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Raguva (Kovarsk)
(Raguva, Lithuania)

55°34' 24°36'

Raguva (Rogeve in Yiddish) lies on the Panevezys–Ukmerge highway, on the west bank of the Nevezis River, about 28 km. (17.5 miles) southeast of the district administrative center of Panevezys. An estate and a county by the name of Raguva were mentioned in documents dating back to 1501. In 1610 Raguva was mentioned as a town. In the seventeenth century, the town belonged to the noble family of the Oginskys. Until 1795, Rogeve was part of the Polish Lithuanian Kingdom. At the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times, Russia, Prussia and Austria, most of Lithuania became Russian territory until World War I. The town began to grow in the nineteenth century and became a county administrative center.

During World War I, in 1915 to 1918, Germany occupied this zone. In 1918 it became part of the new Lithuanian state. Starting in January 1919, the Soviets ruled the town for four months. During the period of independent Lithuania (1918–1940), Rogeve kept its status as a county administrative center. For many years there was no road or railway connecting Rogeve to nearby towns. There was no electricity in town, and in winter it was almost cut off from the world. In the 1930s a bus route to Panevezys was finally opened.

 

Jewish Settlement of Rogeve until World War I and Thereafter

Jews started settling in Rogeve, most likely in the seventeenth century. This conclusion is drawn from the very old Jewish tombstones in the Rogeve cemetery. Among them one can find tombstones of Panevezys Jews, who didn't have their own cemetery at that time and would bring their dead to be buried in this cemetery. In the seventeenth century several Karaite families are known to have lived in Rogeve as well.

In 1766 there were 1,187 Jewish poll–tax payers in Rogeve.

Until World War I, the economic situation of Rogeve Jews was quite good. They traded goods with the estate owners in the vicinity and made a decent living.

There was a leather factory owned by Faivel Pram, and a brush manufacturer who used processed pig bristles for his trade. Both businesses belonged to Jews and employed a total of about 100 workers. There were also tradesmen and peddlers who would stay in other villages during the week and return home for the Shabbat. The Jewish workers influenced the local orthodox

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community life in town. This was felt mainly in 1905 when revolutionary activity began in Russia. On one Shabbat in 1905, a member of the Bund organization stepped up to the Bimah at the synagogue, took out a pistol and burst into a ferocious verbal attack against the Czar. However with the rise of Zionism, public opinion moved in support of this movement. Jews from Rogeve emigrated to Eretz–Yisrael long before the Hibath Zion movement was born. At the old cemetery in Jerusalem there are at least two tombstones of Rogeve Jews who died there in 1864 and in 1881:

Eliezer Mordehai Jafe son of Shelomoh Zalman died in 1864
Mordehai Jafe son of Yisrael died in 1881.

The old wooden synagogue was built in the eighteenth century. The solid building of the Beth Midrash with its artistically carved Aron Kodesh, built in the nineteenth century, was the center of Jewish life in Rogeve.

 

lit5_143.jpg
The Synagogue

 

Among the rabbis who officiated during this period in Rogeve were Benjamin Rabinovitz (1859–1861), who became famous for his struggle against the Haskalah, in particular against Mosheh–Leib Lilienblum; Shneur–

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Zalman Hirshovitz (died in 1904), a student and friend of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, and Mordehai Rabinovitz who officiated between the years 1864–1885.

According to the all–Russian census of 1897, 1,762 residents lived in town, 1,223 (69%) of them Jews.

During the years 1839 and 1908 there were 21 subscribers to rabbinic literature in town.

The list of contributors for the victims of the Persian famine in 1872 includes the names of 41 Rogeve Jews (see Appendix 1). The fund raiser was Yehudah Gen.

 

lit5_144.jpg
The Beth Midrash

 

At the end of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century, two large fires destroyed almost half the homes in town. The fire of 1905 destroyed 100 houses.

At the beginning of World War I, in 1915, on the eve of Shavuoth, the Russian military ruler ordered Rogeve Jews to leave their homes in twenty–four hours and they were exiled deep into Russia. After the war only half of the exiled returned to their hometown.

 

During the Period of Independent Lithuania

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Following the institution of the Law of Autonomy for Minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government, the minister of Jewish affairs Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik ordered elections for community committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In 1919 the elections to the community committee of Rogeve took place, and nine members were elected.

