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Birzh
(Biržai, Lithuania)

56°12' 24°45'

Birzh – as it was called in Yiddish – (Birzai – in Lithuanian) is situated in the north–eastern part of Lithuania on the shores of the rivers Apascia (pronounced Apashcha) and Agluona and along Lake Siruinis, surrounded by thick forests, not far from the Latvian border. Four islands exist in these rivers; on one of them a palace was built in the 16th century, where Napoleon rested during his march through Lithuania. Because of the town's spectacular landscape it attracted many vacationers. It is one of the oldest towns in Lithuania and was mentioned in 1415 in some documents.

During the years 1492–1806, Birzh belonged to the family of a noblemen by the name of Radzivil (Radvila in Lithuanian). From time to time the town served as the official residence of the family and they invested in its development. Its location, on one of the main roads from Vilna to Riga, was an important factor in its development. During the rule of Prince Christopher Radzivil the First the town developed rapidly economically, especially after it was granted the Magdeburg Rights of a town in 1589. In 1609 Prince Christopher promulgated municipal laws, erected a building for the municipality and established several welfare institutions. Near the town a big fortress was built with a palace inside. As a result of the influence of the Radzivil family, Birzh became the center of the Reformation in Lithuania. Every week two market days were held in Birzh.

In the 17th century Birzh suffered during the wars with Sweden, and during the Northern War the town was damaged again. At the beginning of the 18tthcentury, after the Northern War and regional religious wars, Birzh lost its importance.

Until 1795 Birzh was part of the Polish–Lithuanian Kingdom, when the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times – Russia, Prussia and Austria – caused Lithuania to become partly Russian and partly Prussian. The part of Lithuania which included Birzh fell under Czarist Russian rule, first from 1802 as part of the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 as part of Ponivezh district in the Kovno province.

At the beginning of Russian rule the Magdeburg Rights were denied and Birzh became a regular small town. In 1806 the town was transferred to Graf Tishkevitz's family who kept it till the 1860s.

In 1812 Napoleon's army passed through the town on its way to Riga and Mikolas Tishkevitz organized a special battalion for its service.

During the Polish rebellions in 1831 and 1863, Birzh took an active part in the insurrection against the Russians and heavy fighting occurred in its surroundings, which caused an interruption in the economic development of the town.

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In 1869 the town consisted of 536 houses (2 of stone) and 20 streets. At that time Birzh had 3 workshops for leather production and more than 40 shops, several hundreds of artisans, 3 flour mills, 3 doctors, and at the end of the century there was also a pharmacy. In 1883 a big fire destroyed about 50 houses in town. In 1912 a printing press operated in Birzh.

According to the census of 1897, Birzh then had 4,413 residents – 1,255 Catholics, 581 Protestants and 2,510 (57%) Jews.

During World War I Birzh was occupied by the Germans who ruled there from 1915 till 1918. During the fighting over Birzh several tens of houses were destroyed. The Germans constructed a narrow gauge railway which connected Birzh to Shavli (Siauliai), which influenced the development of the town, but in 1918 a large fire destroyed a great part of the town and most of the Jewish community was ruined.

From December 1918 till May 1919 the town came under Bolshevik rule.

During Lithuanian rule there were two weekly market days – on Mondays and Thursdays – as well as two yearly fairs. A branch of the government bank and four private banks did business in the town.

Birzh was known for its “Music Box” (Katarinka) players, who in summer would travel all over Lithuania and return home for the “Great Holidays”.

In 1934 the number of houses in town was 1,039 (of them 347 were constructed with solid materials) and its population rose to about 9,000.

 

Jewish Settlement till World War I

Jews began to settle in Birzh in the 16th or at the beginning of the 17th century. Tradition maintains that they came as a result of an invitation from Prince Christopher Radzivil (1547–1603) who wanted to promote local economic development. First a group of “Karaites” settled in Birzh and only later, in the middle of the century, also “Rabbinic” Jews settled there. The prince promised to protect them from their Christian neighbors, but in 1662 the Protestant liberal Prince Boguslav Radzivil, who was generally kind to Jews, submitted to the demands of the Catholic residents of the town and the Jews were expelled.

The “Karaite” community in Birzh was first mentioned in a letter of Khaham (Rabbi) Zerakh ben Nathan in 1625 in connection with a fire that harmed the town. It was a very poor community.

