“Kriukai” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania

56° 18' / 23° 49'

Translation of the “Kriukai (Siauliai)” 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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(Page 616)

Kriukai

In Yiddish, Kruky

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shimon Joffe

A town in the Siauliai county.

Year General
Population
Jews %
1841 219 .. ..
1897 677 450 66
1923 459 184 40

Kriukai lies in the Samogitia district (also known as Zhamut), in northern Lithuania, between the towns Zeimelis and Joniskis, and is 5 km from the Latvian border. The community is mentioned in historic documents dating back to 1586, as a small village. In 1752 a Catholic church was erected there. The town developed greatly during the second half of the 19th century. During this period, the town already had nearly 20 shops and inns, and held markets days. Kriukai served as a county center. During the period of Russian rule (1795-1915) it belonged to the Vilnius administrative province and from 1843 it was included in the Kaunas province. Towards the end of the First World War, it was under Lithuanian Bolshevik rule for a short time.

The Jewish community in Kriukai established itself in the town at the beginning of the 19th century. The Jews lived mainly off petty trading in flax, grains, fruits and livestock with the local peasantry in Lithuania and in neighboring Courland.(Latvia).The religious and social life centered around the Beth Midrash (study house) and other institutions. In the summer of 1884, Kriukai suffered a great fire which burned down the Beth Midrash and all its contents as well as most of the Jewish owned houses, leaving only eight standing. The rabbi officiating at that time, Rabbi Mikhael Wolfson, published an appeal for help in the Ha'melitz. During this period the emigration to the United States and South Africa increased greatly. For a period of time the town rabbi was Rabbi Dov, the son of Shlomo Zalman Kook. During the First World War the Jewish residents were expelled to the interior Russian regions.

Only some of the exiles returned after the War. During the period of Lithuanian independence, the community revived and a primary school was opened, belonging to the religious Yavne educational stream. In 1921 a community council of 5 members was elected within the framework of the Law of Jewish Autonomy. It functioned for a number of years dealing with most aspects of Jewish life.

Because of the severing of the regions in which the Jewish merchants were active in the past, which were now beyond the national borders (Latvia), the Kriukai Jews now found themselves in bad economic straits and as a result, the emigration to countries abroad continued, as also did the immigration to Eretz Yisrael.

The Lithuanian governmental survey of 1931 found that Kriukai had 6 Jewish owned grain businesses, an iron monger and tool shop, a textile shop, a fertilizer business and a flour mill. The Folksbank (peoples' bank) was established in 1921; 42 members were registered in 1937. In 1937 there was only one Jewish artisan in the town-a butcher.

Despite the above, the cultural and social activities continued, though very much reduced. The voting to two Zionist congresses reveals something about the local political activity;

Congress
No
Year No. of
Shekels
Total
Votes
Labor
No
Revis-
ionist
General
Zionists
State
Party
Mizrachi
Z S Zts. A B
18 1933 - 18 4 12 2 - - -
19 1935 - 10 4 - - 2 4 -

In 1939 the town had 29 telephones, only one owned by a Jew, the farmer Shmerl Leizerovich.

During the period of Soviet rule, the religious school was closed, and all Zionist activity banned.

At the end of June1941, Kriukai, was taken by the German forces, as well as the rest of Lithuania. Lithuanian nationalists took power over the town and tormented the Jews, their lifelong neighbors. When the Lithuanian authorities planned to remove the Jews from the town in order to destroy them, as ordered by the Germans, the matter became known to the old priest and two local teachers. They attempted to interfere and to prevent the tragedy, but the murderers deceived them and carried out their murderous plans. In the autumn of 1941, the entire Jewish community the town of Zagare, were murdered together with the other Jews of the neighborhood, on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, O-3/304; 0-33/1261.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 1.8.1884.

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