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[Page 479]

Stoklishok
(Stakliškės, Lithuania)

Stoklishok (in Yiddish) is located in the southeastern part of Lithuania, surrounded by lakes and woods, about 25 km distance from the Alytus district administrative capitol. The town, first mentioned in historical documents dating from 1521, was a county administ rative center during the 16th–18th centuries. In 1759 King August III authorized the town to hold one market day per week and two fairs per year, and in 1795 Stoklishok was granted the Magdeburg rights of self rule.

Until 1795 Stoklishok was part of the Polish–Lithuanian Kingdom, when the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times – Russia, Prussia and Austria – caused Lithuania to become partly Russian and partly Prussian. The part of the state which lay on the left side of the Nieman river (Nemunas) ) was handed over to Prussia which ruled there during the years 1795–1807, while the other part, including Stoklishok, became Russia.

After the defeat of Napoleon by the Russian army in 1812, all Lithuania including Stoklishok, was annexed to Russia in 1815, first into the Vilna Gubernia and from 1843 into the Kovno Gubernia.

During the 18th century medicinal springs were discovered nearby, but in 1857 the bathhouse burnt down and was never reconstructed, due to the recreation towns Birshtan (Birstonas) and Druskenik (Druskeninkai) having meanwhile replaced it.

During the period of independent Lithuania (1918–1940) Stoklishok was a county administrative center.

 

Jewish Settlement till World War II

Jews apparently settled in Stoklishok at the beginning of the 18th century. In the middle of the 19th century there were already about 500 Jews, with a Beth Midrash. They made their living from small commerce, fishing, agriculture, timber, and in 1890 the Rabinovitz family established a beer brewery.

In 1847, 1,344 people lived in Stoklishok, among them 443 Jews (33%). By 1897, their numbers had increased to 2,200, including 808 Jews (37%).

In “The All Lithuania Revision List Database” of the Jewishgen Org. Web Site there are 766 records of Stoklishok Jews from the 19th century, copied and transliterated from Lithuanian Archives.

In 1873 a fire burnt down 97 Jewish houses, and in 1893 many Jewish houses were also destroyed by fire. In 1885 peasants from the surrounding villages destroyed a Jewish house which had been built not far from the church.

These events caused the increased emigration of Stoklishok Jews, which had started after the pogroms in Russia at the beginning of 1880, although Stoklishok Jews did not suffer from them.

[Page 480]

lit4_480.jpg
The Synagogue

 

In 1887 emigrant families left the town almost every week, and nearly half of Stoklishok's Jews were already in America, causing the closure of the Jewish school which had been established in 1877.

In the middle of the 19th century Jews from Stoklishok had already emigrated to Eretz–Yisrael. In the old Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem at least 2 headstones of Stoklishok Jews can be found, those of Rabbi Ya'akov–Yehudah ben Aryeh, who died in 1862, and of Hinde bath Shelomoh–Zalman, who passed away in 1863.

A list of donors for the “Settlement of Eretz Yisrael” dated 1900 mentions many names of Stoklishok Jews, whose fund raiser was Esther Cohen. A list of donors for Jews in Lithuanian towns who suffered hunger in 1872 also shows several names of Stoklishok Jews.

During the first years of Lithuanian independence (1919–1920), Stoklishok Jews suffered from adverse economic conditions and received help from “YeKoPo” (Committee for Helping Jewish refugees).

According to the autonomy law for minorities, issued by the new Lithuanian government, the minister for Jewish affairs Dr. Max Soloveitshik ordered elections to be held in the summer of 1919 for Community Committees in all towns of the state. In Stoklishok a committee of seven members was elected. This committee collected taxes as required by law and was in charge of most aspects of community life, acting till the end of 1925 when the autonomy was annulled.

According to the first census performed by the government in 1923, Stoklishok had 1,787 residents, amongst them 391 Jews (22%). But the number of Jews

[Page 481]

diminished, many emigrated to America and South Africa, some of the youth to Eretz–Yisrael, and shortly before World War II only 70 Jewish families were left in Stoklishok.

