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[Page 499]

Tavrig
(Tauragė, Lithuania)

55°15' 22°17'

 

I am pleased to acknowledge the assistance of Mr. Eliezer Paluksht from Ariel, Israel in providing me with important material on Tavrig.

Tavrig (in Yiddish) is located in the western part of Lithuania in the Zamut (Zemaitija) region near the river Jura, a tributary of the Nieman (Nemunas) River. The town is about 30 kilometers from the border with East Prussia, now the Kaliningrad enclave of Russia, and until World War I was only 7 kilometers from the Memel Gebiet (Region), which was then a part of Germany.

Tavrig was mentioned for the first time in 1507 on the occasion of the building of a church, and appears on a map drawn in 1539 by the Swedish Bishop Olas Magnus (Carta Marina). Since 1567 the town has housed government customs offices.

From 1691 till 1793 the beautiful estate of Tavrig – Tauroggen in German – with its big fields and surrounding woods, belonged to different owners, most of them Germans. According to an agreement at the time, Tavrig was transferred from the Prussian King to the Russians, and in 1846 Czar Nicolai the First gave Tavrig to Prince Vasilshchikov as a present.

After the third division of Poland in 1795 by the three superpowers of that time – Russia, Prussia and Austria – this part of Lithuania including Tavrig was handed over to Russia. During the Russian rule (1795–1915) Tavrig was included in the Vilna Gubernia in 1802, and from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia. Since then Tavrig was a county administrative center in the Rasein (Raseiniai) district. In 1812 the retreating French army damaged Tavrig when passing through the town.

During the first half of the 19th century trade with Germany developed extensively and large quantities of agricultural products passed through to Germany via the Tavrig customs office, which also handled imported industrial products. For example, in 1855 Tavrig customs processed imported goods from Germany amounting to 9,000,000 Rubles, and exported agricultural products amounting to about 3,000,000 Rubles.

In 1858 Tavrig's commerce increased due to the completion of the Tilzit–Tavrig–St.Petersburg highway and the construction of the railway from St. Petersburg to Warsaw, which was connected to Tavrig by a branch from Kovno (1864). There was also quite a lot of smuggling.

Tavrig had special market days and large fairs. There were two hospitals, a big factory for bricks, one for spirits, a pharmacy and about seventy shops. In 1836 the town suffered a large fire.

[Page 500]

Lit4_500a.jpg
Tavrig railway station 1930

 

In 1915, during World War I, the Germans occupied Tavrig, after most of its houses were bombed. During their rule, which lasted till 1918, they constructed the railway from Shavl (Siauliai) to Tilzit in East Prussia, which passed through Tavrig.

During the period of independent Lithuania (1918–1940), Tavrig became a district administrative capitol. New factories were built and its population continued to increase.

For one year (1940–1941) Tavrig, like all Lithuania, was under Soviet rule.

When the German army occupied Tavrig in June 1941, about 80% of its houses were ruined. The German rule with all its terror continued till autumn 1944.

 

Lit4_500b.jpg
A Street in Tavrig

[Page 501]

During Independent Lithuania (1918–1940)

Society and Economics

After World War I ended and with it the German occupation, Tavrig's exiled Jews began to return. The first census held by the new Lithuanian government in 1923 showed that only half the exiles had returned to the ruined town. (5,470 residents, of them 1,777 Jews–32%).

Following the autonomy law for minorities, issued by the new Lithuanian government, the Minister for Jewish Affairs, Dr. Menakhem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections to be held for Community Committees (Va'ad Kehilah) in the summer of 1919. In Tavrig a Committee of 15 members was elected: 6 neutral men, 4 from “Tseirei–Zion”, 1 from the workers list, 4 undefined. This Committee was active in almost all fields of Jewish life until the end of 1925.

With the help of the “Joint” association and the Jewish “Folksbank”, Tavrig Jews managed to rebuild their houses and to restore their businesses. Within a short period they again became the exporters of timber, flax and geese to Germany.

In the elections to the first Lithuanian “Seimas” (Parliament) which took place in October 1922, Tavrig Jews voted as follows: the Zionist list – 425 votes, “Akhduth” (Agudath Yisrael) – 160 votes and the Democrats – 9.

