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Mariampol
(Marijampolė, Lithuania)

54°34' 23°21'

Mariampol lies on the banks of the Sesupe (Sheshupe) river, one of the tributaries of the Neman, the main river of Lithuania, about 55 km southwest from Kovno (Kaunas). The first people, who settled in this place in the second half of the 17th century, were peasants. In 1736 the village in the area was callled Starapole. Another new village nearby was called Marijampole, the name appearing for the first time in 1756. Later these two villages were joined under the name Marijampole.

In 1792 King Stanilaw–August granted Mariampol “The Privilege of a Town”.

Until 1795 Mariampol was included in the Polish–Lithuanian Kingdom. According to the third division of Poland in the same year by the three superpowers of those times: Russia, Prussia and Austria Lithuania was divided between Russia and Prussia. The part of the state that spread on the left side of the Nieman river (Nemunas) including Mariampol was handed over to Prussia. During the Prussian rule (1795–1807) Mariampol was a district adminstrative center. In 1800 there were 1,178 people living in the town.

During the years 1807–1813 Mariampol belonged to the “Great Dukedom of Warsaw” and was considered as a county administrative center in the Bialystok District. In 1813, after the defeat of Napoleon, whose retreating troops passed through the town, all of Lithuania was annexed to Russia, and Mariampol was included in the Augustowa Province (Gubernia). From 1817 it again became a regional adminstrative capitol. In 1866 Mariampol was included in the Suwalk Gubernia. The construction of the main road in 1829 from St. Petersburg to Warsaw stretching through Mariampol, spurred the growth of the town.

After the great fire in 1868, many wooden houses burnt down but were replaced by solid houses rebuilt in the town. The municipal town area of the town was enlarged, and a park, later renown for its greatness and beauty, was planted at that time.

In 1827 there were 1,759 people living in Mariampol and among them 1,157 Jews (66%). In 1840 there were 2,992 people and 2,264 among them were Jews (76%).

Mariampol was under Russian rule for a hundred years (1815–1915). In 1915 during World War 1, Mariampol was occupied by the German Army, remaining in the area until the establishment of the New Independent Lithuanian State in 1918.

During the period of independence of Lithuania (1918–1940) Mariampol was a district adminstrative center. The construction of the railroad in 1923 connecting Mariampol to Kazlu–Ruda, a terminal on the main line from Kovno to Kibart (Virbalis) contributed to the town's further development. Thus Mariampol was connected to the Lithuanian railroads.

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The Railway Station

 

During that period many factories were built in town and among them the Sugar Factory, which produced sugar from beets. Many new homes were built then, and the number of inhabitants grew (9,488 people in 1923). Mariampol became one of the most beautiful towns in Lithuania. It was also a cultural center boasting a large number of high schools in the area. During the Russian rule there were three Russian high schools in Mariampol.

In June 1941 the German Army occupied Mariampol and the occupation lasted until 1944. During the retreat the German army destroyed the center of the town, the power station and the sugar factory.

From 1955 until 1990, during the Soviet rule, the town was called Kapsukas (named after the Lithuanian underground communist leader). After Lithuania was set free from the Soviet rule Mariampol revived it's old name.

 

The Jewish Settlement before World War 1

It seems that Jews started to settle in Mariampol at the beginning of the 17th century. They settled on the left bank of the Sesupe river, in the village Tarputch. Later it became the suburb of Mariampol. In 1766 there were 347 Jews in the village. At that time the first Synagogue was built in the village and was burnt down during World War I.

Jews began to settle on the right bank of the Sesupe river only at the end of the eighteenth century. During the Russian rule there were no restrictions imposed on Jews to settle in the area, therefore in 1850s and 1860s, Jews constituted 80% of the population of Mariampol. In 1856 there were 2,853 Jews out of a total town population of 3,462 (82%). In 1861 there were

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3,015 Jews out of a total town population of 3,718 (81%). In 1897 the number of Jews in the town decreased to 3,268 (48%) while the total population grew to 6,737.

The Jews of Mariampol made their living in commerce and crafts. There were also Jewish farm owners who earned their livelihood from agriculture. Jewish merchants exported flax, grains and poultry to Germany.

During the Polish rebellion in 1831 Jews of Mariampol suffered from the rebels. The rebels hanged a wealthy Jewish family and four community leaders.

In summer 1881 a volunteer fire brigade was established in which most members were Jews.

The Jewish children of Mariampol were educated in a “Kheder” where some Russian was taught. Most of the time was devoted to teaching the Bible, some Talmud and the Hebrew language. For some time, at the end of 1890s, a “Revised Kheder” curriculum was created in Mariampol, where Hebrew using the “Ashkenazi pronunciation” was taught by Yekhiel Yekhieltzik (later Yekhieli) who after “Aliyah” (immigration) became the director of the Girls School in Neve–Tsedek in Tel–Aviv.

