“Siauliai” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Šiauliai, Lithuania)

55° 56 / 23° 19'

Translation of the “Siauliai” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Josef Rosin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1996


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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 658-672)

Siauliai

Written by Josef Rosin

Translated by Shimon Joffe

In Yiddish, Shavl, (also Shavli)

A district capital in northern Lithuania.

Year General
Population
Jews Percentage
1766 3,699 687 19
1797 3,118 2,757 88
1847 -- 2,565 --
1858 6,886 3,787 60
1897 16,128 6,990* 43
1902 16,968 9,849** 58
1914 23,600 -- --
1923 21,387 5,338*** 25
1940 31,641 6,600 21
1959 59,700 845**** 1.4
1970 92,800 786 0.8

* 3106 males, 3884 females
** 4497 males, 5352 females
*** 2582 males, 2756 females and 22 Jews in region
**** Among them 77.3% Yiddish speakers

Siauliai is the largest city in the Samogitia region in north western Lithuania and is the largest railway junction in the country. The railway connects it with Riga, Liepaja (Libau), Dvinsk, Vilnius, Kaunas, Tilsit, Klaipeda (Memel) and Königsberg (now Kaliningrad). A narrow railway connects Siauliai to Birzai.

Siauliai is mentioned in the chronicles of the Livonian Order of the year 1236, in connection with its war against the Lithuanians. In the 17th century and in the first part of the 18th century, the town suffered from the wars against the Swedes (the Northern War 1710-1715), and from plagues. In 1736 it was granted the Magdeburg Privileges. During the period of Russian rule (1795-1915) the city was first included in the province of Vilnius, and in 1843 – after the province of Kaunas was created – it came under the jurisdiction of the new province. At this period, the town served as a district capital. In 1812, the Napoleonic army conquered the city and 36 out of 220 houses were burnt down.

In the 19th century the city's economy was based on trade in agricultural produce, mainly flax, which were sent to the ports of Riga and Liepaja. From 1825 onwards, the city held an annual fair which lasted a full week. In the years 1836-1858 the St. Petersburg – Königsberg road was paved and in 1871 the Liepaja – Romny railway line was laid. These two important roads passed through Siauliai and accelerated the development of industry and trade in the city and the number of its inhabitants grew.

In 1872 a disastrous fire burnt down a third of the city's houses. Many abandoned it completely destitute. At the beginning of the First World War, in 1915, great battles took place near the city, during which the center of the city was destroyed. At the end of the War, in 1918, the city was under Soviet rule until March 1919. Units of the German army took the city and handed it over to the Independent Lithuanian government later on. From December that year until 1940 Siauliai served as a district center in Independent Lithuania. This status was preserved later as well, during the period of Soviet rule and under Nazi hegemony.

 

The Jewish community until after the First World War

Society and economy

Jews settled in Siauliai in the second half of the 17th century. At the time of the existence of the Jewish autonomous body, 'The Council of Lithuania' (1623-1764), Siauliai was part of the Kedainiai region. During the time of the pogroms (1648-1649), when thousands of Jews perished at the hands of the Khmelnytsky bands in Poland and the Ukraine, many refugees arrived in Samogitia (Zhamut) region. A few of them settled in Siauliai. From 1681 Jews lived in the city after receiving special permission to do so. Officially, the Jewish settlement took place only in 1701, when a local Jew called Uri Tadorovitz received an official charter which permitted Jews to settle in Siauliai, to build a synagogue and to buy a field for a cemetery. These rights were not used and the community remained small. In 1721 the Jews were given permission to build houses on church land and in 1731 the city lord granted them permission to found a community, to build a synagogue and to purchase a lot for a cemetery. After that the community began to grow. In 1775 the city became a regional center with self-rule and the Jews were given the right to appoint their own judges with the right to rule in accordance with the laws in matters of conflict among themselves. A similar right was given also to the local rabbi. The Jews also had the right to appeal to a higher court.

In 1665 the Swedish armies invaded Samogitia, imposed heavy taxes on Siauliai and rioted against the Jews. During the 'Northern War', while passing through Siauliai the Swedes robbed the small Jewish community and left them destitute.

In 1812 the Jews suffered from Napoleon's armies as they invaded the city and also from the Tsar's army as it retook the city after the retreat of the French.

During the Polish revolt, in 1831, the Jews found themselves between the hammer and the anvil. After the revolt, their economic and political situation improved. In 1839 the authorities published a regulation which allowed the Jews to participate in the elections to the town council; the intention was to weaken the Polish influence. During the Polish revolt of 1863, which was suppressed by the Russians, the situation of the Jews was also the same and they suffered many casualties.

As the representative of the Jewish community vis-à-vis the authorities, the council was responsible for paying all the taxes and imposts laid upon the Jews. It was also responsible for delivering the required number of recruits for the Russian army. This opened the door to a great deal of corruption; those who dealt with this matter were often open to bribery.

In the years of the famine (1843-1845) the community received a loan from the government to be used to finance food for the hungry. Later, the council was unable to repay the money and to pay the annual poll tax. The government demanded repayment of the debts including interest and as a result the Jewish population was impoverished and many left the city. In the years 1867-1869 hunger again ruled in the homes as a result of climatic changes. The crops failed for two years running. The situation of the Jews, who suffered greatly from the famine, was eased somewhat thanks to the assistance extended them by the committee organized under the leadership of the rabbi of Kaunas, Rabbi Yitskhak Elkhanan. Most of the money sent to the committee came from the well to do in Klaipeda and Königsberg with Rabbi Dr. Yitskhak Rilf at their head.

In 1861 Siauliai suffered a blood libel. The trial, in which the accused Jew was eventually vindicated and freed, lasted five years. Sundry plots against the Jews, such as the murder of Christian children or poisoning of wells continued to be bruited about for years thereafter.

During the years 1630-1893 Siauliai suffered plagues 7 times, in which hundreds of Jews died. The reason, it appears, lay in contaminated water. It was only after the plague in 1893 that the town council dug 3 deep artesian wells which supplied the citizens with clean water.

The city's Jews also suffered from fires. In 1872 a fire broke out in Siauliai and about 700 people lost their possessions. Another fire in 1884 burnt down some 50 Jewish homes.

Until the middle of the 19th century the Jews made a livelihood of petty trade, peddling, carting, etc. Jews also owned inns, livery stables and taverns. Most of the Jews had sparse incomes and lived under difficult conditions. The trade in spirits, unlimited until 1850, became a governmental monopoly after 1897 and many Jews lost their livelihood. A governmental order in 1840, ordering the expulsion of Jews from the villages, and the order of 1850, expelling them also from the towns close to the German border, was a heavy blow to the Siauliai community as many of the exiles found shelter in the city and competed economically with the local Jewish residents. The result was a further deepening of the poverty and need in the community.

After Tsar Alexander the Second took the throne in 1855, the situation of the Jewish community in Siauliai improved. The government forgave the community the repayment of the loans granted during the famine years, as well as the taxes and imposts the community owed the authorities; the decree expelling the Jews from the frontier villages was canceled and the Jews who had lived there before 1858 were permitted to return to their previous homes as permanent residents. In the following years trade and industry began to flourish in the town. The paving of the St. Petersburg - Berlin road, and later the laying of the Liepaja – Romny railway line, contributed to the general welfare. In 1877 Haim Frenkel (1857-1920) built a small hide-dressing plant in Siauliai, which expanded within a few years to become one of the largest in Russia. Thousands of Jewish and gentile families earned a living from the plant. In 1905, in the World Exhibition in Paris, the plant won a gold medal.

