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

55° 17' / 23° 58'

Translation of the “Kedainiai” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Josef Rosin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1996


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Acknowledgments

Project Coordinator

Barry Mann

 

Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
for permission to put this material on the JewishGen web site.

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 581-589)

Kedainiai

Written Josef Rosin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

A special thanks to Josef Rosin and Barry Mann
for helping me in working on this translation.

In Yiddish, Keidan; in Russian, Keidani

A district city in central Lithuania.

 

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1764 .. 5011 ..
1816 .. 8682 ..
1847 .. 2,987 ..
1897 6,113 3,733 61
1923 7,415 2,4993 34
1934 7,923 .. ..
1939 8,662 .. ..
1941 .. About 2,500 ..

 

  1. Head-tax payers.
  2. 334 men, 534 women.
  3. 100 additional Jews lived in the district.

 

Kedainiai is located in the Zemaitija region, on the banks of the Nevezys River and its two streams, Smilga and Dotnuva, 45 km north of Kaunas. Until the end of the 15th century, it belonged to the great princes of Lithuanian; then it passed into the hands of the Kishko aristocratic family. In 1590, Kedainiai received the "Magdenburg rights" for self-rule. In the 17th century, as a result of marriage ties with the Kishko family, the city was passed into the hands of the Radzivil family. Under its patronage, the city underwent rapid economic and cultural development. It had 3 yearly fairs which attracted merchants from all over the country.

The Radzivil family adopted the Calvinist religion. As a result, many followers of that religion flocked to the city, and among them were Germans and Scots who were persecuted in their respective countries. Among the latter were scholars, military personalities and artisans who greatly influenced the economic and cultural life of Kedainiai. A pharmacy was opened in the city in the middle of the 17th century, the first in the Baltic countries. From 1795 until 1915, Kedainiai was under Russian rule, first within the Vilnius Guberina (region), and from 1843 it was part of the Kaunas Gubernia. During WWI, the city was conquered by Germany which ruled it from 1915 until 1918. During the period of Russian rule and also during the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940), Kedainiai was the main city in the district.

 

The Jewish Settlement Till After World War I
Society and Economy

Jews began settling in Kedainiai at the end of the 15th century, but already in 1495, Alexander, the great prince of Lithuania, published a decree to expel all Jews from the country. This applied also to the Jews of Kedainiai who were forced to abandon their property and together with the rest of the Jews of Lithuania they headed for the Polish border. This decree was annulled in 1503 and the exiled were permitted to return to their former places and retrieve their property. However, not all of them returned.

In the beginning of the 17th century, the prince, Christopher Radzivil, granted the Jews full civilian rights and freedom of religion. He also offered land and reduced taxes to new Jewish settlers. At the same time, he was strict in selecting which Jews would be permitted to settle and accepted only those who had recommendations that testified about their integrity and good character.

Christopher Radzivil's son, Janusz, permitted all citizens, regardless of their religion and nationality, to participate in electing city officials (the mayor, judges, registrars, and so on). He also made sure that the Jews of the city received military training and, as a preparatory step for times of emergency, he divided them into military units. In 1652, he granted Jews the privilege to brew liquor and sell alcoholic beverages.

During the war between Sweden and Poland, 1656-1657, the Jews of Kedainiai were badly hurt. Many of them fled to Konigsberg, Prussia. In 1657, the Black Plague broke out in the city and many Jews died.

In 1666, Janusz Radzivil's heir, Boguslaw, curtailed the rights of the Jews and ruled that they should live in a restricted area, a sort of “Ghetto”. This prince leased his mansion and all of its revenues to a Jew by the name of Wolf Itzkovitz and gave him judicial authority to judge the Jews of Kedainiai and to levy fines on them.

In 1681, a great fire broke out in the city and some of its houses burned down. In 1685, the city had 337 houses that belonged to Christians and 42 houses that belonged to Jews.

In the beginning of the 18th century, during the “Northern War”, the armies of Russia and Sweden passed through the city and destroyed it. As a result, the Jewish community became impoverished and was forced to borrow money from landowners in order to cover its living costs. One Saturday, a landowner by the name of Gursky, to whom the community did not pay its debt, locked the Jews in the synagogue while they were praying and bolted the door. The imprisoned were freed only after they paid their debt. But the community managed to recover fairly rapidly. In 1721, the fee that the Kedainiai community head-tax payers had to pay to the government was greater than what larger communities such as Pinsk, Vilnius and Minsk had to pay.

The Kedainiai community had a respectable place in the Jewish Lithuanian Council, the “Va'ad Medinat Lita” (1623-1764), and was represented there since its inception. Together with Vyzuonos and Birzai, the “Kedainiai Galil (district)” was one of the three administrative frameworks of the Council in the Zemaitija province. It included the communities of Telsiai, Jurbarkas, Slobodka, Palanga, Plunge, Kelme, Kraziai, Rietavas, Raseiniai, Siauliai and Skuodas. After the Council was disassembled, the “Glelilim” (districts) in the Zemaitija region continued their activities for 20 more years, and in 1778 and 1782 Kedainiai was the place where the representatives of the communities of Lithuania held their meetings.

