Yurburg (Jurbarkas in Lithuanian) is situated on the right hand shore of the Nieman (Nemunas) river where the tributaries Mituva and Imstra converge. The town used to be about 12 km (7.5 miles) to the east of the Prussian border, surrounded by woods. It began as a stronghold of the Knights Order of the Cross in the thirteenth century named Georgenburg or Jurgenburg, but after the border between Lithuania and Germany was defined in 1422, Yurburg became a border town and a customs point. During the thirteenth century the importance of Yurburg increased due to the harvesting of trees in the surrounding woods for commercial purposes, when the logs were floated on the Nieman River to Prussia. Thanks to the ethnic diversity of its inhabitants, its location on a main sailing route the Nieman and its proximity to Prussia, Yurburg became a communication and commercial center between east and west. During Russian rule (17951915) the town was included in the Kovno Gubernia (province).
As a result of railway construction and road improvement in the region during the nineteenth century, sailing on the Nieman subsided and the growth of Yurburg slowed. The town was taken over by rebels for a short time during the Polish mutiny in 1831, but after the mutiny was repressed by the Tzar, Yurburg returned to its former life.
German culture from across the border influenced the social life greatly and affected the mode of living in town, which also continued to be the case during the period of Lithuania's independence (19181940).
Because of its topographic situation and location between the two rivers and the Nieman, the town frequently suffered from floods. In 1862 eighty houses were inundated and their residents rescued themselves by climbing onto the roofs. Yurburg also suffered from fires, the greatest fires being in 1906 when 120 of its houses burnt down.
Jewish Settlement till after World War I
Yurburg was first mentioned in the book of Rabbi Meir ben Gedalyah (15581616) from Lublin Sheloth uTeshuvoth (Questions and Answers) concerning the case of an Agunah (deserted wife) whose husband had been killed in Yurburg. The testimonies of this case were reported in 1593 and 1597. During the period of the autonomous organization of Jewish communities in Lithuania Va'ad Medinath Lita (16231764), Yurburg was included in the Keidan district, and by 1650 there were already seven Jewish houses in town.
In the middle of the 17th century, some Yurburg's Jews earned their living by renting the right to collect taxes for the government in Yurburg, Birzh and other towns, and this was done under the cover of Christians.
At the beginning of the 18th century the community wanted to replace the officiating Rabbi, but he complained to the authorities and received a letter of
protection from the king. On the 17th of November 1714 Rabbi Aizik Leizerovitz was mentioned in an official document, but detailed information of Jewish settlement of Yurburg exists only from the year 1766. At this time there were 2,333 Jews in the town who owned a few prayer houses, among them the magnificent wooden Synagogue built in 1790, one of the oldest in Lithuania. There was also a Jewish cemetery, as well as welfare and religious education institutions. In 1862 there were 2,550 Jews in Yurburg.
Flooding in Yurburg
(Courtesy of Jack Cossid)
Yurburg Jews suffered during the Polish mutiny in 1831. A local resident, Reuven Rozenfeld, was hanged by rebels, who blamed him for aiding the Russian rulers. After the mutiny was quelled, a trial of those involved in the hanging took place for many months, among the accused was a Jew named Tuviyah ben Meir Danilevitz. After being imprisoned in Rasein for 13 months, he was acquitted due to lack of evidence.
In 1843 the Czar issued an order stipulating that Jews living in an area within 50 km of the western border of Russia should be transferred to some of the Gubernias (provinces) inside Russia. Yurburg's community was one of 19 communities that refused to obey this order.
Most of Yurburg Jews made their living from the timber trade, floating timber to Germany, commerce, customs commission, transport and shop keeping. In 1865 a branch of one of the largest commercial firms in Germany Hausman et Lunz opened in town.
The local garrison was also situated there, providing a living for Jewish merchants. In 1861 Jewish soldiers of the garrison donated money for writing a new Torah Scroll, which was later brought into the synagogue by the Jewish soldiers, with due festivity. The celebration was attended by respected local people, headed by the commander of the garrison.
At the end of the 1880s a cooperative credit company was established, for which it took three years to receive permission to operate from the authorities.
