« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »



[Page 310]

Ponevezh
(Panevėžys, Lithuania)

55°44' 24°21'

Ponevezh (Panevezys in Lithuanian) stretches on both banks of the Nevezhis (Nevezys) River in north central Lithuania.

Settlers began to settle on the right bank of the river at the beginning of the 16th century, and it was there where the Old City developed. Later the city stretched to the left bank, and the New City was built, becoming the administrative center of the Upyte County.

The nearby village Upyte (15 km away) was the administrative center of the area for hundreds of years. In those years, until the beginning of the 18th century, the Nevezys River played an important role allowing ships to sail up to Ponevezh.

In 1661 the “Old City” was granted permission to arrange two market days per week and two large fairs market per year. During the 17th century and at the beginning of the 18th century the city endured invasions of the Swedes. In 1704 the Swedish Army passed through the city, looting the area.

At the end of the 18th century, the landlord of the town, Prince Nikolai Tishkewitz cut down the forest, which divided the town in two. Ponevezh became one united town and the administrative center of the Upyte district.

After the third division of Poland in 1795 by the three superpowers of that time–Russia, Prussia and Austria, this part of Lithuania including Ponevezh was handed over to Russia. During the Russian rule (1795–1915) Ponevezh was included in the Vilna Gubernia (Province) in 1802, and from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia. Since then the district acquired the name the “Ponevezh district.”

During the Polish rebellions in 1831 and 1863 the city suffered damages, and the rebels hanged some innocent Jews.

After the rebellions were crushed, Russification politics increased, and Russians who agreed to settle in the city enjoyed great privileges.

The construction of the railway Dvinsk (Daugavpils)–Ponevezh–Radvilishok (Radviliskis) in 1873 connecting the main rail to Prussia and the construction of the narrow railway from Ponevezh to Utyan (Utena) and Shventzian (Svencionys) promoted development of the city. A few factories were built, contributing to growth of commerce and trade.

By the middle of the 19th century until World War I the population in the city doubled. (5,908 people in 1857, 12,968–in 1797)

In the years 1915–1918 Ponevezh was under German occupation. During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918–1940) Ponevezh was a district administrative center. The city grew and developed becoming the fourth largest city of Lithuania.

[Page 311]

The Jewish Settlement Till After World War I

The Karaites

A Karaite settlement existed in Ponevezh on the right bank of the river since the end of the 14th century, long before Jews started to settle there. The Lithuanian Great Duke Vytautas brought 483 Karaite families to Lithuania from the Crimea. These families were captured in the war, and 153 families of them settled in Ponevezh. The other families settled in Trakai, which later became the center of the Karaites in Lithuania. The Karaite settlement in Ponevezh was mentioned in the customs lists of 1697/98.

During the Polish rule and at the beginning of the Russian rule the Karaites were treated as Jews despite their different language and customs. In 1863 the Russian rule granted them full civil rights. The subsequent years they gradually kept away from the Jews. They intermarried and their community degenerated. During the period of Independent Lithuania only a few dozen Karaite families lived in Ponevezh on the street next to their Synagogue. In 1932 there were 100 Karaites in town. In 1935 the local Karaites were visited by the “Khaham” (Rabbi) from Trakai.

 

lit4_311.jpg
The Karaite Synagogue

[Page 312]

The relations between the Karaites and the Jews were generally good. In 1827 heated arguments started between them caused by pressure to send recruits to the Russian Army.

The leaders of the Karaites in Ponevezh in the 18th century were Avraham Kaplonovsky and Avraham ben Mordehai.

 

Society and Economy

Jews started to settle in Ponevezh on the left bank of the river, apparently, at the beginning of the 18th century. In 1766 there were 254 Jews in town who paid a “per head tax”.

They built their houses around the Market Square and in the adjacent area. They developed trade in flour, yeast and flax production and engaged in skilled occupations and small industries with their numbers began to grow fast.

 

lit4_312.jpg
The market square in 1914

 

In 1847 there were 1,447 Jews in Ponevezh; in 1857 – 3,566 (60% of the population); in 1864 – 3,648 including 70 Karaites (45% of the population); in 1884 there were 15,030 inhabitants in town and among them 7,899 Jews (52%); in 1897 – 6,627 (51% of 13,044 total population).

Most of the Jews were shopkeepers and merchants, but there were also many in skilled occupations such as carpenters, leather workers, milliners, glove makers, saddle makers, tinsmiths, glaziers, knitters, oven builders, watchmakers, dressmakers, laundry washers, porters, cart owners and other workers, who waited every day at the street corner for an employer. There

[Page 313]

were also men who were employed in seasonal work such as guarding fields in summer or baking Matzot before Pesakh (Passover).

In 1887 a printing house owned by N. Feigenzon opened in Ponevezh, staying in business for many years.

In 1841 there were 18 shoemakers and 16 tailors among other skilled workers in Ponevezh. At the end of the 19th century there were local Jews who leased cattle from Christian farms and produced milk and cheese. There were also different “Religious Officers”, Jewish doctors, lawyers, dentists, pharmacists and teachers. Most of them leaned towards assimilation and were adopting the Russian culture. There was also a minority who were close to Jewish affairs; several of them were supporters of the “Bund” (the anti–Zionist workers organization) and others were supporters of the Socialist Zionism.

The main Jewish suburb of this period was the “Slabodka” built in a swampy area where most of the poor lived. Jewish houses built of wood would burn down from time to time in the big fires.

 

lit4_313.jpg
Wooden houses in the suburb (1914)

 

Between 1750 and 1796 the town burnt seven times. Fires were also registered in the second half of the 19th century. In 1861 almost all Jewish houses burnt down including the “Beth–Midrash”. More affluent Polish farmers in the vicinity helped the victims of the fire (Kudrevitz, Bushinsky, Gruzevsky and others).

In May 1881 more than half of the town burnt down. Eight streets with stores, warehouses filled with goods, three Synagogues with rare books – all went up in flames. 2,000 people remained without shelter. The same year in August

[Page 314]

another fire broke out, and the properties of fifteen families burnt. In October 1882 fifty houses and twenty–five stores filled with goods went up in flames.

In April 1883 another fire broke out and forty houses where 150 families lived and fifteen shops burnt down. About 800 people were left destitute – without clothes and without food.

After every fire desperate calls for help were included in the Hebrew newspaper “haMeilitz” issued in St. Petersburg. The donations had to be sent to the Rabbi of the city Eliyahu–David Rabinovitz. Significant help for the victims was rendered by the “Charity Fund” of Memel headed by Rabbi Dr.Yitshak Rilf.

In spring 1888 moving ice blocks in the river destroyed the bridge over the Nevezys River. A local man–built a ferry, collapsed one day, and all the passengers fell into the water. Three men drowned and among them the rich philanthropist, one of the builders of the Jewish Hospital –Yisrael Kisin and the other, a young man, 35 years old, Tsevi–Hirsh Shayevitz.

In 1883 Russian Authorities did not permit Jews to live in villages of Ponevezh district. About 400 families in the area were forced to move to Ponevezh to other Jewish homes, which were already crowded due to previous fires.

All this had an impact on the economic situation of the Jews. Almost half of them were very poor. In those years, at the beginning of the 1890s, many Jews from Ponevezh immigrated to South Africa. A strong association of former Ponevezh Jews” was active in that country for many years.

 

Education and Culture

Jewish children were educated mostly in the “Kheder” and in “Talmud–Torah”schools. In 1893 hundreds poor children studied in the Ponevezh Talmud–Torah. Many of them were fed a daily meal by one of the richer families in town.

During all these years general education schools were also open for Jewish children in Ponevezh. In 1853 a government–sponsored school was founded where the known Hebrew poet Y. L. Gordon taught. After his departure from Ponevezh, the teacher Yitshak Romash founded a private school for girls in 1861 where Russian, German, French, Hebrew, arithmetic and embroidery were taught. There was also an elementary school for boys. In 1878 this school closed and an elementary school for Jewish boys opened in its place. In addition to general subjects, Hebrew grammar, the history of the Jewish people, introduction to Jewish religion and some important prayers with Russian translation were taught. 60 boys, most of them very poor, studied in the school. In 1859 the Government as the inspector of the schools in Ponevezh appointed a local Jew P. Stern.