During this period Stoklishok Jews made their living, as before World War I, from small commerce, crafts and agriculture, there also being several Jewish coachmen. The main income of the local Jews came from the weekly market days and the 6 yearly fairs.

According to the Lithuanian government survey of 1931, there were 11 shops, of which 10 belonged to Jews (91%): 4 horse merchants, 4 textile shops, 1 grocery and 1 shoe shop, as well as a flour mill and a candy factory owned by Jews. In 1937 there were 21 Jewish craftsmen: 6 tailors, 4 shoemakers, 4 butchers, 2 glaziers, 3 blacksmiths, 2 stitchers and 1 baker. In 1939 there were 9 telephone owners in town, of whom 2 were Jewish.

In 1920 a large fire burnt down almost half of Stoklishok's houses including the Jewish school and so that Jewish youths had no place to study. After a year a school was established in an unsuitable building and the Community Committee applied to former Stoklishkers living abroad, mainly in America, appealing in the Yiddish newspaper “Forverts”, for help to build a new school in town.

A new school connected to the Hebrew “Tarbuth” chain, was indeed established, in which 50 to 60 pupils studied.

 

lit4_481.jpg
The Hebrew school on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of teacher Pitluk's educational work and of his emigration to America – April 5, 1937

 

Many of Stoklishok Jews were supporters of the Zionist movement and in elections for Zionist congresses they voted for most of the Zionist parties, as can be seen from the results enumerated in the table below:

[Page 482]

Cong.
Nr.
Year Total
Shek.
Total Voters Labor Party
Z”S Z”Z
Rev. G.Z.
A B
Gro. Miz.
16 1929 33 32 9 3 3 13 4
17 1931 33 31 11 9 1 1 9
18 1933 169 125 44
19 1935 161 149 2 1 1 8

Shek–.Shekalim; Rev.–Revisionists; G.Z.–General Zionists; Gro.–Grosmanists; Miz.–Mizrahi

 

The Zionist youth organizations active in town were: “HeKhalutz”, “Gordonia” (with about 50 members), “HaShomer–HaTsair–Netsakh”, “Beitar” and “Sirkin Society' (Z”S Party). The youth society “HaTekhiyah” (Revival) established a library in town and published its own bulletin. Most of the town's youth were active for the National Funds, and on Pesakh eve they would participate in baking “Matsoth” and selling “Maror”, while on “Sukoth” eve they would sell “Sekhakh” (Cover) for the “Sukoth”. All income from these activities was dedicated to Keren Kayemeth le'Yisrael.

 

lit4_482.jpg
Stoklishok youth at Purim 1934

 

Sports activities were held in the local “Maccabi” branch which had 50 members. The local fire brigade members were all Jews, volunteers, who were also active, inter alia, in Zionist activities. Many of the young people were in “Kibutzei Hakhsharah” and emigrated to Eretz–Yisrael.

Religious life in town was concentrated around the brick built Synagogue and the old wooden Beth Midrash.

[Page 483]

lit4_483.jpg
The Bath House

 

The Rabbis who served in Stoklishok during the years were:

Shelomoh–Reuven Rabinovitz – from 1872;
Yehudah–Idl Hurvitz;
Yeshayah–Zelig Halperin;
Dov–Tsevi Kravitsky – in Stoklishok in 1922, also previous to this date as well as later;
Duber Bergman (1860–1941), who was murdered with his community in Stoklishok in Av 5701 (July 1941).

The writer Yisrael–Ze'ev Kreier (1860–1917) who wrote all his books under the name of Y.Z. Ben–Aryeh was a native of Stoklishok, and became well known among the Jewish public, not only as a teacher and director of a Talmud–Torah in Vilna, but also as the writer of popular science books, and his book “Velt un Veltelakh” (World and small worlds) was published in Vilna in 1894. His book “Ma'ase Ben Aryeh” (Stories of Ben Aryeh) achieved great success and about 50 editions were printed, the 48th edition being issued in Warsaw in 1899. Y.Z. Ben–Aryeh also wrote a book on Hebrew grammar. During World War I he returned to his hometown, where he died in 1919, lonely and forgotten.

