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[Page 70]

Koshedar
(Kaišiadorys, Lithuania)

54°52' 24°27'

Koshedar (in Yiddish), 24 km southeast of Kovno, developed in the second half of the 19th century when the Kovno–Vilna railway line was constructed and a station was built there. Later, when the Koshedar– Siauliai railway line was built, the town became an important and busy railway junction.

Until 1795 Koshedar 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 or Prussian. The part of Lithuania which included Koshedar fell under the rule of Czarist Russia. From 1802 it was part of the Vilna province (Gubernia) as a county administrative center.

During independent Lithuania (1918–1940) Koshedar continued to be a county administrative center, and as a result of Poland's occupation of Vilna and its region, which included the town Trok (Trakai), Koshedar also served as the administrative center of the Trakai district. During this period the importance of Koshedar decreased because, according to the new border with Poland, the railway connection to Poland and Russia ceased to exist.

 

Jewish Settlement till World War II

Jews settled in Koshedar while the railway station was being built. The first Jewish families – David Tekatch, Shemuel Morgenshtern, Hayim Strashun and Yakov Khayuth (Khayes) – settled near the station and made their living in timber, while their wives kept hotels, restaurants and bars. Jews who arrived later built their houses in the town itself, some 2 km from the station.

By 1897 there were 833 residents in Koshedar, of them 317 Jews (38%).

About 60 Jewish families, whose economic situation was stable, lived in Koshedar before World War I. They had a Beth–Midrash and employed a Rabbi, a Shokhet and a Mohel. The children studied in a “Kheder Metukan” (Improved Kheder). There was also a library.

Zionism gained support in Koshedar, and at the regional conference of the “Zionist Associations” of the Kovno and Vilna Gubernias, which took place in Vilna in 1898 with the participation of 71 delegates from 51 cities and towns, the delegate from Koshedar was the local Rabbi Tsevi Hurvitz. The list of donors for the settlement of Eretz–Yisrael, published in the Hebrew newspaper “HaMeilitz” in the years 1893–1899, contains 74 names of Koshedar Jews. The fund raisers were Rabbi Tsevi Hurvitz, Mosheh Gelvan and Shelomoh Tekatch. The correspondents for “HaMeilitz” were Yosef Fraker and D.Zak.

After the establishment of independent Lithuania in 1918, and following the autonomy law for minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government, the Minister for Jewish Affairs, Dr. Menakhem (Max) Soloveichik, ordered elections to be held for community committees (Va'ad Kehilah) in the summer

[Page 71]

of 1919. In Koshedar the elections took place in autumn 1919 and a committee of 9 members was elected: 2 General Zionists, 3 from the artisans, 4 undefined. This committee was active in almost all fields of Jewish life until the end of 1925, after which the autonomy was annulled.

At the elections for the first Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) in October 1922, the Zionist list in Koshedar received 139 votes, the Democrats – 23 and “Akhduth” – 16.

According to the first census performed by the government in 1923, Koshedar had 1929 residents, of them 596 Jews (31%).

During this period the local Jews made their living from commerce, crafts and light industry. According to the government survey of 1931 there were 20 businesses, including 15 owned by Jews (75%).

Details according to the type of business are given in the table below:

Type of the business Total Owned by Jews
Groceries 1 1
Butcher's shops and Cattle Trade 4 1
Restaurants and Taverns 7 6
Beverages 1 1
Textile Products and Furs 2 2
Medicine and Cosmetics 1 1
Radio, Sewing Machines and Electric Equipment 1 1
Timber and Heating Material 1 1
Machines and Transportation 1 0
Miscellaneous 1 1

 

According to the same survey, Koshedar had 11 light industry factories, 9 of them owned by Jews (82%), as can be seen in the following table:

Type of the Factory Total Jewish Owned
Metal Workshops, Power Plants 1 0
Chemical Industry: Lubrication Ointment 1 1
Textile: Wool, Flax, Knitting 1 1
Food: Flour Mills, Bakeries 3 3
Sawmills, Furniture 1 1
Furs, Hats 4 3

 

By 1937 there were 27 Jewish artisans: 6 tailors, 5 butchers, 3 bakers, 3 barbers, 2 shoemakers, 2 stitchers, 1 glazier, 1 book binder, 1 blacksmith, 1 tinsmith, 1 painter, 1 saddler.