In 1886 a group of educated young men from rich families (Libshtein, Troib, Dembo, Berman, Grosman, Segal, Levnshtein, Drakin) initiated regular fund raising activities to help the poor children in town. The talented children were

[Page 315]

sent to study Torah and Wisdom while the others were offered to work as apprentices in skilled occupations.

Before the Polish Rebellion in 1863 there were no restrictions for Jewish boys to register at the Russian high school in town. Several outlawed socialist circles and revolutionists engaged in underground activities acted in it and eventually gave rise to the “Bund”. After the rebellion Jewish children were forbidden to study in this high school and they had to commute to other towns. In 1889 twenty–nine Jewish children among 289 pupils (10%) studied in the high school in Ponevezh At the teachers' seminar 164 female students were registered, among them 14 Jewish girls (8.5%).

In 1868 the educated elite opened a library in Ponevezh, ignoring the opposition of the fanatic religious circles. In 1900 a young writer opened an advanced school for Hebrew studies and in several months he had 32 students coming from the more affluent families in town. The “Melamdim” became envious and informed the Police that he was spreading socialist theory. After his apartment was searched no charges were filed against him.

In 1910 the following Jewish educational institutions were open in Ponevezh. Among them there was the School for boys with two classes offering a program for vocational skills, a Talmud–Torah and a private school for girls. The school for boys consisting of two classes, the Talmud–Torah and the vocational class could stay open thanks to the support of the philanthropist Tsemakh Broido. The Talmud–Torah elected Tsemakh Broido, David Kisin, Meir Gurion, Shalom Landoi, and Yitshak Dembo to their Board in 1891.

Many learned men acted in Ponevezh, among them the Hebrew poet Y. L. Gordon, who was a teacher in the government–sponsored school during the years 1853–1860, J. Sirkin; J. Romash and others who struggled to provide education for Jewish youth and fought hard against religious fanaticism in town.

 

Religion and Welfare

The religious life of Ponevezh Jews concentrated around the ten Synagogues and the “Beth–Midrash”. In addition there were tens of “Minyanim”, “Shtiblakh” and “Kloisim” for different trades people. At the “Shulhoif” (the yard of the Synagogues) there were five prayer houses, among them the old wooden Synagogue that was apparently built in the 18th century. It had a magnificent “Aron Kodesh” and “Bima” and a very special big copper candelabrum. This yard had the “Glikeles Klois” and the “Beth– Midrash” with its famous “Sun Clock”.

In 1912 the Yeshiva called “Ponevezh Kibbutz” was founded by Rabbi Yitshak–Ya'akov Rabinovitz (Itsele Ponevezher) supported by the Gavronsky family from Moscow. A special building was built nearby “Glikeles Klois” which accepted only twenty of the most talented men. They received a monthly scholarship from the widow of B. Gavronsky, the daughter of the tea magnate Klonimus – Ze'ev Wissotsky (born in Old–Zhager, Lithuania, 1824–1904) avoiding dependence on public support. Even when the 'Kibbutz”

[Page 316]

together with all Ponevezh Jews was exiled to Russia in 1915, the students continued to receive their scholarship.

 

lit4_316a.jpg
“Di Shul”
(Photos taken in June 2002 by Eli Goldstein South Africa)

 

lit4_316b.jpg
The “Beth–Midrash” with its Sun Clock

[Page 317]

lit4_317a.jpg
The Yeshiva Building
Photos taken in June 2002 by Eli Goldstein South Africa

 

lit4_317b.jpg
The Tablet on the Yeshiva
“In this building was in the years 1919–1940 the Ponevezh Yeshivah.”

[Page 318]

lit4_318a.jpg
The Synagogue of the “Tehilim” Society

 

After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 the “Kibbutz” was dispersed. In 1919 Rabbi Itsele returned to Lithuania, but after a short time he died of Typhus. The “Kibbutz” existed for seven years, and many known Rabbis in the Jewish World were its students.

 

lit4_318b.jpg
The Great Synagogue

[Page 319]

Among the Rabbis who served in Ponevezh there was Avraham–Abele Yofe (died in 1820), Shaul Shapira (served in Ponevezh 1839–1853), Moshe–Yitshak Segal (died in 1870), Hilel Mileikovsky (died in 1899), a student of Israel Salanter, who was one of the spiritual leaders of the Russian Jewry for fifty years, Eliyahu–David Rabinovitz–Teomim (served in Ponevezh 1871–1891). The above mentioned Yitshak–Ya'akov Rabinovitz, was the head of the “Yeshiva” of Slobodka in Kovno (1889–1894) and the Rabbi of Ponevezh (from 1896 till his death in 1919). Among the rabbis was also Hayim Khveidansky (during World War I), Mosheh–Yitshak Rabin who was the head of the “Yeshiva” and a “Dayan” for forty years (a religious judge, died in 1902), also Avraham–Eliyahu Pumpiansky (1835–1893) was the Official (state) Rabbi in town for twelve years (1860–1872).

Almost all of the Rabbis published books or booklets dealing with religious issues.

In 1886 the Jewish Hospital in Ponevezh opened in a pleasant and spacious building in a beautiful park. The Hospital was built outside the town on a plot that was purchased by the wealthy leaders of the community (M .Z. Kisin; J. Tsemakhovitz and others) for 10,000 Rubles, an enormous sum in those days.

In 1893 a pharmacy serving the Hospital and providing free medication for the poor opened next door. On “Purim” 1888 a big benefit for the Hospital was organized where the popular poet Elyakum Tsunzer read his poems.

The members of the executive of the Hospital were A.Dembo, J.Berlin, M.Shidersky, J.Sapir and Adv. D, Zakheim.

In Ponevezh “Moshav–Zekeinim” (Home for the Old) opened where dozens of old men and women lived.

The welfare institutions in town were: “Bikur Holim”(care for the sick), “Linath haTsedek” (since 1898), “Hevra Kadisha” (in charge of the burials), a Women Society that cared for the old and the orphans, “Hakhnasath Orkhim” where each poor traveller received lodging for three days and six meals, “Hakhnasath Kalah” (care for poor brides), “Somekh Noflim” since 1890, which provided loans not exceeding 100 Rubles without interest, to small shopkeepers.

In 1887 a Kosher Kitchen (Ma'akhal Kasher) was established for the Jewish soldiers who served in the local garrison of the Russian Army.

In the summer of 1894 a cholera epidemic hit the town. A special “Help Committee” was organized which spent 1,500 Rubles on poor patients. There was also a free kitchen distributing meals for 150 poor people no matter what their faith. The meals included bread, meat and a side dish. This Committee existed for only three months existing on the donations provided by the philanthropists of the town.

[Page 320]

On two lists of contributors for victims of hunger in different Lithuanian towns in 1871 and 1872 names of Ponevezh Jews appear. The treasurer was Ze'ev Volfson.

 

Zionist and other activities

Jews from Ponevezh immigrated to Eretz–Yisrael yet before the “Khibath Zion” (Fans of Zion) movement was organized. In the old cemetery of Jerusalem there are at least fifteen headstones of Ponevezh Jews, buried during the 1850s and 1860s (see Appendix 1).

In 1867 a few Ponevezh Jews organized a group with the goal to immigrate to Eretz–Yisrael, following news that American Christians were settling in the Land. But only after twenty years they managed to fulfil their aspiration when together with a group from Bialystok they renewed the settlement of Petakh–Tikvah previously abandoned due to a deadly epidemic of malaria.