As a result of the general atmosphere in Yurburg, the Haskalah (Enlightenment) movement flourished there among the Jews more than in Zhamut's (Zemaitija region) other communities. This was demonstrated by the cooperation of the community heads in the establishment of a quite modern TalmudTorah in 1884, where 100 poor children studied, and in addition to religious subjects, Hebrew and grammar, mathematics and Russian were also taught. Members of the management of this institution were: L.Valk, M.H. Kostin and L.Boger, one of the teachers being the famous Hebrew writer Avraham Mapu. Although the school was under the supervision of the government, its financial maintenance was mainly the responsibility of the community. Due to the fact that the 900 Rubles received from the Meat tax was not sufficient, the community heads appealed to former Yurburgers in New York, Saint Louis and Rochester in the United States for help. A partial list of donors (who donated from $0.50 to $750) was published in the Hebrew newspaper HaMeilitz in July 1889.
The Yurburg Jewish institutions also served smaller Jewish communities in the vicinity, such as Shaudine, Pakelnishok, Gaure. (After World War I there were no more Jews in Pakelnishok).
Exterior of the Old Wooden Synagogue of Yurburg Built in 1790
(Photograph courtesy of Balys Buracas)
During the years of famine (18691872) which affected many parts of Lithuania, Yurburg suffered less and its Jewish residents donated money to needy communities. The fundraisers were YitshakAizik Volberg and Shelomoh Bresloi.
In a list of donors for the Settlement of EretzYisrael dated 1896, names of 20 Yurburg Jews appear (see Appendix 3). The fundraisers were Tsevi Fain and AvrahamYitshak Kopelov.
In the old Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem there is a headstone of Rivkah Gitel bat Mordehai Margalioth from Yurburg. During World War I many of Yurburg's Jews left the town, some returning later.
During Independent Lithuania (19181940)
After the establishment of independent Lithuania, Yurburg was included in the Raseiniai district. The number of Jewish residents in Yurburg was smaller than before as some of those who had left did not return and also due to immigration abroad. However, their proportion amongst the whole population increased, as can be seen from the first census performed by the government in 1923. There were 4,409 residents including 1,887 Jews (43%), while in 1897 there were 7,391 residents, of them 2,350 Jews (32%)
Chair of Eliyahu HaNavi in the Old Wooden Synagogue 1927
(Courtesy of Ben Craine ,Detroit, Michigan, USA)
The Bimah in the Old Synagogue of Yurburg
(Photograph courtesy of Balys Buracas)
In 1922 the elections for the first Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) took place, with 774 Utyan Jews participating. 477 voted for the Zionist list, 199 for the Democrats and 98 for the religious list Akhduth.
According to the autonomy law for minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government, the minister for Jewish affairs, Dr. Max Soloveitshik, ordered elections to be held in the summer of 1919 for community committees in all towns of the state. In Yurburg a committee was only elected five years later, in 1924, after much pressure from the National institutions of Lithuanian Jewry (Va'ad HaAretz). The committee (Va'ad) comprised five members of the Workers list, three ZionistMerchants, two Religious, two Democrats, one TseireiZion, one Mizrahi and a representative of the butchers. The committee, which collected taxes as required by law and was in charge of all aspects of community life, was active till the end of 1925 when the autonomy was annulled.
Among the 14 members at the local council (later the municipality) elected in 1924, six were Jews, one of them serving as deputy chairman and another as a member of the management. The elections of 1931 resulted in three Lithuanians, one German and one Russian being elected, as well as five Jews: Z. Levitan, M. Shimonov, Y. Grinberg, Sh. Zundelevitz, Adv. H. Naividel, one of them as deputy chairman. In the elections of 1934, when two Jewish lists were presented, four Jews, four Lithuanians and one German were elected.
During this period, as previously, Yurburg's Jews made their living from trade with timber, fish, poultry, fruits and eggs that were exported to Germany. Others dealt in crafts, fishing and shipping, a large part of economic activity taking place on weekly market days (Monday and Thursday) and during the 24 annual fairs.
According to the government survey of 1931 there were 75 businesses in Yurburg, 69 being owned by Jews (92%).