The committee worked until the end of 1925 when autonomy was annulled. The committee collected taxes as required by law and was in charge of all aspects of community life.

According to the first census performed by the Lithuanian government in 1923 Rogeve had 1,015 residents including 593 (58%) Jews.

 

lit5_145.jpg
The Nevezys River flowing through Rogeve

 

During this period Rogeve Jews made their living from trade, peddling and crafts. Several other families worked in agriculture. The weekly market days and three annual fairs provided an important source of livelihood for the local Jews.

In 1937, there were eighteen Jewish tradesmen in town: six shoemakers, three barbers, two glaziers, two tinsmiths, two blacksmiths, an oven builder, a tailor and a dressmaker.

The Folksbank, opened in 1924 and boasted 98 members in 1927, played an important role in the economic life of Rogeve Jews. In 1939, there were sixteen telephone owners, including 2 –Jews, a merchant and a doctor.

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According to the 1931 government survey there were twelve shops in Rogeve, of which eleven were Jewish owned.

Type of Business Owned by Jews
Grocery and Dairy products 2
Textile Products and Furs 5
Leather and Shoes 2
Sewing Machines, Electric Equipment 1
Medicine and Cosmetics 1

According to the same survey there were two flourmills in town, both owned by Jews.

In the mid–1930s the number of Jews decreased, because of the economic crisis in Lithuania. Also, the openly anti–Semitic propaganda of the Lithuanian merchant association Verslas led to a boycott of Jewish shops, which caused enormous hardship to Jewish merchants. Cases of physical abuse were also recorded. In 1927 and 1939 there were pogroms in Rogeve; Jews were attacked in the streets and in their homes. The guards of the fire brigade, which was entirely Jewish, provided resistance to the murderers. The Jewish youth looked for a solution and many emigrated to Eretz–Yisrael, America and South Africa.

A Hebrew school of the Tarbuth network, established in 1925, provided some education for about 100 children.

Until the beginning of the 1930s, two libraries operated in town – one supported by the Zionist Socialist party and the other by the Yiddiist Fans of Knowledge (Libhober fun Visen) society. For some reason the Yiddish library was closed and only the Zionist Socialist library with about 600 Hebrew and Yiddish books remained open. From time to time lectures, Public Judgments and amateur productions were staged.

As always, the old synagogue and the Beth Midrash were the center of religious life in Rogeve. The synagogue was an attraction for tourists, Jewish and non–Jewish, who came to admire the artistic carvings inside.

Societies for studying the Talmud, Mishnah, Ein Ya'akov and more were active in town. There were many scholars of Judaism. Among the rabbis who officiated in this period in Rogeve were Mosheh–Mishel–Shemuel Shapira (in Rogeve from 1887 till his death in 1933), who published many books on

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religious issues, and Yisrael Mel, the last rabbi, who was murdered by Lithuanians during the Holocaust.

The welfare institutions Ezrah, Gemiluth Hesed and Linath Hatsedek offered their services to Rogeve Jews.

Many Rogeve Jews belonged to the Zionist camp. The number of Shekel purchasers increased during the years. The Zionist Socialist party was the most active and it was the initiator of almost all the cultural activities. There were also branches of the Mizrahi, the General Zionist parties and others. Many voted in the elections for the Zionist Congresses. The table below shows the division of votes for each party:

Con
No.
Year Tot Shek Total Votes Labor Party
Z”S Z”Z
Rev. Gen. Zion.
A B
Gros. Miz.
15 1927 44 41 9 23 2 7
16 1929 107 62 20 34 1 7
17 1931 47 42 16 18 1 7
18 1933 85 83 2
19 1935 160 160 107 1 1407

Key: Cong No. = Congress Number, Tot Shek = Total Shkalim, Rev = Revisionists, Gen Zion = General Zionists, Gros = Grosmanists, Miz = Mizrakhi

 

Zionist youth organizations included Gordonia with forty members, Deror with fifty members, HaShomer HaTsair–N.Z.H and Hehalutz HaTsair.

Jews of note whose roots can be traced back to Rogeve include Yehoshua Palovitz (1875–1937), an author who wrote the Shevuah (Oath) that became the anthem of the Poalei Zion party. He emigrated to the USA in 1906 and published many poems and articles.