In the autumn of 1883 six families from Ponevezh immigrated to Eretz–Yisrael and settled on land bought near Jaffa. Among the Ponevezh Jews immigrating to Eretz–Yisrael before World War I were Dov Leibovitz who joined the “Bylu”im (Beth Ya'akov Lekhu veNelkha), Gitel Yudelevitz (in 1870) with with her second husband Yehuda–Leib Hilman and her three sons, Yits'hak–Ya'akov, Mosheh–Leib and Idel –Monish who consequently earned a living engraving inscriptions on tombstones, Eliezer–Elkhanan Shalit who arrived in 1882, settled in Rishon–leZion becoming the first Jew who cultivated olive trees in the land; Rabbi Eliyahu–David Rabinovitz–Teomim, who arrived in 1905 and was elected as the Chief Rabbi of the Ashkenazi Community in Jerusalem; Hayim–Mosheh Fein with his family who was among the first settlers in Metulla. Professor Gideon Mer (1894–1961) arrived in 1913 and became the adjutant of Joseph Trumpeldor in “The Mule Driver Regiment” of the British Army in World War I. He established and ran the Malaria Research Laboratory in Rosh–Pinah and was the Chief Doctor of the Palmakh (the storm troops of the Haganah) and the head of the Preventative Medicine in IDF. He later became the deputy of the Director General of the Health Ministry of the State of Israel.

At the Regional Conference of the Russian Zionists which took place in Vilna in 1899 one of the two delegates from Ponevezh was Rabbi Yitshak–Ya'akov Rabinovitz. At the conference of the Zionist Associations of Vilna and Kovno Gubernias in 1909 a delegate from Ponevezh participated as well.

In the lists of contributors for Eretz–Yisrael published in “haTsefira” in 1895 and in “haMeilitz” in 1899 and 1900 the names of tens of Ponevezh Jews appear. The fundraisers were Salomon, Kisin and Leib Todes.

On the lists of “Agudath–Yisrael” paying members (the religious anti–Zionist organization) in 1913 twenty names of Ponevezh Jews appear (see Append. 2).

After the attempted revolution of 1905 remarkable fighters of the “Bund” came out from the “Slobodka” quarter of Ponevezh. At that time the “Bund” had about 700 members in Ponevezh. Inspired by the “Bund” the brush workers of

[Page 321]

Ponevezh and of Vikavishk, Virbaln, Vishtinets (Vistytis) and other places started a strike with the goal to improve their working conditions. They wanted a working day of eight hours and a raise in salaries. Pavel Berman and Joseph–Shelomoh Mil from Ponevezh were among the other founders of the “Bund”. Members of this organization were also active in “Self Defence” group fighting against probable pogroms.

Because of the severity of the reaction coming from the Rule against the revolutionaries and because the Jewish youth didn't see any future for themselves, immigration to South Africa and America increased rapidly. According to statistics about 80% of the Jewish youth of Ponevezh emigrated in those years

 

During World War 1

In 1915 Ponevezh Jews, together with the Jews of the Kovno Gubernia having received 24 hours notice, were exiled deep into Russia. 43 old men and women, who lived in the “Moshav Zekeinim” were brought to the railway station and exiled together with the others. The Jewish inhabitants, who deserted the town became then refugees. The “Slobodka” Jewish quarter burnt down and all the remaining property looted.

Following the occupation of the town by the German army, Jews who managed to avoid exile hiding in the nearby villages and in the Vilna Gubernia, began to return to Ponevezh. The Community Committee renewed its activities on a small scale, due to smaller numbers of Jews in town.

After the Peace Treaty was signed in Brest–Litovsk, the Bolsheviks entered the town, but they didn't stay for a long time. In April 1919 the newly organized Lithuanian Army expelled them. The Lithuanians spread rumors that Jews were fans of the Bolsheviks and the soldiers abused Jews, looted their properties and engaged in murders.

In three years, in 1922, a trial against two Lithuanians who participated in these incidents took place.

 

During the Period of Independent Lithuania

Society and Economy

The establishment of the Lithuanian state in February 1918 and the promise bythe government to grant civil and national rights to the minorities including Jews, brought about the recovery of economy and social life in Ponevezh; the Jews exiled in 1915 began to return to their home town.

In accordance with the “Autonomy Law for the Minorities,” issued by the new Lithuanian Government, a Community Committee of 24 members was elected in 1919: 2 members were elected from the list of Tseirei–Zion; 1–Mizrahi; 9 from “Akhduth”; 2– artisans, 5– workers; 2– non party; 3– non defined.

[Page 322]

Elections to the Committee took place in 1921 and in 1923, when 4,812 people had voting rights.

The Committee was active through its various subcommittees in almost all fields of Jewish life from the middle of 1919 until February 1926. A total of 11 subcommittees were established as follows: education and culture, economy, administration, hospital, social help, childcare, religious issues, the cemetery, help for Pesakh etc. There were also 4 temporary subcommittees for election work and other activities.

The funds for the Committee came from taxpayers' money – there were 864 taxpayers – and from indirect payments such as donations for the Orphans' Home, for the Hospital, “Contribution days” etc. Funds were also derived from different services the Committee offered, like: registrations of births, weddings, divorce, deaths etc. The Committee was also supported by the “Jewish National Committee” in Kovno and by natives of Ponevezh who settled in South–Africa (Johannesburg, Kronstadt, Capetown) and in America (NewYork, Chicago, Baltimore, Philadelphia) and organized their local associations in the above mentioned cities.

According to the first census the government carried out in 1923 there were 19,147 people, among them 6,845 Jews (36%): 3,227 males and 3,618 females in Ponevezh.

After the Community Committee was dissolved by the semi–fascist government that took over the rule in Lithuania, all its functions were transferred to the “Knesseth Yisrael Association” that continued to act as its predecessor. It had about 400 members who paid membership fees, but the committee did not have enough money to support the great welfare institutions like the Hospital, the Orphans Home and the Home for the Aged, therefore the Municipality contributed a part of the budget to these institutions.

The chairman of the council of “Knesseth Yisrael” was Dr. Jur. Shemuel Landoi. He was also the chairman of the management of the town's “Folksbank” and the deputy chairman of “The Union of the Jewish Folksbanks in Lithuania”. In the elections for the Municipality Council that took place at the beginning of the 1920s, 12 Jews were elected of the 40 members of the Council and among them the above mentioned Dr. Sh. Landoi. He was also the acting delegate to the “Founding Seimas” (Parliament) on behalf of the “Folkspartei”. Naftali Fridman (1862–1921), who was also the delegate to the third and fourth “Duma” (The Russian Parliament) in the years 1907–1917 was an elected delegate to the Seimas. Another delegate to the Founding Seimas was Rabbi Yosef–Shelomo Kahaneman, who became the Rabbi of Ponevezh in 1919.

In the elections of 1931 only 7 Jews of 21 members of the Municipality Council were elected (A.Fleisher, A.Riklis, Adv. Shats, Adv. Landoi, Hazan, Ram, Z.Leibovitz). In the elections of 1934, 5 Jews among the 21 members that were elected. In these elections there were 1,576 Jews with voting rights

[Page 323]

among 6,766 people with voting rights (23%). For many years Avraham Fleisher was the Deputy Mayor.

The Jews of Ponevezh played an important role in the economic life of the town. They were leaders in trade and export of flax and grains and were owners of the great flour–mills (“Yakur”, Rubinshtein, Lev and others) that supplied the greater part of the state's total consumption of flour.

It should be mentioned that among the 25 clerks of the State Bank and among the 21 judges and the many court employees there was not a single Jew.

An important role in the economic life of the town was played by the Jewish “Folksbank”. It was established before World War I and was called then “The Jewish Credit Bank”. The “Folksbank” had 207 members in 1920, in 1927 – 1,123 members and in 1929 – 984 members. Other financial institutions of Ponevezh were “The Jewish Central Bank” that had only two branches, one in Ponevezh and the other in Kibart (Kybartai); “The Commerce Bank”; “Bank for Mutual Credit” and “Bank Elitsur”. There was also the branch of “The United Association for Credit for the Jewish Agriculture in Lithuania” with its head office in Kovno. In 1938 the Association of the Small Store Owners established a Credit Fund for its members.