During the Radzivil family reign, the Jews were the leaders of the city's economy. When the first bridge over the Nevezys River was built, the prince leased the passage fees to Jews. They dealt in importing and exporting goods, in agriculture, in many branches of labor and also in charging interest on loans. They also owned the breweries. Weaving, which the Jews learned from the German and the Scot Calvinists that settled in Kedainiai, was already in Jewish hands in the 19th century. The Jewish artisans and also butchers and cattle traders were organized in special associations by the name of “The Associations of Righteous Laborers”, which continued to exist until the beginning of the 19th century.

The city's many artisans made their living honorably, yet the “landlords” and other “bullies” regarded them with contempt. In 1816, on the first day of Rosh HaShana, when a tailor appeared in the synagogue with a velvet yarmulke on his head, those who sat on the “Eastern” side of the prayer house could not forgive him his “chuzpa” (insolence) because only they, so they thought, had the right to wear such yarmulkes. The recalcitrant tailor was summoned at the end of the holiday to the community's office, was fined the sum of 10 candles and his yarmulke was confiscated. This fine offended the organized artisans and on the first day of Succot all the tailors, shoemakers and the other artisans appeared in the synagogue wearing velvet yarmulkes and “Zhupitse” (atlas coats), and on their hips they had sashes like the ones that respected landlords wore. The latter complained to the governor whose men caught the recalcitrant artisans and beat them up. As a result, the two sides struggled against each other for many years, at times even resulting in violent actions and cost them thousands of rubles. In the end, they settled their variance when the leaders of the community agreed that the artisans, and all Jews, have the right to wear a velvet yarmulke, an atlas coat and a sash. The two sides also agreed that in any future litigation between an artisan and a “landlord”, the artisans would be represented by a judge on their behalf, and that a seat would be guaranteed for a representative from the artisans on the community bureau.

In 1795, the legal status of Jews changed after Lithuania came under Russian rule. The privileges which were granted to them by former governors were annulled. In 1804, during the period of Alexander the First, the Jewish farmers were expelled from the villages and they arrived in the cities naked and penniless. Some of them settled in Kedainiai. In 1807, a cholera plague broke out in the city and 397 Jews died.

In about 1824, representatives from the community complained to the authorities about the estate owner Graf Tshapski that he mistreats the Jews and beats them up. Tshapski managed to turn the opinions of the authorities in his favor and accused the Jews of rebellion. One of the Tshapski's officials, who came to collect taxes from the Jews, beat up two Jews and the Jews drove him out. In response, Tshapski sent two other officials to punish the Jews. The officials settled in the house of one of the Jews who beat up the official, forced him to feed them, and even took some meat for themselves. This angered the Jews and they beat up the officials. When this incident was investigated, the Jews were accused of disrespectful behavior towards the Graf's officials and 5 Jews were arrested.

After the failed Polish rebellions in 1831 and 1863, Kedainiai also went through a process of increased Russification. Lithuania's governor, Graf Totleben, settled in the palace of Kedainiai's ruler. The relations between the new governor and the Jews were fairly good. In 1868, the year of hunger, Totleben made sure that the poor people in the city, Jews and Christians, would work in refurbishing his magnificent palace and garden, and also work in aiding the military. But things changed for the worse after he died. His heirs made life more difficult for the Jews. In 1887, Totleben's son-in-law opened a large pub and a large store next to the train station and this deprived the Jews of the livelihood that was available around the station.

The Russian military that was stationed in Kedainiai was an important source of livelihood for the city's Jewish artisans and grocers. The railway line that was constructed in the second half of the 19th century between Libau in Latvia and Romny in Ukraine greatly stimulated the economic development in the region and helped increase commercial ties mainly with Russia. As a result, the city's economy improved. The governor, Totleben, built flourmills in the area and leased them to Jews. Another source of livelihood for the Jews was pubs. But it was only after 1887 that the Jews received formal permission to do so, that is, after the court acceded to the community's request and annulled a former ruling that prevented Jews from dealing in such a business unless it was in the hands of a Christian. From 1887 and on, every Jew was allowed to have a pub in his own name.

In addition to the merchants, grocers, leasers and peddlers, Kedainiai had at least 80 families that for generations dealt in agriculture. They cultivated fruits and vegetables and beetroot for animals. Kedainiai's cucumbers were famous throughout Lithuania, and prior to WWI they were shipped to Latvia, England and Germany.

The great emigration during the 1880's and 1890's of Lithuanian Jews to England, United States and South Africa did not bypass the Jews of Kedainiai. Within two years, 1884-1885, 600 Jews left the city. Jewish youth, who could not conceive their future in Lithuania, were motivated to seek their future abroad due to the increasing anti-Semitism, the reaction to the 1905 revolution in Russia, and the economic depression. Emigration increased and the number of Jews in the city decreased over time.