A list from 1669 shows that taxes paid by the Karaites were a third less than those paid in previous years, as a result of the decline in their economic situation. The Karaites lived in specific streets and had their own synagogue and cemetery. The Karaites, like the Jews, suffered from persecution by the rulers and their Christian neighbors. In the 18th century the presence of the Karaite community came to an end and their synagogue was passed on to the rabbinic Jews.

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During the pogroms in Poland in 1648–49 and in Lithuania in 1656 Birzh also suffered and there are references to this effect in rabbinic literature at the time. During this period the Jews suffered much from mistreatment by Polish estate owners.

In documents from the years 1663 and 1683, there is mention of Jews who came to settle in town and bought the right to do so. In 1683 the townsmen obtained an official resolution which prohibited Jews from settling in Birzh and to acquire property there, but it seems that later the Jews managed to get this resolution cancelled, and they settled in town and in the nearby settlements again. By the beginning of the 18th century a large and important Jewish community already existed in Birzh which had an officially recognized status. However even then they were not left in peace, suffering from mistreatment by government officials and from church heads, who managed in the years 1700 and 1711 to cancel the civil rights of the local Jews. On the 21st of April 1717 the whole community was deprived of its civil rights and was forced to pay a “Skull Tax” of 1,500 Rubles, in addition to the special tax of 350 Rubles which they had previously undertaken to pay to the Great Hetman of Lithuania.

On the other side of Lake Siruinis, about 2–3 km from the center of town, there was a large area of land called “Birzu Dvaras” (Birzh Estate), which had its own administration, its own law court and its own jail, and on which Jews lived for a hundred years or more. In the protocols of the court from the years 1620–1745 we find the names of many Jews who were sentenced in this court, mainly on charges of unpaid debts. (For a list of these names see Appendix 2).

During the years of autonomous organization for Jewish communities in Lithuania (Va'ad Medinath Lita, 1623–1764), Birzh was a district (Galil) administrative center responsible for the communities of Posvol (Pasvalys), Salat (Salociai), Pumpian (Pumpenai) and Pokroi (Pakruojis). The Birzh community was mentioned in regulations in the “Pinkas Medinath Lita” from 1726 concerning a conference in Brisk, and in 1731 with regard to a conference in Telzh on the issue of tax collection.

At that time Birzh Jews tried to settle in Riga, then an important port on the Baltic sea, and the town council imposed a special tax, two Reichstaler, on Jews who came to live there. Prince Radzivil tried to cancel this discrimination, but the town council refused fearing that the cancellation of this special tax would encourage more Jews from Poland and Lithuania to come to Riga.

In 1766 there were 1040 Jews in Birzh. From 1775 the existence of a synagogue in Birzh was mentioned.

A document concerning the Birzh district (Galil) dated 1673 tells about the rescue of a Jewish woman and her children from arrest, by payment of a penalty. It seems that they were arrested due to not having paid taxes or a debt to one of the estate owners. As a result of this episode, “Va'ad Medinath Lita” issued a regulation forbidding the borrowing of money from estate owners or priests unless carried out with the knowledge and agreement of the community,

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and that women and children should not be held responsible for the payment of a debt. Anyone not abiding by this regulation would face boycott and even be deported from the community, losing the right of residence in this town. The community would not accept any responsibility or obligation to help those who would take such a loan (even one penny).

During the second half of the 18th century, the Birzh community was in debt to the Radzivils and the church. The Galil Council authorized community heads to impose strict bans, even a boycott, on those who did not pay their yearly taxes, or who traveled to other communities or away from the Birzh Galil for the High Holidays. It was customary to go to the big towns for the holidays, thus leaving the small ones without a Minyan. The strict orders included the prohibition of arranging a party, a wedding or a Brith–Milah without the knowledge of the community heads, in order to avoid lavishness and the envy of those of insufficient means (regulations of the third of Adar 5530–1770). In the regulations, arrangements for “Shekhitah” were determined in order to avoid difficulties among the “Shokhtim” (ritual butchers). Other regulations dealt with mourning, and even with the dress the bride may wear on her wedding day. All these regulations, administered by the Birzh Galil, were valid for many generations.