Michael Higer (1898–1952), researcher in Judaica, published books with critical views on Talmudic literature. Yehezkel Yofe (1858–1910), an important public worker in Kovno. A. Lazarov, a public worker, and a founder of the Folksbank network in Lithuania. Henakh Shtein (born in 1910), who emigrated to the USA and from 1929 in Baltimore, Maryland published Yiddish stories and poems.

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During World War II and Afterwards

In June 1940, Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, the flour mills owned by Jews were nationalized. A number of Jewish shops were also nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. Supply of goods decreased and prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore the brunt but the standard of living dropped gradually. All the Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and the Hebrew school was closed.

On June 22nd, 1941 war was declared between Germany and the Soviet Union. On June 26th the German army entered Rogeve. Immediately a local Lithuanian organization, active in the killing of the local Jews, offered itself to the service of the Nazis.

At this time there were about 500 Jews in town.

The first to be detained and murdered were Jewish youngsters, followed by those who were in some way connected to Soviet rule.

In the middle of August, all the Jews, men, women and children were transferred to Panevezys, the district administrative center, and brought into the existing ghetto. On August 24th and 25th, 1941 (1st –and 2nd of Elul 5701), Rogeve Jews together with Panevys Jews were led to the Pajuoste forest, about 8 km (5 miles) east of the town, where they were ruthlessly massacred.

After the war the Soviets unearthed the mass grave: 7,000 victims were found there.

In the 1990s a new monument was added at the site.

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lit5_149a.jpg
The monument on the mass graves in Pajuoste forest

The inscription in Yiddish and Russian says:
“Monument to the four mass graves of Jews of Panevys and surrounding area murdered by the German–Lithuanian Fascists in 1941.”
(Erected during the Soviet rule)

 

lit5_149b.jpg
The inscription in Lithuanian:
“At this site the Nazis and their helpers in August 1941 murdered about 8000 Jews men, women and children.”

 

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Sources:

Yad Vashem Archives M–9/15(6); M–1/E–1357/1308; M–1/Q–1219/71; 1407/181
YIVO – Collection of Lithuanian Communities, files 75–1080, 1544, 1560, 1678
Di Yiddishe Shtime (The Jewish Voice) Kovno, 10.1.1922; 8.1.1928; 24.8.1932; 3.4.1933
Der Yiddisher Cooperator – Kovno, No. 8–9, 1929
Folksblat – Kovno, 9.7.1935
Kovner Tog, 9.7.1926

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Appendix 1

A list of donors for the famine victims in Persia in 1872
(Lithuania databases HaMagid – compiled by Jeffrey Maynard)

Surname Given Name Comment Source in HaMagid Year
BERGER Zalman   #10 1872
DAYAN Yehuda   #10 1872
DRUKER Tuvia   #2 1872
DRUKER Tuvia   #10 1872
GEN Yehuda   #2 1872
GEN Michel   #2 1872
HALEVI Shabasai   #10 1872
HALEVI Shabasai   #2 1872
HURWITZ Shimon   #10 1872
KA”TZ Leib Gershon   #10 1872
KATZ A Y   #2 1872
KATZ Avraham Yitzchok   #10 1872
KATZ Ephraim   #10 1872
KATZ Leib Gershon   #2 1872
KOPELOWITZ Menachem Mendl   #10 1872
LURIA Moshe   #10 1872
MEIAREIK Henich   #2 1872
MELTZER Yuda   #10 1872
S”TZ Ephraim   #2 1872
SHMIT Bentzion   #2 1872
SHMIT Binyomin   #10 1872
SHMIT Moshe Kelme #10 1872
SHOR Eliezer   #10 1872
SHOR Eliezer   #2 1872
SHOR Moshe Kelme #10 1872
WAINER Chaim   #2 1872
WEIN Kopil   #10 1872
WEINER Chaim   #10 1872
ZAIANTZIG Dovid   #10 1872
ZAIANTZIG Menachem   #10 1872
ZAIANTZIK Dovid   #2 1872
ZAIANTZIK Menachem   #2 1872
  Avraham   #10 1872
  Dovid Yisroel   #2 1872
  Shalom ben A   #10 1872
  Shlomo ben Abba   #2 1872
  Uri Zelig ben A   #10 1872
  Yakov Yitzchok   #2 1872
  Yehuda ben G   #2 1872
  Yehuda ben Tzvi   #2 1872
  Yuda ben G   #10 1872

 

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