The Jewish Folksbank played an important role in the economic life of Koshedar's Jews. In 1927 it had 170 members, but in the thirties the number of its members decreased to 110. In 1939 there were 64 phones in town, 7 of them belonging to Jews.

[Page 72]

The deterioration of Koshedar as a railway junction to Vilna and eastwards and the economic crisis in Lithuania caused many Koshedar Jews to immigrate to America, South Africa and Uruguay. Some immigrated to Eretz–Yisrael. At the end of the thirties only about 60 Jewish families were left in Koshedar, who subsisted mainly from the two weekly market days.

Jewish children, numbering a yearly average of about 40 pupils, studied in the Hebrew school of the “Tarbuth” chain. Several graduates of this school continued their studies in the Hebrew High Schools in Kovno. There was a “Kheder” with 15 boys, and also a Yiddish library of the “Libhober fun Vissen” (Seekers of Knowledge) association.

Many belonged to the Zionist movement, and all Zionist parties had representatives in town, as can be seen from the results of elections to Zionist Congresses in the table below:

Cong.
No.
Year Total
Shek
Total Voters Labor Party
Z”S Z”Z
Rev Gen. Zion
A B
Gros Miz
15 1927 21 15 3 3 4 5
16 1929 61 29 4 8 2 11 4
17 1931 62 31 14 14 1 3 3
18 1933 94 58 27 4 5
19 1935 147 139 69 10 28 9 23

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

 

Zionist youth organizations in Koshedar included “HaShomer HaTsair”, “Beitar” etc. Sports activities took place in the “Maccabi” branch with about 40 members, while there was also the “Tifereth–Bakhurim” organization for religious boys.

 

Lit4_072.jpg
Stamp of the “Tehilim” Society

[Page 73]

Lit4_073a.jpg
Koshedar Hebrew Elementary School 1936

 

Lit4_073b.jpg
Koshedar Jewish Scouts

[Page 74]

Religious life in Koshedar concentrated around the Beth–Midrash where lessons were given by the Tehilim society, the Mishnah society and the Shas (Talmud) society.

Among the Rabbis who served in Koshedar were:

Binyamin Meizel (from 1881);
Tsevi–Hirsh Hurvitz (in Koshedar 1890–1902);
Yisrael–Aba Kriger (from 1903);
Shalom–Yitskhak Shtchupak, (served 1922–1929);
Aharon–David Yafe, its last Rabbi (served 1934–1941), was murdered in 1941.

Among the personalities born in Koshedar were:

Morris Gest (Gershonovitz 1881–1942), who immigrated to America at the age of 12. He was an impresario who brought famous artists from Europe to America and cooperated with Reinhardt in the direction of the play “The Miracle”;
Rabbi Yosef Kanovitz (1878–?), who served in several towns in Lithuania, and lived in America from 1915, where he served as Rabbi in several cities in New Jersey and New York.

 

Lit4_074.jpg
Koshedar “Tifereth Bakhurim” Organization 1938

[Page 75]

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Studying “Talmud” at the Beth–Midrash

 

During World War II and Afterwards

In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, most of the industries owned by Jews were nationalized. A number of Koshedar Jewish shops were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. 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 and the Hebrew school was closed.

On the 22nd of June 1941 the German army invaded Lithuania, entering Koshedar two days later. Lithuanian nationalists immediately took over the town and began to plot against the Jews. Four Jewish men who were detained during these first days, were taken out of town and disappeared. Shortly afterwards the Lithuanians organized a provocation by hiding eight rifles and a machine–gun in the Beth–Midrash. A “search” resulted, of course, in the discovery of the arms, and thus the Rabbi and the Shokhet were arrested. Both were forced to run through the streets, being abused and hit until the old Rabbi David–Aharon Yafe died.