In the month of Adar in 1784, the Birzh community council decided to donate a specific sum for Eretz–Yisrael every year – “until Mashiah (Messiah) arrives” – to be collected by two different funds: one for Eretz–Yisrael (Ma'oth Eretz–Yisrael), the other for Jerusalem (Ma'oth Yerushalayim), with each fund having two supervisors (Gaba'im). First, the money was sent to Gaba'im in Vilna; five months later the va'ad (council) decided to send the donations for Eretz–Yisrael to the Rabbi of Brisk and the money for Jerusalem was to be handed over to a “Meshulakh” (messengers who traveled throughout Jewish communities collecting money for institutions in Jerusalem).

In the old Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem there are at least three headstones of Birzh Jews: Mosheh Tsevi ben Aharon Melamed, who died in 1870; the Rabbi's wife Hayah Libe bath Paltiel, died in 1879; Tsevi ben Avraham, died in 1880.

The “Pinkas haKhevrah Kadisha” of Birzh 1804 shows regulations regarding supporting the poor, how to conduct accounts, and payment of hospitalization fees by the employer for his servants when patients were registered.

In 1847 there were 1685 Jews in Birzh. In July 1893 a large fire caused fifty houses to burn down, the damage being estimated then at 50,000 Ruble.

During this period Birzh Jews made their living mainly from commerce, in particular trading with flax and timber. Others earned a living from crafts, farming, light industry and peddling. There were several workshops for weaving and knitting, where wool from England was processed for export, and the white linen made in Birzh was very famous.

In the years before World War I Jews from Birzh leased milk products from the neighboring farms. Others leased taverns and barrooms. The Jews had good

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relations with their neighbors, and even when pogroms were rampant in neighboring Russia, the Jews of Birzh and its surroundings did not suffer.

In 1908 local priests established a Polish cooperative which became a strong competitor to the Jewish shop owners. As a result, the small “Gemiluth Hesed” institutions, giving small loans without interest, united in order to improve help for Jewish shop owners.

The history of the rabbinate in Birzh is divided in two periods: during the first period there was one Rabbi only for Birzh, Keidan and Vizhun – Tsevi–Hirsh Hurvitz. The second period started in 1713, when Birzh appointed its own Rabbi – Shalom Zak. Since then many famous rabbis have served in Birzh, mainly of the Zak family. For a partial list of the Rabbis who served in Birzh during all its history see Appendix 1.

During World War I the Jewish community of Birzh was destroyed. Many of the Jews emigrated or were exiled by the Russian army to Russia.

 

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The Big Beth–Midrash

 

During the Period of Independent Lithuania (1918–1940)

Society and Economy

After World War I Birzh remained the district administrative center, but its importance declined as the transport of goods via Birzh to Riga was restricted. Nevertheless the town developed, and the community gradually recovered, when some of the immigrants to Russia, who had been exiled, returned and also Jews from neighboring villages settled there. But the increasing number of Jews did not show up statistically in relation to the total population. Many Lithuanian villagers and government officials also settled in Birzh, yet the

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proportion of Jews had decreased by the middle of the thirties to only 36%, however 75% of the houses in town were owned by Jews.

 

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The “Klois” of the Shoemakers

 

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The Beth–Midrash of the Shamashim

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The Synagogue

 

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The Prayer House of the Khasidim (Chassidim)

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The “Moshav Zekeinim” (House for the Aged)

 

Following the law of autonomies for minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government, the minister for Jewish affairs Dr. Menakhem (Max) Soloveitshik ordered elections to community committees (Va'ad Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In Birzh a “Va'ad Kehilah” of 15 members was elected: 6 General Zionists; 2 Tseirei Zion; 1 Mizrahi; 1 Akhduth (Agudath Yisrael); 3 Workers; 2 independent. The Va'ad was very active in the years 1920–1924 in Kehilah issues and got substantial administrative, financial and advisory assistance from the Ministry for Jewish Affairs in Kovno.

On the 12th of October 1922 the elections for the first Seimas (Parliament) took place. In Birzh the Jewish votes were divided as follows: the Zionist list got 426 votes, Akhduth–125 and the Democrats–13.

In the elections to the town council which took place in 1931, 9 Lithuanians and 3 Jews – Mordehai Smilg, Eliyahu Fridman and Zalman Vainer – were elected.

During this period many Jews made their living from flax and timber, while others were occupied in crafts, agriculture and peddling. Several Jews from Birzh and vicinity were employed in the two Jewish owned flour mills and in other light industry establishments. The flour mills also supplied a living to many Jewish families from Birzh and its surroundings who came there to grind their grain or to buy flour. The flour produced in these mills was packed in sacks and sold all over Lithuania.