In 1887, 1888, and 1900, a number of large fires broke out in the city. Most of those who were harmed were Jews. After the fire in 1887, 200 Jewish families remained penniless. In June, 1887, the “HaMelitz” published a pleading call to help the people who were harmed.

Stolypin, the prime minister of Russia at the beginning of the 20th century, owned an estate near Kedainiai. He had good relations with the Jews of the city, and some of the latter managed his estate. He used to visit his estate every year and the Jews would turn to him with various requests and in some cases he promoted their needs.

 

The Life of the Community and its Institutions

The “Hadarim” (Hebrew, singular, Heder) and Yeshivas in Kedainiai were renowned throughout Lithuania. David Katzenellenbogen was the city's Rabbi and the head of the “Galil” during the days of Shabtai Tzvi. He made sure that the study of the Kabala would not spread throughout Lithuania and he also meticulously kept the ruling that forbade people under age 40 to study “The Zohar”. In 1727, a 6 year old boy was brought from Vilnius to Kedainiai. The boy's natural talent stunned the city's Rabbis. The city's Rabbi devoted his time to educate the boy and when the latter reached adulthood he became renowned throughout Lithuania. He was Rabbi Eliyahu, who later became known as the Vilna Gaon. Rabbi Eliyahu married one of Kedainiai's native Jewish women.

In 1884, the Talmud Torah “Ohel Moshe”, named after Moshe Montefiore, was established in the city with the help of Kedainiai Jews living in New York. At that time, about 90 youth studied there. In 1888, the Talmud Torah became a modern school which taught not only Torah studies, but also Russian and general studies. During that period, the children of wealthy families started attending Russian schools in the area.

Kedainiai had a long list of Maskilim who promoted the Haskala (Enlightenment). The most famous among them were the author Moshe-Leib Lilienblum and the historian of literature, Shneur Zaks. The youth in the city collected folk songs already in the beginning of the 20th century. An anthology that was edited by Ginsburg and Merick collected 376 folk songs. 154 of them were collected in Kedainiai and its surrounding areas by two local people: Baruch-Haim Kasel and Dr. Aaron-Leib Pik.

In 1784, the community established a synagogue and a Bet Midrash. The synagogue was a large Bet Khoma structure and the Holy Ark, engraved in wood, covered a third of its eastern wall. Its interior walls were ornamented with paintings of animals: lions, eagles, deer and others. The construction of the building was completed in 1807. The gate that led to the synagogue had on it a sun clock with Hebrew letters instead of numerals. From the entrance hall one could reach the “Lishkat HaKahal”, a room which served as the community's bureau, where one could also find the “Kune”, a detention room for wrongdoers.

Because of the struggle between the artisans and the “landlords”, the artisans opened their own “Kloiz” (prayer house) by the name of “Hayei Adam” (The life of man). It had its own rabbinical judge who studied with them about “the life of man” and on Saturdays he would expound on the “Parashat HaShavua” (the section of the Torah that is read on each Sabbath in the synagogue).

In 1878, the Hevra Kadisha opened its own “Kloiz”. In 1898, the city had 7 prayer houses: the “large” synagogue, the “Morticians” synagogue (apparently the one that belonged to the Hevrat Kadisha), the “DeEver HaNahar” Bet Midrash, “The Big Kloiz”, the “Seven Keruim” Kloiz, the “Hayei Adam” Kloiz and the “Ein Ya'akov” Kloiz. 4 of those synagogues were located on a site which was called the “Shulhoif” (the synagogue's courtyard).

During that period, Kedainiai's Rabbis were: Rabbi Hillel, who served 3-4 years in the 17th century; Rabbi Tzvi-Hirsch Horovitz, who was the Rabbi of the 3 “Gelilot” of Zemaitija and resided in Kedainiai; Rabbi Yechezkel Kazenellenbogen (1668-1749), who used to sign as “Head of the Rabbinate and Rav Melamed of Kedainiai and Birzai and the “Gelilot”, and who countered the “Mekubalim” in order to prevent the upsurge of the people in following Shabtai Tzvi. He was the first in the Kazenellenbogen family line of Rabbis; Rabbi Meshulam-Zalman, head of the Kedainiai and Galil Rabbinate from 1758 (died in 1790); Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Kazenellenbogen, who served from 1780 until 1795 (died in 1810); Rabbi Raphael Yom-Tov Liphman Halperin, who bitterly fought against “the kidnappers” who kidnapped children to serve in the Czar's army; Rabbi Avraham Shimon Troib, born in Kedainiai, published sharp articles in Hebrew newspapers against the Maskilim who wanted to change the status of religion, and especially against Moshe-Leib Lilienblum who was also born in Kedainiai (see above); and Rabbi Shlomo-Zalman-Simkha Troib.