In the years 1894 and 1898, Ragolin, S. Horonzhitsky and the Nurok brothers built additional hide-dressing plants in Siauliai. In 1882 Iserlis built a tobacco and cigarette plant in the town. In 1879, Z. Ziv founded a plant for the production of soap and later two more such plants were built, belonging to M. Shapira and to M. Edlstein. Over the years Jews built plants for the processing of flax, iron casting, beer, chocolate and candies (the Cohen Brothers), etc. Great mercantile houses were established to deal in the export of flax, hides and grains.

The field of craft work too, was largely in Jewish hands. In 1903 the city had 1723 artisans in various crafts, 80% of them Jews. At the end of the 19th century there were Jews in Siauliai who leased cows from the estate owners and made butter and cheese from the milk.

Five Jewish financial institutions existed at the time: 3 private banks, (B.Z. Kagan, the brothers Khoronzhizky and Nurok), a credit union, and the Loan and Savings Fund.

In the eighties of the 19th century, consequent to the pogroms which affected the Ukrainian Jewry in particular, mass immigration began of Russian Jewry to the United States. Although the Jews in Lithuania and the ones in the Samogitia region did not suffer pogroms, mass immigration began from this area as well, mostly to South Africa. Hundreds of Jews went to South Africa and succeeded there. There were some who returned wealthy and opened various businesses in the home the city.

In the First World War, the German army conquered Siauliai on April 1, 1915, but after a few weeks they were forced to retreat and Cossack regiments returned to the city. They acted like a conquering army and the Jews were the main sufferers. A few days before the festival of Shavuoth (Pentecost) 1915, the army authorities published an order for the Jews to leave the town within 24 hours. The excuse given was that the Jews were spying for the Germans. The Jews left the town in horse drawn carts or railways, leaving behind most of their possessions, and moved east into Russia. A few days before the eviction, young and healthy men were taken to dig trenches a few kilometers outside the town. When they returned, their families had gone. Many were separated from their relatives for many years.

Before the German army took Siauliai again, in the summer of 1915, the retreating Russian army burnt down the center of city where most of the Jews lived. Only a few dozen houses survived. During the period of the German rule which continued until 1918, Jews who had escaped the eviction order in the neighboring towns settled in Siauliai. Jews also arrived from the Vilnius province, escaping famine and forced labor. At the beginning of 1916, there were 115 Jewish families totaling some 520 souls there. Approximately half were originally Siauliai residents.

 

Education and Culture

Until the middle of the 19th century, most Jewish children were taught in crowded Kheders – 20-30 children in a small place. In 1840 an association called 'Kneh Binah' (acquire wisdom) was founded and it lasted for some 25 years. Its aim was to spread education among the Jews.

During the reign of Alexander the Second, attempts were made to inculcate general education to the Jewish youth, in addition to the study of Holy Writ. In 1853 a “Government School for Hebrews” opened in the city. The founder and teacher was Eliezer Epstein. The poet I. L. Gordon who lived in Siauliai in the years 1860-1865, founded a Jewish state school, which became a girls' school. In 1879 the government opened a primary school, but only a few parents sent their children there because of the opposition of the ultra orthodox. The children of the wealthy and of the maskilim, studied at the Russian high school, active from 1851. In 1899 it had 386 students, 44 of them Jews.

Ms. Dr Samet started, at that time, courses for adults, given once a week, where Russian, mathematics and history were taught. For lack of space, only 110 were accepted out of 200 applicants between the ages of 16-25.

In 1887 a trade school was opened for poor Jewish children. In 1894 a Hebrew primary school for girls was opened at the initiative of the teacher Ash (Abramson). The school received support from the city administration which funded it from the meat tax. Girls from well to do families studied in the Russian pre-high school of 3 grades, which had opened in 1869, and then in the high school. The Jews participated in the erection of the building and the municipality allocated a reasonable sum for upkeep out of the meat tax income. In the first year, 280 students registered at the school, among them 152 Jewish girls. Over the years their number was limited in accordance with government policy until a small percentage remained. In 1889, 386 girls studied at the school, only 44 of them Jewish.

In 1908, A. Goldstein opened a Hebrew school for girls where they were taught Bible, history, Hebrew, etc. In the same year, a branch of the 'Khevrat Mefitsei Haskala' was opened, whose center was in St. Petersburg.

In 1889 a fine two-story building was erected for the Talmud Torah with the help of donations made by the Frenkel and Khoronzhitzky families. In 1906, a book shop was opened by H. Broza where Hebrew publications could also be found.

 

Religion and Welfare

In 1748, a Jewish cemetery was established on land bought by R. Yisrael Nurok. Until then, the Jews buried their dead in the nearby towns of Siaulenai and Lygumai. A synagogue too was built in 1749. It was an imposing wooden structure with high stained-glass windows and a wooden Holy Ark artistically carved. The building had excellent acoustics and at the southern wall stood large copper candelabra with decorated arms. As mentioned above, Siauliai belonged at the time to the Kedainiai region within the framework of the 'Lithuanian Jewish Council' and the region's rabbi did not permit the building of solid walls for the synagogue, arguing that the community was too small to meet the expense of the building and that it would take too long to build and therefore permitted the erection of a wooden structure only. This synagogue survived until the First World War when it was burnt down.

A great study house was erected in 1898 as a solid two floor building, with stained glass windows facing east and a high dome. On Saturdays and festivals the place was crowded with worshippers when they came to hear the prayers and paeans of joy sung by the cantor and choir. During the weekdays Gemara lessons were given in the study house. In the adjoining “Shtibel” (smaller synagogue) “Hayei Adam” and “Ein Yaakov” (collections of halakha and of Aggadic material in the Talmud) were studied. The study house was burnt down during the War.

Yeshiva students and Prushim (seclusives) studied the Talmud and Poskim (rulings) day and night in the Landkremer (shopkeepers') Kloyz (synagogue).The worshipers in this Kloyz were considered more religious. A few years before the outbreak of the First World War, a Yeshiva was founded at the initiative of the scholarly merchant Reb Meir-Yitskhak Yudelewich. The brothers Nurok built a two-story solid building for the Yeshiva. This building too was destroyed during the War.

The shopkeepers' Kloyz was a solid one-story building, splendidly ornamented inside with paintings on subjects such as the Western Wall and Rachel's Tomb, and verses from the holy books. Among the worshippers were many of the important and leading men of the community. 

The “Kloyz of Khevrat Tehilim” (the Psalm League), was erected in 1909 in a magnificent building which was also destroyed in the war. “Khevrat Magidei Tehilim” (the Psalm Readers' League) was associated with the synagogue.

The “Alsheikh Kloyz” was a two story solid building, erected by the activists Reb Benyamin Leib Desatnik and Reb Zalman-Yitskhak Gadilowich paid for by donations made by the worshippers. Jews of all social strata studied there regardless of class or profession. It too was destroyed in the War and only ruined walls remained.

With the increase in the number of Hassidim in Siauliai, which reached 100, the “Minyan Hassidim” (Quorum of Hassids) was formed. The Simchat Torah celebrations were attended by great Jewish crowds including many “Mithnagdim” (anti-Hassidim).

The ”Frenkel Kloyz” was founded by Haim Frenkel at the town's edge, near his factory. It was a modern one-story building, which enabled the Jews living in that quarter to participate in public worship as the other synagogues were far away. At the other end of town stood the “Heshel Kloyz”, a low wooden structure with small windows and walls blackened by soot. The poor of the parish prayed there and within its walls Psalms were recited and “Hayei Adam” studied.

In addition to the above, there were “Kloyzes” for the shoemakers, the tailors, the carters, the butchers, the gravediggers and the “Kneh Bina” Kloyz. Men of wealth prayed in all those synagogues alongside Torah scholars and everywhere all studied Gemara (Talmud) and Mishna. Near the old aged home, the wealthy A. Cohen erected a beautiful solid building for the synagogue, which had outside worshipers in addition to the residents, including respectable home owners and distinguished persons. This building too was destroyed during the war.

