“Druskieniki”
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities
in Poland, Volume VIII

(Druskininkai, Lithuania)

54°01' / 23°58'

Translation of “Druskieniki” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem


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Acknowledgments

Project Coordinator

Carol Hoffman

 

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

This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland,
Volume VIII Districts Vilna, Bialystok, Nowogrodek. Editor Shmuel Spector, co-editor Bracha Freundlich,
pages 273-274. Published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 2005


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Druskieniki

(Druskininkai; Grodno section, Bialystok region)

Translated by Carol Hoffman

[Pages 273-274]

YearTotal
Population
Jews
1878417219
18971,280636
1921989294

Druskininkai is located between the stream Romiczanka and the Niemen river in a heavily wooded area. In the beginning of the 19th century hot springs were discovered and were famous throughout Russia for their healing powers. The government established a health clinic and baths, and in the 1870's the Jews also founded a health clinic. Druskininkai was overwhelmed with 150 small health clinics. This development as a health spa and vacation town enabled Druskininkai to receive city status. During World War I the occupying German rule closed the clinics, but they reopened during the period of Independent Poland. At the outbreak of World War II Druskininkai was under Soviet Rule. Germans seized Druskininkai at the end of June 1941 and liberated by the Soviets in the summer of 1944.

The Jews until the end of World War I

The first Jews settled in Druskininkai during the middle of the 19th century when it was a spa and vacation town. They earned their livelihoods as small merchants, various crafts and working in the clinic which had been developed by Jewish businessmen and doctors with contributions from Jewish backers Dunenburg, Ginzburg and Fridland. The clinic's first director was Dr. Shmuel Moshe Broda. Communities throughout Lithuania and Belarus sent their infirm to the Jewish clinic in Druskininkai, and the poor who could not pay for the high cost of their treatments were subsidized by wealthy members of their communities or the Aide Committee. In 1887 the clinic advertised in “Hatzfira” a notice to Israeli communities that could not accept poor without assistance from their communities.

In the 1880s the Jews of Druskininkai organized themselves into a community, blessed a cemetery and two religious schools. Rabbi Yitzhak Margeliot, author of “Maoz Hatalmud”, “Maoz Hayam” and other books, served as rabbi until 1884; he died in 1887 in the United States. Following him was Rabbi Shmariahu Yitzhak Bloch who emigrated to England in 1888. In his place was chosen Rabbi Shlomo son of rabbi Yaakov Gordon who wrote “Binyan Shlomo” and “Zichron Yaakov” and continued to serve even in the beginning of the 20th century.

Druskininkai had a heder (Jewish religious school to age 13); many of the youngsters studied with private mentors. At the start of the 20th century a heder metukan (progressive) opened in Druskininkai. The second committee of Hovevei Zion (lovers of Zion) was held in Druskininkai in 1887.

At the onset of World War I a number of young Jewish men were drafted into the Tzar's army. The clinics and vacation homes were closed with people rushing to return homes. Germans captured Druskininkai in September 1915. During their three years of occupation there was a shortage of food and basics, and many people did forced labor. The Germans opened a German school for all of the city's children and allowed Jewish pupils three hours weekly for the study of religion and Hebrew.

About half of the number of Jews from before the war were left in Druskininkai in the 1920s. I”KA (Jewish Settlement Society) established a charitable fund in Druskininkai that helped small businessmen return to work; and the health spa and vacation industry resumed activities relieving the unemployment.

In the 1920s a Yiddish school opened. The teachers were all diploma graduates of government seminars. They also developed many extra curricular and cultural activities within the school and without, a library and a drama group which were open to everyone.

Rampant anti-Semitism was felt in the city during the late 1930s.

During the days of World War II

At the outbreak of the war Druskininkai absorbed Jewish refuges from Nazi occupied Poland. The Red army entered Druskininkai on 17 September 1939. The Soviets changed the clinics and spas and annexed them to Russian teams of doctors and nurses. In the summer children were brought from cities and villages of the Soviet Union to Druskininkai for summer camps and the Pioneer Movement.

Druskininkai was seized by the Germans at the end of June 1941. Immediately the Jewish employees of the clinics and spas were fired. The local Jews, about 800, were turned out of their homes and places in huts on the outskirts of the city as an open ghetto. The Nazis appointed a Judenrat that had to draft people for forced labor. The Amtskomissariat (local government) was established; it was responsible for supervising the forced labor in the city and surroundings.

August 1942 Jews of Druskininkai were deported to the concentration camp Kielbasin near Grodno. In the camp they were housed in damp ash huts, suffered from starvation and thirst, and abused (additional information, see Grodno). Leib Frankel from Druskininkai was appointed the head of the camp's Judenrat to be the contact person with the German command. In the fall, a few weeks after their arrival in Kielbasin, the Druskininkai Jews were sent to the dead camp Treblinka and murdered in the gas chambers.

During the deportation to Kielbasin a few young people from Druskininkai managed to escape to the forest. Most of them were discovered by Lithuanians in the nearby village that turned them over to the Germans. In November 1943 the regional governor sentenced a Lithuanian farm couple to death: Maria and Helpolit Yaskielvitz who had helped hide and protect Jews. A small group of 5 Lithuanian partisans and 2 Jews from Druskininkai operated in the forest. Later the two Jews joined the Soviet partisans.


Aleph Yud Vav Shin [Archive Yad Vashem] Jerusalem 03/8323; 033/3472; 071/122,131; M1/E/16-1-14; M11/B52; IM/11201.
Gotlieb Sefer Oheli Hashem, p.142.
Pinkas Krinky, ed. Z. Rabin. Tel Aviv, 1970. p.245
Damer, “Eksterminacja ludnosci zydowskiej w okregu bialostockim” BZIH 60 (1966) pp.13,14.
Hatzfira 9.5.1887; 15.5.1887.


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