“Pandelys” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Pandėlys, Lithuania)

56° 1' / 25° 13'

Translation of the “Pandelys” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Josef Rosin

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 454-457)

Pandelys

Written by Raphael Julius

Translated by Shaul Yannai

In Yiddish, Ponedel

A town in the Rokiskis district

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1847 .. 904 ..
1897 1,190 1,131 95
1902 1,550* .. ..
1914 .. 800** ..
1921 .. 150 ..
1923 .. 611 ..
1939 1,000 ~300  

* Mostly Jews.
** Approximately 220 families.

Pandelys is located in northeast Lithuania, 28 km northwest of Rokiskis, the district's city. The town is built on a hill and is surrounded by gardens and fields. The Apascia River flows below the town.

The town originated as an estate by the name of Pandelys. It is mentioned in historical documents dating from 1665. A Catholic Church was built there in that year. In 1831, revolutionaries who rebelled against Russian rule took control of the town. Many of the town's residents joined the 1863 rebellion.

Pandelys was a remote town until WWI, as it suffered much from conflicts between the estate owners in the surrounding areas. In 1859, the town had 43 houses, most of them made of wood. In the center of the town was the market square, which was surrounded by shops and by the homes of the shops' owners, surrounding the square like a wall. At the edge of the square was a large and beautiful Catholic Church. The town also had a Calvinist Church. In the middle of the town's square was a pool which collected rain water. Alleys branched out from the square: the “Hoifisher Gas, which led to Rokiskis; the train alley, which led to the narrow railway line between Kupiskis and Suvainiskis that was constructed by the Germans during WWI. The “Pazeliker Gas, which led to Suvainiskis; the Birzai alley led to the towns of Kvetkai, Papilys, and to Birzai. The synagogue alley led to the synagogue's courtyard, which had a Beth Midrash, a synagogue, and a prayer house that belonged to the Hasidim and the beadles, as well as the “Hekdesh” (sanctity), where poor passers-by used to sleep; the public bath house alley had the public bath house. The town was blessed with very beautiful landscapes. It had quite a few fruit gardens, vegetable gardens, and the houses were surrounded by vegetation. The town was surrounded by a ring of villages. Prior to WWI, the town was administratively included in the Novo Aleksandrovsk district. Between the two world wars, Pandelys housed the county's offices, as well as a police station, a post office, and more.

Apparently, Jews first settled in Pandelys at the end of the 17th century. During the 18th century, the town had a few hundred Jewish families, and during the 19th century, Jews were the majority in the town. At the end of the 19th century the town had a Jewish school. According to a different source, 50 Jewish boys studied there in 1897.

Pandelys' market fair attracted estate owners from the surrounding areas and also from afar. They used the narrow railway line for transporting their products: flax, crops, cattle. The town's merchants and artisans made a good living from the market fair and the weekly market day, which took place on Tuesdays. Subsequently, however, the Jewish population in the town decreased: before WWI, the town had 220 Jewish families.

In 1915, Cossacks entered the town after the Russians retreated from it. They summoned the town's old Rabbi and informed him that the entire Jewish population must leave the town within 24 hours. The Jews left Pandelys in great panic, but when the Germans conquered it and its surrounding areas, some Jews returned to their town. Many of the town's Jews fled to the interior of Russia and they returned only after 1920, during the years 1920-1922. The town was damaged during the war and those who returned to it were accommodated in the prayer houses, the “Hekdesh” and any other available place.

Towards the end of the war, about 120 Jewish families and 50-60 non-Jewish families lived in Pandelys. In 1919, the town had 2,500 residents. At that time, relations between the Jews and the non-Jewish population were good and trustful. All of the non-Jews were farmers who cultivated their land. The Jews earned their living from the weekly market days and from the bi-annual market fair, which became a household name. The Jews were grocers, merchants and artisans – shoemakers, tailors, makers of roof tiles, tinsmiths, hat makers, butchers, barbers, and makers of wigs. There were also some Jews who were shepherds. Others traded in flax, crops, and timber, or were peddlers and coachmen. One Jew had a flourmill. There was a popular bank (credit union) in Pandelys, which provided loans to its members.

Pandelys was restored quickly and became a modern place thanks to aid received from the “Joint” and from relatives in America. Lithuanian authorities paved the streets, commerce flourished, especially with Rokiskis, the number of artisans increased, and the Jewish popular bank (Folksbank) was established in the town. It was headed by Shemuel Pinkoshevitz and the secretary was Khanokh Kark.

A community committee of 5 members was active during the period of Jewish autonomy. It was represented as follows: 1 from “Akhdut” (Agudat Yisrael), 1 nonpartisan and 3 politically undefined. The committee was democratically elected and received much administrative, financial and consolatory aid from the ministry of Jewish affairs in Kaunas.