In the middle of August all Koshedar Jews were imprisoned in a large warehouse, which had been built for storing grain near the railway station during the short Soviet rule. Jewish men from Zhosle (Zasliai) and Zhezhmer (Ziezmariai) were also brought to this warehouse. Apparently none of the imprisoned people escaped, because they did not believe that they were in danger. Every day men and women fit for work were taken to various types of work in the town or with farmers or to excavate peat. Those who stayed in the warehouse were abused and robbed by the Lithuanian guards.

[Page 76]

On the 28th of August 1941 (5th of Elul 5701) all Jews from the warehouse were put on trucks and led in the direction of Zhezhmer. At a point five km from Koshedar, near the village of Vladikiskis in Strosiunu forest, all were shot and buried in mass graves. A Lithuanian ranger who hid a Jew with two little children was shot by the Gestapo.

The Lithuanian murderers were the local police chief Peskauskas, Zitkus, Norbotas Vuckauskas and others.

After the war two separate monuments were erected: one on the graves of the men and on it the number 2,200, and the other on the grave of the women and children where the number 1,800 is written. It would appear that Lithuanians and Soviet war prisoners were also buried in these graves.

In 1990 the mass graves were fenced off anew by the local authorities and on one of the graves three big oak–wooden carvings, entitled “Pain”, by the sculptor Vidmantas Kapaciunas from Zhezhmer, were erected.

On the fiftieth anniversary of the murders the tablets on the monuments were replaced and on the new ones the following inscriptions in Lithuanian and Yiddish were written: “In this place on the 28th of August 1941, Nazi murderers and their local helpers cruelly tortured and buried alive 2,200 Jews from Ziezmariai, Zasliai and Kaisiadorys”. On the other monument the same inscription was written with one change: “ …1,800 Jewish women and children…”.

 

Lit4_076.jpg
The monument and the three wooden carvings on the mass graves of the men at Strosiunu forest

[Page 77]

In May 1943 sixteen young men from Kovno ghetto were brought to Koshedar to construct a camp for about 300 people, who were ordered mainly to excavate peat in the nearby wet fields. Later Jews from Zhezhmer, Zhosly and other towns were brought to the camp.

At the beginning of 1944 an S.D. officer took 12 young men from the camp for a special task, which was later revealed. They were brought to the terrible Fort IX in Kovno to excavate and burn the corpses of the murdered, after 64 men who had previously performed this work had managed to escape on the eve of Christmas 1943. Several men in the camp made contact with partisans in the vicinity and organized a group to escape and join the partisans. On the 11th of April 1944 forty four young men escaped and twenty two of them managed to reach and join the regiment of “Genys” in the Rudniky woods, where they remained until the liberation. After the escape Koshedar camp was dismantled and the 250 Jews were transferred to other camps around Kovno.

 

Lit4_077.jpg
The monument on the mass graves of the women and children in Strosiunu forest

[Page 78]

Sources:

Yad–Vashem Archives, M–1/E–332/247. Koniuchovsky Collection 0–71, File 83.
Central Zionist Archives: 55/1788; 55/1701; 13/15/131; Z–4/2548.
JIVO, NY, Collection of the Jewish Communities in Lithuania, iles 717–919, 1542.
Zewie A.Brown, M.A.and Dov Levin, M.A.– The Story of an Underground (Hebrew).
The Resistance of the Jews of Kovno in the Second World War. Yad Vashem, 1962.
From the Beginning to the End – The Book of the History of “HaShomer HaTzair” in Lithuania (Hebrew), Tel–Aviv 1986.
Di Yiddishe Shtime (The Yiddish Voice) Kovno (Yiddish): 26.8.1919.
Naujienos, (News) Chicago, 11.6.1949.
Kaisiadoriu Aidas, (Koshedar Repercussion), 24.8.1991.

 

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