In the elections to the Municipal Council, which took place in 1921, 4 Jews were elected in a council of 10 members, and in the elections of 1924, the 18 council members included 7 Jews. As a result of a coalition with the Lithuanian Social Democratic party, a Jew was elected to the post of Deputy Mayor and as representative to the District Council. In 1931, 12 members were elected to the Municipal Council and of them 5 were Jews: Eliyahu Goldberg, Hirsh Berman, Shimon Cohen, Reuven Braude and Ya'akov Fish.

 


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Lit4_501b.jpg
Stamp of the Jewish National Council in Lithuania   Stamp of the office of the Minister for Jewish Affairs

[Page 502]

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The restored houses at the market square 1924–25

From right: Epel, Holtsberg (textile), Gitelson, Rabinovitz (wool), Levinson
(Picture supplied by Eliezer Paluksht)

 

According to the 1931 government survey, Tavrig had 124 shops, including 101 owned by Jews (81%). Details according to the type of business are given in the table below:

Type of business Total Owned by Jews
Groceries 10 10
Grains and Flax 2 2
Butcher's shops and Cattle Trade 16 8
Restaurants and Taverns 17 12
Food Products 7 6
Beverages 3 3
Textile Products and Furs 14 13
Leather and Shoes 8 7
Haberdashery and Home Utensils 3 3
Medicine and Cosmetics 4 2
Watches, Jewels and Optics 1 1
Tools and Steel Products 9 9
Building Materials and Furniture 1 0
Heating Materials 9 8
Machines, Transportation 2 2
Stationery and Books 3 2
Miscellaneous 15 13

[Page 503]

Fragments of the Government Survey of Shops in the Taurage Disstrict in 1931

Lit4_503.jpg

 

According to the same survey, Tavrig had 61 light industry factories, 46 of them owned by Jews (75%), as can be seen in the following table:

Type of the Factory Total Jewish Owned
Metal Workshops, Power Plants 1 0
Headstones, Bricks 5 3
Chemical Industry: Spirits, Soaps 1 1
Textile: Wool, Flax, Knitting 7 6
Paper Industry: Printing Presses 1 1
Sawmills, Tar 7 6
Food Products: Mills, Bakeries 25 20
Dresses, Footwear, Furs 8 3
Leather Industry: Production, Cobbling 2 2
Barber Shops and others 4 4

Four Tavrig Jews owned 4 mills: Gitkin–Baikovitz, Yehoshua Cohen, Leib Hirsh, Berelovitz; there was also a candy factory and a sawmill owned by Shereshevsky.

[Page 504]

Lit4_504.jpg
Tavrig Beitar branch

Standing from right: –––––, –––––, Khavah Leibovitz, Efraim Yezner, ––––, Hayim Yezner (?), Esther Shemesh, –––––, –––––, Tsevi Levinson, Yerakhmiel Kablukovsky
Sitting from right: Taibe Leshem, Zalman–Leib Brode, Aizik Levitan, Netsiv Betar (Commissioner) Eliyahu Glazer, Pinkhas Murinik, –––––
Sitting on the floor: Aharon Bernstein, –––––, Yakov Shereshevsky
(Picture supplied by Eliezer Paluksht)

 

In addition to the merchants there were many craftsmen, most of them organized in a professional society. In 1935 this society had 80 members: 19 tailors, 12 shoemakers, 8 bakers, 5 painters, 5 watchmakers, 5 stitchers, 5 barbers, 3 hatters, 3 butchers, 2 corset makers, 2 glaziers, 2 tinsmiths, 2 photographers, 1 oven builder, 1 electrician, 1 book binder, 1 carpenter, 1 printer, 1 jeweler and 1 other.

There were only two Jewish government clerks in Tavrig, and the municipality, although 90% of its taxpayers were Jews, did not employ any Jewish clerks at all. There were almost no Jewish laborers in town, and only in the big mill were all the employees Jewish. In addition 4 Jewish doctors, 3 dentists, 2 lawyers and 1 midwife worked in the town.