In 1909, a Yeshiva was established in the town. The main donor was a Lithuanian Jew from Moscow named Shlomo Gotz. Eighty people studied there, including some adults.

Among the rabbis serving the community at that time were: Rabbi Yekhezkel Luntz (from 1749 until his death); Rabbi Yitskhak-Issac Rabinowitz, native of the city, author of the works “Divrei Yitshak” (“Isaac's Sayings”, Piotrkow, 1855), “Atereth Yitshak” (“Isaac's Crown”, Jerusalem,1861) and others; Rabbi Josef Zakharia Stern, (from 1861 until his death in 1903), author of the works with commentaries on biblical books, Vilnius 1874), “Zecher Yehosef” (Vilnius 1898) and many other works; Rabbi Meir Atlas (served from 1905 to his death in 1926).

The rabbi appointed by the authorities was Rabbi Abraham-Abba Abelson, who published many articles in “HaMelitz” about the life of the Jews in Siauliai.

During the period Rabbi Luntz officiated, 22 Jews requested the city authorities to abrogate the authority of the rabbi and the “Kahal” (Jewish autonomous council), on the grounds that the latter were extorting the last coin from the Jews and enriching themselves. They argued that the above profited from the services they rendered to the community, such as butchering, Brith Mila and funerals, and that the synagogue did not need a rabbi and it was possible to manage without one. The letter created much dissention within the community and things even came to blows. The “Kahal” institutions took measures against the disturbers of community unity such as delaying weddings, Brith Mila, funerals as, well as economic measures.

In 1881, due to the rampant high cost of living at that time, Jewish activists organized the opening of a free food kitchen for the poor, open to all without regard to religious affiliation. The authorities assisted the scheme with monies from the meat tax (Korobka). The Kitchen fed the needy bean soup daily and twice a week supplied bread and meat as well. Jews collected money and sold bread cheaply to the poor.

In 1891 a Jewish hospital with 12 beds was established in a wooden building. 3 Jewish doctors were called to tend to the sick. With the intercession of the maskil Reb Eliezer Efrati a grant of money was made from the meat tax to build a new hospital. In 1897 a solid two-story building was raised, with 24 beds for ordinary patients and another 10 beds for contagious diseases. The building also had an operating theater, a clinic and a pharmacy. The “Bikur Kholim” society was active in supplying medicines and money to poor patients. The old hospital building was converted into an old age home for 16 men and women.

Siauliai activists built a solid two-story hostel which served beggars who traveled from town to town collecting alms. It also served more honorable guests, such as yeshiva representatives and preachers. The town also had an orphanage with a few dozen orphans.

The “Linat Tsedek” charitable society, named after the Rabbi Josef-Zekharia, supplied necessary equipment to the sick and medicines to the needy without payment. The society members would spend the night, in pairs, with the sick in order to alleviate the strain on the other members of the family. A splendid banquet was held annually, for men and women separately, where the directors would report on the society's work during the previous year.

In 1867 the “Somekh Noflim” society (a loan charitable society) was founded, which made interest-free loans to the needy with weekly repayments.

In the 1880's, wealthy women founded the “Women's League” in the city. Its aim was to support poor women trading in the market and poor women after giving birth. At the same time, the “Gemilut Khesed” society was founded to make interest-free loans to any needy person against a pawn. A solid building was also built for the society with an office and a store room for the goods. The society “Ma'akhal Kasher” (kosher food) was also active in the city to provide kosher meals to Jewish soldiers stationed there.

In 1893, when a cholera plague hit the town, Jewish women organized the voluntary delivery of hot tea to anyone requiring it from six o'clock in the morning until evening. Money for the project was raised from the sale of tickets to a great fete held in the city.

 

Zionist and Other Activities

The “Khibat Zion” association had adherents in Siauliai from the very start. The list of “Volunteers for our Colonialist Brothers in the Holy Land” contained names of 8 residents from Siauliai. In 1884, 75 pictures of Moshe Montefiori were sold, to raise money for the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael. In 1895, local youths founded the league 'Khovevei Sfat Hakodesh” (“Lovers of the Holy Language”) and opened a library. They also gave lectures in Hebrew. In 1896, the “Zionist League” was founded in Siauliai, and in 1899, in the congress of the Russian Zionists in the Vilnius and Kaunas regions, which took place in Vilnius with the participation of 71 delegates from 51 towns and communities, there was also a delegate from Siauliai. A delegate from Siauliai participated also in the congress of the Zionist Leagues from the Kaunas and Suwalki regions, which took place in 1909. In the list of donors for the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael for 1909 there are 70 names of Jews from Siauliai.

In 1903 a branch of the Mizrakhi called “Sha'arei Zion” (the Gates to Zion) was founded in the city. “Agudat Yisrael” was also active in the city and in the list of donors in 1913, the names of 38 Siauliai Jews appear. Siauliai Zionists founded the “Zamir” Association, which organized literary events and musical evenings.

Among the founders of Petakh Tikvah was Siauliai-born Yitzkhak-Tsvi Shapira, the father of the well-known Avraham Shapira, chief of the Shomrim and a leader of the “Haganna”. Siauliai-born Avraham-Ze'ev Gordon was among the early settlers in Rechovot at the end of the 19th century, and another Siauliai-born, Arieh Rapoport, was among the first in Kfar Saba, a member of the local council and of the Agricultural Committee. In 1906, T. Dunia emigrated to Eretz Yisrael from Siauliai, and established factories. Acting as a contractor, he built many buildings at Hadar HaCarmel in Haifa, and the post office building in Jerusalem.

The Bund (Jewish Socialist Party), active until the First World War, found fertile ground among the hundreds of laborers and artisans working in the industrial plants and workshops in Siauliai. During 1897-1900 the local Bund, under the jurisdiction of the Kaunas branch, fomented strikes of the tanning workers in the town. In 1904 the Bund organized a demonstration of 300 Jewish workers in the city to protest the pogrom which had taken place in Bialystok.

 

During the period of Lithuanian Independence

Society and Economy

With the close of the War and the creation of Independent Lithuania, some of those banished during the time of Russian rule began to return to the city.

Upon their return they found most of the houses, synagogues and community institutions in ruins. Some of the exiles had died in exile or had been murdered in pogroms in the Ukraine. The returnees came back penniless, hungry and some even sick. Within a short time, assistance began to arrive from relatives in South Africa and the United States. The 'Joint' also contributed greatly to the rehabilitation of housing and Jewish businesses. Instead of the ruined houses, new streets appeared with modern solid buildings, and trade and industry began to flourish.

In accordance with the Law of Jewish Autonomy, a community council was elected consisting of 25 members: 4 General Zionists, 6 Zionist Youth, 5 Labor, 4 Mizrakhi, 4 Artisans, 1 Independent and 1 undefined. The council functioned between the years 1919-1926, through sub-committees, in most aspects of Jewish life in the city. There were committees that dealt with matters of economy, social work, orphanage, refugees, the public bath house, religious affairs, slaughter, taxes and child care, etc. After the council was abolished, the Ezra Company took over its functions, which received three fifths of its budget from the municipality. Additional income came from property, membership fees, slaughter tax and others. With its assistance, the orphanage continued its activities as did the old age home and others. The Ezra Company possessed a building in the city center with 6 rooms devoted to public, religious and national activity. The Ezra Company had a 20 member governing board, and a 7 member active directorate. During the mid-thirties, efforts were made to restore to it the rights of the community council. The Ezra Company was headed by Ber Abramowitz.

In the elections to the first Seimas, in October 1922, the Jews of Siauliai voted as follows: for the Zionist' list – 1,279 votes, for the Democrats – 258, forAkhdut (Agudat Yisrael) – 109.