A blood libel spread in the town in 1923, but luckily it did not have severe consequences.

During the late 1920's and early 1930's, Pandelys was transformed from being a filthy town to being a pleasant and well-kept place. However, this change caused a new problem for the Jews: not only did the Jewish population decrease over time due to emigration to America and South Africa, and as a result the number of artisans decreased, but the planned renovations made it necessary to demolish a row of shops that were in the center of the market square and blocked the landscape. The problem was that those shops were owned by Jews and were their main source of livelihood for quite a few Jewish families. The Jews lobbied to annul the decree and also took the issue to court, but they were unsuccessful. It is possible that it was only a coincidence when the aesthetic intend to improve the looks of the town went hand in hand with the patriotic tendency of the Lithuanian Union of Merchants (Verslas), who for a long time wanted to displace the Jews from their positions. In any case, the conditions of the Jews deteriorated precisely at a time when the town was beginning to develop.

The progress and development had a positive influence on the town, but the heavy taxes that were levied on the Jewish population impoverished the grocers and the artisans. We need to point out the additional fact the after the war the town was disconnected from Latvia and commercial contacts with it came to a halt. Aid from the “Joint” and the popular bank (in 1931 it had 134 members) managed to restore the Jewish settlement in the town, which suffered greatly from the damages inflicted by the war. According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census, Pandelys had 14 stores, all of them owned by Jews: 2 haberdasher stores, 2 stores for work tools and iron products, 2 fabrics stores, 2 leather stores, 2 stores for sewing machines, 2 restaurants, 1 grocery store, 1 diesel and gas store, 1 fertilizer store, a factory that produced men's hats, a flourmill, and a workshop that produced felt. But the situation worsened when the trade in eggs and flax was handed over to the hands of Lithuanian cooperatives. This change destroyed the main livelihood of many Jews and they were forced to find their livelihood in other places or emigrate abroad. Those who remained in the town hardly made a living during the market days and during the bi-annual fairs.

During the period under discussion, there were 6 shoemakers in the town, who had work only during the autumn months (when there was a lot of mud), a few “Tapars” (Hebrew, “tapar”, which refers to “a craftsman in shoemaking who makes the uppers”), a few tinsmiths and tailors, who had fierce competition from their Christian colleagues. In addition to the above, there were in Pandelys also a tailor who specialized in men's clothing, a barber and wig maker, a number of butchers, and a few coachmen. The latter two professionals used to exchange their professions on certain occasions: the butcher would be a coachman and vice versa; it was all done according to supply and demand. The rest of the Jews made their living from commerce and storekeeping, which provided a meager livelihood. A few years later, in 1937, there were 31 Jewish artisans in the town: 9 butchers, 8 shoemakers and tapars, 6 needle workers, 4 metal workers, a baker and 3 others. Many of them subsisted from the support of their relatives in America. Of the 27 telephones that were in the town at that time, only 2 were owned by Jews.

In contrast with the decline in the economic conditions of the town's Jews, there was a great increase in youth activities; there were social balls, theater and debates. And in spite of this, many of the youth left Pandelys because the town was small and they found it difficult to live there economically and culturally. The younger generation emigrated to South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, and some to Eretz-Yisrael. Even those who remained in the town planned to leave at the first opportunity. In the meantime, they joined Zionist organizations, or “Tiferet Bakhurim” and other associations.

Pandelys had a library with 1,000 volumes. But the number of readers was limited, as one writer complained in 1935 in the “Folksblat” newspaper, that the library did not add any new volumes and the old ones had already all been read. The elementary school and the popular bank were among the few rays of hope in the poor social life of the town during that period of time.

The town's Jews were Hasidim and extremely orthodox. Their influence on the life of the community was so great that even on the eve of WWII they were powerful enough to force Jewish merchants to close their shops just on time on the eves of the Sabbaths and holidays. The town had a number of prayer houses made of wood, including 2 shtiebels, a Beth Midrash and the synagogue “Ker”, where only a few people prayed. Prior to the world war, the town had “Kheders” and a Talmud Torah, which also continued to exist during the period of Independent Lithuania. The orthodox “Agudat Yisrael” did not permit the opening of a school even such a one that was part of the “Yavne” network. But in 1922, as leftist activities were on the rise, the “Kultur Lige” (the cultural union) established a school in Pandelys that taught in Yiddish, was able to maintain a very high level of studies and continued to exist even though anti-Semitism increased. Jews who wanted to give their children Hebrew and secular education sent them to study in Rokiskis. Many of them knew Hebrew and participated in activities for the Zionist funds.