The Jewish Folksbank, which played an important role in the economic life of the Jewish community, had 234 members in 1927, and 322 members in 1929. A private bank, director Dr.Vareta, (associate Avraham Epel) added its share to the economy in town.

[Page 505]

Lit4_505a.jpg
The council of Tavrig “HeKhaluts–HaTsair” 1935

Standing from right: Kablukovsky, Khanan Roitman, the ninth Etka Bas
On the floor, first from right: Menukhah Itsikovitz
(Picture supplied by Miriam Itsikovitz–Zilbersheid)

 

Lit4_505b.jpg
The “Hayim” group of “HeKhaluts–HaTsair” Tavrig 1934

First line standing from right: fourth–Henia Yezner, sixth–Menukhah Itsikovitz
Second line sitting: first–Aharon Brode, third–Miriam Itsikovitz
Beneath lying from right: Matityahu Peshkes
(Picture supplied by Miriam Itsikovitz–Zilbersheid)

[Page 506]

Lit4_506.jpg
The Itsikovitz Family

Standing from right: Ya'akov, Miriam, Rachel, Tsadok
Sitting: Faivel–Shraga, Menukhah, Freide
(Picture supplied by Eliezer Paluksht)

 

In 1939, there were 215 telephone subscribers, of them, 61 were Jews.

The economic situation of the Jewish community began to decline in the middle of the 1930s due to propaganda by the Lithuanian Merchants' Society “Verslas” against buying in Jewish shops. Another factor for this decline was Nazi rule in Germany and the worsening of commercial relations between Lithuania and Germany.

Before the “Pesakh” holiday in March 1935 there was a blood libel in Tavrig. Jews were falsely accused of murdering a Lithuanian baby in order to use his blood for baking “Matsoth”. Anti–Semitic proclamations, written in German, were disseminated in town, Jews were beaten in the streets and windows in the Beth Midrash and in Jewish houses were broken. The police detained about 50 people who were suspected of taking part in plotting against the Jews, 30 of them received heavy fines.

 

Education and Culture

Jewish education in Tavrig was very developed. A Jewish Kindergarten and a modern “Kheder”–”Talmud–Torah” with 120–160 pupils were founded and directed by Lis. The “Kheder” was housed in a special building, built with the help of local philanthropist Leib Baikovitz.

[Page 507]

Lit4_507.jpg
Farewell for Noakh Kopshtein to his “Aliyah” 4.9.1932

Standing from right: Aizik Levitan, Ber Arshinovitz, Hayim Yezner, Yisrael Khatskelevitz, Zalman–Leib Broide, Mendel Itsikovitz
Sitting in the first line from above, from right: Shimon Nudel, ––––––, Noakh Kopshtein, Shelomoh Seker (?), –––––––, Reuven Katz
Sitting in the second line from right: ––––––, ––––––, ––––––, Tsevi Levinson, Efraim Yezner–Varpul
Sitting on the floor: Taibe Leshem, –––––––, ––––––

 

About 200 children studied at the Hebrew school of the “Tarbuth” chain in its own building, which had been erected with the help of the 'Tavrigers” in America. Among the teachers were Lazovsky and Furman.

An additional 200 children studied in the four classes Hebrew pro–gymnasium until 1940, when it was closed under Soviet rule. A former Tavrig Jew in America named Miler donated money for the erection of a modern building for the pro–gymnasium, to be equipped with water supply, sewage and central heating. The inauguration of the building took place in February 1930, its last director being Hayim Mariampolsky. The first director was Efraim Leibzon.

There was a library of the Z”S party founded by Dov Gurevitz, with thousands of books in Yiddish and Hebrew. From time to time the “Lithuanian Government Theater” and “The Jewish Theater” from Kovno would perform in town. There were two cinemas in Tavrig, one of them owned by a Jew.

[Page 508]

Lit4_508.jpg
Sixth class of the Hebrew pro–gymnasium 1931

Standing from right: ––––––, Sioma Taitelman, Shoshanah Melamed, Miriam Itsikovitz. Sitting in front: teacher H.Mariampolsky
(Picture supplied by Miriam Itsikovitz–Zilbersheid)

 

During the thirties a private music school was active in the town, whose piano teacher was Miss Roza Palangin. Her class consisted of 22 pupils in 1938, six of them Jewish girls. She immigrated to America in 1940. Her parents were exiled to Komi SSR in June 1941, where they died of hunger in 1943 before aid from America managed to reach them.