Two Jewish lists participated in the elections to the municipal council in 1934. Five Jews out of a total of 21 council members were elected: the advocate Shwartz, Wolpe, Kantin, Gurewitz and Frenkel. In the previous council there were 6 Jews. In the next elections the number fell to 4 Jews, and the percentage of Jews having the vote fell from 21.4% to 18.7% out of the total voters list. For nearly 20 years a Jew (Shmuel Petukhowsky) served as deputy mayor, and he was of great help to the community. However, not a single Jew could be found among the 150 municipal workers, and there were only 11 Jews among the 800 state employees.

During this period, Jews lived off retail and wholesale trade, industry and craftwork. Siauliai had hundreds of Jewish laborers and clerks.

A couple of years after the close of the War, the great tanning plant belonging to Haim Frenkel (see above) reopened. In 1926, a shoe factory (Batas) was opened near it, and the products were sent to 24 branches scattered throughout Lithuania for sale. The Nurok plant also restarted its activity, but after a few years went into bankruptcy. A few hundred families were badly affected by its closure. Under Jewish initiative, a textile factory was opened in Siauliai, as well as plants for aluminum production, nails, furniture, silicon bricks, oil paints, (Star), beer, medicines and chemicals (Galen), a large flour mill, a plant to work flax (Zakhlin) and others. These plants employed hundreds of workers and clerks, both Jews and non-Jews. Jewish merchants dealt in export of agricultural produce such as eggs, to England, Germany and Czechoslovakia. They employed buyers, laborers, egg-carton makers, box makers, packers, clerks, etc.

In 1925 the town had 10 doctors, 8 dentists and 4 Jewish dental technicians.

The drought in Lithuania in 1926 affected the Jewish merchants economically and many were forced to rely on public assistance.

A survey conducted by the Lithuanian government in 1931 showed that there were 330 businesses in Siauliai, 249 of these were owned by Jews (75%). The detailed breakdown is shown in the table below:

Branch or Type of Business Total Owned
by Jews
Groceries 35 25
Grains and flax 21 19
Butcheries and trade in livestock 32 21
Restaurants and taverns 26 11
Trade in foodstuffs 16 10
Beverages 2 1
Milk and dairy products 5 3
Clothes, furs and textiles 33 31
Leather and shoes 25 23
Tobacco and cigarettes 9 8
Haberdashery and household 18 18
Medicines and cosmetics 10 7
Watches and jewelry 3 3
Radio, bicycles, sewing machines 5 3
Tools, ironware 14 10
Building materials and furniture 9 6
Timber, heating materials 9 6
Machinery, land transport 6 3
Paper, books, writing materials 11 5
Various 42 34

According to the same survey, Siauliai had 215 small scale industries, of which 119 belonged to Jews (55%), as detailed below:

Sector Total Jewish
Owned
Metals, machinery, sheet metal, metal workshops, power plants 16 7
Cement products, headstones, bricks, glass 9 5
Chemical industry: methylated spirits, soap, oil, cosmetics 14 11
Textile industry: linen, wool, linen, spinning, dying, knitting 20 13
Timber industry: timber mills, furniture, tar production 12 2
Paper industry: printing, binding, cardboard 8 6
Food industry: mills, bakeries, beverages, candy and chocolate, sausages, sugar, syrups, chicory 57 29
Clothing and shoes: sewing workshops, furs, millinery, shoes 31 16
Leather industry: production, harness makers, barbers, bristles, photographic studios, jewelers 43 25

Siauliai had, at that time, 220 Jewish artisans with their own union. The union operated a loan fund and provided cheap medical service for its members.

A few dozen Jewish families remained in the neighboring villages, who worked in agriculture.

According to a survey conducted in 1937, the city had 173 Jewish artisans: 45 tailors, 20 shoemakers, 15 painters, 12 barbers, 12 butchers, 8 sheet metal workers, 6 hatters, 5 bakers, 5 furriers, 4 knitters, 4 photographers, 4 watchmakers, 3 glaziers, 3 smiths, 3 girdle fitters, 3 seamstresses, 3 shoe making workers, 2 oven builders, an electrician, a maker of felt boots, a dry cleaner, a book binder, a carpenter, a cloth dyer, a goldsmith and 8 others.

In 1934 Siauliai had 21 doctors, of whom 16 were Jews; 12 dental technicians, 7 of these Jewish; 10 midwives, 3 being Jewish; 6 pharmacists, 3 Jewish; of 10 paralegals, 5 were Jewish; of 9 lawyers, 3 were Jewish.

As elsewhere, a branch of the Jewish popular bank (Folksbank) was established in Siauliai. In 1920 it had 167 members; in 1927 it had 339 members, and in 1929 – 498 members. The bank went through deep crises in the early 1930s because of a huge embezzlement it had suffered. Thanks to help from the Association of Folksbanks, where a representative of Siauliai sat as well, the bank managed to recover and filled an important role in the economic life of the local Jewry. From 1923, a mutual credit union was active in city, which had 125 members.

The crisis which Lithuania went through in the 1930's and the open propaganda carried on by the Lithuanian merchants Association (Verslas) against purchasing from Jews undermined the livelihood of many of the city's Jews. The evil atmosphere emanating from neighboring Germany also had an effect and the situation of the city's Jews became ever more difficult. Many emigrated abroad. A strong organization of Siauliai Jews existed in South Africa.

During this period there were anti Semitic outbursts and economic sanctions against the Jews. Over the years a struggle took place over kosher slaughter and over the signs which also had Hebrew letters. In 1934 a few Lithuanian gangs attacked the 'Zionist Youth' house and the training kibbutz of the 'General Zionist Pioneers'. 6 young men and women were badly injured. A great deal of property was destroyed in both places. The formal announcement suggested that the Jews were at fault. Gang members also attacked Jews in the streets. In 1938, a Lithuanian maid accused her employers, with whom she had quarreled, of plotting to kill her and use the blood in Matza baking. Only quick intervention of the police prevented a pogrom taking place. In early 1939 windows were broken in Jewish homes and Jews were attacked in the streets. The authorities imposed heavy taxes on the Jewish merchants and this caused great bitterness and protests. One of the means used to impair Jewish livelihood was the plan to move the city market to another location, around which most of the Jewish shops were placed. Despite the struggle, which went on for years, the market was relocated to the new place on January 1, 1938. In 1939 Siauliai had 820 telephone subscribers, 352 of whom were Jews.

 

Education and Culture

During this period the Talmud Torah was turned into a religious Hebrew school, which was headed by Rabbi R Pinkhas Hofenberg. On average, it had 400 pupils. Its graduates were accepted into the fourth grade in the gymnasia. The institution of a traditional Kheder no longer existed, although the Ultra Orthodox founded a modern Kheder, with Rabbi Alexander Lipkin at its head. It mostly served the children of the poor, who had difficulty in paying the school fees. In the last years, the Kheder competed with the religious Hebrew school mentioned above. A number of Hebrew schools belonging to the “Tarbut” network were active in the city. Many children studied in the preparatory classes of the Hebrew high school and then moved on to the general high school. It was founded in 1920. In the mid thirties it moved to a fine building in the center of city, especially built for it. In addition to formal classes, various activities took place in the afternoon. Annual public festivals took place in the large hall, distinguished by a high artistic standard. Zionist activity was actively carried on in the school. Most of the students belonged to Zionist youth movements. From 1936 onwards students were forbidden to belong to any movement outside the school and instead a student body named “Aliyah” was formed. It was active in three areas: physical culture, spiritual culture and matters concerning Eretz Yisrael. Many of the students and graduates of the high school immigrated to Eretz Yisrael and joined kibbutzim (Afikim, Givat Brenner, Beit Zera, Daphna, and others) as well as other places. The Hebrew language, which was used initially to teach all subjects, was slowly eliminated from the curriculum over the years as a result of the policy of the Lithuanian Ministry of Education, which demanded that more and more subjects be taught in Lithuanian.