There were also Jewish owned weaving and knitting workshops as well as a flax processing workshop where several Jews were employed.

The 1931 government survey showed that there were then 99 businesses in Birzh, of which 77 were owned by Jews (78%), as detailed, according to type of business in the table below:

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Type of the business Total Owned by Jews
Groceries 14 12
Grain and flax 4 4
Butcher's shops and Cattle Trade 12 9
Restaurants and Taverns 11 3
Food Products 7 7
Beverages 2 0
Textile Products and Furs 12 11
Leather and Shoes 8 7
Haberdashery and Appliances 4 3
Medicine and Cosmetics 2 1
Watches, Jewels and Optics 3 3
Radio, Bicycles and Electric Equipment 1 1
Tools and Steel Products 5 5
Machinery and Transportation 1 1
Heating Materials 1 1
Stationery and Books 3 2
Miscellaneous 9 7

According to the same survey there were 45 factories in Birzh and of them 28 were Jewish owned (62%), as can be seen in the following table:

 

Type of the Factory Total Jewish Owned
Metal Workshops, Tin, Power Plants 3 2
Chemical Industry: Wine 1 0
Textile: Wool, Flax, Knitting 4 0
Timber and Furniture 5 1
Paper Industry: Printing Press, Binding 1 0
Food: Flour mills, Bakeries 11 7
Dresses, Footwear: Sewing, Hats, Shoes 11 5
Leather Industry: Production, Saddlers 6 11
Barber Shops, Goldsmiths, Photo 3 2

In 1931 there were 80 artisans including 63 Jews (79%): 8 tailors, 8 butchers, 6 wool workers, 6 shoemakers, 4 bakers, 4 wig makers, 2 saddlers, 1 tanner,1 hatter, 1 tinsmith and 22 others. They were organized in the “Union of Jewish Artisans”

At the beginning of the thirties 2 Jewish doctors (out of a total of 3), 2 Jewish lawyers (also 2 non–Jewish) and 2 Jewish engineers (as well as 1 non–Jewish) worked in town.

In the middle of the thirties the economic situation of Birzh Jews began to deteriorate, because of competition from Lithuanian artisans and merchants. Despite the fact that there were 80 Jewish owned shops out of a total 118 in town, the aggressive propaganda from the union of the Lithuanian merchants “Verslas” against buying in Jewish shops had its negative effect on Jewish commerce.

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The Jewish Folksbank played an important part in the economic life of Birzh Jews, although its beginning was modest: in 1922 it had 100 members (40 of them got loans totaling 40,000 Mark); by 1927 it already had 326 members and in 1929 there was a similar number – 321.

According to the official phone book of 1930 there were in Birzh 121 phone subscribers and of them 41 Jewish (see Appendix 4)

 

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A Street in Birzh

 

Education and Culture

Jewish children had the choice of studying among the various existing schools: the Hebrew “Tarbuth” school with about 180 pupils (its director for 16 years was Elimelekh Erez); the Yiddish school (1924–1939); the religious “Yavneh” school with about 40 pupils; several “Khadarim”, or in the “Yeshivah” which was established in the thirties by the local rabbis Leib Bernshtein together with Benyamin Movsha. There was also a Jewish Kindergarten with about 30 children, active till World War II.

A branch of the Yiddish Culture League operated a library with about 300 books, but with only 40 subscribers. Once the police arrested all the members of the League blaming them for Communist activity, and during the search of the library 25 books were confiscated.

Occasionally Jewish theater companies would come to Birzh to present a show, and sometimes a cultural evening, such as a “Literary Judgment”, would take place. Because of the dearth of cultural life people would gather on Shabbat afternoon in the Beith–Midrash for a chat on economic or political issues.