The Mishna society, the most prestigious organization in the community, was also known for its graduation parties. But no one could compete with the mitzvah festivals of the Hevra Kadisha, which in 1842 had 27 clerks and administrators. Only members participated in those festivals and they used to stage pantomimes or plays, such as: “The Dance of Rogues”, “The Dance of Anger”, “Akedat Yitzhak”, “The Selling of Josef”, and others.

From the beginning of the 18th century, the city had a Yeshiva, which was active until the Holocaust, except during some short interuptions. In 1886, the community started building in the city a building for “Bikur Kholim” (Visiting the Sick). In 1895, the “Tiferet Bakhurim” society was established in the city and it had 80 members. Its goal was to teach the artisans and laborers the mitzvoth according to the “Kitzur Shulkhan Arukh” and the “Parashat HaShavua”. Their members paid dues. That money was used for renting a house that was next to the Bet Midrash where they studied and prayed. It was also used for buying books. In 1899, the societies of “Hakhnasat Orkhim”, “Gemilut Khasadim” and “Somekh Noflim” were also active in the city.

Several Jews from Kedainiai appear in the list of donors for the hunger stricken in Lithuania in 1871.

 

Eretz-Yisrael and Zionist Activities

In 1811, a long time before the “Hibat Zion” movement was established, Rabbi Shlomo-Zalman Tsoref emigrated from Kedainiai to Eretz-Yisrael. He did so within the framework of the emigration of the “Perushim”, the Vilna Gaon's students, in order to establish a spiritual center in Eretz-Yisrael. He freed from the Arabs the “Khurvat Rabbi Yehuda HeKhasid” synagogue in Jerusalem. He was the head of the distinguished Solomon family lineage in Jerusalem and the grandfather of Yoel-Moshe Solomon, one of the pioneers of Petach Tikva in the 1880's. Rabbi Shlomo-Zalman was murdered in 1851 by Arabs. Among the first 10 settlers in Rishon LeZion was Ze'ev Abramovitz (1843-1915) who was born in Kedainiai. Several Jews from Kedainiai emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael also during the middle of the 19th century. The Mount of Olives has at least 7 tombstones of people who came from Kedainiai. Meir Dat from Kedainiai emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael in 1893 and died from malaria in Hadera. Haim-Tzvi Treibish emigrated in 1889, settled in Jaffa, and opened the first supermarket in Eretz-Yisrael. He was one of the founders of “Akhuzat Bait” from which the city of Tel Aviv originated, and served as a postman in the Russian post in Jaffa. Moshe-Leib Lilienblum, who was already mentioned above and who was born in Kedainiai, was one of the harbingers of the “Hibat Zion” movement in Russia and participated in the “Hovevei Zion” assembly that convened in Odessa in 1883. Rabbi Josef Blumson became famous there for his activities for “Hibat Zion”, and his entire life was dedicated to Zion.

In 1884, 35 pictures of Moshe Montefiore were sold in Kedainiai in order to raise money for Jewish settlements in Eretz-Yisarel. The pictures were distributed on behalf of Hovevei Zion in Warsaw, were sold in Kedainiai by Shemryahu Merkel and they raised a substantial sum of money.

A number of Zionist organizations were established in Kedainiai in the 1890's: “Aguda Zionit”, “Pirkhei Zion” and Benei Zion”. The lists of donors for settling Eretz-Yisrael that were published in the 1890's mention many names Jews from Kedainiai.

In 1899, a delegate from Kedainiai participated in the Russian Zionists Convention that convened in Vilnius. In autumn of 1909, a delegate from Kedainiai participated in the Zionist Associations Convention from the regions of Suvalk and Kaunas. At the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, Kedainiai had a very active branch of the “Bund” which operated under the branch that was located in Kaunas.

In 1888, the firefighters association was established in Kedainiai and it had many Jewish volunteers. The fire extinguishing machinery was bought through donations from wealthy people in the city and form income that was collected when a big reception was held in the palace. The leader of the association was a Jew by the name of Finkelshtein. In 1914, a fire broke out in Kedainiai and many houses burned down.

During WWI, on April 6, 1915, a decree was published which forbade Jews to leave the city. A few days later, the retreating Russian army expelled the Jews to Russia. The local authorities incited the Christian coachmen who drove the Jews with their belongings to the train station “to skin the Jews”. Some of those who were expelled found refuge in Vilnius. When Vilnius was conquered by the Germans, the Kedainiai residents were permitted to return to their city and were helped by the conquering authorities to retrieve the property that was stolen from them. After the war, some of those who were expelled to Russia returned to Kedainiai.

 

The Period of Independent Lithuania
Society and Economy

About two thirds of the Jews that lived in Kedainiai before the expulsion returned to the city when Independent Lithuania was established. They reestablished their businesses and the community through the assistance of their relatives in South Africa and the United States and also through help by the “Joint”.