The list of traders according to the type of business is given in the table below:
|Type of the business||Total||Owned by Jews|
|Grain and Flax||4||4|
|Butcher's shops and Cattle Trade||13||9|
|Restaurants and Taverns||4||2|
|Textile Products and Furs||13||13|
|Leather and Shoes||4||4|
|Haberdashery and Utensils||6||6|
|Medicine and Cosmetics||3||3|
|Radio, Bicycles, Sewing Machines||1||1|
|Tools and Steel Products||5||5|
|Books and Stationery||1||1|
According to the same survey there were 19 light industries in Yurburg, including 18 owned by Jews (95%), as can be seen in the following table:
|Type of the Factory||Total||Jewish Owned|
|Power Plants||1||1||Sawmills and Furniture||2||2|
|Paper Industry: Printing Press||1||1|
In 1937 there were 93 Jewish artisans: 19 tailors, 12 butchers, 12 bakers, 8 shoemakers, 6 barbers, 5 stitchers, 4 painters, 3 hatters, 3 glaziers, 2 oven builders, 2 locksmiths 2 electricians, 2 watchmakers, 2 jewelers, 2 photographers, 1 tinsmith and 8 others. In 1925 there was also one Jewish doctor and 2 dentists.
The Jewish popular bank (Folksbank), established in 1922, which later had up to 400 members, played an important role in the economic life of Yurburg's Jews. Among the great businesses in town the private bank of the Bernshtein family, the ExportHandel company and the shipping companies in the Nieman River, should be mentioned.
By 1939 there were 116 phone owners, 41 of them belonging to Jews.
|One of the steamships wharfing in Yurburg|
Throughout the ages mutual tolerance existed between the different ethnic groups in Yurburg, and this also continued during Lithuanian rule. However, there were exceptions from time to time, as in 1919, when Yurburg Jews complained to the minister for Jewish affairs in Kovno about a decision by the local authorities that all signs should be in the Lithuanian language only. Previously there had been some signs on Jewish shops in Yiddish or in Hebrew. One of the factors that fostered strong mutual relations was the local branch of the Organization of Jewish Combatants for the Independence of Lithuania, but during the 1930s a significant decline took place in the relations between local Lithuanians, Germans and their Jewish neighbors. It expressed itself by the suppression of Jewish commerce, such as the closing of the ExportHandel company, in assaults and in the burning of Jewish property, i.e. the flourmill of the Fainberg family.
Adding to the deterioration of the economic situation of Yurburg's Jews, the lower and middle classes in particular, were the many fires and floods caused by the rising water level in the Nieman due to the melting of the ice in spring.
Yurburg was famous in Lithuania for its Zionist atmosphere and Hebrew culture that dominated it. One of the two public parks was almost officially called TelAviv, and the Hebrew high school was called Herzl after the founder of the Zionist organization. In addition to the old Talmud Torah, which was turned into a modern elementary school, a new Hebrew school of the Tarbuth chain was also established. There was a public Yiddish library called after Mendele Mokher Sefarim and a Hebrew library named after Y. H. Brener.
(without external students), the teachers
from right; Kaplan (gymnastics), Lifshitz (Natural Science), Mrs. EfrathRosenboim (Languages), Tsentkovsky (Tanakh Bible), Dr. Efrath (Principal, Mathematics) Kosotzky (Literature)
The students from right: Dartwin, Kobelkovsky, Zevulun Petrikansky, Hannah Fainberg (Feinberg) (x ? ), Shlomovitz; below to the right Hinda Levinberg, Klara (Clara) Petrikansky
The Maccabi sports organization with about 100 members, an urban Kibbutz of HeHalutz named Patish and branches of all Zionist parties, were established.
There was also much activity by Zionist youth organizations, such as HaShomerHaTsair, Beitar and BeneiAkiva.
The LeftistYiddishist movement, the Jewish Knowledge Society and the sports organization the Jewish Workers Club were also active among Yurburg's Jews. Communist youth too had their supporters.