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The Hebrew Kindergarten with the teacher Pilvinsky–1939
(Identification by Hayim Giselevitz)

 

lit4_036b.jpg
Honored Birzh men with the local Rabbi Yehudah–Leib Bernshtein

Standing from left: Mindlin, –––, Shne'ur Sundelevitz,Tabakin, Yitshak Mas, –––,Ratsemor
Sitting from left: –––, Dorfman, Rabbi Yehudah–Leib Bernshtein, Henkin,–
(Identification by Hayim Giselevitz)

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Zionist and other public activities

Almost all Zionist parties were represented. The table below shows how Birzh Zionists voted for the different parties during the six Zionist Congresses:

 

Cong.
No.
Year Total
Shek
Total Voters Labor Party
Z”S Z”Z
Rev Gen Zion
A B
Gros Miz
14 1925 50
15 1927 36 34 4 12 2 2 4
16 1929 71 37 7 16 3 11
17 1931 88 72 5 10 36 9 12
18 1933 337 180 128 25 3 1
19 1935 412 397 312 42 13 5 15

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

 

lit4_037.jpg
A group of “HaShomer–HaTsair” members 1929

Standing in first line from right: Khyenke Tabakin; fifth–Bronia Rubin;
Standing in first line from left: second–Shefke Ezrakhovitz;
Kneeling in last line below from left: Hinda Shakhar
(Photo supplied by Sheine Roznikovitz–Pres)

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Zionist youth organizations active in Birzh included “HeKhalutz”, “HaShomer HaTsair”, “Beitar”, “Gordonia” had 60 to 70 members, the leaders being Peretz Shek and A.Perl, and “Benei–Akiva”. The sports movements were “Maccabi” with about 50 members and a rather less active branch of “HaPo'el”.

Many Birzh Jews were members in the local voluntary fire brigade and were well represented in its management, and since it owned three fire engines it was the third in size after Kovno and Shavli.

 

Religion and Welfare

Most of Birzh Jews were “Mithnagdim” who maintained two “Beth–Midrash” (one was called the Great), there were also one Synagogue, two “Klois” (Prayer houses), one of the shoemakers, the other of the “Shamashim” (caretakers of prayer houses). There were also Khasidim (Chassidim) who had their own prayer house as well as several “Minyanim”, among them one of “Habad” and another of “Po'alei Tsedek”.

The Jewish welfare institutions included “Gemiluth Khesed” which made small loans without interest; “Linath HaTsedek” (care for the ill), “Moshav Zekeinim” (Home for the aged), 'Maskil el Dal” (delicate support to people who lost their livelihood), “Lekhem Aniyim” (Bread for the Poor).

 

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Group of “HaShomer–HaTsair” members

Standing from right: Gita Vishkin, Esther Gude, Yankelevitz, Sheine Roznikovitz, Bilhah Nakhumovitz, –––
Sitting in second line from right: –––, Itke Moril, Hinda Shakhar, Nakhum Levitas
Sitting in third line: Tsivyah Vishkin, Zundl Fin

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The “OZE” organization, dealing mainly in preventative medicine amongst Jewish school children, had its clinic in Birzh and also served children from the vicinity.

With the deterioration of the economic situation of Birzh Jews before World War II, the OZE clinic closed down and the Artisan Union stopped its activity. Only the “Moshav–Zekeinim” which in 1935 housed six aged persons, four women and two men, continued its activity. The prayer houses and the welfare institutions continued to function rather poorly.

Relations between Jews and Lithuanians during this period were generally normal, although cold and not close. The Lithuanians lived in their alleys and the Jews in the center of the town. During these years anti–Semitism began to rear its head.

(For a partial list of personalities born in Birzh see Appendix 3)

 

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Birzh “Maccabi” 1923?
(Picture supplied by Eti Sherman–Bruskin)

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The Sherman Sisters–April 1936
From left: Yentl (Eti), Feige, Rachel

 

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A Party in Birzh–May 1937

Standing from right: –––, Feige Sherman, Shemuel Ferber, Mosheh Rapeika, Hanah–Sarah Morein, (Aunt of Hanah–Sarah ?), (Mother of Hanah–Sarah ?)
Sitting from right: Shemuel Reznikovitz, Tsivyah Gurvitz, Hanah Bokher, Aryeh Ferber, Levin ?, –––, –––, Itke Bokher, Miriam Liman, Shne'ur Propis, Miriam Ger, Mosheh Tselkovitz, Sarah Sherman
(Picture supplied by Eti Sherman–Bruskin)

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During World War II

During Soviet rule (June 1940 to June 1941) some Jewish businesses were nationalized. All Zionist parties and youth organizations and also several community institutions were disbanded. The Hebrew school became a government school, with Yiddish as the teaching language. Three Jewish families (Gendler, Beker, Lifshitz, altogether 16–17 persons) were exiled to Siberia.