A.T.Rabinovitz wrote reports in the Hebrew periodical “HaTsefirah” and Tsevi Barit in “HaMeilitz”.

[Page 484]

lit4_484a.jpg
Stoklishok Volunteer Fire Brigade

 

In Stoklishok there was a “Gemiluth Khesed” society as well as a “Khevrah Kadisha”.

 

lit4_484b.jpg
A Stamp of the “Gemiluth Khesed” Society

[Page 485]

lit4_485a.jpg
The management of the “Gemiluth Khesed” Society on the occasion of the emigration of its founder and chairman B. Pitluk to America

 

lit4_485b.jpg
Parade of the Jewish Volunteer Fire Brigade

[Page 486]

lit4_486.jpg
The Jewish cemetery 1935

 

World War I broke out in August 1914, and in the middle of April 1915, after being defeated in the battles in Tannenberg and in the Mazurian lakes in Prussia, the Russian army began to retreat from Lithuania. In the beginning of May of that year, the commander of the Russian army ordered the exile of all Jews from the Kovno Gubernia into the Poltava and Yekaterinoslav Gubernias, on the pretext that the Jews were friends of the Germans and could be spying for them. For several days 120,000 Jews were exiled in ignominious circumstances, during which they lost almost all their property. On the 10th of May the commander ordered the exile stopped, but hostages were to be taken instead. Stoklishok Jews together with Jews from the other 9 towns benefited from this order and remained in their homes.

 

During World War II and Afterward

World War II broke out with the German invasion of Poland on the first of September 1939, and its consequences were felt several months later for Lithuanian Jews in general, and especially for Jews of the southern part of the state which bordered on Poland.

In agreement with the Ribbentrop–Molotov treaty on the division of occupied Poland, the Russians occupied the Suvalk region, but after the delineation of exact borders between Russia and Germany the Suvalk region fell into German hands. The retreating Russians allowed anyone who wanted to join them to move into their occupied territory, and indeed many young people left the area together with the Russians. The Germans drove the remaining Jews out of their homes in Suvalk and its vicinity, robbed them of their possessions, then directed them to the Lithuanian border, where they were left in dire poverty, as the Lithuanians did not allow them to enter Lithuania and the Germans did not allow them to

[Page 487]

return. Thus they stayed in this swampy area in cold and rain for several weeks, until Jewish youths from the towns and villages of this part of the state smuggled them into Lithuania by various routes, with much risk to themselves. Altogether about 2,400 refugees passed through the border or infiltrated on their own, and were then dispersed in the “Suvalkija” region (the part of Lithuania laying on the left side of the Nieman river).

In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, the majority of the shops belonging to the Jews of Stoklishok were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and the Hebrew school was closed.

Supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore most of the brunt, and the standard of living dropped gradually.

At this time there were about 70 Jewish families in the town, consisting of approximately 300 people.

Stoklishok was occupied by the German army several days after the German invasion of the USSR on the 22nd of June 1941. Lithuanian nationalists immediately organized and detained people suspected of supporting the Soviet regime, according to a list of activists from the elections to the Lithuanian Soviet. A Lithuanian police report dated the 5th of July mentions two women who were also detained among these Jews: Golda Heler, a mother of two children, Hayah Iserzon and Barukh Koifman. All those detained were kept in the local prison for a week, after which they were led to the Lilun forest, about 4 km from the town in the direction of Aukstadvaris (Visoki–Dvor), where they were shot and buried in pits dug by Jews who were brought from Stoklishok for this task. They were forbidden, under threat of death, to tell anybody what they had done in the forest, but nevertheless Aizik Kovarsky revealed the secret. Stoklishok Jews did not accept the idea that the pits were intended for them too, as they wanted to believe that they were prepared for Communist activists only.