Among the headmasters of the gymnasia who had contributed to its success, were; Dr. Meir Broza, the first headmaster until 1924, Dr. Josef Berger, who directed the school between the years 1924-1935 and brought the best teachers; the last headmaster was Mordekhai Rudnik, who directed the high school until its dissolution by order of the Soviet authorities in 1940. A Hebrew kindergarten existed alongside the high school.

Siauliai also had a school whose language of instruction was Yiddish, with an average enrolment of 300 students. It also had a kindergarten. These were supported by the organization 'Libhober fun Vissen' (lovers of knowledge). The city also had a religious high school belonging to the “Yavne” educational framework.

Each school had a library for the students. The city had two more large libraries, one belonging to the Zionists and the other to the Yiddishists.

In the early twenties, ”Ort” opened a school to teach carpentry and a school to teach sewing to girls. The students were mostly orphans. The institution, which existed until 1925, provided the students with food and clothes as well. In 1931 “Ort” opened a three year technical school with departments teaching metal work and woman's dress making. In 1937 the sewing school for girls reopened.

The “Zamir” Association, founded before the First World War, continued its cultural activities during this period. An orchestra was started alongside the Zamir under the direction of Karpeles. Many Jews attended the government theater in city. Occasionally Jewish theaters came to Siauliai from Kaunas, among them the “Hebrew Studio”.

In 1924 a Yiddish newspaper, Di Zeit (The Times) made its appearance in Siauliai.

 

Religion and Welfare

The Jews who had returned from exile in Russia began anew to erect prayer halls in place of those that had been burnt and were destroyed in the War. The great synagogue, of which only the walls had remained standing, was rebuilt and sumptuously refurbished inside and lit up with hundreds of electric lamps. The Holy Ark, donated by I. Frenkel in memory of his father, was artistically carved by a craftsman. 'The Kloyz of the Psalms Society', of which only the walls remained standing, was raised again thanks to the donation made by Rabbi Itzkhak Farkin. 'Kloyz Dikneh Bina' (the Gain Knowledge Synagogue), which too, was in ruins with only the walls left standing, was rebuilt into a one-story solid building holding the orphanage. In 1936 it had 35 children in its care. A plan for the erection of a new building for the orphanage was prepared. The other prayer halls which had been destroyed or damaged during the War were also restored and again used for prayers and Torah study. The 'Little Yeshiva' renewed its activities under the supervision of Rabbi Nisan Levitan, and functioned until 1928.

The rabbis officiating during the above period were; Rabbi Meir Atlas (until 1926), A.I. Nakhumovsky (from 1930) and the last rabbi of the community –Rabbi Aaron Baksht, who was murdered in the Shoah by Lithuanians.

The hospital, directed by Dr. A. Pik, and the other welfare institutions, continued their activities. The old aged home, previously located in the hospital building which had burnt down, was moved to the girls school building, which had added a new wing and increased its absorption capacity. The “Ezra” Company, which was responsible for these institutions, founded, among others, the society, 'Bread for the Poor' in order to eradicate the begging from door to door. 84 families, who had lived by begging, were now supported by the society. The welfare societies of “Bikur Holim”, “Linat Tsedek”, “Gemilut Hesed”, “Maot Hitim”, and others, continued to function and were of great value.


From 1922, the “OZE” Federation was active in Siauliai, whose main objective was caring for the health of Jewish school children. In 1923 the Federation opened eye and dental clinics treating thousands of children. The Federation sent weak children to summer camps and in 1934 opened a regular camp. “OZE” also held a series of lectures and an information campaign in schools about health and hygiene. In 1924 23% of the association's budget was covered by the centre in Kaunas, 43% came from municipal support and the rest from membership fees.

 

Zionist and other activities

Most of the Jews of Siauliai belonged to the Zionist camp and wide-ranging activity took place in support of the national funds. Most of the Zionist parties had local branches: “Mizrakhi”, General Zionists, Revisionists, “WIZO” and Zionist Socialists. The latter functioned under the name “The Educational Society in the name of Nakhman Sirkin”, and it operated an evening school.

In 1920-1921 a group of Hekhalutz members from Siauliai immigrated to Eretz Yisrael and joined the “Gdud Ha'avoda.” Most of the members worked in the Jerusalem quarry and later in the Caesarea and Afulah sand dunes. In time, the group disbanded, and its members settled in many settlements and some were among the founders of moshav Giv'at Khen.

In 1924, the local Immigration Fund decided to raise money to enable 10 pioneers to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael. During the twenties, dozens of Siauliai Jews purchased plots of land in the Haifa Bay area.

The voting pattern in the elections to the Zionist congresses during the twenties and thirties is given in the following table:

Congress
Nr.
Year Total
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
Revisionists General
Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrachi
Z”S Z”Z A B
14 1925 114 - - - - - - - -
15 1927 411 128 7 46 13 94 - - 22
16 1929 778 277 28 27 61 134 - - 27
17 1931 550 294 105 20 129 118 - - 22
18 1933 .. 798 548 152 193 - 56 29
19 1935 .. 1,140 754 - 82 204 138 222

The Zionist youth was organized in the HeKhalutz , the HaShomer Hatzair, Beytar (from 1929), HaPoel HaMizrakhi, Gordonia (50 members), HaNoar HaTzioni, and Bnei Akiva. HeKhalutz (Amal). Training farms existed within the city and in the vicinity as well as ones belonging to the youths of Agudat Yisrael. The HeKhalutz had a carpentry co-operative and a small candy plant. Sport activities were conducted by a branch of Maccabi, with 89 members, and by HaPoel.

In addition to the Zionist groups active in the city, there were also branches of Agudat Yisrael, Agudat Yisrael Youth, Folkspartei and craftsmen unions, all of whom were active participants in the life of the community. A number of Jews belonged to the Communist camp.

The Frenkel factory fire brigade operated in the town. Most of its members were Jews. A branch of the organization of the Jewish “Veterans of the Lithuanian War of Independence” existed in the town as well. The branch had a club house with a reading room where lectures were given on occasion. It also had a drama circle.

Among natives of Siauliai were: Josef-Eliezer Epstein (1821-1875), educator and author; Yakov-Zvi Sobol, (1831-1913), among the early Hebrew and Yiddish littérateurs in the United States; Avraham-Baruch Rein (1877-1941), a rabbi and author in the United States, and educational adviser to the government; Tuvia Danzig (born 1884), professor of mathematics at Columbia and John Hopkins universities; Viktor Brenner (1871-1024), sculptor and designer, who designed medals and coins in the United States; Refael-Shlomo Gotz (died 1929), philanthropist, purchased the land for the Yavne settlement in Eretz Yisrael, donated towards the establishment of the “Mizrakhi” Teachers' Seminar in Jerusalem. He left money to the Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael; Gregory Gershuni (1872-1908), a revolutionary, member of the Social Revolutionaries; Dr. Shlomo Khoronzhitzki (1877-1908), an attorney and community activist, a member of the Zionist center and chairman of the “Historic-Ethnographic Society of Lithuanian Jewry”; Mikhael Tzimkovski, (1861-1928), attorney and community activist; Avram Leib (1896-?), a leader of the “Jewish Communist Party” in the Soviet Union, arrested in1948 and his subsequent fate is unknown; Dov Shilanski (born 1924), attorney, a commander of the “Etzel” (“The Irgun”) in Europe, a member of the Israeli Knesset from 1977, Speaker of the 12th Knesset; Esther Kal (born 1930), author, a past member of editorial board of children's weekly “Haaretz Shelanu”; David Pur, a senior official in the Israeli Ministry of Education; David Golan, professor of history at Haifa University.