On the 1st of September 1939 the German army invaded Poland, occupying the country over a period of several weeks. Many Jewish youths, mostly from Zionist youth organization, managed to infiltrate into Lithuania. The Jewish community took care of the refugees in various ways, one of which was the establishment of “Kibbutsei Hakhsharah,” where these young people were accommodated and worked for their living. In 1939 a Kibbutz Hakhsharah (training kibbutz) was established in Birzh for refugees from Poland, which was active till March 1940.

The German army entered Birzh on Thursday the 26th of June 1941, arriving from the north, from Latvia, and found the Lithuanian nationalists already organized, headed by a local lawyer. Persecution of the Jews began on the first day of German entry, the first victim being the doctor, Avraham–Zalman Levin. On a pretext of being asked to visit a sick person, two Lithuanians took him out of his house and one of them shot and killed him. Motl Beder was shot trying to defend Rabbi Bernshtein, who was murdered because he dared to protect his community. The young doctor Aptakin tried to hide in a forest, but Lithuanian nationalists found and murdered him. Advocate Kirshon and his family found asylum with Lithuanians who were considered friends, but who handed the whole family over to the police to be murdered. The local “Shokhet” was tied with his beard to the tail of a horse and then towed through the streets till his death.

One month after the Germans entered Birzh, on the 26th of July 1941, all Jews were ordered to leave their houses and to move to a ghetto which had been established in several shabby alleys around the synagogue and the Beith Midrash. Jewish men continued to be arrested all the time, then taken to the Jewish cemetery and other places in the town or its vicinity, and shot.

On the 8th of August 1941 (15th of Av 5701) the final phase of the murder of Birzh Jews began. On this day men, women and children in groups of 100–200 persons were led to the Astrava forest about 3.5 km north of Birzh, about 1.5 km on the road to Paroveja. There, by the edges of the forest, two pits 20 and 30 meters in length and 2 meters wide had been prepared, having been dug previously by 500 Jewish men who were forced to do this work. The victims were ordered to remove their upper clothes and kneel near the pits, into which they were pushed and shot. Whoever still showed signs of life was shot again with a pistol. The massacre took place from 11 o'clock AM till 7 PM in the evening. A local Lithuanian “with a yellow beard” (Jonas Kairys) excelled in brutality during the massacre. The murderers divided the robbed Jewish

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property among themselves, only giving expensive items to the Germans, after which they returned to the town singing.

According to the report of the special governmental commission of the 25th of May 1945, the number of the Jewish victims in the two pits, each 2.5 meters deep, was 2,400, amongst them 900 children. In a third pit, a smaller one, the corpses of 90 Lithuanians, also murdered by the Germans, were found. 30 more Jewish victims were found in three pits uncovered in the Jewish cemetery, all victims having been shot in the head. After the war the site was fenced, a monument was erected and on it an inscription in Russian and Lithuanian, saying: “Here are buried 3,000 Soviet citizens who were shot in 1941 by Hitler's Fascists.”

At the beginning of the nineties this tablet was changed and a new inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian says: “In this place Hitler's murderers and their local helpers murdered 2,400 Jews – men, women, children and about 90 Lithuanians, on the 8th of July 1941.”

A small number of Jewish youngsters managed to escape to USSR and fought with the Red Army, mainly in the Lithuanian Division. A few survived.

 

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Group of Birzh'er survivors at the site of the graves and monument 1989

From left: –––, Lusia Gutman–Rolnik, Rivkah Roznikovitz–Gutman, Sheine Reznikovitz–Pres, Leah Shapiro, Mira Even, Rivkah Hayat, Tsila Ger, Meir Ger
(Photo supplied by Sheine Roznikovitz–Pres)

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The monument with the inscription in Lithuanian–1989
From right: Lusia Gutman–Rolnik, Rivkah Gutman, Sheine Pres

 

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The massacre site with the monument in Astrava forest

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lit4_044a.jpg
The inscription in Yiddish:
“In this place the Hitlerist murderers and their local helpers on the August 8, 1941
murdered more than 2400 Jews–men, women children and about 90 Lithuanians.”