At the end of the nineteenth century a “Modern Yeshivah” was founded in Mariampol where Talmud, Hebrew, Bible, Russian, German and literature were taught. At that time the teachers were Hayim Joseph Lurie and Hayim Ber Rosenbaum who later taught in the Hebrew High School of the town. There were Jews in Mariampol who were subscribers to the Hebrew periodicals such as “haBoker”, “haZeman” and the children's paper “heKhaver”.

In the Russian State High School for Boys only a few Jewish boys were enrolled because there was a maximum quota of 10% for Jews. In contrast, at the two private high schools for girls there was no known quota and many Jewish girls were enrolled (one of them was the writer Devorah Baron).

Because of the study of the Bible and the knowledge of Hebrew, most of the Mariampol Jews were supporters of the “Khibath Zion” (Affection for Zion) movement. By 1881 the local Rabbi, Shelomoh–Zalman Gordon, added his “Haskamah”(approval) to the book of Nathan Fridland “Joseph Khen”. The book supported settlement of Jews in Eretz–Israel and became a popular book in the Diaspora. A year later Rabbi Gordon's detailed opinion on the Zionist Movement was published in response to attacks coming from a group of Rabbis known as the “Black Lodge”.

In 1882 a group of Mariampol Jews joined the association “Yesud haMa'alah” which was organized in Suwalk by the Mariampol native (1844) Eliezer–Mordehai Altshuler and whose task was to settle in Eretz–Israel. For different reasons, including the opposition of the Rabbis “to anticipate events”, the task was not fulfilled.

In 1884 twenty–seven pictures of Mosheh Montefiori were sold in Mariampol as a fundraiser for settlement in Eretz–Israel.

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At the first Zionist Congress which took place in Basel in 1897 the delegate from Mariampol was Gedalyah Gitelevitz. At several Zionist Congresses afterwards the delegate from Mariampol was Aba–Yitskhak Rozental. He was also the delegate at the second All–Russian Zionist Conference and the representative on behalf of Suwalk Region at the Zionist Conference in 1908.

Rabbi Eliyahu Klatzkin from Mariampol was the delegate at the regional conference of the “Zionist Associations” whose participants gathered in Vilna in 1899.

The numbers of “Shekalim” (like a membership card) that were sold in the year of the fifth Zionist Congress shows the number of members from Mariampol. belonging to the “Zionist Association”. Between the 1.7.1901 and the 1.7.1902 one hundred “Shekalim” were sold in Mariampol. The “Zionist Associations” in Mariampol were called “Benoth Zion” (The Daughters of Zion), “Tekhiyah” (Revival) and “Bar Kokhva”, and they were among those who opposed the “Uganda Plan”. In 1905 a youth group, under the guidance of Devorah Baron, was organized in Mariampol and was called “Pirkhei Zion” (The Flowers of Zion). Later its name was changed to “Tikvath Zion” (The Hope of Zion).

On the list of donors of 1909 who supported settlement in Eretz–Israel names of hundreds of Jews from Mariampol appear (see Appendix 1). Among the Jews from Mariampol who immigrated to Eretz–Israel at the beginning of the century were: Rachel Solnik (in 1909), later the wife of Yehudah Gorodeisky, one of the founders of Rekhovoth, Yisrael Yablokovsky (1912) and Barukh Leibovitz (in 1911), later Dr. Barukh Ben–Yehudah. (see below).

A branch of the “Bund” (the anti–Zionist workers organization) acted in Mariampol and disrupted the Zionist activities. Among other activities attributed to the “Bund” was the disruption of the Memorial Assembly which took place in the Synagogue in Mariampol on the “Sheloshim” (Thirty days) after the death of Herzl.

Public life concentrated around the three Synagogues in town: the Central Synagogue, the “Hakhnasath Orkhim” Synagogue and the “Beth haMidrash”. The ceiling of the central Synagogue was ornate with colored paintings of a tiger, an eagle, a deer and a lion. The Holy Ark was decorated with beautiful wooden carvings.

Until 1870 the Rabbi of Kalvariya (a town about 18 km south–west of Mariampol) was the Rabbi of Mariampol too. The first Rabbi in Mariampol was Hayim Perlmuter–Shereshover (from 1780 till 1820), after him his son–in–law Yehudah–Leib Kharlap officiated. In subsequent years Shelomoh–Zalman Gordon (died in 1879); Yehonathan Eliashberg (from1879 till 1887); Azriel–Aryeh Rakovsky (died in1894); Eliyahu Klatzkin (from1892 till 1910) served as Rabbis.

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The Great Synagogue and the “Beth–Midrash”
(Destroyed during the war)

 

Institutions of assistance in Mariampol were the same as in most other Jewish Communities of Lithuania: “Gemiluth Khesed”, “Linath haTsedek”, “Somekh Noflim” (from 1876), “Bikur Kholim” (from 1892) with a budget of 1,600 Rubels, a respectable sum in those days, and other organizations.