 

Zionist and other activities

All Zionist parties had their adherents in Tavrig. In the table below we can see how Tavrig Zionists voted for the various parties at six Zionist Congresses:

Congress
Nr
Year Total
Shkalim
Total Voter Labor Party
Z”S Z”Z
Revisionists General
Zionists
A B
Grosmanists Mizrakhi
14 1925 80
15 1927 136 113 21 35 11 18 28
16 1929 351 206 25 58 27 25 71
17 1931 302 254 48 57 42 25 82
18 1933 775 661 330 50 54 83 144
19 1935 1,027 917 348 37 61 259 212

[Page 509]

Lit4_509.jpg
Standing from right: Mina Khi, Eti Cahan, Sarah Vatnik, Tserne Fridman
Sitting: Freide Bender, Dora Epel, teacher H. Mariampolsky, ––––, ––––
Sitting on the floor: Levinson, Shemuel Shereshevsky, Noakh Holtsberg
(Picture supplied by Dora Epel–Jofe)

 

Most Jewish youth in Tavrig belonged to the Zionist youth organizations. There were branches of “HaShomer–HaTsair”, “Beitar”, “Benei–Akiva”, “HeKhalutz”, “HeKhalutz–HaTsair”, “Netsakh” (Noar Zioni Khalutsi) and others. There was also a branch of the sport organization “Maccabi” with about 58 members.

In 1933 a “Kibbutz Hakhsharah” (Training Kibbutz) “Hakovesh” was organized, most of its members emigrating to Eretz Yisrael, and in the beginning of 1940 there was a Kibbutz Hakhsharah with 60 members of “HeKhalutz” who had escaped from Poland.

Several Jewish youngsters were members of the underground Communist party. The “Tifereth Bakhurim” society, headed by Eliezer–Hilel Hofenstein, was active among the religious youth. There was a branch of the society of Jewish soldiers who had participated in the Lithuanian Independence War (Front Kemfer). This branch had 40 members and it held a significant place in public life, which was also noted by Lithuanian institutions, despite the propaganda of their comrades in arms against buying in Jewish shops.

 

Religion and Welfare

The religious life of Tavrig Jews was concentrated in four “Batei–Midrash”: the great Beth–Midrash, a two storey brick building, the Beth–Midrash “Tifereth–Bakhurim”, the Beth–Midrash “Beth–David” and the Beth–Midrash of Baikovitz. There were also two “Kloizim”– the “Shilel Kloiz” and the “Kloiz” in the old town.

For list of Rabbis who served in Tavrig during this period see Appendix 1.

[Page 510]

Lit4_510a.jpg
First class of the “Talmud–Torah”, farewell from teacher Meirovitz, 1937

Standing from right: Shuster*, Varpul Shelomoh, Galonsky Aharon*, Shkolnik Noakh*, Epshtein Mosheh
Sitting from right: Bulovin*, Genende Dov–Ber*, Teacher Lis*, Teacher Meirovitz, Paluksht Eliezer, Shlekhter Hayim–David*
Sitting on the floor: Shmiltiner*, Baron Tsevi–Hirsh, Peshkes Matityahu*
(*) murdered in the Holocaust in Lithuania
(Picture supplied by Dora Epel–Jofe)

 

Lit4_510b.jpg
Seventh Graduating Class of Tavrig Hebrew Elementary School 1931

Standing from right: Devorah Varpul, Dora Epel, Mekhanik, Dinah Goldblat, Rivkah Kaplan, Eti Cahan, Ita Levitan
Sitting: the teachers Fain, Furman, Lazovsky, Zimzon, Naividel
Third line sitting from right: Freide Bender, Gita Kaplan, Shemuel Shereshevsky, Sonia Most, Rachel Gitelson
(Picture supplied by Eliezer Paluksht)

[Page 511]