According to the governmental survey of 1931 there were 216 stores in Ponevezh and among them 163 were owned by Jews (75%). The division according to type of business is presented in the table below:

Type of the business Total Owned by Jews
Groceries 18 14
Grains and Flax 11 11
Butcher shops and cattle trade 32 21
Restaurants and taverns 19 7
Food Products 22 21
Beverages 4 4
Textile products and Furs 19 18
Leather and Shoes 23 21
Tobacco and Cigarettes 2 1
Haberdashery and Home Utensils 13 12
Medicine and Cosmetics 9 7
Watches, Jewels and Optics 7 4
Radio, Bicycles and Sewing Machines 3 2
Tools and Steel Products 5 4
Building Materials and Furniture 5 2
Timber and Heating Materials 4 4
Vehicles and Transportation 5 1
Stationery and Books 1 0
Miscellaneous 14 9

[Page 324]

According to the same survey there were 105 light industry factories and of them 71 owned by Jews (68%). The different businesses are presented in the table below:

Type of Factory Total Jewish Owned
Metal Workshops, Power Plants 10 4
Headstones, Glass, Bricks 1 0
Chemical Industry: Spirits, Soaps 1 0
Textile: Wool, Flax, Knitting 16 15
Timber Industry: Sawmills, Furniture 4 2
Paper Industry: Printing Presses, Binderies 3 3
Food Industry: Flour Mills, Bakeries 39 26
Dresses, Footwear, Furs ,Hats 26 17
Leather Industry: Production, Cobbling 2 2
Barber Shops, Pig Bristles, Goldsmith 3 2

 

Except for the merchants and the clerks, many Jews made their living from skilled occupations. In 1937 there were 263 Jewish skilled tradesmen: 70 tailors, 39 shoemakers, 21 butchers, 14 barbers, 14 tinsmiths, 9 bakers, 8 knitters, 8 painters, 8 tailors, 5 oven–builders, 5 glaziers, 5 milliners, 5 carpenters, 5 blacksmiths, 5 cobblers, 4 electricians, 4 corset makers, 4 bookbinders, 4 photographers, 4 watchmakers, 3 furriers, 3 leather workers, 3 dressmakers, 2 wood etchers, 1 printer, 1 locksmith, 1 textile painter and 8 others.

In 1939 there were about 300 members in the “Association of the Jewish Artisans” in Ponevezh. There were also Jews in independent professions but their number decreased during the years. In 1921 there were 15 doctors and of them 11 Jews (73%), in 1932 there were 27 doctors in town and of them 15 Jews (55%). In 1925 there were 12 Jewish dentists, 7 dental practitioners and several lawyers in town.

The drought that occurred in many regions of northern Lithuania in 1928 to 1929 caused many Jewish families to depend on welfare. It also brought on physical attacks on Jews in Ponevezh. There were attacks on Jews in 1927.

The economic crisis of Lithuania at the beginning of the 1930s and the propaganda of the Lithuanian Merchants Association (Verslas) against Jewish stores, hurt many Jewish families badly. The “Verslas” tried to attract clients by issuing “Blue Stamps” (Credit Stamps) and the “Jewish Merchants Association”, issued “Green Stamps” in defiance. Jewish Ponevezh was described then as “a poor town rich with institutions”.

In 1939 there were 513 telephones in Ponevezh. 92 of them belonged to private Jews and to the Jewish education and welfare institutions.

In 1939 there were 26,653 people in town and of them 6,000 Jews (22%).

[Page 325]

Education and Culture

There were three Jewish educational systems in Ponevezh: the Hebrew–Zionist, the Hebrew–Religious and the Yiddishist.

The Hebrew High School opened in 1920 with about 400 students from many towns of the northern part of the country. The school first opened in rented flats, not suitable for the purpose. The knowledge of the students in different subjects and in Hebrew was not substantial. There were no textbooks in Hebrew and no reference books for the teachers. Not all teachers were professionals, and there were the others who had difficulty getting used to the “Sephardic Pronunciation” accepted in Eretz–Yisrael.

There were conflicts between the parents of the students and the teachers, and much energy was wasted in endless meetings.

Only the third director of the High–School Adv. G. Gurevitz (after Dr. Mer and Dr. Rozenberg) managed to bring peace to the school, and it began to develop. Meanwhile an elementary Hebrew school was opened in a third rented flat. After getting annual support from the government and a free plot of land, a fine two story building was built, and in the autumn of 1928 studies at the school began . A very active person in the process of the construction was Zalman Rabinovitz (died in 1933).

 

lit4_325.jpg
The Building of the Hebrew High–School with its Magen David on the top

[Page 326]

From 1927 Adv. Gurevitz was the official director, but the actual director was an invited Dr. Arthur Loewenhertz (the first director of the Hebrew High–School in Virbalis) who managed to bring order and strengthen the discipline in school. In 1929 he immigrated to Eretz–Yisrael (he later became the director of the High–School in Kiryath–Motzkin), and Dr.Yisrael Mehlman was the appointed director. In 1935 he and Adv. Gurevitz immigrated to Eretz–Yisrael and A. Leipziger was appointed as director. He managed to build a new wing to the school enlarging its capacity by 40%. It included a reading room, a physics laboratory and a big hall for sports and for different cultural activities. Then the long–planned Hebrew Kindergarten was opened, and so the children could spend 15 years of their lives in that building. From 1930 the Popular University opened in the same building as well.

In the winter of 1931 the national writer and poet Hayim N. Bialik visited the High School and this visit became a festivive occassion for the whole Jewish community. From time to time, other well–known Hebrew writers visited the school, such as Nahum Sokolov, Yitshak Lamdan, Zalman Shne'ur and others.

Nevertheless, the number of students in the High School declined. In 1929 the number of students was 200, and later the school had not more than 180 students, in comparison to the 400 in the first year of enrollment. The reasons for the decline were the establishment of a High School for girls of the religious “Yavneh” network by Rabbi Yosef–Shlomo Kahaneman in 1928, and the propaganda of the Zionist youth organizations to join the “Kibutzei Hachsharah” (Training Kibbutzim) instead of studying for matriculation. Among the youth the idea became popular that the matriculation is not worth much, and that it is better to join a “Kibutz Hachsharah” and immigrate sooner to Eretz–Yisrael.

The “Yavneh” High School was accommodated in a building that was originally built becauseof a donation for a “Talmud–Torah” by a former Ponevezh Jew from South–Africa. This school competed with the other Hebrew High–School in the quality of teaching and tuition fees which were minimal.

[Page 327]

lit4_327.jpg
Teachers of the High School in 1935

From right: Zalman Shilansky*, Dr. Yisrael Feld*,–––––,Miriam Khatzkel (immigrated to Eretz Israel in 1935), Yasha –Ya'akov Levin (died in Israel),––––, Dr.Yitzhak Rozman (immigrated to Eretz–Yisrael in 1935), Yitzhak Shapira*, Yisrael Bekin*, Dr. Yitzhak Mehlman (immigrated to Eretz–Yisrael in 1935), Yitzhak Shreiber (died in Ponevezh in 1938)
Standing from right: Emanuel Sursky*, Shmeriyahu Oretzkin*

*––Murdered in the Holocaust

 

The first class of the Hebrew High School graduated in 1924. There were 17 graduating classes of this High School through the years.

In addition to the above mentioned educational institutions in Ponevezh there was a Hebrew elementary school belonging to the “Yavneh” network (Kheder haRav) with 350 students and a Yiddish Elementary school with 150 students, established in 1918.

[Page 328]

lit4_328a.jpg
The Fifth Graduation Class of the Hebrew High School 1928

 

lit4_328b.jpg
The Sixth Graduation Class of the Hebrew High School 1929

[Page 329]

lit4_329.jpg
The Ninth Graduation Class of the Hebrew High School 1932

 

Both schools were housed in wooden buildings with one courtyard and the conditions were inappropriate. In 1930 the Yiddish school moved into a spacious building. The director of this school was L. Glitzman.

Inspite of the efforts of the Jewish members of the Municipality Council, and many promises, the “Yavneh” school remained in a dilapidated wooden building.

Until 1935 a Yiddish pro–gymnasium supported by the Society “Libhober fun Vissen” (Fans of Knowledge) was open for students, but because of its bad financial condition it was closed that year.

Until 1927 an “ORT” vocational school for carpentry acted in Ponevezh. Later different courses were initiated by “ORT”, such as a course for fashion design and others.

