Haskala Society”, among others, which provided them with books from time to time.

At the end of WWI, the Linkmenys Jewish Community received extensive aid from the Jewish Organization of “YeKoPo”. During the latter part of the 1920's, the community received the following sums of money (in German marks): 6,000 for feeding children; 7,000 for heating; 19,100 for cultural activities; 4,000 for medical aid; 36,100 in total.

Due to the fact that the town was divided during the period between the two world wars, most of the Jews (about 200) remained on the Polish side of the town, and only about 80 on the Lithuanian side. The economic situation of the latter was better than their kin on the other side, but they all suffered terribly because they were disconnected from their families. Further, due to the fact that the cease-fire line passed through the Jewish cemetery, most of the Jews of Linkmenys were unable to pay homage to their forefathers by visiting their graves. After much lobbying by Jewish community workers from both sides of the town, the Polish and Lithuanian authorities acceded and permitted the Jews of Linkmenys to visit the cemetery twice a year: during the Fast of Gedalia and “Tisha B'Av” (The Ninth of Av). Those visits became the meeting grounds of hundreds and sometimes thousands of Jewish relatives and acquaintances from Poland and Lithuania. Those occasions, which were filled with joyful tears and excitement, brought together parents and children and relatives who had not seen one another for a long time, were also occasions for matchmaking and even business transactions. The visitors and their guests would come in groups, sit among the graves, and feast. Journalists from near and far came to report on those exceptional gatherings. The authorities of Poland and Lithuania used to charge a fairly large fee from those who attended that occasion. The Jews were not always permitted to cross the border in order to hold those meetings. Sometimes it was the Poles who imposed restrictions, at other times it was the Lithuanians. The interruptions by the authorities intensified during the 1930's.

The entire community of Linkmenys was reunited when the region of Vilnius, including Linkmenys, was transferred to Lithuania in October, 1939. In August, 1940, all of Lithuania, including Linkmenys, was annexed by the Soviet Union. After a one-year rule by the Soviet Union, the town was conquered by the German army in the summer of 1941. The Jews of Linkmenys, as the rest of the Jews in the other towns and cities in Lithuania, were murdered by the Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators during the autumn of 1941. A meager few survived, mostly Jews who managed to escape into the interior of the Soviet Union or found refuge in the villages or in the forests.

At the beginning of 1990's, a memorial inscribed in Yiddish and Lithuanian, was erected on the mass grave in the Dvariskiai Forest. It reads: “Here, in this place, in 1941, the Nazi murderers and their local collaborators brutally murdered 120 Jews – children, women, men. Sacred is the memory of the innocent victims.”

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M-1/E-321/211.
Zer, Z., “Leben in Sheinkait in Unser Shtetl” (Living in Fairness in Our Town), included in the book: “Yizkor Book for the Svencionys Region (Edited by S. Kantz). Tel Aviv 1964, pp. 1223-1258.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] – (Kaunas), 13.8.1929, 21.8.1929, 23.7.1931, 24.7.1031, 24.7.1932, 12.8.1932, 3.10.1933, 6.10.1936.
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg),#41, 7.11.1882.
Folksblat (Kaunas), 18.7.1937, 20.7.1937.

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