 

During the Second World War and its Aftermath

After the annexation of Klaipeda (Memel), in 1939, many Jews from there came and settled in Siauliai. After the division of Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union in the winter of 1939, many refugees came to Siauliai, among them Khalutzim from various kibbutz training farms. At the beginning of 1940 a “HeKhalutz” training farm for some 120 Khalutzim was organized.

After the annexation of Lithuania to the Soviet Union in 1940, industrial plants in the city were nationalized, mostly belonging to Jews, as well as most of the shops were nationalized. Houses larger than 220 sq. m. were also nationalized. Due to the shortage of goods, prices rose and the middle class, mostly Jewish, suffered greatly in an ever diminishing standard of living.

All the Zionist parties and youth movements, including the training farms, were dissolved. Hebrew educational institutions were closed. The Hebrew school became “Jewish Public School No. 8”. The Hebrew high school became “High School No. 3.” and was managed by the communist Noah Matzkievitz, who was also elected to be a member of the People's Seimas. The trade school “ORT”, became “Crafts State School No. 2.” In the process of exiling “unreliable elements,” conducted by the Soviet security authorities, many Jews were included, among them Zionists, businessmen whose businesses had been nationalized and so on. Some of them such as Isaac Levitan, leader of the local Beytar branch, were exiled to Siberia and other remote places in the Soviet Union.

The German army entered Siauliai on June 26, 1941, four days after the German army invaded the Soviet Union. Crowds of armed Lithuanian nationalists, wearing white ribbons on their sleeves enter the city together with the German army. Just two days earlier, Soviet security personnel shot a couple of veteran Jewish Communists accusing them of causing panic. These Jews had only asked the Soviet town commander to put a train at the disposal of the Jews, as he had done for the officials of the regime. Many hundreds of local Jews managed to escape to the Soviet Union. In the first days of the war, hundreds of refugees from the neighboring towns and villages reached the city, mainly from Taurage. 50 Jewish children from Siauliai were at the summer camp in Palanga. After a few weeks of hunger and misery, fear and danger they were brought to Siauliai.

Even at the very beginning of the German invasion the Lithuanians arrested Jews according to listings, and incarcerated them in the local prison. Among them were the city's rabbi, Rabbi Aaron Baksht, the headmaster of the Hebrew high school Mordekhai Rudnik and many others. After vicious abuse in the prison courtyard, they were taken to the Kužiai forest, 15 km. north-west of Siauliai and there murdered and buried.

In the first two weeks after the conquest the Lithuanians murdered some 1000 Siauliai Jews. Most of the Lithuanian intelligentsia, students and high school students, participated in the anti Jewish activities including murder. A small group of educated Lithuanians, the priest Lapis among them, tried to interfere but were warned that it is their interest to keep quiet.

On July 10, 1941, a Lithuanian attorney was appointed by the Germans to head the municipality, a position he had held during the period of Lithuanian independence, when he had been elected by the votes of the Jewish council members. After his appointment and that of his assistants, an order was published by which Jews had to wear a yellow badge, they were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks, etc. He also began to execute a plan, initiated by the Lithuanians, to drive the Jews out of the city to Zagare with the aim of “cleaning” Siauliai of Jews. After a struggle, which lasted until the end of July, led by the Jewish representatives who had spontaneously joined together to fight this program, and thanks to German elements who were interested in labor and Jewish experts in the industrial plants in town, the program was cancelled. Nevertheless, the Lithuanian commissioner appointed by the municipality over the Old Aged Home, succeeded in transferring its inmates to Zagare, where they were murdered. Before the program was cancelled, and despite the Germans' agreement to it, the Lithuanians ordered a fence to be erected around the slum area known as the “Caucasus” (called by this name as it had a hillock), in order to house the 400 experts from the Frenkel factory with their families.

The “Jewish Representation”, which had become the body representing the Jews in the ghetto, was not elected in any elections. Individuals who considered themselves fit for the task proposed themselves and everyone agreed. The makeup of the “Representation” was accepted by the municipal official in charge of the ghetto. The chairman of the “Representation” was Mendel Leibowitz, a well educated young man, well to do and well connected with the Lithuanians. He was the chairman of the Organization of Jewish Veterans of the Lithuanian War of Liberation. On many occasions he was firm in his meetings with the Lithuanian Official in charge and had his own way.

The Secretary was Aaron Katz, previously the manager of the Jewish Popular Bank in Siauliai and a leader in the Zionist Socialist Party. He lost his family at the beginning of the occupation and was left alone. Aaron Katz was deeply devoted to matters of the ghetto and always accompanied Leibowitz to his meetings with the representatives of the German and Lithuanian authorities. Other members of the “Representation” were the attorney Ber-Menashe Abramowitz, Aaron Heler, and P. Rubinstein. Abramowitz died in the ghetto and Katz took his place. The secretary now became Eliezer Yerushalmi, a teacher in the Hebrew high school, who recorded the daily events in a ghetto diary which survived and was published in Israel. This diary is the major historical source for the events in the Siauliai ghetto. The ghetto was divided into two parts (see more below), with officials appointed in charge of supplies, housing, social welfare, hospital, etc. Other institutions functioning in the ghetto were a court headed by ex-district judge David Getz and a police force of 32 policemen, 16 in each part of the ghetto.

At the publication of the order for all Jews to relocate before August 15 to the ghetto, it became evident that the 200 or so small derelict houses in the area would not be able to contain all the Jews of Siauliai. Another area was therefore allocated, a half a kilometer distant from “the Caucasus”, and another ghetto was established there, named Traku, after its street. This area had some 110 houses in better condition than those in the other ghetto. But the additional ghetto also did not solve the problem, as it too was not large enough to contain all the Siauliai Jewry. Therefore, an application was made to have a third ghetto allocated in the Kalniukas street. Initially, the official agreed to grant the request, but due to opposition from the Lithuanian house owners, he retracted from his agreement. Some of the Jews awaiting housing permits in the town, and those kept in the “Kloyz de Landkremer” and in the old people's home, in total some 1,000 souls, were murdered and buried in pits prepared in advance in Bubiai, 14 km. south west of the town. Others died in Zagare

On September 1, 1941, the two ghettos were formally closed, after a number of postponements. Entry and exit were allowed only by special permit and only through narrow gates guarded by Lithuanian guards.

Formally, only a few articles of clothing, furniture, kitchen utensils, food for a week and 200 Marks were permitted to be brought into the ghetto. Many Jews, nevertheless, succeeded in bringing with them into the ghetto whatever property had remained in their hands after the robbery committed by the Lithuanians. This little remaining property helped them to survive mostly by exchanging or selling it to the Lithuanians for food at their joint work places.

The overcrowding in the ghetto was terrible. 1.5 sq. m. on the average was allocated to each individual in the living quarters. 5,500 Jews, including refugees from the neighboring towns crowded into a built up area of 8,000 sq. m. Thanks to the activity of the building committee under engineer Josef Leibowitz, attics, storerooms, stables and cowsheds and suchlike were transformed into living quarters. At the end of September 1941, a number of the best houses were, by demand of their owners, taken away from the Traku ghetto, and returned to the Lithuanian owners. A further reduction was made in the Caucasus ghetto in December of the same year.

In December 1941, 750 Jews who had worked in the villages with official permission were murdered. During the autumn and winter of 1941 hundreds of additional refugees, who had succeeded in escaping from mass murder in the surrounding towns and communities, arrived in the ghetto.