The library named after the famous writer Y. L. Peretz had more than 1,600 books and was the biggest in town. In 1933 the library had 200 subscribers as follows: 35% workers, 20.5% employed people, 14.6% students, 12.9% merchants, 9.2% free professionals and 7.8% unemployed. 56.2% of the subscribers were with incomplete high school education, 24.8% were self educated, 16.2% were students and graduates of high school, 2.8% were university educated.

[Page 330]

lit4_330.jpg
The eighth (graduation) class on a excursion near the river Sanzhila (a tributary of the Nevezys), summer 1938

First line from right: Eliezer Aizenbud (near the water)–lives in Israel; Grinberg **; Moshe Yaffe–died in Israel 1979; Teacher Zalman Shilansky**; Liusia Shmutkin** (lying);
Second line: Aryeh Gordon**; Shimon Bekin–died in Israel; Eliyahu Lofert**; Shulamith Pliatzkin**; Chaya Rapaport**
Third line: Rivka Volk–lives in South Africa; Yocheved Vexler –died in Israel 1997; Devorah Paleyes**

** Murdered in the Holocaust

 

After 1929 the “YIVO” association was active in Ponevezh. In 1933 there were 15 subscribers of the “YIVO Bletter” (YIVO Pages). In the middle of the 1920s the “haBima” theater from Tel–Aviv visited the town and the Community Committee arranged a party in honor of the actors. From time to time, Jewish theaters from Kovno visited Ponevezh with performances. The “Hebrew Studio” with its director Mihael Gur from “haBima” performed Molier's play “Skapen Devilries” in Ponevezh. The town also had also a drama Group.

[Page 331]

lit4_331.jpg
Meeting of the two graduation classes from Ponevezh and Shavl Hebrew High Schools together with the teachers and several public workers 1938, which took place according to the tradition of hundred days before the final examinations.

 

The account below shows that of the 47 people appearing on the picture, 22 were murdered in the Holocaust, 9 immigrated to Israel, 8 lived in Lithuania and other countries, the fate of 8 being unknown (see below).

 

(Names and fates of the people appearing on the picture of the two classes above, supplied by Shimon Levit)

* Murdered in the Holocaust

First line below, from right:

Mrs. Eta Bekin, public worker, wife of the teacher Yisrael Bekin *
Yisrael Bekin, teacher *
Aryeh Gordon, Ponevezh student *
Zalman Shilansky, teacher *
Eliezer Aizenbud, Ponevezh student, lives in Israel
Mihael Bramson, teacher *
Shemuel Shmukler, student, lives in USA
Shmuel Lifshitz, Shavli student, died after the war

Second line from right:

Dr. Ben–Zion–Hayim Aizenbud, teacher *
Mrs. Zila Bernshtein, public worker, wife of Dr. Aryeh–Leib Bernshtein *
Tamar Maimin, teacher *

[Page 332]

Dr. Aryeh–Leib Bernshtein, public worker *
Mordehai Rudnik, Director of the Hebrew High–School of Shavli *
Dr. Yisrael Feld, teacher *
Mrs. Mina Joffe, mother of the student Moshe Joffe, died in Israel
–––––––––––––––––––––, Shavli student, name and fate not known
Ya'akov Mordel, Shavli student, lives in Israel
Liuba Sher, Ponevezh student, survived and lives somewhere abroad
––––––––––––––––––––, Shavli student, name and fate not known

Third line, from right:

Mrs. Braine Aizenbud, public worker *
–––––––––––––––––––––––––teacher,*
Mrs. Fux, Secretary of the Ponevezh High–School *
–––––––––––––––––––––––––, student of Shavli, her name and fate not known
Meir Gurion, Ponevezh student, killed in battle 1943
Leah Shpiz, Shavli student, survived
Esther Weis, Shavli student, lives in Israel
––––––––––––––––, Shavli student , name and fate not known
Shimon Levit, Ponevezh student, lives in Israel
Rivkah Volk, Ponevezh student, lives in South–Africa
Shulamith Pliatzkin, Ponevezh student *
Yoheved Vexler, Ponevezh student, died in 1997 in Israel
Elka Shmutkin, Ponevezh student *
Nehamah Levit, mother of the student Shimon Levit, died in Shavli in 1966
Pesia Markus, Ponevezh student *

Fourth line, from right:

Shmeriyahu Oretzkin, (half face hidden) teacher *
Mitusia Levian, Ponevezh student *
–––––––––––––––––––,Shavli student, name and fate not known
––––––––––––––––– , Shavli student, name and fate not known
Gershon Feigelman, Ponevezh student *

Fifth line, from right:

Mosheh Jafe, Ponevezh student, died in Israel 1979
Devorah Subotzky, Ponevezh student *
Liuba Vainer, Ponevezh student, lives in Israel
Sarah Bizun, Ponevezh student *
Shimon–Leib Bekin, Ponevezh student, died in Israel 1989
––––––––––––––––––––––––, Shavli student, name and fate not known
––––––––––––––––––––––––, Shavli student, name and fate not known
Shelomoh Feigenzon, teacher *

[Page 333]

 

Religion and Welfare

After Telzh, Ponevezh was the first stronghold of the orthodox Jewry in Lithuania and its fame as a Torah Study Center spread all over the world. During this period its 15 prayer houses and the “Shulhoif” were the center of religious life of the Community.

Thanks to the efforts of Rabbi Yosef–Shelomoh Kahaneman, a Yeshivah (The Great Yeshiva), one of the greatest in Lithuania, was established in 1919. In 1928 a truly grand Yeshivah building was built thanks to the donation of the local philanthropist D. Rubinshtein. 400 young men studied there. This Yeshivah was recognized as a college and its students were released from military service until the age of 24 (instead of 21). There were also two “Yeshivoth Ktanoth” (Small Yeshivoth): one in the old Beth–Midrash and the other in “Glikeles Klois” headed by Rabbi Shelomoh–Ezra Mer. In one of these Yeshivoth students were given the opportunity to finish four grades of elementary school and also to continue in the fifth and sixth grades to get an official graduation certificate.

 

lit4_333.jpg
The announcement on the above mentioned privileges.
It was not common for the children who studied in a Yeshivah to get general education as in a regular elementary school and even to get an official certificate. These were the privileges print in the attached announcement.

 

In the Klois of the “Habad Khasidim” Shemuel–Tsevi Lisahn kept the “Shalosh Se'udoth” meal as the tradition from the Lubavicher Rabbi every Shabbath for 32 years.

In the mornings there was a “Kheder” for the Khasidim children in this Klois and in the evenings Shemuel–Dov Cohen would explain the daily page of the Talmud.

From 1919 during all the period of the Independent Lithuania the Rabbi of Ponevezh was Yosef–Shleomoh Kahaneman. In 1940 he immigrated to Eretz–Yisrael and founded the “Ponevezh Yeshivah” in Benei–Brak. Rabbi Yitzhak Rabinovitz was officiated as the Dayan (religious judge).

[Page 334]

During the years of World War I, when Ponevezh Jews were exiled into Russia, the Jewish Hospital was not in operation . In 1919 the hospital renewed operation in its nice and neat building. It had 85 beds and the head was Dr. Sh. Mer (died in 1930). This Hospital delivered medical aid to people in the vicinity and the surroundings.

 

lit4_334.jpg
A form which was sent by the Hospital to the Jewish Communities in the surroundings of Ponevezh detailing the treatment available and the terms for receiving patients.

 

In 1929 the tenth anniversary of the Hospital was celebrated, and all the people who took part in the establishment of the hospital including the doctors and other medical staff were photographed together (see below).

[Page 335]

lit4_335.jpg
In the middle of the picture Dr. Sh. Mer and Mrs. Dr. A.Mer

 

The Jewish orphanage entered its own building in 1930. There were on average 75 children. The Home for the Aged housed 30 people. Other welfare institutions were 'Somekh–Noflim” (Gemiluth–Hesed) which granted loans for the needy without interest; “Linath–haTsedek”; a branch of “OZE” organization whose budget was based on minimal member fees and donations from the local “Folksbank”. “OZE” maintained a clinic and during the summer vacations would organize summer camps for Jewish children. The “Kneseth– Yisrael” Association would deliver bread and medical care for the poor for free. It also supported the “Yeshivah Ketanah” and supplied breakfast for poor students of the elementary schools.