Sitting from the right: Rafael Kizel, Berl Levinger, and Avraham Altman
Standing from the right: Yitskhak Rakhtsa, Zevulun Petrikansky (Poran); Elyashev, Miasnik, Yosef Gutman (emigrated to El Paso, Texas)
|A group of Beitar Scouts, 1926|
From left to right: Simkha Rokhtzo, Ark Rickler, Mosheh, Pinki Kopinski and Jack Cossid as the secretary of the organization. December 1st, 1937
The table below shows how Yurburg Zionists voted for the different parties at five Zionist Congresses: (See the key below the table)
|Total Voter||Labor Party
During Nazi rule a member of the illegal Communist youth organization named Yekutiel Elyashuv, who had managed to escape to Russia at the beginning of the war, was parachuted in Lithuania. He fell in battle.
For the list of Rabbis who served in Yurburg during the years, see Appendix 1. For a partial list of personalities of Yurburg, see Appendix 2.
During World War II and Afterwards
World War II broke out on the first of September 1939, when the German army attacked Poland. A GermanSoviet agreement of August 23rd 1939 had stipulated that Lithuania would be under German influence, but that same year, in September 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union decided that Lithuania would be under Soviet influence. Accordingly the agreement of October 10th
1939 stipulated that the Soviet Union return Vilna to Lithuania, this ending its occupation by Poland. This included an area of 9000 square kilometers around the town, and Soviet troops were allowed to establish bases all over Lithuania.
On June 15th, 1940, Lithuania was forced to establish a regime friendly towards the Soviet Union, and after the new government headed by Justas Paleckis was installed, the Red Army took over Lithuania. President Smetona fled, Lithuanian leaders were exiled to Siberia, and political parties were dissolved. A popular Seimas was elected, 99% of its members being communists, and decided unanimously that Lithuania join the Soviet Union.
|The seller of the General Zionist newspaper Di Yiddishe Shtime|
Following new laws, the majority of factories and shops belonging to Jews of Yurburg were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. Most of the artisans were organized into cooperatives (Artels). Some flats and buildings were confiscated. Some enterprises were turned into government institutions, others into public and communal companies.
After these events the supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore most of the brunt, and the standard of living dropped gradually.
All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded, the Hebrew Tarbuth school was closed, and the Yiddish school which was broadened, became an official Soviet institution. At this time Yurburg numbered about 600 Jewish families.
On the 22nd of June 1941 the war between Germany and the USSR began, the German army entering Yurburg on the same day. Many people connected to the Soviet regime tried to escape, but only a small number managed to board a steamer, which sailed to Kovno. Very few managed to escape to the USSR. (See also the BA Thesis of Ruta Puisyte from the University of Vilnius Holocaust in Jurbarkas at: https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Yurburg/bathesis.html)
Those Jews who remained in town hid in the bathhouse, but German soldiers discovered them and forced them to return to their homes. Although the Gestapo should have processed Jews from Tilzit, during the first weeks of the occupation the fate of the Jews was in the hands of the local Lithuanian police and its newly appointed head, a teacher in the local high school. The Lithuanians forced Jewish youths to work in various jobs, including cleaning the streets. The Lithuanians also forced Jews to destroy the old and magnificent wooden synagogue (built in 1790) with their own hands, including the Bimah and Eliyahu's Chair with their splendid ornamental wooden carvings. See the images at the beginning of this article.
During this work, Jews were beaten and mistreated, one example being when a brick was fixed to the town cantor's beard (Alperovitz) and he was thus led through the streets. On Saturday, June 28th, 1941, Lithuanian police forced the old Rabbi HayimReuven Rubinshtein as well as Jewish family heads to bring all Torah scrolls and other holy books to the synagogue yard to burn them. The next day policemen made Jews run through the streets in a socalled procession, while a sculpture of Stalin was carried ahead. In front of a curious crowd, Jews were forced to dance and humiliate themselves by declaiming speeches that were dictated to them and similar actions. Several Jewish doctors and learned people were murdered, after having been humiliated and tortured by local Lithuanians.
On the 3rd of July 1941 (7th of Tamuz 5701) German and Lithuanian police detained 322 Jews, whom they led to the Jewish cemetery cruelly beating them on the way, and then shot them one by one near the pits which had previously been dug. One of the victims was the exporter Emil Max, who as a German soldier during World War I, was decorated with an Iron Cross, first degree. He attacked a Gestapo officer, and was shot dead immediately. After the carnage a party for the murderers was arranged in town.