With the outbreak of World War I the Germans occupied Mariampol, but after the advancement of the Russian army the Germans retreated. When the Russians returned to Mariampol, they blamed the Jews for influencing Germans, and as a punishment the Russian General Renenkampf ordered the Jews, including the Rabbi, to go out to work and repair the roads on Succoth 1915. In 1915 the Germans occupied Mariampol again and ruled there until 1918.

In Mariampol almost every family had a nickname that past from generation to generation. The family names were used only for official occasions

 

During the period of the independent Lithuania

Public and economic life

According to the first census in Independent Lithuania in 1923, the number of Jews in Mariampol decreased to 27% of the total population (2,545 Jews of 9,488 people).

Mariampol was one of the first towns in Independent Lithuania in which the Jewish life was organized according to the Autonomy Law regarding minorities. By 1919 the elections to the Community Committee took place. In the elections 935 persons participated and they were 73% of the privileged to vote. 21 persons were elected to the committee: 6 from the “Tseirei Zion” list; 4 from the General Zionists; 2 artisans; 3 from the “Bund” list; 2 from the “Po'alei Zion” list and 4 independents. In the elections of 1921, 17 persons were elected:

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2 General Zionists; 2 from the “Tseirei Zion”; 1 from “Mizrakhi”; 3 artisans; 5 workers and 5 independents. The Committee was active until the beginning of 1926 when the Autonomy was annulled. During the years of its existence the Committee collected taxes according to the law and were in charge of of all areas of community life with the help of many sub–committees: a sub–committee for taxes, for appeal, for the public bath, for education and culture, for the administration and for social help. Among its other activities the Committee cared for Jewish soldiers who served in the infantry regiment of the Lithuanian army stationed in Mariampol and arranged a kosher kitchen for “Pesah” and a traditional “Seder”.

The Jews of Mariampol made their living in commerce, industry, craft and agriculture. According to the survey performed by the Lithuanian government in 1931 there were 146 shops in Mariampol and 121 of the shops belonged to Jews (83%) according to the following table:

 

Kind of business Total Jewish Ownership %
Groceries 6 6 100
Grains and flax 14 13 93
Butcher's shops and cattle trade 20 16 80
Restaurants and taverns 12 8 67
Food products 9 9 100
Drinks 1 1 100
Textiles and furs 17 16 94
Leather and shoes 12 11 92
Tobacco and cigarettes 1 1 100
Haberdashery and house utensils 13 13 100
Medicines and cosmetics 5 2 40
Watches and jewels 4 3 75
Bicycles and electrical equipment 3 1 33
Tools and iron products 10 8 80
Building materials, lumber, furniture 4 4 100
Heating materials, cattle food 3 3 100
Machines, terrestrial transportation 3 1 33
Books and stationery 3 1* 33
Miscellaneous 6 4 67

* the shop was called “Moriyah” and belonged to Pilvinsky, later another shop opened and was named “Tushiyah” and belonged to Saks.

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According to the same survey there were 54 factories in Mariampol, 26 of them (48%) belonged to Jews. The data is presented in the following table:

 

Type of establishment Total Jewish Owners %
Metal works, power stations 6 1 17
Tombstones, bricks 1 1 100
Chemical industry: spirits, soap 4 2 50
Sawmills, furniture 4 2 50
Printing presses, book binders 5 1 20
Food products 21 14 67
Clothing and footwear 9 3 33
Miscellaneous 4 2 50

In 1931 the population was 13,000 people , 35% Jews among them were Jews.

Near Mariampol there were a few farms that belonged (or were leased) to Jewish families who made their living working in agriculture: Vitenberg, Shohat, London, Meklenburg, Goldberg, Z.Levin. In the farm “Ungarina” owned by the Skarisky brothers there was a “Training Institute” (Hakhsharah) organized for “Halutsim” (pioneers) prior to their immigration to Eretz–Israel. There were also Jewish families in the vicinity of Mariampol who worked in agriculture: Dubzhinsky, Beilis, Berkman, Palnitzky, Dembner.

 

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Vytauto Street

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In Mariampol there were scores of Jewish artisans. They were organized in “The Association of the Artisans” with a 100 members in 1937/38: 22 tailors, 10 shoemakers, 9 bakers, 8 butchers, 7 hat makers, 7 stitchers, 6 woodworkers, 5 hairdressers, 4 photographers, 3 tinsmiths, 3 electricians, 3 watchmakers, 2 painters, 2 dressmakers, 1 glaziers, 1 blacksmith, 1 jeweler and 1 other. The “Association” had a Loan Fund (“Gemiluth Khesed”) and was represented in the religious institutions, in the municipality and in the “Ezrah” committee, where it had 4 delegates.