On January 1943, the two ghettos contained 4,836 inhabitants. The Caucasus ghetto held 2,502, and Traku - 2,334 souls. 65% of all the residents were women, because many of the men had been killed. There were 1,156 children under the age of 13. The same source states that there were only 236 persons over the age of 61.

On September 6, 1941, 47 children were taken out of the orphanage together with their teacher Avraham Katz and the housemother Zhenia Karpel and sent to their death. On September 10, 1941, 130 old and sick Jews were taken out of the ghetto and murdered. On September 12, 1941, Jews were taken out again according to a list which included intellectuals, teachers, attorneys and doctors. Only 30 were caught, the others managed to hide.

In the middle of September a re-classification of the ghetto inhabitants took place according to “working ability”. The fit ones were given a yellow card. 90 persons were found unfit for work and were sent to Zagare, where they were murdered together with Jews from the neighboring towns. The “Jewish Representation” obtained 500 empty forms and with the help of these, ghetto Jews and refugees from other places were saved, among them 130 women and children who escaped the carnage in Radviliskis (Radwilishok).

At the end of September, organized murder (Aktions) ceased and a period of going out to work began. Many of the Frenkel factory workers returned to work in the plant. Initially, 400 persons worked there, and in September 1943 the number increased to 760. The workers used the opportunity to establish contact with the outside world, since on occasion, messengers arrived from the ghettos in Kaunas, Vilnius, Riga and Dvinsk. Hundreds of Jews worked at widening and completing the airfield near the city, which the Soviets had begun to build. Others worked in workshops belonging to the “Representation” and the income was used for the benefit of the ghetto. Some of the money was used to establish a hospital in the ghetto. After the order had been received to remove all Jewish patients from the town hospitals, the 40 bed hospital was in the “Caucasus” ghetto, in the building which had previously been used for the cleansing of the bodies of the dead before burial. 6 doctors and 4 nurses worked in the hospital, and 12 additional doctors worked in clinics in both ghettos. Dr. Wolf Pesachowitz, director of the hospital, and Dr. Luntz, a gynecologist, had permission to work in the town as well. The German authorities often used their services.

On February 7, 1942, an order was published forbidding the giving of birth in the ghetto. A reminder was posted in July, warning that a death by firing squad awaited any person transgressing this order, along with their family. The edict took effect on August 15, 1942. The Jewish doctors in the ghetto had to perform hundreds of abortions and even killed newborn babies by lethal injection.

In May 1942 hundreds of Jews were taken out of the ghetto and sent to cut peat in the work camps in Radviliskis, Bachjunai and Rekyva. Two additional camps were opened in Pavenèiai in July 1941 – one in a sugar factory and the other in a peat mine. In the autumn, the people returned from the peat camps. Some of them returned cripple from Radviliskis because of abuse by the guards and the hard labor. Approximately one year later, in 1943, the Representation succeeded in preventing the camp from being opened anew. During this period a group of people were transferred to a new camp, in the military warehouses and factories in Linkaiciai.

During the period of relative quiet between the expulsions and being taken for labor, cultural activities took place. Various circles were organized, meetings held in which Jewish festivals were marked and important dates in Jewish history noted. Youth movements, such as HeKhalutz, Beytar and the Communists functioned illegally in the ghetto. In addition, two underground schools operated at the synagogues. The youth organizations organized remembrance days and observed the national festivals. They also published underground publications in Hebrew (“Mima'amakim” - From the Depths) and others. Some of these survived the war. The personal diary of Dr. Pik survived too.

During the same period, in August 1942, the non-partisan organization “Massada” was founded, which had some 120 youths from Zionist circles. The main activity was Zionist educational. Ideologically, the movement stood for armed defense against the oppressor in identification with the slogan “Let me die with the Philistines.” The organization even made some preparations for this: weapons were collected and members were given military training. On February 5, 1943, consultations were held between the Massada organization and the leadership of the Representation regarding the defense of the ghetto in the case of German retreat. This took place after the German defeat in Stalingrad. Hope was kindled that the Germans would lose the war. Other possibilities were also discussed, such as escaping from the ghetto and joining the Kholozhin brothers' group, which roamed in western Lithuania, or to join the partisans in eastern Lithuania. Due to hesitation, none of the plans came to fruition.

On June 2, 1943 a Jew named Betzalel Mazovietzki was publicly hanged in the ghetto. He was caught near the gate with bread and a few cigarettes packs hidden in his clothes. He was accused of black marketeering and the efforts of the Representation to save him were in vain. At that time, the searches at the gates were intensified and many Jews were arrested on the charge of smuggling food, even when only a slice of bread or a potato was involved.

The apparent calm in the ghetto was upset when a rumor spread of the intention of the Germans to concentrate the Jews in camps resembling barracks near their work places. The fate awaiting them was clear.

In September 1943 the ghetto was put under the authority of the SS and became “Siauliai Concentration Camp.” The Lithuanian guards were joined by SS soldiers. Almost all the administrative duties of the “Representation” were taken away and the chairman became a Lageraelteste (the camp Elder). According to plan, the Germans created 5 main work camps: at the airfield, in the military camp in Linkaièiai, at the brick factory in Daugailiai, in the camp near the sugar factory in Pavenèiai and the lime mines in Akmene. Later, another camp was opened at the “Gubernija” plant in the military equipment warehouses.

At the end of September 1943, on Yom Kippur, the Jews were transferred to the camps. The transfer from the Caucasus ghetto took the whole month of October and it was then liquidated.

The worst event which hit the ghetto was the “children's Aktion.” On November 5, 1943 the ghetto was surrounded by a number of SS and Ukrainian squads. After the people went out to work and the children and the elderly remained in the ghetto, the Germans and their auxiliaries entered and took the children from their homes and hiding places and loaded them onto tarpaulin-covered trucks. They promised the children that they were being sent to children's homes in Germany and the accompanying elders and invalids were there to look after them. The two members of the “Representation”, A. Katz and B. Kartun, who did not trust the Germans and wanted to see by themselves where the children were being taken, accompanied the transport. That day, 574 children were sent to their death, as well as 191 elderly people, 26 invalids and 4 women who did not want to part from their children.

227 children under 12 remained in the ghetto, and a few dozen in the work camp, whose parents succeeded in hiding them from the Germans and Ukrainians.

As the war front drew near to Lithuania in the spring of 1944, the restrictions on ghetto inhabitants were made even harsher. Exit permits to the town were cancelled and the SS commander issued a warning that anyone caught trying to escape would be executed along with their family.

At the beginning of July 1944 all the Jews were returned to the ghetto from the work camps. From July 9 onwards, people were no longer taken out to work. A great fear spread among the Jews, and many escaped or sought hiding places. The aerial bombardment of Siauliai by the Soviet air force brought hope to the Jews. Bombs which were probably intended for the Frenkel factory fell in the ghetto and caused many casualties, among them the past chief of the “Representation” Mendel Leibowitz. He was buried on the last day of the ghetto's existence.

On July 15 the first train to leave for Germany left with some of the ghetto residents. Two more trains, which left on July 17 and 19, transported all the Siauliai Jews to a transit camp in Stutthof. One group was taken to the concentration camp in Riga. Only a few dozen Jews managed to leave the ghetto and the work camps in various ways, with weapons or without.

The empty ghetto was burnt down by the bombing which preceded the liberation of Siauliai from German hands. Many of the Jews of Siauliai who had remained to work in the camp at Stutthof and the vicinity, perished. Some of the women, who were capable of work, were sent to dig trenches in northern Poland and other areas in Poland. Others were scattered in concentration camps around Dachau. Out of 3,000 Jews brought from Siauliai only 500 survivors saw liberation day. Some, who had escaped in time into the interior of the Soviet Union, also survived. Some of them fought in the ranks of the Lithuanian division within the Red Army.