In 1919, in line with the law of autonomy for the Jews, a ruling committee of 15 members was elected in Kedainiai. The committee had 6 representatives from Poalei Zion, 3 from the General Zionists, 3 from the “Knesset Yisrael” party, 2 from the artisans and one from the greengrocers. 893 people participated in those elections. Two years later, in 1921, a new community committee was elected in Kedainiai: 2 from the General Zionists, 2 from “Tzeirei Zion”, 1 from the Mizrakhi, 2 from “Akhdut (Agudat Yisrael), 4 artisans and 4 laborers. The committee was active in most areas of Jewish life in the city from 1919 until the beginning of 1926.

The successors of the community's committee were the “Ezra” and “Knesset Yisrael” associations. Throughout the period under discussion, there were disagreements in the community about how to manage the “Ezra” association and also because of the competition between the above two associations. One of the issues of disagreement was how to divide the monetary support they received from Kedainiai Jews who lived in the United States. In 1936, Lithuania's Ministry of Interior suggested that the two associations be unified, but “Knesset Yisrael” refused.

In the elections to the first Lithuanian Seimas, in October 1922, 650 Jews from Kedainiai voted for the Zionist party, 87 voted for “Akhdut” (Agudat Yisrael), and 13 for the Democrats. In 1931, during the elections for the city council, 5 of the 12 elected council members were Jews.

Until WWI, the relations between the Jews and the Lithuanians were very good. Already in 1909, Horovitz, the Jewish pharmacist, used to print his prescriptions in the Lithuanian language. He did this because he identified with the national aspirations of the Lithuanian people, and in spite of being reproached by the Russian authorities. Kedainiai Jews, like many Jews throughout Lithuania, supported the Lithuanians in their struggle for independence. When Lithuania established its military, Jewish youth volunteered into its ranks and participated in battles against the invaders that threatened the new country. Some of them sacrificed their lives in that war. But during the 1930's, the relations deteriorated. Many Lithuanians were influenced by the anti-Semitic sentiments in Germany and the status of Jews weakened. In April, 1933, the city established a committee that boycotted German merchandise.

The Jews of Kedainiai during that period made their living mainly from the wholesale and retail trades, from exporting agricultural products (clover seeds, poultry, apples, etc.), from agriculture and industry.

According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census, Kedainiai had 114 business, 98 of them (86%) were owned by Jews. The division into business branches is shown in the table below:

 

Branch or Type of Business Total Owned
by
Jews
Grocery 11 9
Crops and flax 12 12
Butcher shops and cattle 19 16
Restaurants and taverns 13 10
Food products 8 8
Beverages 5 4
Clothing, furs and textile products 12 12
Leather and shoes 6 6
Sewing and house utensils 4 4
Medicine and cosmetics 3 2
Radios, bicycles and sewing machines 1 1
Tools and iron products 5 5
Building materials and furniture 2 1
Wood and heating materials 2 1
Paper, books and writing materials 3 1
Miscellaneous 6 5

 

According to the same census, Kedainiai had 46 light industry factories that employed at least 5 workers. 33 of the factories (72%) were owned by Jews as shown in the table below:

 

Branch or Type of Business Total Owned
by
Jews
Metal works, power stations 6 3
Headstones, bricks, cement products 1 0
Chemical industry: ethyl, soap, oil, cosmetics 2 1
Textile: wool, spinning mill, coloring 2 2
Wood industry: sawmills, furniture 2 1
Paper industry: printing, binding, cartons 1 1
Food industry: mills, bakeries, sausage production, etc. 12 9
Clothing and footwear: sewing, hats, shoes 15 12
Leather industry: production, leather workshops 1 1
Others: Barber shops, photography shops, goldsmiths 4 3

 

During the years 1923-1940, 109 religious and secular books in Hebrew were printed in the Movshovitz-Cohen printing house. Among them was a book for learning Hebrew by Akiva Golenfol, for people “who know the Hebrew language”. The last Hebrew book that was printed in Lithuania was in 1940 and it was printed in that same printing house.

During the period under discussion, the number of Jewish artisans decreased gradually. The younger generation did not see its future as artisans and preferred enrolling into higher education. In 1937, there were still 65 Jewish artisans in Kedainiai: 8 tailors, 8 shoemakers, 7 butchers, 6 bakers, 5 painters, 4 watchmakers, 3 tinsmiths, 3 oven makers, 2 glaziers, 2 electricians, 2 hat makers, 2 blacksmiths, 2 barbers, 2 sewers, a binder, a printer, a smith, a carpenter, a photographer and 4 others.

The economic crisis that beset Lithuania in the 1930's, and the open propaganda of the Lithuanian Union of Merchants (Verslas) to boycott Jewish merchants and not to buy from them, hurt the livelihood of many Jews in Kedainiai. Those events motivated many Jews to emigrate abroad. The situation of the Jewish greengrocers, who grew vegetables, mainly cucumbers and tomatoes, on land they leased from estate owners in the area, deteriorated due to the high leasing fees and the shrinking markets. Only Jews who owned land made their living honorably. They grew sugar beet and vegetables and the surplus cucumbers and cabbage they pickled for themselves for winter. There were also Jews who raised cattle and horses. In 1935, 50 families made their livelihood from agriculture. In 1939, their number decreased to 40.