 

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The monument with the inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian

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Sources:

Yad–Vashem Archives,: M–1/Q–1233/89, 1460/286; 0–33/1550/1565; 0–53/3,20; 0–57; Testimonies of Elimelekh Erez, Yehudith and Yisrael Lehman, Fruma Sluzhitel
Koniukhovsky collection 0–71. Files 68, 69.
YIVO, NY – Lithuanian Communities Collection, files 122–145.
Oshri–Khurban Lita (Hebrew), pages 46, 204–207.
Lipman M.D. – History of the Jews in Zamut (Hebrew), pages 72–81.
Tabakin Henry–Only Two Remained, Private Edition, Cleveland 1973.
Cohen Berl – Jews in the Radzivil Birzh Principality in the 17th and 18th centuries (Hebrew).
The article I included in the “Anthology of the History of the Jews in Poland”, Tel–Aviv 1991, pages 23–44).
Birzh by Rafi Julius – Pinkas haKehiloth. Lita (Encyclopedia of Jewish Settlements in Lithuania) (Hebrew), Editor: Dov Levin, Assistant editor: Josef Rosin, Yad Vashem. Jerusalem 1996.
Dos Vort, Kovno (Yiddish): 26.12.1934, 24.3.1935, 26.3.1935, 28.4.1935.
Folksblat, Kovno (Yiddish): 29.7.1935; 6.7.1939; 13.6.1939.
Di Yiddishe Shtime, Kovno (Yiddish), 2.4.1922.
Der Yiddisher Cooperator (Yiddish) Kovno, Nr. 2–3, 1922.
Tsait (Time) (Yiddish) – Shavl, Nr.28, 4.5.1924.
HaMeilitz (St. Petersburg) (Hebrew): 18.6.1881; 28.11.1884; July 1892;
Nr.153 1893; Nr.59 1894.
YIVO Bleter (Pages), Vol.27, pages 576–578.

Appendix 1

A partial list of Rabbis who served in Birzh

Tsevi–Hirsh haLevi Hurvitz–Rabbi of three communities: Keidan, Vizhun, Birzh. His residence was in Keidan. One of the first rabbis of Birzh. There is his signature on a document in Lublin from 1648.
Yekhezkel Katsenelenboigen–(1668–1749), he would sign as rabbi of Keidan, Birzh and surroundings.
Shalom Zak–(?–1725)
Yisrael ben Shalom Zak, from 1728 in Birzh
Hayim ben Yisrael Zak
Naftali Hertz Klatskin
Shelomoh–Zalman ben Meir Zaksh–(1814–1876)
Azriel ben Gershon–Mendel Ziv

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Asher–Nisan ben Yehudah–Leib Levinzon
Pinkhas haCohen Lintop–(1852–1914), rabbi of the Khasidim in Birzh
Eliyahu–Ya'akovDov ben Hayim Shor–(1848–1936) from 1932 in Jerusalem
Binyamin Movshe–(1887–1941) the last Rabbi of Birzh, murdered by the Lithuanians;
Yehudah–Leib Bernshtein–(?–1941) the last Rabbi of Birzh, murdered by the Lithuanians.
All above mentioned Rabbis published booklets or books on religious issues.

Appendix 2

List of Jews mentioned in protocols of the Birzh Estate Court (1620–1745)

Aron Yoselevitz, Avram Itselevitz, Itsel Danilevitz, Aron Markovitz, Marek Shlomovitz, Shelomoh Markovitz, Marek Nakhakhovitz, Idel Izakovitz, Mozes Shmerlovitz, Mozes Zalmanovitz, Yisrael Mozeshovitz, Mozes Zundelovitz, Yisrael Izakovitz, Idel Natanovitz, Yisrael Lazarovitz, Hayim Shabshevitz, Rasia Abramotz, Avram Mishnovitz, David Elyashevitz, and wife Lipka, Shakhna Nakhmanovitz, Yozef Hirshevitz and more.

Appendix 3

A partial list of personalities born in Birzh

The well known Rabbis family Klatskin had its roots in Birzh

Yehoshua–Josef Preil–(1858–1896), wrote many articles in the Hebrew press “HaLevanon”, “HaMeilitz” and several books. Died in Kovno.
Josef–Elhanan Melamed–(1859–1932), rabbi in different towns of Russia, published several books, immigrated to Eretz–Yisrael and was director of the “Mizrahi” school in Hevron, died in Jerusalem.
Elhanan–Bunem Vaserman–(1876–1941), one of the most famous Yeshivah heads in his generation. Was murdered in the Ninth Fort of Kovno.
Elazar–Meir Preil–(1881–?), rabbi in Manchester, Brooklyn, Trenton and Yeshivah head at the Yeshivah University in New–York. Published articles in the Hebrew religious periodicals “HaPardes”, “Sha'arei –Zion” etc.
A.B.Kohen–(1873–?) published his book in English “Memoirs of 85 Years” (1958)
Tsevi Golombok–(1880–1954), since 1903 in England, in 1914 publisher and redactor of his Jewish evening newspaper. In 1918 redactor of his weekly: “Yiddishe Shtime”. From 1928 publisher and redactor of the Jewish–English weekly “Jewish Echo” in Glasgow, where he died.