An important role in the economic life of Mariampol was played by the Jewish Folksbank. In 1927 it had 525 members and in 1935 – about 500. There were also two private banks, one belonged to Amsterdamsky and the other to Waisberg.

There was also a branch of “The United Company for Financial Credit for Jewish Agrarians” in town.

In the middle of the 1930s the economical situation of the Jews in Mariampol started to deteriorate. One of the reasons was the open propaganda led by the Association of the Lithuanian Merchants (“Verslas”) against buying in Jewish stores. To achieve their goal they established Consumer Coops which competed with the Jewish commerce. In 1939 there were also physical outbursts against Jews in Mariampol. In those years many Jewish youths immigrated abroad and a part of them immigrated to Eretz–Israel.

According to the official Telephone Book of 1939 there were in Mariampol 297 phone subscribers, among them 85 belonged to Jews (29%).

In 1920 the elections for the first Lithuanian “Seimas” (Parliament) took place. The Jews appeared with one list that represented the Zionists, the “Agudath Yisrael” and the “Folkspartei”. Among the elected Jews was the Rabbi of Mariampol Avraham–Dov Popel.

At the elections for the Municipality Council in Mariampol that took place in the twenties, 10 Jews from 32 Council members were elected. In the elections of 1931, 6 Jews from 15 Council members were elected: Leib Bialoblotzky, Yitshak Levin, Leon Stoklitzky, Berl Altshuler and Hayim Rotshtein. In the elections of 1934 only 4 Jews among 15 Council members were elected: Adv. Stoklitzky, Yitshak Levin, Israel Levin and Aba–Yitshak Rosental who resigned and Dr. Rosenfeld took his place. One of the Jewish members acted as the Deputy Mayor.

 

Education and Culture

During the period discussed above there were two Hebrew elementary schools, one of the “Tarbuth” movement and the other of the “Yavneh” movement , in Mariampol.

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lit4_271a.jpg
The sixth graduation class of the Hebrew elementary “Tarbuth” school with the director Sh. Rozin and teacher Kolbzon, 1927

 

During all the years the “Tarbuth” school was open it was in very bad condition caused by unbearable crowding. The Jewish delegates in the Municipality and the Jewish Deputy Mayor tried to obtained a grant to build a suitable building for the school, but despite promises it was not carried out. A Hebrew kindergarten was established as well. For a short time a Yiddish school existed in town.

 

lit4_271b.jpg
The front of the Hebrew Gymnasium

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In 1919 a Hebrew high–school was established in Mariampol. This was the first Hebrew High School in the Diaspora and the second after the “Herzeliyah” of Tel–Aviv. Until its closing in 1940, when Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union, 19 graduating classes with about 400 graduates completed their studies, prior to many of them immigrating to Eretz–Israel.

Many of the teachers also immigrated to Eretz–Israel and among them there were the two founders and first directors of the school Dr. M.Meir and Dr. A.Loevenhertz (later he became the director of the high–school in Kiryath Motzkin) and both shared their professional experience and contributed to Education in Israel.

In the first 15 years, studies took place in a building which was an officers' club during the German occupation.. Before it became a school it was renovated. In 1934 after stormy public debates the school moved into a new building initially intended as a Home for the Aged. The last director of the school, A.Tabakhovitz was nominated that year. He, together with a team of other teachers, among them veterans Z.Ayerov, A.M.Levin and H.Rosenbaum perished during the Nazi regime.

On the 4th of May 1939 the 20th anniversary of the high–school was joyfully celebrated in the hall of a movie theatre in Mariampol. Delegates from the government, the municipality, as well as the directors of the town's Lithuanian high–schools and naturally all the former students and graduates of the school participated in the festivities. The Railway Authority granted a 50% discount to everybody who traveled to the celebration.

The first conference of the Hebrew High–School teachers in Lithuania took place in 1921 in Mariampol.

 

lit4_272.jpg
The teachers of the Gymnasium

Sitting from left: –––, Dr. Max Meir, –––, –––, Dr. Avraham Loevenhertz, Levin,–––, Rosenbaum, Ayerov, –––.

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The announcement on the opening of the Hebrew High–School in 1919 in Mariampol

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The second graduation class 1922–23

 

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The fourth graduation class 1925

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The last graduation class, 1940

The teachers sitting from right: Miss Vitenshtein, –––, ––– , Miss Smilg, Rosenbaum, the Director Tabakhovitz, Levin, Ayerov, Rutshtein
The pupils standing from right: Aba Vainshtein (later Gefen), David Bruker, Aryeh Leibovitz (the authors cousin), Jehudith Kushner, Miriam Finkelshtein, Sarah Rudberg, Shevakh Levin, Janetta Medalie, Shimon Zupovitz, Zehavah Pilvinsky, Mosheh Strazdansky
Standing behind from right: Aryeh Nun, Elkhanan Halperin, –––

 

The fate of the above listed during and after the war:

All the teachers were murdered except Mr. Rutshtein who managed to escape to Russia. There he was conscripted in the 16th Division (the Lithuanian) of the Red Army. He fell in battle in 1943.
Aba Veinshtein–Gefen survived the Holocaust, is living in Israel and was the Ambassador of Israel to Romania.
Jehudith Kushner escaped to Russia from Vilna, lives in Lithuania, her two daughters live in Israel.
Shevakh Levin was exiled with his family to Siberia two weeks before the war and remained there.
Janetta Medalie escaped to Russia from Vilna where she studied. Lives in Israel.
Zehavah Pilvinsky escaped to Russia from Vilna. Lived in Israel where she died a few years ago.