Kedainiai had branches of the “Jewish Artisans Association of Lithuania” and of the “Jewish Farmers Association of Lithuania”.

In 1935, of the 8 doctors in Kedainiai, 2 were Jews, and of the 4 dentists, 2 were Jews. Only 4 Jews, all of them teachers, worked for the government.

Kedainiai had two Jewish banks: the Jewish national bank (Folksbank) had 70 members in 1920, in 1927 it had 544 members and in 1929 it had only 360 members; and the bank for reciprocal credit. They played an important role in the economic life of the city's Jews.

In 1939, there were 154 telephones in Kedainiai, 25 of them were in the homes of Jews.

 

Community Life and its Institutions

The community's children attended the Hebrew Elementary School of the “Tarbut” network (approximately 200 pupils and 4 teachers); 35 pupils studied in the Yiddisher school, and 40-50 children studied in the “Heder” that became a school within the “Yavne” network. The latter was managed by the local Rabbi. The elementary schools were funded by the government. The Hebrew progymnasia was established in 1922 and it had 4 classes. Its graduates were accepted to the higher gymnasias. Quite a few Jewish children continued their education in the Hebrew gymnasia in Kaunas, in Raseiniai, or in a Lithuanian gymnasia.

2-3 Jews were accepted every year to the agricultural-technical school that was located in Totleben's palace. The “Tarbut” society organized evening courses for adults (in 1922, 40 adults attended them). Kedainiai had a few libraries in Hebrew and Yiddish literature which were managed by party members of various parties. It also had a drama group which staged classical Jewish plays. There was also a Hebrew newspaper for children by the name of “Shahar” whose editor was the teacher Tzvi Rozentswaig.

Many of Kedainiai's Jews belonged to the Zionist camp. All of the Zionist parties were represented in the city. The city also had a branch of “WIZO” that had 84 members in 1938. The division of votes to the Zionist Congresses in Kedainiai in the 1920's and 1930's was as shown in the table below:

 

Congress Nr. Year Total
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor Part Revisionists General
Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrakhi Poalie
Zion
Left
Z”S Z”Z A B
14 1925 62 - - - - - - - - -
15 1927 114 75 22 15 - 27 - - 11 -
16 1929 202 85 29 3 18 22 - - 13 -
17 1931 132 91 34 7 19 21 - 10 -
18 1933 .. 333 197 72 34 - 11 19 -
19 1935 719 664 408 - 21 120 85 30 -
  The National Bloc  
21 1939 418 310 250 - 15 44 1

 

The Zionist Youth Organizations that were active in the city were: “HaShomer HaTzair" (from the beginning of the 1920's), “Gordonia”, “Beytar” (from 1928) and “HeKhalutz HaTzair” (from 1926). In the 1930's the city had a branch of “Brit HeKhayal”, an organization of military veterans which was linked to the Revisionists' camp. All of those movements had their own clubs where they held widespread Zionist and educational activities. Until 1926, the “HeKhalutz” movement maintained a “training” Kibbutz by the name of “Kibush” (conquest) on the Peladenogi farm, located 4 km from Kedainiai'. In 1934, the “HeKhalutz” movement had an urban Kibbutz in the city.

From the beginning of the 1920's, the local branch of “Maccabi” held widespread sports activities. It had soccer teams, a boys' and a girls' gymnastics teams, and more. In 1929, “HaPoel” established its own sports branch in Kedainiai. It had teams in soccer, ping pong and more.

The firefighter's volunteer brigade was mostly composed of Jews. The commander of the brigade was Tsadok Shlapoberski, an officer in the Lithuanian military reserves. The brigade had good fire extinguishing equipment and sometimes they were able to contain fires quickly.

In the course of time, all of those institutions gradually deteriorated as the younger generation left the city. Some of them emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael. Among them were the founders of Kibbutz Giva'at Brener and Kibbutz Bet Zera. Others emigrated to the United States and South Africa where they established associations of Kedainiai descendants.

The seven prayer houses that were in the city prior to WWI also served the community during the period under discussion. The city also had Torah Study societies: the Mishna society, “Ein Ya'akov”, and also a Hevra Kadisha. In 1924, the head of the Rabbinate was Rabbi Shlomo HaLevi Feinzilber (1871-1941), who was a member of the “Yavne” committee and the chairman of the Rabbis Association in Lithuania. He established in Kedainiai a “Bet Talmud”, a sort of Yeshiva, and published many books on the topic of Judaism. He was murdered by Lithuanians during the Holocaust.

In the spring of 1937 the committee of the managers of the synagogues in the city decided to nominate a rabbinical judge. The public strongly resisted the proposal and signed a petition against it. Among the signees were representatives from the Jewish Fighters' Association from Lithuania's War of Independence, the Artisans and Farmers Association, the National Bank, the “Ezra” Association, the General Zionists A, the League for Eretz-Yisarel HaOveded, the Grossmanists, and also some managers of Batei Midrash.