Lit4_511.jpg
Graduating class of the Hebrew Elementary School 1936–37

First line standing from right: Hirsh Fish, Sarah Birshtansky, Sonia Shlomovitz, Leah Varpul, –––Gurvitz, Rachel Ozer, Zelda Fogelman, Leizerin
Second line standing from right: ––––, Henia Borokhovitz, Reize Leizerovitz, ––––––, Tonia German, Khayah Fridman, Rachel Yezner, Henia Kofman, ––––––
The Teachers sitting: Zimzon, Lithuanian language teacher, Lozovsky, Fruma Furman, Furman, Naividel, Fain
Third line sitting: ––––, ––––, Devorah Gershon, Hanah Baron, Beile Kaplan, Rivah Kreinovitz, Gershon Volfson
Sitting on the floor: Frida Shapira, Guta Epshtein, Roza Levit (?), ––, –––
(Picture supplied by Rivah Kreinovitz–Shnaider)

 

After the liquidation of the community committee at the end of 1925, the “Ezrah” society took over most of its functions. Its possessions included the modern bathhouse with bathtubs and a sauna which had been built with donations from former “Tavrigers” in the USA; the abattoir, also used by non Jewish butchers, its income paying the salaries of the Rabbi and the slaughterers (Shokhtim); the “Khevrah–Kadisha”, which also added to the income of the society, its last chairman being Sh. Most.

Additionally there were in Tavrig two “Gemiluth–Khasadim” societies, “Linath–HaTsedek” as well as ladies' societies.

After Rabbi Fridman emigrated to Eretz–Yisrael (see Appendix 1), a controversy erupted with regard to secret elections for the local rabbinate, which were opposed by seven public workers, which included members of the management of the “Ezrah” and the craftsmen societies. These workers were detained by the authorities for several weeks.

[Page 512]


Lit4_512a.jpg
Memento of visit of Meir Grosman–leader of the “Grosmanist” party

Sitting in the first line from right: Telem, Krivavnik, Dr.Shapira, M.Grosman, Dr.Vareta, ––––, Mrs. Batiah Shereshevsky, Mrs Krivavnik
Sitting in the second line from right: ––––, ––––, Reuven Katz, Benyaminovitz, Mendel Fridman, Shereshevsky, –––––––––––––, Alter Gudel, Adv. Terespolsky, Mrs Rabinovitz, (standing behind them) Salomon Fridman,–––––, Leo Epel, –––––, Dr. Aronson Libe, ––––––.
(Picture supplied by Dora Epel–Jofe)

 


Lit4_512b.jpg
The original invitation to the Bar–Mitzvah of Menakhem–Eliezer Paluksht. When Mr. Paluksht arrived in Israel in 1990 he had no Birth Certificate and his Lithuanian surname Palukshtas did not sound Jewish. This invitation, which had been kept by his Israeli relative all these years, solved the problem of the uncertainty of his being a Jew.
For the partial list of personalities born in Tavrig see Appendix 2.

[Page 513]


Lit4_513a.jpg
Family group 1935–36

Standing from right: Dr.Yakov Shakhnovitz, his wife Zhenia Epel, Mrs. Etel Epel, Zheni Fridman, Leo Epel, Avraham Epel
(Picture supplied by Dora Epel–Jofe)

 


Lit4_513b.jpg
The Leibzon Family

From right: Efraim, Mina, David, Adah
(Picture supplied by Adah Leibzon–Kantorovitz)

[Page 514]

During World War II and Afterwards.

World War II started with the German invasion of Poland on the 1st of September 1939, but its consequences for Lithuanian Jews in general and Tavrig Jews in particular had already been felt several months earlier. On the 20th of March 1939, Hitler sent an ultimatum to Lithuania to leave Memel within 24 hours. About 7,000 Jews who lived in Memel and in its region escaped, leaving most of their belongings behind, looking for asylum in the Zemaitija region and in Kovno. Many of them settled in Tavrig, where the Jewish community cared for them.

In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union, becoming a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, the majority of factories and shops belonging to Jews in Tavrig were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded, several of the activists were detained, Hebrew educational institutions were closed, and the Hebrew school changed to a Yiddish one (see certificate below that was issued when the pro–gymnasium was already closed).