All the others were murdered in the Holocaust.

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There were several Hebrew and Yiddish libraries in Mariampol: at the High–School, at the Zionist–Socialist club, at the “Sirkin” society. The biggest library was at the “Libhober fun Visen” society (Fans of Knowledge). There were about 4,000 books in Yiddish in addition to Lithuanian, Russian and science books. The “Tarbuth” organization arranged evening lessons in Hebrew and Yiddish. In 1922 about 50 people participated in the lessons.

In Mariampol there was a drama circle presenting shows in Yiddish and Hebrew from time to time. The Yiddish theater from Kovno would occasionally visit Mariampol. There were two movie theatres in town which contributed to the cultural life in Mariampol.

In 1934 when young Jewish refugees arrived from Germany, an agricultural school was opened for them in the “Ungarina” farm. Later vocational courses were offered in that farm for Jewish refugees from Germany and Czechoslovakia organized by “Ort”

 

Zionist and public activity

During the years of Autonomy there were quite a few workers' organizations in the community, such as “ Bund” and “Po'alei Zion Smol”. They established the “Kultur Lige” (League of Culture) in town and arranged evening courses for children and adults. Later all that remained of the “Yiddishists” was the “Folkist” (The Populists) movement. They stood for Yiddish and were opposed Zionism. Their medium was the daily newspaper “Volksblat” that was published in Kovno. However, by then the Zionist movement in all its shades had conquered the Jewish public in Mariampol. We can learn about the division of power among different Zionist parties represented in the Mariampol branches by looking at the results of the elections to the Zionist congresses:

 

Congr.
Nr.
Year Shekalim Voter Labor Party
Z”S Z”Z
Revisionists General Zionists
A B
Grosmanists Mizrakhi
14 1925 64
15 1927 289 143 70 8 23 32 10
16 1929 775 416 150 69 171 69 6
17 1931* 462 210 14 181 47 10
18 1933 834 524 235 47 47 14 14
19 1935 1,706 958 639 99 38 102 80

*The elections took place in the Synagogue.

A branch of “WIZO” (Women International Zionist Organization) was also organized in Mariampol. In 1938 it had 138 members, and the chairwoman was Mrs. Medalie, the wife of the known doctor in town Hayim Medalie.

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The management of “WIZO” Mariampol

Sitting from left: Ayerov, Leikin, Medalie, Rabinovitz, –––
Standing from left: –––, –––, Rabinovitz, Levin

 

lit4_277b.jpg
“HaShomer–haTsair” Branch, 1930

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“Beitar” Branch, 1933

 

Among the Zionist youth organizations organized in Mariampol we can find “haShomer –haTsair”, “Beitar”, “Gordonia” and “heKhalutz”. In 1919 the group “Akhvah” from “heKhalutz” Mariampol went to “Hakhsharah” and in 1920 immigrated to Eretz–Israel. Many of the former members of the Zionist youth organizations are presently residing in the Kibbutzim in Israel. In 1934 there was an urban Kibbutz of “heKhalutz” in town. In 1940 the “haShomer–haTsair” movement organized an “Hachsharah” Kibbutz for refugees from Poland in the farm “Mikhalina” near Mariampol. The farm belonged to the Levin family. Due to political changes in Lithuania this Kibbutz existed only for a short time.

Sports activities took place in the branches of “Maccabi” and “Maccabi haTzair” with 125 members. These branches had a soccer team with its own stadium, where groups for gymnastics and athletics were also organized.

Other sports companies were “JAK” (of the Yiddishists), “haPoel” and “haKoakh”. Youth groups from Mariampol participated in the first and second “Maccabiyah” (in 1932 and 1935) which took place in Tel–Aviv. Many of them remained in Eretz–Israel.

There was also in town “The Association of the former Jewish soldiers” who participated in the struggle for the Lithuanian Independence.

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Tenth anniversary of “Maccabi” Mariampol 1933

 

Religion and Welfare

The three synagogues, built around one courtyard before World War I, continued to operate during in this period as well. The central Synagogue would be closed in winter, because there was no heating.