The orphanage, which was located in a two story building, was an important institution in Kedainiai. Several dozen of orphans received their education there. The “Oze” society, which was active in the city since 1927, took many measures to care for the children's health. During the summers it held summer camps in the surrounding forests for needy children. Most of the other welfare institutions that operated before WWI continued to do so.

The Jews of Lithuania used to call the Jews of Kedainiai by the name of “Vickers”, that is, “the humped ones”, because they used to proudly pat their chests and say “we are Keydainers” (the insinuation was that from so much patting a hump grew on their back).

Among the personalities who were born in Kedainiai were: Senior Sachs (1815-1892), a researcher in Hebrew literature during the Middle Ages; Shemuel Shlapoberski (1882-1949), was a member of the Kaunas municipality and of the Zionist Center of Lithuania who published articles on the economy in the “Yiddishe Shtime” (he passed away in Petach Tikva); Moshe Prozer (1840-1895), a journalist and writer in the “HaMelitz” for many years; Moshe-Leib Lilienblum (1843-1910), an author, Hovev Zion, a central figure in the Haskala Movement and the Haskala Literature, who fought to introduce changes into the “Shulkhan Arukh”; Josef Smilg (1848-1900), a doctor of philosophy and a teacher of Jewish religion in 3 German gymnasias in St. Petersburg. He published articles in the “HaMelitz” about “The Foundations of Moral Education”; the agronomist Isar-Josef Einhorn (1866-1925), who published books in Hebrew on the subjects of zoology, physics and chemistry, and also about “The Principles of Cultivating the Land”; Isar-Moshe Rubin (Rabinovitz, 1871-1957), a journalist who published articles in Jewish newspapers in the United States (passed away in New York); the medical doctor, Dr. Aharon Pik (1872-1942), who published articles on medical topics in the “Yiddishe Shtime” and was murdered in ghetto Siauliai; Gershon Keidanski (Bernard Richards, 1877-1971, in New York from 1902), a journalist and editor in the “Israelit” in Boston. He wrote in Jewish newspapers in New York; Aharon Einhorn (1884-1942), a journalist and translator, he wrote routinely in the “Haint” in Warsaw, he was murdered in Otvozeck; Hirsh Blushtein (born in 1895), an author and journalist (from 1931 in the USSR, where he published books and poetry in Yiddish); David Wolpe (born in 1908), an author and poet in Yiddish, was in ghetto Kaunas and the Dachau camp during the Holocaust and from 1951 in Johannesburg; Arieh Sarig (Leib Sirkin, born in 1913), one of the founders of “HaPoel” in Lithuania, lives in Israel from 1936 and was sentenced by a British Military Court to 10 years in prison in the famous trial (the Sirkin-Rakhlin Trial) that took place in Eretz-Yisrael in 1943 while the British authorities oppressed the “Haganah” organization. From 1948 Sarig-Sirkin was the general secretary of the Ministry of Defense and during 1953-1966 he was in charge of the organization and the administration of that office. Sarig was one of the founders of the Wingate Institute and a member of its governing council.

 

During World War II and Afterwards

In November 1939, after part of Poland was annexed to the Soviet Union, the Mir Yeshiva was moved to Kedainiai and remained there from the beginning of 1940 until June 1940, when the Russians took control of Lithuania. The Russian authorities scattered the 400 Yeshiva students in small villages in the surrounding areas. 54 members of the Kibbutz Hakhshara “Manof” from Wloclavek also arrived in Kedainiai. Two thirds of them were male, and a third were females; in June, 1941, 30 of them managed to escape from the Germans into the interior of Russia. The other 24 remained in Lithuania and their fate was the same as the fate of the other Jews of Lithuania. In 1940, Kedainiai had a Kibbutz Hakhshara with about 50 members from “HaShomer HaTzair” who escaped from Poland, mainly from Warsaw and Lodz, which were conquered by the Germans. They made their living from various types of labor and also received some aid from the “Joint”. Those among them who survived the war immigrated to Eretz-Yisrael and joined Kibbutz Kefar Menakhem.

In 1940, Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union, becoming a Soviet Republic. The factories in the city, most of which belonged to Jews, and most of the shops were nationalized. All the Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded. The Hebrew educational institutions were closed down. The estates, whose land until then was leased to Jewish farmers, were also nationalized and by the end of 1940 most of them were already without a means of livelihood. One a few were employed in responsible positions in government offices. The supply of goods decreased and as a result prices skyrocketed. The middle class, composed mostly of Jews, suffered a severe setback and its standard of living declined more and more.

In the middle of June, 1941, the Russian authorities expelled to Siberia several dozen Jewish families and also single individuals who were viewed as “unreliable elements”.