In 1933 the “Kneseth–Yisrael” Association established the “Jewish Help Committee”. The “Khevrah–Kadisha” which usually acted uncommitted, donated a remarkable sum for this task.

 

Zionist and other activities

All Zionist parties were represented in Ponevezh and some of them had their own club, like “Tseirei–Zion” (Hitakhduth), Z”S (Zionist Socialists) and the Revisionists. There were also remarkable fund raising activities for the Jewish National Funds–Keren Kayemeth and Keren haYesod. Three Yeshivah students

[Page 336]

were expelled from the Yeshivah because they donated some money ro Keren–Kayemeth.

There was also an active branch of “WIZO” with 135 women members (1938) in town.

Among the Zionist youth organizations in Ponevezh were “haShomer–haTsair” (before was the “Legion”, established by Dr. Yosef Kot), “Gordonia” with 80–90 members, Noar Tsofi–Halutsi (Scout–Pioneer Youth), Z”S Youth, Betar with 90 members in 1931 and “Benei–Akiva”.

 

lit4_336.jpg
The leaders of the “Legion” November 15, 1924

 

These organizations developed intensive Zionist and social activities. They arranged parades in the streets of the town, performed shows and organized literary parties, debates and lectures on Zionist and literary themes. The spoken language of many of the teenagers was Hebrew, and they spoke Hebrew in school and in the clubs.

The branch of “heKhalutz” was one of the veteran associations in town. In 1932 a “Kibutz Hakhsharah “was established in Ponevezh with 60 Halutsim (pioneers). In the 1930s two more “Kibutsei Hakhsharah” acted in town: Kibutz :”Khayim” of “HaShomer HaTsa'ir” and an urban Kibutz of “HeKhalutz HaMizrahi”.

[Page 337]

lit4_337a.jpg
A group of members of “HaShomer HaTsa'ir” Ponevezh branch with Ya'akov Gotlib and Dr.Gideon Mer coming for a visit from Eretz–Yisrael, 1927

 

lit4_337b.jpg
Kibutz “Hayim” 1939

First line above, second from right: Raya Ger;
Second line below, third from left: Eliyahu Levitas
Third line below, third from left: Levi Dror

[Page 338]

lit4_338a.jpg
Members of Kibutz “Hayim” packing flax

 

lit4_338b.jpg
Urban Kibutz of “HeKhalutz HaMizrahi” 1933

 

Many of Ponevezh Jews, in particular youth, immigrated to Eretz–Yisrael and took part in its development and defense. Several of the veterans of Kibbutz Givath–Brener in Israel were Ponevezh natives.

[Page 339]

In 1940 a group of the “Kibutz Hakhsharah” of “haShomer–haTsair” from the Soviet–occupied the Polish city Radom, arrived in Ponevezh. They organized a Kibutz and made a living working different jobs and getting support of the “Joint” association. Some of its members survived the Holocaust and arrived in Eretz–Yisrael after the war joining the Kibutz Nir–David in the Beth–Shean valley.

The table below shows how Ponevezh Zionists voted for different parties at six Zionist Congresses:

 

Congress
or.
Year Total
Shekalim
Total Voters Labor Party
Z”S Z”Z
Revisionists General Zionists
A B
Grosmanists Mizrahi
14 1925 126
15 1927 163 40 6 14 3 13 4
16 1929 282 121 46 35 19 14 9
17 1931 322 278 81 45 119 19 14
18 1933 724 501 49 42 88 44
19 1935 1,490 764 128 115 292 191

 

Among the natives of Ponevezh were:

Rabbi Zalman–Pinkhas Kaplan (1840–1921) served in Yezna and Gelvan, the grandson of Avraham, the brother of the Gaon from Vilna;
Mark Dilon (1843–1903) a known lawyer in Russia who was the general secretary of the Senate in St. Petersburg;
David Apoteker (1855–1911), journalist, immigrated in 1888 to America, and published poems in Hebrew and Yiddish;
Miriam Dilon, sculptor, graduate of the Arts Academy in St. Petersburg, whose sculptures were exhibited in all exhibitions of the Academy in Russia and abroad;
Joseph–Shelomoh Mil (John Mil) (1870–1952) one of the founders of the “Bund”;
Pavel (Mihael) Berman (1873–1922), Engineer and revolutionary, one of the veterans of the “Bund”;
Zakum (1877–1941), Dr. of Physics and Mathematics and famous cellist who played as first cellist and soloist in the Philharmonic Orchestra of Hamburg; murdered in the Kovno Ghetto;
Rabbi Nahum–Barukh Ginzburg (1882–1941) who served in Kibart and Yaneve; murdered in the Holocaust;
William Luis (1884–1939), judge, one of the leaders of the Zionist movement and chairman of the United Appeal in USA;

[Page 340]

David Shulman (1897–1962), arrived in Eretz–Yisrael in 1925 and was one of the founders of the Association of Lithuanian Jews and one of the initiators of the housing project for Lithuanian Jews in Ramath–haSharon;
Avraham Kisin (1899–1945), Doctor of Nature Sciences, teacher in the Hebrew Realistic High–School in Kovno, member of the center of the Z”S party, member of the editorial board of “Dos Vort” newspaper, chairman of the Association of the Hebrew teachers in Lithuania and editor of its journal “beMisholei haKhinukh”, died in Dachau concentration camp;
David Fram (1903–1988), published poems in Yiddish in Kovno and South–Africa;
Hayim Lazar (Litai) ( ––1997), partisan in World War II and writer, one of the leaders of Betar in Lithuania, founder of “The Museum of the Combatants and Partisans” in Tel–Aviv;
Yehezkel Koventor– Bentor (1907–1993), member of the leadership of “haShomer–haTzair” in Lithuania, one of the founders of the Ponevezh branch of this movement, active in the administration of “Al haMishmar” newspaper, member of Kibutz Beth–Zera;
Hirsh Osherovitz (1908–1994), writer and poet in Yiddish, lived in Israel from 1971;
Hayim Maltinsky (1910–1986) writer and poet in Yiddish, from 1947 in Birobidzhan, came to Israel in 1973, published poetry and fiction books in Tel–Aviv;
Eliezer Molk (1913–1997) one of the veterans of Kibutz “Mishmar Zevulun” (later Kefar Masarik), secretary of the Council of Haifa Workers during the years 1969 to 1977;
Avraham Riklis (1920–), educator, active in the center of “heChalutz” in Lithuania, member of Kibbutz Ashdoth–Ya'akov”;
Prof. Eliezer Aizenbud (1921–) Doctor of Biology, lecturer and researcher at the Veterinary Academy in Kovno, senior researcher at the Vulkani Institute in Beth–Dagan;
Yosef Shein, theater director and actor;
Benjamin Zuskin , famous actor in the USSR.

 

During World War II and Afterward

World War II actually started on the 1st of September 1939 when the German army attacked Poland. August 23, 1939 the German–Soviet agreement stipulated that Lithuania would be under the German jurisdiction, but that same year, in September 1939, it was decided by Germany and the Soviet Union that Lithuania will become a state under the Soviet jurisdiction. According to this agreement on October 10, 1939 Vilna was returned (from Polish occupation) to Lithuania by the Soviet Union including a 9000 sq. km.

[Page 341]

area around the town, and Soviet troops were allowed to establish bases all over Lithuania.

On June 15th, 1940 Lithuania was forced to form a regime that was friendly towards the Soviet Union. When the new government was formed, headed by Justas Paleckis, the Red Army took over Lithuania. President Smetona fled, and the Lithuanian leaders were exiled to Siberia. The parties were dismissed. The popular Seimas was “elected,” 99% of its members were Communists. The Seimas then unanimously decided that Lithuania would join the Soviet Union.

Following new laws, the majority of the factories and shops belonging to the Jews of Ponevezh were nationalized. Houses larger than 220 square meters, many of them Jewish, were nationalized too. All the Zionist parties and youth organizations were dismissed, and several activists were detained. The “Comsomol” (Communist Youth Organization) started to mobilize youth into its lines.