On the 27th of July, 45 elderly Jews were put on carts to be taken to Rasein for a supposedly medical inspection. After a journey of 15 km they were murdered
together with the coachmen who transported them and with Jews from neighboring villages. On the first of August, 105 elderly Jewish women were murdered in the same manner. On the 4th of September, 520 women, children and relatives of the 322 men, victims of the carnage of the 3rd of July, were imprisoned for 3 days in the yard of the Jewish school, after which they were transferred to the yard of Motl Levyush which served as a labor camp. At midnight, the 7th of September, these women and their children, who resisted and hit the Lithuanian murderers with their fists and shouted with anger, were led to the Smalininkai grove (seven kilometers from Yurburg), where they were shot with rifles and machine guns, with only a few girls managing to escape. One week later the last 50 Jews, who had been left temporarily in Yurburg for work, were murdered too. Only a few were hidden by peasants.
During the three years of Nazi occupation, several Jews who managed to escape away from the hands of the rulers and also from local residents who were liable to betray them to the police, roamed around in the surroundings of Yurburg and Staki. The Fainshtein brothers, armed with automatic weapons, met a Soviet pilot whose plane had been shot down, and together they acted as a partisan group.
Later on several tens of Jews from the Kovno ghetto and from other places joined this group and in the spring of 1944 they numbered 3540 armed fighters. From time to time they attacked German vehicles on the roads and punished Lithuanian collaborators. When the frontline approached their base, they were suddenly surrounded by German gendarmerie and after a short fight all fell in battle. From this group only two wounded women and five men (among them the Fainshtein brothers who were absent from the base during the fight) survived. Among Yurburg's Jews those who survived were those who had managed to escape to Russia, those who arrived in the Kovno ghetto and several others who fought with the partisans.
After the war a monument was erected on the mass graves.
In 1991 The Book of Remembrance of Yurburg Jewish Community was published in Hebrew and Yiddish, edited by Zevulun Poran (Petrikansky).
The number of Jewish survivors who returned to live in Yurburg decreased, in 1970 there were nine Jews, in 1977 there were four, in 1998 only five, and in 2001 there were none!
In 199192 the government cleaned and restored the old Jewish cemetery.
In 2003 The Memorial Book for the Jewish Community of YurburgLithuania; Translation and Update (English), (Editor and Compiler: Joel Alpert, Assistant editorsJosef Rosin and Fania Hilelson Jivotovsky; NY 2003) was published.
The monument on the mass graves near Kalnenai village.
The inscription in Yiddish says:
In this place the Nazis and their local helpers cruely murdered on the 5th of September 1941 500 Jews.
|The Memorial Plaque in the Holocaust Cellar in Jerusalem|
Yad Vashem Archives: M/Q1314/133; M9/15(6); TR10/40,275 Koniukhovsky Collection 071, files 49,50.
Central Zionist ArchivesJerusalem, Z4/2548; 13/15/131; 55/1788; 55/1701; YIVO, Collection of Lithuanian Communities, NewYork, Files 507509, 1388, 1523.
The Oral History Division of the Institute of Contemporary Jewry, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, evidence 65/12 of J.Tarshish.
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem, page 93 (Hebrew).
Kamzon J.D., Yahaduth Lita (Lithuanian Jewry), pages 147154 (Hebrew), Rabbi Kook Publishing House, Jerusalem 1959.
Levin Sh. Lithuanian Jews in the 1831 Uprising YIVO Pages.
Poran ZevulunSefer haZikaron leKehilath YurburgLita, (Hebrew and Yiddish) Jerusalem 1991.
The Memorial Book for the Jewish Community of YurburgLithuania; Translation and Update (English), Editor and Compiler: Joel Alpert, Assistant editorsJosef Rosin and Fania Hilelson Jivotovsky; NY 2003
Dos Vort daily newspaper in Yiddish of the ZS party, Kovno30.10.1934; 11.11.1934; 12.2.1939.