The Rabbis who were appointed in this period in Mariampol were: Avraham–Dov Popel who was the Deputy Chairman of the “Nationalrat” (National Committee) of Lithuanian Jews, Chairman of the Association of the Rabbis and a delegate of the Lithuanian Seimas (died in Mariampol in 1923); Avraham–Ze'ev Halevi Heler (from 1923), who was the last Rabbi of Mariampol and perished in the “Shoah”. Shelomoh–Pinkhas Butnitzky (died in 1932) was appointed as the “Dayan” (Religious Judge) .

After the liquidation of the Community Committee in the middle of the twenties, all welfare activities were taken over by the “Ezrah” association. Together with “Adath Israel” it helped the poor, raised money for “Maoth Khitim” (money to buy Matzoth for Pesach) and for the “Moshav Zekeinim” and also acted on special welfare issues. The “Association of the former Mariampol Jews in America” sent $200 for “Maoth Khitim” every year and from time to time would send several boxes of second hand clothes for the poor of the town.

The “OZE” organization maintained a clinic for children and a dental clinic. Its main function was health maintenance among Jewish school children. Weak and poor children would be sent to summer camps for convalescence at the expense of the organization.

The “Gemiluth Khesed” society issued loans without interest to needy people. The other welfare societies continued to act as before: “Bikur Kholim”, “Linat haTzedek”, “Khevrah Kadishah” etc.

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Rabbi Avraham–Dov Popel

 

Among the natives of Mariampol it is worth to mention: the poet Alter Abelson, later a Rabbi and a preacher in Brooklyn; Shemuel–Tsevi Peltin (1831–1897) who was the publisher of the periodical “Israelita” in the Polish Language for 31 years in Warsaw; Mosheh ben Ya'akov Goldshtein who translated the “Hagadah of Pesakh” and the whole “Makhzor” (The prayer book of the Holidays) into the Russian Language; the writer and translator into Hebrew Avraham–Aba Rakovsky; the journalist and writer of Hebrew books for the youth Avraham Frank (1884–Holocaust); the Zionist activists Alexander Goldshtein and Aba–Yitshak Rosental (1875–1948); Moshe–David Heiman, who established the first factory of concrete products in Mariampol; the doctors Prof. Yehoshua Bronshtein and his brother Prof. Aharon Bronshtein; the pedagogue Dr. Barukh ben Yehuda (Leibovitz, 1894–1990), chairman of the Education Department of the “Va'ad Leumi”, the first director general of the Education and Culture Ministry in Israel, the director of the “Herzliya” high–school and Holder of the “Israel Award” for Education (1979); Dr. Eliyahu Segal (1891–1963), the first sports doctor in Lithuania, who was very active in “Maccabi” and published many articles on medical subjects in the daily press in Israel; the painter Aryeh–Leib Margushelsky (1914–1982) founder of the high school for painting in Tel–Aviv; Yisrael Biderman (Izis), photographer and writer; the painter Mosheh Rozentalis (born in 1922).

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In the period of World War II and Afterwards

It should be mentioned that Mariampol Jews provided help to refugees from the Suwalk region at the end of 1939 in spite of the fact that their own situation was continuously deteriorating. In agreement with the Ribbentrop–Molotov treaty the Russians occupied the Suwalk region, but after delineation of exact borders between Poland, Russia and Germany the Suwalk region fell into German hands. The retreating Russians allowed anyone who wanted to join them to move into the occupied territory, and indeed many young people left the area together with the Russians. The Germans kicked out the Jews remaining in Suwalk and the vicinity from their homes; they were robbed of their possessions, then directed to the Lithuanian border, and left in dire poverty. The Lithuanians did not allow them to enter Lithuania and the Germans did not allow them to go back. Thus they stayed in this swampy area in cold and rain for several weeks, until Jewish youth from the border villages in Lithuania smuggled them into Lithuania by different routes, with much risk to themselves. Altogether about 2,400 refugees passed through or infiltrated on their own, and were then dispersed in the Vilkovishk and Mariampol districts. In Mariampol alone 250 refugees were accommodated, among them tens of “Khalutsim”, who got a warm welcome and loyal assistance for which Lithuanian Jews were famous.

In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. When troops of the Red Army entered Mariampol, many Jews welcomed them joyfully. This agitated some Lithuanians and for three days Lithuanian hoodlums rampaged in the town. In many Jewish houses windows were shattered and many windows of Jewish stores were shattered as well.

An eyewitness recounted that the town looked like after a bombing. As a matter of fact, many of the rioters were detained, but they were released after signing a promissory note not to repeat such acts.

Following new rules, the majority of the factories and shops belonging to the Jews of Mariampol were nationalized. All the Zionist parties and youth organizations were dismissed and several of the activists were detained. Hebrew educational institutions were closed. Supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, was hit hard, and the standard of living dropped gradually. Several families, the owners of nationalized factories or shops were exiled deep into Russia.

On Sunday, June 22nd, 1941, at dawn, Mariampol was bombed by the German Army air strike. The center of the town was destroyed. Twenty people, most of them Jews, were killed. Jews left without housing found shelter in Jewish homes that remained unscathed.