The names of the Germans and the SS who were responsible for the annihilation of the Siauliai Jews and the names of the Lithuanian murderers are kept in the Yad Vashem archives in Jerusalem. On the other hand, the names of a handful of Lithuanians are also preserved there who endangered their lives and hid Jews or assisted them in other ways.

After the liberation from Germany, a few dozen Jewish survivors returned to Siauliai as well as those who had spent time in the interior of the Soviet Union. From the end of 1944 until 1946 an underground center functioned to organize emigration to Eretz Yisrael. Among the activists were Yona Rosenfeld, Yitskhak Senderowitz and others.

In the years after the war a number of Jews, past residents and others, returned to the city and took up domicile. In 1959 it had 845 Jewish residents, but as a result of the immigration to the state of Israel their numbers diminished; in 1989 only 420 Jews lived there; today (1994) 470 live there, 70% of the families are with a non-Jewish partner.

During the whole period of Soviet rule, no Jewish activities took place. At the end of the eighties a new spirit was evident in the Soviet Union and in Lithuania as well. A branch of the “Jewish Cultural Center” was opened in Siauliai, the center being based in Vilnius. The Center opened a Jewish museum in the city in a house which had belonged to Dr. Shimon Wolpert, which had been built according to plans by the well known architect Erich Mendelssohn. A library was established with some 7,000 volumes in various languages, including Yiddish and Hebrew. It has a reading room attached to it. A branch of the Maccabi sports club is active in the city. In the past year (1994) the Center, in collaboration with the municipality, worked on the restoration of the old Jewish graveyards in the city.

On October 15, 1991, a Memorial was dedicated in the Holon cemetery in Israel in memory of the Jews of Siauliai and the surrounding area who had perished in the Shoah.

 

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M-1/E-575, 1206, 1233, 1488; M-9/13(2), 15(6), 723; M-35/56; M-40/RCM; JM/3353; TR-2 reports 11, 12, 96, 683, 670, TR-10/657; 0-3/1628, 2503, 2582, 3856, 4549, 6074, 6126; 0-33/56, 60, 62, 284, 355, 926, 956, 1381, 1392; Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, files 8, 100, 101.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files Z-4/2548, 13/15/131, 55/1788, 55/1701.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: files 1212-1290, 1448, 1545, 1548, 1587, 1679.
Itsikas, Sima, The History of Siaulia Ghetto (1941-1944), MA thesis, Hebrew University, 1977.
Brum, Mordekhai (Motek), Chapters of Life, Testimony Registers, Ghetto Fighters' Museum, 1990.
Bernhardt Cohen Report, December 1915 (In German).
Yerushalmi, Eliezer, A Diary From a Lithuanian Ghetto, 1941-1944, Jerusalem, 1957.
Cohen, Shimon, The History of the Jews in Siauliai, Kaunas, 1938.
Levin, Dov, Fighters and Defenders, The War of Lithuania's Jews Against the Nazis 1941-1945, Jerusalem, 1974.
Levin, Dov, “The Continuous Escape of Survivors (1944-1946)”, in: Eastern European Jewry Between the Holocaust and Revival (Edited by Benyamin Pinkus), Sde Boker, 1987, pp. 401-402.
Kamzon, Jewish Lithuania, pp. 161-163.
Unzer Weg [Our Way], (Kaunas), 14.2.1926, 27.2.1929.
Yiddisher Leben, (Kaunas), 11.5.1923, 6.5.1938, 22.7.1938.
In the Paths of Education (Kaunas), May 1939.
Gakhelet (Tel Aviv), January 1992.
Dos Vort - [daily newspaper in Yiddish of the Z"S party], (Kaunas), 19.8.1934, 24.8.1934, 26.8.134, 28.8.1934, 16.9.1934, 10.10.1934, 21,10.1934, 30.10.1934, 11.11.1934, 13.11.1934, 5.3.1935, 14.3.1935, 18.3.1935, 19.3.1935, 5.6.1935, 23.7.1935, 21.9.1936, 13.12.1936, 18.1.1939, 13.2.1939, 17.4.1939, 21.5.1939, 6.3.1940.
Dos Neue Vort (Kaunas), 18.6.1935, 12.7.1934, 22.7.1934, 24.7.1934.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] (Kaunas), 9.3.1921, 27.8.1922, 16.1.1924, 13.1.1928, 5.2.1928, 8.3.1928, 14.5.1928, 29.5.1928, 29.7.1928, 16.8.1928, 3.9.1928, 9.11.1928, 1.1.1929, 10.1.1929, 17.1.1929, 22.2.1929, 5.3.1929, 11.3.1929, 26.6.1929, 9.12.1929, 13.12.1929, 17.1.1930, 29.1.1930, 7.2.1930, 21.2.1930, 24.2.1930, 25.2.1930, 27.3.1930, 18.4.1930, 14.5.1930, 10.6.1930, 11.6.1930, 4.7.1930, 3.10.1930, 0.10.1930, 2.2.1931, 18.2.1931, 13.5.1931, 10.6.1931, 18.6.1931, 26.8.1931, 4.12.1931, 13.1.1932, 4.3.1932, 23.3.1932, 20.3.1932, 13.4.1932, 14.4.1932, 31.5.1932, 21.9.1932, 12.3.1933, 9.4.1933, 1.5.1933, 12.6.1933, 6.7.1933, 10.7.1933, 27.6.1935, 21.11.1936, 12.10.1937, 29.10.1937, 5.11.1937, 23.2.1938, 25.3.1938, 5.4.1938, 21.4.1938, 30.5.1938, 29.6.1938, 1.7.1938, 28.7.1938, 19.8.1938, 15.11.1938, 28.11.1938, 9.1.1939, 7.2.1939, 1.5.1939, 5.6.1939, 13.9.1939, 30.10.1939.
Der Yiddisher Kooperator [Jewish Cooperator] (Kaunas), # 9-8, 12 (1929); # 2-3, 5-6, 10 (1930).
Hamelitz [The Advocate] (St. Petersburg), 31.10.1870, 6.10.1880, 25.1.1881, 1.2.1881, 9.8.1881, 5.4.1886, 17.5.1881, 5.9.1883, 14.1.1885, 1.5.1885, 8.5.1885, 1.6.1885, 10.8.1885, 10.8.1885, 9.11.1885, 8.2.1886, 7.4.1886, 31.7.1886, 14.1.1887, 8.3.1887, 12.3.1887, 7.10.1888, 23.1.1889, 27.11.1890, 18.5.1893, 31.8.1893, 18.10.1893, 8.11.1895, 5.10.1903.
Der Yiddisher Handwerker (Kaunas), #'s 16, 19.
Erd un Arbet (Kaunas), 19.8.1921.
Folksblat [The People's Newspaper] (Kaunas), 12.1.1933, 20.3.1935, 5.8.1935, 6.8.1935, 5.8.1936, 10.8.1936, 19.8.1936, 20.8.1936, 14.10,1936, 30.6.1938, 19.8.1938, 16.4.1939, 30.5.1939, 13.6.1939, 20.10.1940, 23.10.1940, 13.11.1940, 16.11.1940.
Di Zeit (Siauliai), 28.3.1924, 30.3.1924, 1.4.1924, 16.4.1924, 17.4.1924, 24.4.1924, 1.5.1924, 7.5.1924, 8.5.1924, 27.5.1924, 29.5.1924, 5.6.1924, 12.6.1924.
Kovner Tag (Kaunas), 26.7.1926.
Yevreiskaya Starina (in Russian), Vol. 12, pp. 88-90, 93-94.
Siauliu Naujeinos, 7.6.1989, 25.10.1989, 10.1.1990, 13.3.1990, 24.3.1990, 6.12.1990, 7.2.1991, 12.2.1991, 29.5.1991.

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