[Page 47]

Yitshak–Aharon Berger–(1889–1979), since 1902 in America, published poetry in the Yiddish press of America, died in New–York.
Yosef–Yehudah–Leib Zosnitz–(1837–1910), mathematician and nature sciences researcher, died in New York.

Appendix 4

Copy of the official phone book of Birzh 1930

 

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[Page 48]

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[Page 49]

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[Page 50]

Appendix 5

Partial List of Lithuanian Murderers of Jews of Birzai and the Surrounding District

Transcribed by Genia Hollander

Family name First name Community Remarks
ARMONAVICIUS Kazys Vaskai  
ARMONAVICIUS Telesforas Vaskai  
AUGUSTINAS Vasilius Nemunelis  
BALTULIS Petras Pasvalys  
BARKAUSKAS Antanas Pasvalys  
BAVILAUSKAS Vacys Birzai+  
BELTE Jonas Vaskai  
BILAUSKAS Petras Pasvalys  
BIZAUSKAS Juozas Joniskelis  
BLAGOSCIUNAS Joniskelis  
BLAZYS Jonas Valkininkai  
BRAZINSKAS Juozas Joniskelis  
BURKUS Kazimieras Pasvalys  
BVELSKIS Stasys Vaskai  
BYTAUTAS Antanas Vaskai  
DISA Pumpenai  
DRAGUNAS Pranas Vabalninkai  
DRAZDAUSKIENE Irena Joniskelis  
DULEVICIUS Vaskai  
DZIUVE Joniskelis  
EIDUKONIS Kazys Vabalninkas  
GARLAUSKAS Petras Vaskai  
GINTAUTAS Povilas Vabalninkas  
GRAZIUNAS Valkininkai  
GRUZAUSKAS Kazys Pasvalys  
GUDAS Leonas Pasvalys  
IGNATAVICIUS Birzai+ Chief of Pol.
JAKELIUNAS Jonas Vaskai  
JANKAUSKAS Petras Joniskelis  
KAIRYS Jonas Birzai  
KALKIS Jonas Vabalninkas  
KALKIS Petras Vabalninkas  
KATEIVA Leonas Birzai  
KAZENAS Jonas Pasvalys  
KAZIUNAS Antanas Birzai  
KEKSA Juozas Joniskelis  
KIMBRYS Jonas Joniskelis  
KIMBRYS Petras Joniskelis  
KOTKEVICIUS Jonas Joniskelis  
KRIVICKAS Jonas Pasvalys  
KRIVICKAS Petras Pasvalys  
KRUOPYS Povilas Vaskai  
KUBILIUS Jonas Pasvalys  
KUDIRKA Nemunelis  
KUNICKAS Valkininkai  
LABEIKIS Balys Pasvalys  
LELIS Pumpenai  
LIEPA Juozas Joniskelis  
LIUKPETRIS Povilas Pasvalys  
MACELIS Jonas Joniskelis  
MACELIS Juozas Joniskelis  
MACELIS Karolis Joniskelis  
MAGELINSKAS Vaskai  
MISIUNAS Bolius Vaskai  
MITKA Jonas Vaskai  
MORKUNAS Jurgis Pasvalys  
NOGENTAS Ignas Pasvalys  
PAKARNA Vladas Joniskelis  
PETRAITIS Pumpenai  
PETRIKENAS Antanas Vabalninkas  
PETRONIS Stasys Vabalninkas  
RADZEVICIUS Joniskelis  
RIDIKAS Jonas Joniskelis  
SIANCIUNAS Vabalninkas  
SIMONAITIS Mykolas Vaskai  
SIMONAVICIUS Mykolas Vaskai  
SIMONIS Povilas Nemunelis  

May G–d punish these cowards. May they and their associates and collaborators and their closest,
their descendants and offspring, stand defamed and cured to all posterity
.

 

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