Hebrew educational institutions were closed and towards the 1940/1941 school year, the main language of instruction at the former Hebrew Schools was Yiddish.

Instead of the three Kindergartens – “Tarbuth”, “Yavneh” and the Yiddish one – a united Yiddish Kindergarten was established with 160 children and housed in two buildings. All the Jewish elementary schools were united into two. The High Schools were concentrated in the building of the “Yavneh” high school and about 600 pupils studied there in two shifts. The name of it was “The third governmental gymnasium with instruction language Yiddish”. The “Peretz” library moved into a spacious flat on behalf of the “Folkshilf” (Popular Help) and a reading room opened. The building of the Yeshivah was taken by the Russians and its students wandered from place to place. Jewish Communists who emerged from underground activities, got important jobs in the civic sector.

The 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.

At the beginning of June 1941 at least 27 Jews, the owners of nationalized factories and shops and Zionist activists were exiled deep into Russia. The others sat “on their suitcases” and awaited their turn.

The German army entered Ponevezh on the 26th of June 1941, 5 days after the German invasion into the Soviet Union.

Before a single German soldier was seen in town, the Lithuanian nationalist activists started to offend and abuse Jews. Behind these activities there were several people from the Lithuanian intelligencia in town, like the Principal of the high school, the deputy of the district prosecutor, the secretary of the provincial court and others (their names are preserved in the Archives of Yad–Vashem in Jerusalem). They organized the local students who were subsequently involved in the majority of the murders of Ponevezh Jews.

[Page 342]

lit4_342.jpg
The building of the former Hebrew High–School
without the Magen–David on the top of it

(refer the picture of this same building on page 325 with Magen–David)

 

On the 4th of July 1941 a call to the local Lithuanian population was published in the periodical “The Liberated Ponevezh Citizen” stating: “help the German army to clean our forests and groves from Jews, Bolsheviks and other strangers, including Lithuanian traitors as fast as possible. So your lives and properties would be saved”.

Rumors about a Lithuanian doctor being murdered by Jews were circulated throughout the town. This signaled the beginning of the pogroms that were to follow.

The Jews were now required to report daily at various locations throughout the town from where they would be taken for various work assignments in the immediate area. One group of young and fit men were taken away and given the job of digging peat in the countryside. None of them ever returned.

Every day, local Lithuanian policemen would arrange a “show”. They would march groups of Jews through the streets of the town, while continually beating them with whips and rifle butts. Those whose strength eventually failed, had to be carried by others who could still walk. These “performances” would be watched by a large crowd of jeering spectators who would follow the procession all over the town.

[Page 343]

Many Jewish men of all ranges of life were arrested and brought to the local jail where they were cruelly tortured. Every night they would be awoken and forced to crawl around the yard outside on their elbows and knees in the gravel. All the while, the guards would beat them using spiked whips and eventually the wounded prisoners would be bundled on to waiting trucks which took them to either the Kaiserling (Kaizerlingas) (2 km south–east from Ponevezh) or Zalioji (13 km north–east from Ponevezh) forests where they would be murdered by their captors.

At the beginning of July the Jews were ordered to crowd together in a Ghetto that was established in Klaipeda, Krekanava and Tulvicius streets. The deadline for the Jews to relocate to the Ghetto was July 11th at six in the evening. The area was fenced off with barbed wire and Lithuanians from the auxiliary police were stationed as guards around the perimeter. It was announced that those Lithuanians who had vacated their homes in the streets set aside for the Ghetto, would receive the Jews' homes in return. Avraham Riklis and Moshe Levit were selected as the leaders of the Ghetto community. The Ghetto also served as a concentration place for Jews who were transferred from Raguva, Ramygala, Krekenava and other towns.

After the relocation of the Jews to the Ghetto was completed, 70 dignitaries from the Jewish community were taken hostage so as to ensure that no one would attempt to escape from the Ghetto. Among those arrested were Dr. Golombvik, Dr. I.L. Bornshtein and Dr. Hayim Ben Zion Aizenbud. They were thrown in jail and after a short time transferred to military barracks in the Pajuoste forest. They were subsequently murdered and buried in that spot.

Another version about the fate of Dr. Aizenbud is that he was kept in jail and used as a doctor till the final extermination of Ponevezh Jews.

The murder, abuse, humiliation and torture of the Jews in the Ghetto continued unabated. Armed Lithuanians would burst into houses, beat their Jewish occupants and take any household goods they pleased. Lithuanian women who had previously worked in Jewish homes would barge into houses in the Ghetto accompanied by armed guards. They would point out their former Jewish employers and demand money or valuables, which they knew were on the premises at that time.

Terrible atrocities were inflicted on Jews by Lithuanian guards at different workplaces. They broke the arms of the Jews with handles of shovels, while the Jews were forced to deepen a garbage pit. They pushed Jews into a boiling lime pit, they forced Jews to carry barrels of fuel weighing 200 kg each, and accompanied them with humiliating screaming and beatings. All these tortured victims were consequently taken to Pajuoste and murdered there.

At the beginning of August 1941 the Gestapo officer who was in charge of the Ghetto offered the Jewish representative to move to the empty military barracks near Pajuoste. There, as he promised, would be less crowded and they would get land for cultivation and so they could improve their food rations.

[Page 344]

On the 24th of August 1941 (1st Elul 5701) the Germans and their Lithuanian accomplices began the final stage of the annihilation of the Jewish community of Ponevezh. The Jews were led from the Ghetto to the execution site at Pajuoste in groups of 200. When they reached the site they were ordered to take off their clothes and to go down on the knees, whereupon the surrounding Lithuanian guards, armed with machine guns and automatic rifles mowed them down with a hail of bullets. As soon as they were shot another group would be brought. Those who refused to go would be dragged by the guards who beat them senseless with their rifle butts.

Children were wrenched from their mothers and thrown alive into the pits. The murderers would often amuse themselves by throwing babies up in the air and shooting them before they landed on the ground. As most of them were drunk, most of their shots missed the targets and many babies were still alive when they fell into the pits. The murderers would lift out those who had survived by their hair and crush their heads with their pistols.

The last group to be brought to the execution site were the patients of the Jewish hospital together with all the medical staff. The doctors and the nurses were still rearing their white overalls when they arrived at the pits. Among them was the famous surgeon Dr. T. Gutman. He encouraged all the team to accept their fate with dignity and ensured them that their deaths would be avenged by future generations. When his turn came, he took of his coat and handed it over to one of the murderers saying: “you will find enough money in this coat to last you for the rest of life. Aim your rifle at my chest and make sure you don't miss”.

The massacre continued throughout the day and on into the evening. By the next morning the pits were overflowing with corpses. There were several pits of 100 meters long an 8 pits of 50 meters. The victims' clothes were piled up and the murderers would rummage through the heaps choosing whatever items they liked.

The filling of the graves was done by Soviet prisoners of war. On one occasion they spotted a child who was still alive in one of the pits. They pulled him out and tried to hide him in the nearby bushes, but the Lithuanian guards spotted them and those prisoners involved were given a severe beating. There were some guards who suggested that the child might be allowed to escape but the militia commander insisted that “the child cannot be allowed to get away. Better to kill him and so ensure that there is no one left to avenge the blood of the Jews”. He then aimed his pistol at the child and shot him through the head.

By the evening of August 26th 1941 (3rd Elul 5701) the massacre was over and all the pits had been covered.

[Page 345]

In an official report of the German murder groups the number of the murdered Jews in Ponevezh are given as follows:

July 21st, 1941 70 Jews (59 men, 11 women)
July 22nd, 1941 249 Jews (234 men, 15 women)
Sept. 4th, 1941 403 Jews (362 men, 41 women)
Sept. 8th, 1941 500 Jews (450 men, 50 women)
Sept. 23rd, 1941 7,523 Jews (1,312 men, 4,602 women, 1,609 children)
Total 8,745 Jews

 

Even after Ponevezh and the surrounding towns' Jews were murdered in August 1941, Jews still were working in the town and at the airport nearby–till summer 1944. Those were Jews brought from Vilna, Shavl, Riga and from Estonia. Among them were Jews who were transferred from the Kovno Ghetto to Riga and Estonia and also Jewish women from Hungary having passed through Auschwitz. All these Jews were transferred to the Shavl Ghetto a short time before its liquidation, and a part of them were transferred to the concentration camps in Germany. Very few survived.