On June 24, 1941, two days after the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out, the German army entered Kedainiai. The Lithuanian Nationalists, and especially the intelligentsia, immediately got organized and started looting Jewish property and murdering Jews. Young Jews tried to escape towards Russia. Most of the escapees were murdered on their way or returned to the city. Only a few of them managed to reach their destination. A few of them fought in the ranks of the Lithuanian division of the Red Army.

Right after the Germans entered the city, the first anti-Jewish decrees were announced: Jews must wear a yellow patch; they are forbidden to walk on the sidewalks; they are forbidden to speak with Lithuanians and make contact with them, etc.

The first Jews that were murdered were killed by Lithuanians. They arrested more than 100 Jews, men and women, and on the pretext that they are communists, they were marched through the city only in their underwear. They were murdered in the Babenai Forest, 8 km from the city. The mass grave that was discovered after the war contained 125 corpses of women and men.

A few days later, Jews were taken to do all kinds of labor while being guarded by Lithuanian police. Most of them were forced to work in the airport, in removing bombs that were left by the Soviets. 10 Jews died in the explosions while clearing the bombs. Others worked in agricultural farms in the area. Young Jewish women were taken to work in the German officers' club and were raped there. Acts of killing individual Jews continued non-stop.

On July 23, 1941, the Lithuanians, while being supervised by a number of Germans, loaded 200 Jews on 6 trucks, to take them to work, as it were. But in fact they drove them to the Tevciunai Forest, 10 km from the city, where they shot them and buried them.

A short while later the Jews were ordered to move to the ghetto within 24 hours. The ghetto included the “Shulhoif” and a number of o ther alleys around it. The ghetto was surrounded by barbed wire and was guarded by Lithuanian police. Jews from the nearby villages of Seta and Zeimiai, and among them many refugees who tried to escape eastward, but whose way was blocked, were also brought into that ghetto. It is estimated that in addition to the Jews of Kedainiai, an additional 1000 Jews from other areas were placed in that ghetto.

The Lithuanian mayor of the city levied on the Jews of the ghetto a “contribution” tax of 100 rubles per person. The Jews collected money and jewelry and paid the fine in the hope that it would ease their situation. That hope was shattered very quickly.

On August 15, 1941, the police and the Lithuanian auxiliary police drove the Jews out from their houses in the ghetto and assembled all of them in the courtyard of the synagogue, in the “Shulhoif”. All the men who were above the age of 14 were lined up in rows of 5 and were led to the horse stables in the Totleben Park. Then the women, children, elderly and the ill were brought there by wagons. They were heavily guarded there. Armed Lithuanians used to enter the camp and rob the Jews of their last belongings. The Jews were kept in the intensely overcrowded stables for 13 days without any food. Only a single Jew, Ben-Zion Birger, survived by managing to escape and hide with Lithuanian acquaintances until the day of liberation.

On August 28, 1941 (5 Elul, 5701), 200 armed Lithuanians, policemen and railway workers arrived at the stables. First, they picked the young and strong men and led them in groups of 60 to the Smilga River, about 2 km from the city, where Russian prisoners of war had already dug long and deep ditches. The Jews were forced to undress and descend into the ditches and then they were shot with machine guns. While the Jews were being shot, the Lithuanians turned on the engines of their tractors next to the stables at full throttle so that the prisoners would not hear the machine guns and the screaming of the victims. Lithuanian dignitaries, and among them the mayor of the city, the principal of the gymnasia and the priest, came to watch the “show”.

There were cases when Jews resisted their killers. Tsadok Shlapoberski, the commander of the fire brigade, attacked one of the Germans, pulled him into the ditch and tried to choke him. One of the Lithuanians jumped into the ditch in order to save the German, and Shlapoberski bit him in his throat. The Lithuanian died later from his wounds. Another Jew, who had a knife, injured the throat of one of the killers. Another Jew grabbed one policeman's machine gun, but he didn't know how to use it.

All the women and children were also brutally murdered on that same day in those ditches. The killings continued until evening. Lithuanian farmers from the area were forced to cover the ditches and spread lime on them. The farmers said that blood continue to flow out of the ditches for a long time after the Jews were killed. According to Soviet sources, after the war they found a mass grave with 2,076 corpses of men, women and children.

Only 2 Jewish men survived by hiding in the stables. They roamed the villages until they met partisans in the forests and joined them. Together with the partisans they avenged and killed a few of those who murdered the Jews. Two of them, Israel and Hasia Gel were murdered by Lithuanians a few months after the liberation. The names of the Lithuanian murderers are kept in the Yad Vashem Archives.

After the war, survivors from the community of Kedainai erected memorials at the three murder sites.

In 1959, 24 Jews lived in Kedainiai. In 1970 - 23, in 1979 - 15, and in 1989 - 14. Three of the synagogues that were in the city are being used as warehouses.

According to the 1990 cartographic survey of Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania, two cemeteries were found in the Kedainiai region: one in the village of Juodkaimis, about 12 km southwest of Kedainiai, and the other in the village of Pestiniukai, 600 meters south of the road between Raseiniai and Gudziunai.

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