A list of all Stoklishok Jews was prepared, who had to report in person every day at the local police station, in order to prevent their escape. Pinkhas Kravitz, being the “Juden Aeltester”, was appointed as liaison to the authorities, and had to deliver groups of Jews to the authorities everyday for various types of work, such as sweeping the streets, road repairs, cleaning the police station and other public buildings. The request for workers increased every day, until the “Juden Aeltester” was not able to supply anymore, so that one day he disappeared, his fate unknown. After a short time the authorities started to take out small groups of Jews for so called work outside the town, but nobody returned home.

On Shabath, 16.8.1941, larger groups of Jews, sitting in five carts, were moved to Jezne (Jieznas), and in addition to 63 men and 26 women from Jezne itself, were sent to Pren (Prienai), where they were murdered together with local Jews on the 26th of August 1941 (3rd of Elul 5701). On the 7th of September the

[Page 488]

rest of Stoklishok Jews were put into forty carts and brought to Butrimantz (Butrimonys), where, together with local Jews and those brought from Birshtan (Birstonas) and Pun (Punia), they were crowded into the yard of the local police station.

 

lit4_488.jpg
Map of the towns mentioned in this section of the article

 

On the 9th of September 1941 all were herded into the end of Klidzh street, where two pits had already been dug: one being beside the house of Gudaitis and the other a little further, where people used to obtain sand for repairing roads.

The adults were separated from the children, taken to the edge of the pit and shot. The children were pushed into the pit and then shot, many of them being buried alive. On this Tuesday, the 9th of September 1941 (17th of Elul 5701) 960 adults and 500 children – the Jews of Butrimantz, Stoklishok, Birshtan and Pun – were murdered.

The main murderers were: Kaspirionas, Savitsky, Prashkis, Urbanavicius the miller, the carpenter Sinovskis and others.

Several Stoklishok Jews who tried to hide with Lithuanian peasants were caught and murdered. Only one Jewish girl (Sarah Epshtein) found shelter with a Polish estate owner (Gzhobovsky), later with peasants Josef and Piotr Antonovitz until 1943, when she contacted the partisans in Rudniky forest, joined them and survived.

[Page 489]

Five days before the Red Army returned to this area (1944), a group of Jews who had escaped from the Kovno ghetto was caught near Stoklishok and shot, amongst them was Dr. Shelomoh Perlshtein from Stoklishok.

In the list of mass graves which appears in the book “Mass Murder in Lithuania” Vol. 2, those in Butrimantz are mentioned:

  1. The Jewish cemetery – more than 50 victims.
  2. Klidzh (Klydzionys) village, one–half km from the road Butrimantz–Pivasiunai, where on 9.9.1941 the number of murdered Jews came to 740 men, women and children.
[Page 490]

lit4_490a.jpg

lit4_490b.jpg
Second massacre site of children and old people. Inscription of monument:
”May the Nazi murderers and their collaborators be eternally damned for killing 266 Jews–children and elderly people –in Aug. and Sept. 1941.”

 

Bibliography:

Yad–Vashem Archives 0–3/4215; M–35/58, 159; M–Q–1218/64, 1314/135.
JIVO, NY, Collection of the Jewish Communities in Lithuania, File 1573.
HaMeilitz (St. Petersburg) (Hebrew): 7.6.1885.
Di Yiddishe Shtime (The Yiddish Voice) Kovno (Yiddish): 29.1.1922,
Einikeit, Moscow (Yiddish) 31.8.1944.
Naujienos, Chicago (Lithuanian), 11.6.1949.

[Page 491]

lit4_491.jpg
The mass grave and the monument in Pren One of the two massacre sites near the village of Klydzionys where men and women were murdered. The inscription on the monument says: “Blood of 965 innocent Jews from Butrimonys–men and women–flowed here. They were killed by Nazi murderers and their collaborators in August and September 1941”

 

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