After the war, during the Soviet rule, a monument on the mass graves was erected and on it a Magen–David. This was one of the unique monuments in Lithuania with this symbol on it. The initiator of this monument was Shemuel Feifert from Trashkun. During the war he served in the Lithuanian Division of the Red Army and after returning to Lithuania he devoted himself to the construction of this monument and to getting back Jewish children who were hidden by Lithuanian families and handing them over to Jewish families who were ready to accept them.

In 1948, while looking for a Jewish child in Riteve (Rietavas), he was murdered by Lithuanians.

According to the book published in Vilnius “Mass murder in Lithuania 1941–1944” Vol. II, during the Soviet rule there were mass graves found near Ponevezh at the following sites:

  1. Kurganova (Pajuoste) forest – more than 8,000 victims
  2. Kaizerling forest – 103 victims, men . women and 48 Lithuanians, members of an underground
  3. Zalioji forest– about 4,500 victims, men, women and children.
[Page 346]

lit4_346a.jpg
At the annual meetings of Ponevezh survivors at the Monument on the mass graves at Pajuoste forest. There they would say “Kadish” for their beloved people and of the pure soul of Shemuel Feifert.

 

lit4_346a.jpg
The Monument on the mass graves at Pajuoste forest.
The inscription in Yiddish and in Russian say:
The four mass graves of the Ponevezh Jews who were murdered by the German–Lithuanian Fascists in August 1941.

[Page 347]

lit4_347.jpg
The Monument at the same site that was added later with an inscription in Lithuanain:
“At this place the Hitlerists and their helpers in 1941 August killed about 8000 Jewish children, women and men.”

 

After the war some Jews returned to live in Ponevezh, but during the years most of them left the town; a part immigrated to Israel and maybe to other countries as well. So the numbers were decreasing. In 1959 there were 221 Jews in Ponevezh, in 1989 only 66 left among the population of 41,000.

In 1971 Avraham Levit, a former Ponevezh Jew, brought a small bag with soil from the mass graves to Yad–Vashem in Jerusalem.

[Page 348]

lit4_348.jpg
The Monument on the mass graves at Zalioji forest.
The inscription in Yiddish says:
“Here, in this place the Nazi murderers and their helpers in July–September 1941 remorselessly murdered about 3,500 Jews–children, women, men.”
“Sacred is the remembrance of these innocent victims.”
The inscription in Lithuanian says:
“In this place Nazis and their local helpers in 1941 July–September remorselessly murdered about 4,500 people among them 3,500 Jewish children, women and men.” “Let their remembrance be sacred.”

 

In November 1991 a monument was inaugurated at a central square in Ponevezh at the site where the Jewish cemetery was. The cemetery was destroyed during the Nazi rule and the destruction was completed during the Soviet rule. On the monument an inscription is carved: “At this site was the old Jewish cemetery until 1972. Let the remembrance of the dead be sacred”.

[Page 349]

lit4_349.jpg
The monument at the location of the Ghetto

 

At the end of September 1993, at the corner of Krakenava and Klaipeda streets at a remarkable ceremony, a monument made from granite in the shape of a symbolic gate of the Ghetto, was inaugurated. On the tables of the gate the inscriptions in Lithuanian and Yiddish were carved –
Here was the Jewish Ghetto from the 7th of July until the 17th of August 1941.” The sculptor of this monument was V. Zigas.

[Page 350]

Bibliography:

Yad–Vashem archives– M–9/15(6), M–9/13(2), 694/585; M–1E–385/357, 2487/2551, 2261/2280, 1882/1731, 1160/1128; M–1DN–30/1505; M–1/Q–1219/711405/179, 1335/143, 1448/276; M–21/I/171, 272, 764; O–3/2322, 2581; O–15/135, 138; O–18/135; O–22/53; O–33/330, 409; O–53/21;
Koniukhovsky Collection 0–71, files 61, 62, 63
YJIVO, Collection of Lithuanian Communities, New–York, Files 746–823, pages 32705–35633
The Jewish Encyclopedia, St. Petersburg 1908–1913, (Russian), Vol. 5, pages 507–8
Mark Friedman, The Kehilah in Lithuania, 1919–1926: A Study based on Panevezys and Ukmerge (Vilkomir), Soviet Jewish Affairs, 1976, Vol.6 No. 2, pages 83–103 (English)
Osherovitz Hirsh– Main Ponevezh (My Ponevezh) (Yiddish), Tel–Aviv 1975
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem,–page367 (Hebrew)
Dr. B.Aizenbud, The Ponevezh Hebrew Gymnasium, beMisholei haKhinukh (Hebrew), May 1940
HaMeilitz, Odesa–St.Petersburg, (Hebrew), 11.10.1860, 9.3.1871, 4.9.1878, 30.9.1878, 14.9.1880, 31.5.1881, 13.9.1881, 7.11.1882, 9.4.1883, 21.9.1883, 25.1.1884, 15.4.1884, 23.5.1884, 12.12.1884, 14.12.1884, 13.1.1886, 23.2.1888, 23.1.1889, 31.1.1891, 23.1.1898, 1.6.1900, 28.10.1903, 7.11.1994
Unzer Veg, (Journal of Z”S) (Yiddish) Kovno 27.2.1929
Yiddisher Lebn (Yiddish)– Kovno–Telzh, 26.81938, 2.9.1938
Dos Vort –daily newspaper in Yiddish of the Z”S party, Kovno–7.10.1934, 20.10.1934, 24.10.1934, 11.11.1934, 13.11.1934, 15.11.1934, 20.11.1934, 21.2.1935, 7.3.1935, 13.3.1935, 23.6.1935, 12.7.1935, 27.9.1935,20.11.1938, 23.6.1939
Dos Neie Vort (Yiddish), Kovno–2.7.1934, 13.7.1934
Di Yiddishe Shtime–daily newspaper in Yiddish of the General Zionists–Kovno, 7.2.1919, 30.8.1920, 13.10.1920, 15.2.1922, 10.4.1922, 21.3.1923, 22.1.1928, 23.3.1928, 6.5.1928, 4.10.1928, 12.10.1928, 27.6.1928, 27.9.1928, 30.11.1928, 13.1.1929, 20.12.1929, 24.1.1930, 29.1.1930, 28.3.1930, 23.6.1930, 4.7.1930, 4.8.1930, 7.8.1930, 22.1.1931, 3.3.1931, 13.3.1931, 18.3.1931, 19.3.1931, 24.3.1931, 19.6.1931, 21.8.1931, 28.12.1931, 20.5.1932, 21.9.1932, 25.10.1932, 5.1.1933, 15.6.1933, 25.19.1933, 1.11.1933, 29.12.1936, 4.1.1937, 30.3.1937, 10.10.1937, 1.3.1938, 4.3.1938, 23.5.1938, 19.6.1938, 24.6.1938, 29.6.1938, 7.8.1939
Der Yiddisher Kooperator, Kovno (Yiddish), 1929, Nr.8–9
Folksblat– daily newspaper of the Folkists, Kovno (Yiddish), 24.8.1921, 21.7.1930, 18.1.1933, 20.1.1933, 17.2.1933, 14.6.1933, 29.6.1933, 14.2.1935, 25.2.1935, 21.3.1935, 2.3.1936, 30.3.1936, 27.8.1936, 30.3.1937, 6.4.1937, 16.11.1938, 16.10.1940, 17.10.1940, 29.10.1940,17.11.1940
Funken, Kovno (Yiddish), 29.5.1931
Yerushalaim d'Lita , Vilna (Yiddish), No.11 (25), November 1991; No.1 (49), January 1994

 

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose
of fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without permission of the copyright holders: Josef Rosin z”l and Joel Alpert.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation.The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Preserving Our Litvak Heritage     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2019 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 26 Nov 2018 by JH