Di Yiddishe Shtimedaily newspaper in Yiddish of the General ZionistsKovno, 24.8.1919; 3.9.1919; 4.4.1922; 25.4.1923; 19.10.1924; 23.11.1924; 19.6.1931; 28.8.1931; 5.10.1937.
HaMeilitz, St.Petersburg, (Hebrew), 18.8.1886; 3.1.1889; 19.4.1889; 19.2.1899; 2.7.1893; 6.3.1901.
Folksblat daily newspaper of the Folkists, Kovno (Yiddish), 7.3.1933; 10.4.1935; 16.7.1935; 21.3.1937; 29.3.1937; 5.10.1937; 20.11.1940.
Funken, Kovno (Yiddish), 8.5.1931.
Di Zeit (Time), Shavl (Yiddish)5.6.1924; 6.5.1924.
Hamashkif daily newspaper of the Revisionist party, TelAviv (Hebrew) 22.4.1945.
Forverts New York (Yiddish)4.4.1946.
Gimtasis Krastas (Country of birth) (Lithuanian) 8.9.1988.
Naujienos ,Chicago(News) (Lithuanian) 8.9.1949.
Sviesa, Jurbarkas, (Light) (Lithuanian) 12.7.1990; 8.8.1990; 11.8.1990.
Valstieciu Laikrastis(Farmers Newspaper) (Lithuanian) 26.4.1990.
A list of Rabbis who served in Yurburg
Aizik Leizerovitz mentioned in an official document in 1714.
AryehYehudahLeib during the18th century.
YehushuaZelig Ashkenazi (about 17851831), refused to accept a salary because he had a rich fatherinlaw.
Mosheh haLevi Levinson, from1861 in Yurburg.
Ya'akovYosef ben DovBer (18411902), from 1888 a Rabbi in New York where he died.
Yehezkel Lifshitz (18621932), in Yurburg 18871891.
Avraham Dimant (18631940), in Yurburg for several tens of years until his death.
HayimReuven Rubinshtein (18881941), the last Rabbi of Yurburg, murdered by the Lithuanians.
Most of the above mentioned Rabbis published books on religious matter.
A partial list of personalities in Yurburg.
Shelomoh Fainberg (18211893), philantropist, moved to Kovno in 1857, married Baroness Rosa von Lichtenstein from Vienna, in Koenigsberg from 1866. He received the title of Councellor of Commerce from the Czar, and died in Koenigsberg.
Shelomoh Shakhnovitz author of the book The Skill of Reading the Torah (Keidan 1924).
Mendel Shlosberg (1843??), moved to Lodz, where he participated in the development of the Polish textile industry.
Shelomoh Goldstein (19141995), a graduate of the Hebrew high school in Yurburg and a graduate of Rome university in chemical engineering, one of the leaders of HeHalutz in Lithuania, was imprisoned in the Kovno ghetto. Lived in Skokie, Illinios (near Chicago) USA, from 1948, a philanthropist who supported many Jewish and Zionist institutions in America and in Israel, among them the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. For many years a member of the Zionist executive.
Zalman and Tuviyah Samet, born in Yurburg in 1857 and 1858, founders and directors of the big firm Brothers Samet in Lodz.
William Zorach (18871966), sculptor and painter, also painted many pictures on Yurburg. He died in Bath, Maine, U.S.A
Shelomoh ben Yisrael Bresloi, a learned man and philanthropist, donated 500 Rubles for establishing a Gemiluth Hesed in town.
Hirsh Noteles, sent a Hebrew poem to the Czar and received a letter of thanks and a golden ring as a memorial gift.
List of donors for Settlement of EretzYisrael, published in 1896
Gut Leib Segal Ya'akov Garzon Mordehai Fainberg Gavriel Homler AvrahamLeib Pustapedsky A.H. Helberg Shemuel Kopelov AvrahamYitshak Hershelevitz Avraham Kaplitz Hertz Yablonsky DavidShelomoh Rubinovitz Max Yozefer HayimNathan Dr. Rabinovitz Tsezar Yozelit Hayim Rochelson Shimon Leibovitz Aba Rivkin Dov Mendelson Leib Myakinin Avraham
The fundraisers were Tsevi Fain and AvrahamYitshak Kopelov
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