The German Army entered Mariampol the next day, on Monday, June 23rd, 1941, encircling the town and blocking all the roads leading eastwards. Most of the Jews who escaped from town had to return. Many were murdered by Lithuanians who ambushed them. Only a few managed to reach Russia.

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The Lithuanians welcomed the Germans with open arms and immediately started actions against Jews. Already on the first days of the occupation Jews were arrested under false pretences. All of the arrested were murdered in a ditch about 4 km from Mariampol in the direction of Vilkavishk (Vilkaviskis).

Jews were forced to go to work every morning: Men were forced to pick up the debris, women had to work in agricultural labor and housekeeping. The elderly, the town's Rabbi Avraham–Ze'ev Heler among them, were forced to sweep the streets.

Avraham Dembner, a native of the suburb Tarputch, returned in 1946 to Mariampol from Russia and was told by former neighbors about a few young men who staged resistance to Germans and their Lithuanian helpers after being pushed to forced labor. Ze'ev Papirnik, a 24 year old man, snatched a riffle from one Lithuanian, shot one of them to death and wounded the other. He was tortured and murdered.

Mendel Agronitzky resisted the murderers who came to take him for work and separated him from his wife and his daughters. He was shot on the spot.

A few young Jewish people, among them the brothers Vilkozhirsky, Palnitzky and Ruzhnitzky were hanged publicly at the market place for resisting the Germans.

On the 15th of July 1941 the governor of Mariampol district published an order according to which:

  1. Jews were forbidden to walk in the following streets: Vytauto, Church, Donelaicio, Petras Armino and Dariaus ir Gireno;
  2. Jews were forbidden to visit beaches, parks, coffee shops, restaurants, libraries and similar places;
  3. Jews were forbidden to purchase food products on the streets, roads, yards and markets. They would be allowed to buy their food in special shops as determined by the mayor, or in the general shops at restricted times
  4. It was forbidden for Jews to use services of non–Jews;
  5. All the Jews, despite sex or age, had to wear a yellow patch on the front and on the back of their garments in the form of a “Magen–David”, 8–10 cm in diameter. Every Jew caught without the patch would be put in jail.
One day a group of Jews were brought to the yard of the Synagogues and forced to take out all the Torah Scrolls and Holly books from the Synagogues, pile them up and burn them. Hanan–Musikant – a musician and a “Badkhan” (comedian) at weddings – jumped into the fire to retrieve a Torah Scroll. The Germans snatched it away from him and threw it back into the fire. He suffered a hard beating.

There was also an order to greet every German soldier by taking off the hat and bowing low. One day the former teacher of the Hebrew high–school Ayerov, a very polite and quiet man, but pensive and a little distraught, failed to notice a German

[Page 283]

soldier and didn't greet him. The German slapped Ayerov and without hesitation he slapped the German back. He was arrested and murdered in jail.

The same month an order was published that the Jews had to leave their houses and gather in the synagogues and a few adjoining buildings. It was easier for the Germans to assault Jews in this crowded area, take them to forced labor and abuse young women at night. From time to time the Germans would choose young strong men for so–called “work” and then they would murder them in places near town.

In August the Germans forced young Jewish men to dig large ditches behind the barracks near the Sheshupe river. The men found out that the ditches were for the Jews. When the young people told their parents about it the parents were so disturbed they were running to try to cancel the order, but they did not succeed.

At the end of the same month Jewish public workers were summoned to the Lithuanian District Governor who informed them that in a short time a large Ghetto would be formed near the cavalry barracks and the adjoining area. To deceive them he promised that, as long as the war continued, Jews would administer their public and economic affairs by themselves.

The Jews packed their belongings, prepared food for a few days and went in a long cavalcade to the barracks. Upon arrival men were separated and forced into crowded stables. On the following days the men were relentlessly abused by an imposition of “Sports exercises”, as the Germans called it. Jews from Kazlu–Ruda, Liudvinova and other nearby villages were brought to the barracks. On the 30th of that month Jews from Kalvaria were brought to that same place. In a similar fashion, men from these groups were forced into the crowded stables. Afterwards, they were ordered to join in the “Sports exercises”.

On Monday, 9th of Elul 5611, (1.9.1941), Mariampol Jews, together with the others who were brought there, about 7,000–8,000 Jews and about 1,000 people of other nationalities were murdered. All were buried in 8 ditches that were dug beforehand, each ditch 70 m long, 3 m wide at the top, and 2 m at the bottom. The ditches were near the Sheshupe river, at the right side of the bridge, on the road to Kalvaria. The massacres started at 10 o'clock in the morning and ended at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. The murderers were mostly Lithuanians, among them University and high school students who volunteered for the “job”.