Adjacent to the “Kultur Lige” was a drama club, which used to invite foreign theater companies to perform there and whose income was donated to the library. In fear of the authorities, who were extremely strict as they searched for communist literature and so on, the “Lige” members set the library on fire. But the “Lige” did not stop its political activities. After it was formally shut down, a sports association, as it were, was established, and its activities continued under its protection despite being harassed by the authorities. At one point, two of the “Lige's” activists (a brother and sister) were arrested and were taken to Panemunelis. The members of the sports association maintained contact with the prisoners and supplied all their needs.

The “Agudat Yisrael” branch, the “Tiferet Bakhurim” (literally “Company of Splendid Young Men”) association, the “Gemilut Khesed” (Benevolent Loan) fund, the “Linat Tsedek” (Hospice for the Poor) and “Bikur Cholim” (Visiting the Sick) were active in Pandelys before Zionist activities began. The Zionist organizations had branches of “HaShomer HaTzair”, “HeKhalutz”, and “Beytar”, and a “Maccabi” club, which had 100 members. The latter had a soccer division, and also a drama club and a library. It frequently staged plays, had evening readings and other cultural activities. The division of votes to the Zionist Congresses in Pandelys is shown in the table below:

Congress
Nr.
Year Total
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
Revisionists General
Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrachi
Z”S Z”Z A B
16 1929 5 - - - - - - - -
17 1931 57 13 4 3 3 3 - - -
18 1933 .. 36 27 6 2   1  
19 1935   127 81 - 1 2 32 11

Among the Rabbis who served in Pandelys were: Rabbi Moshe Agins, the Rabbi of the Hasidim, who was an imposing figure and a scholar. He was very much loved in the community and in the surrounding areas. After his death he was succeeded by Rabbi Yitzkhak Dubau, who emigrated to America and was succeeded by Yitzkhak from Riga. Pandelys' last Rabbi was Rabbi Mikhel Pun, who perished in the Holocaust.

Among the natives of Pandelys were: Rabbi Barukh HaLevi Horovitz; Menakhem Gilutz, who was one of the founders of Tel Aviv and who subsequently received the Tel Aviv honorary citizenship; and Menakhem Finkelman, who headed the Keren HaYesod in Latvia until he emigrated to Israel.

During World War II

When the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out, Pandelys was severely damaged and a third of the town's houses burned down. The entire Jewish population fled from the town. Many of them wanted to reach the Soviet Union by crossing the border to Latvia, but the authorities did not approve that relocation except to people who had an appropriate permit.

The Germans entered Pandelys after the battles were over, on June 26 and 27, 1941. The Jews started returning to the town, but most of them discovered that they have no place to return to because their houses had burned down. Thus, the Jews crowded into some of the buildings that remained intact and that were allotted to them.

The information that we have about the final fate of the Jews of Pandelys is very minimal and contradictory. According to one source, the men were separated from the women and were taken to do exhausting and humiliating forced labor. The tortures continued until August, when they were transferred to Rokiskis, where they were murdered together with the Jews of Rokiskis and its surrounding towns. According to a different source, the Germans, assisted by Lithuanian peasants, assembled the Jews in the market square and burned them alive to the sounds of a German musical orchestra. A third source said that three days after the Germans entered the town they ordered the Jews to pack up their belongings on the pretext that they would be transferred to Poland where they were promised that a Jewish State would be established for them. But instead of taking them to Poland they were taken to a forest not far from Pandelys, where they were all murdered. Their houses and properties were given to Lithuanians.

Rabbi Agins's son found shelter with the local priest, who turned to Dr. Straus, a Christian, and asked him to help Rabbi Aginas's son. But Dr. Straus handed over both of them to the Germans, and they murdered both of them.

A different source states that before the Germans retreated from the Pandelys in 1944, they burned down three quarters of the town's houses.

After the war there was not a single Jew left in Pandelys. The only surviving Jews of Pandelys were those who fled to the interior of the Soviet Union in time. Some of them fought against the Germans within the ranks of the Red Army. One of them, Isser Shmidt, was parachuted in the forests of Lithuania and he served as a commissar of the Vilnius Jewish partisan regiment.

Bibliography:

Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1788, 55/1701, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: files 728-745, pp. 32167-32704.
Osheri, “Khurban Lita” [The Destruction of Lithuania], pp. 321, 324.
Bakaltshuk-Felin, M., Yizkor Book of Rakishok and Environs, Johannesburg, 1952, pp. 331-335, 422-424.
Dos Vort - (Kaunas) – year 6, 27.7.1939, p. 5.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] – (Kaunas), year 11, 27.12.1929, p. 7; 12 (1007), 14.1.1923; 90 (1085), 20.4.1923.
Folksblat [The People's Newspaper] 1661, 9.10.1935.

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