The Jewish men were brought to the ditches in groups of 100–200 men, completely naked. They were forced to lie down in the ditches in lines. From above they were shot by machine guns. When the women and children's turn came a tremendous and tumultuous agitation began, while the drunk murderers began pushing victims into ditches, crashing the heads of children with clubs and spades. Because of the tumultuous agitation many of the victims were wounded but not dead, thus they were buried alive. Lithuanian eyewitnesses

[Page 284]

recounted that most of the victims were deeply depressed, as if in a fog. Other Lithuanians who were brought to the place to cover the graves the next day told that earth under the graves moved for a long time after the massacre.

Following the murders the bandits divided the goods they have looted from the victims and returned to town singing in a drunk fashion and celebrating the whole night.

Two families committed suicide. Dr.David Rosenfeld administered poison to himself, his wife and his daughter. Cantor Lansky also took poison himself, gave poison to his wife and his three children.

After the war the survivors of Mariampol Jewish community placed a tombstone on the site of the graves. In 1992 a new monument was built (see image below)

 

lit4_284.jpg
The site of the mass graves near the military barracks and the Monument at the site.
The inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian says:
“Here blood was spilled of about 8000 Jewish children, women, men and of 1000 people of different nationalities, that the Nazis and their local helpers cruelly murdered in September 1941”

 

In the same year a monument was erected in Shunsk (Sunskai) forest near Mariampol (see image below).

[Page 285]

lit4_285a.jpg
 
lit4_285b.jpg
The site of the mass grave and the monument on it.
The inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian says:
“Here blood was spilled of 200 Jews, children, women and men, who were cruelly murdered by the Nazis and their helpers in 1941.
Let the memory of the martyrs last forever”.

[Page 286]

In the same surroundings, in Rudziai grove, another monument was erected (see image below).

lit4_286a.jpg
 
lit4_286b.jpg
The site of the mass grave with the monument.
The inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian reads:
“In this place the Hitlerist murderers and their local helpers murdered Jews from Marijampol in July 1941”.

[Page 287]

In the “Holocaust Cellar” at Mt. Zion in Jerusalem a Memorial Plaque was erected for the Mariampol Community

In 1992 a monument was placed where the Jewish cemetery once was with no trace of it remaining. The inscription on the monument in Hebrew, Yiddish and Lithuanian says that there was a Jewish cemetery in this place.

 

Bibliography:

Yad–Vashem archives: M–9/13(2); M–21/1/357,670; 0–33/03,85,159,282,283,422.
Koniuchovsky Collection 0–71, Files 128, 130; TR–2/2849,2934; TR–10/1096
YIVO,NY, Collection of the Jewish Communities in Lithuania, Files 585–658, pages 103, 922–925, 28, file 1667.
Marijampole –Lithuania (Hebrew, Yiddish, and English) Published by the former Mariampol Jews, Tel–Aviv 1983.
Lite, New–York 1951, volume 1 (Yiddish)
The Jewish Encyclopedia, St. Petersburg 1908–1913, (Russian)
Bemisholei haKhinuch (In the paths of education) Kovno (Hebrew), May 1939, May 1940
HaMeilitz (St. Petersburg) (Hebrew): 20.5.1879; 20.7.1880; 3.8.1880; 7.6.1881; 20.9.1881; 21.4.1884; 22.10.1886; 7.2.1893; 17.9.1893.
Unzer Veg (Zionist–Socialist newspaper) , Kovno (Yiddish): 18.7.1924; 15.8.1924; 18.1.1925; 24.1.1926; 22.9.1926; 27.2.1929.
Neis (News) Kovno (Yiddish): 22.8.1921.
Der Yiddisher Cooperator, Kovno (Yiddish) 1922, Number 2–3
Dos Neie Vort (The new Word), Kovno (Yiddish): 4.5.1934;10.5.1934
Dos Vort, Kovno (Yiddish): 28.9.1934; 31.1.1939; 26.2. 1939; 5.6.1939
Folksblat, Kovno (Yiddish): 21.5.1934; 5.6.1935; 13.6.1935; 19.6.1935; 26.7.1935; 28.10.1936; 9.3.1937; 16.3.1937; 24.9.1937; 25.4.1939; 13.6.1939; 22.6.1939; 13.7.1939; 6.9.1939.
Di Yiddishe Shtime (The Yiddish Voice) Kovno (Yiddish): 5.9.1919; 24.1.1923; 9.3.1928; 20.9.1928; 30.4.1929; 7.6.1929; 12.6.1929; 14.2.1930; 28.3.1930; 7.7.1930; 27.5.1931; 26.6.1931; 1.12.1931; 26.4.1932; 20.5.1932; 22.6.1932; 8.3.1933; 7.3.1937; 4.11.1937; 1.3.1938; 12.1.1939; 24.2.1939; 13.3.1939; 14.3.1939;
Yiddisher Hantverker (Jewish Artisan) Kovno, (Yiddish) 1.11.1938

 

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