 


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A hand written certificate signed by the director of the Hebrew private pro–gymnasium Hayim Mariampolsky on June 16th 1940, in which he attests that Paluksht Leizer–Mendel passed the examinations of the third class on the 14th of June 1940.

 

Those members who were Polish refugees in the “HeKhalutz” “Kibbutz Hakhsharah”, were branded as being “unreliable elements” under the new rule and were scattered over several towns in Zemaitija – Kelem, Vilkomir, Yaneve. When Germany invaded Lithuania, about two thirds of them managed to escape to Russia, and after the war about thirty of them came to Israel.

[Page 515]


Lit4_515.jpg
The last class (the third) of the Hebrew pro–gymnasium, June 1940

Standing from right: Gershon Volfson*, Leah Varpul*, Lev Heselkovitz, Rachel Ozer, Hirsh Fish, ––––, Shemuel Melamdovitz*, Sonia Shlomovitz
Sitting from right: Devorah Gershon*, Gita Fridman*, Dora Katsev*, Hene Borokhovitz*, Rivkah Kreinovitz, Hayah Fridman
Sitting in the second line from above: Rachel Yezner*, Tonia German,Reize Leizerovitz*, teacher Hayim Mariampolsky, Hanah Baron, Beile Kaplan*, Hene Kofman*
Lying on the floor, from right: Eliezer Paluksht,––––Shuster*
(*) murdered in the Holocaust (the others are living in Israel or passed away there)
(Picture supplied by Rivkah Kreinovitz–Shnaider)

 

The supply of goods decreased and as a result prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore most of the brunt, and the standard of living dropped gradually. At the beginning of June 1941, 17 Jewish families, altogether about 60 people, who were considered “unreliable elements”, were exiled to Komi SSR, the most northern part of European Russia. Some of the exiles began to receive food parcels from former Tavrigers in Baltimore, USA, by the beginning of 1942. Later on almost all the exiles there received parcels from “The Association of Lithuanian Jews” in the USA on a regular basis. This aid helped many families to survive these difficult years.

[Page 516]


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Members of the Kibbutz Hakhsharah, Tavrig 1940

 

A list of the exiles appears in Appendix 4.

The German army occupied Tavrig on June 22, 1941, the first day of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, after bombing the town, when most of its houses were destroyed. About 20 Jews were injured. Residents of the town, including Jews, escaped to nearby villages, others arrived in Shavl and other towns in this region, with only a few managing to reach Russia. After the battles ended, the returning Jews whose houses had been left intact, found that their homes had been looted by their Lithuanian neighbors.

Tavrig was located on a strip of 25 km near the border with Germany subject to the order of the S.S. Einsatzgruppe commander F.Stahlecker (he was hanged after the war by the Soviets). According to his order this strip of land had to be handed over to the Gestapo chief from Tilzit Hans Boehme with a special assignment to cleanse it from Jews and Communists.

At first Jewish life and property were in the hands of the Lithuanian nationalists. Several days later, a Gestapo man named Schwarz arrived in Tavrig and asked the new Mayor Jonas Jurgilas for help to identify Communists. Under orders from the Gestapo, the local police chief F.Mintautas and his policemen detained 300 Jewish men and 25 non–Jewish Communists, some of the latter being released later. The Jewish men were kept in the detention barracks of the 7th Infantry regiment of the former Lithuanian army.

Hans Boehme determined the date of the murder for the 2nd of July 1941 and he himself participated. He let it be known that he wanted to show his men a “sample action”, so that they would learn how to behave from now on.

[Page 517]

On the 2nd of July 1941 the detainees were brought to the nearby village of Vizbutai (Vizhbutai) where anti–tank ditches had been dug. The Jews were compelled to deepen the ditches and after everything they had was taken away from them, they were forced to kneel at the edge of the ditch with their faces turned towards it. Then the Gestapo men and their Lithuanian helpers shot them in their necks and pushed them into the ditch. Evidence in the Ulm trial showed that Dr. Yafe and dentist Dr. Most were among the murdered.

A second group of 122 Jewish men were murdered on the road to Shilel (Silale) between the 3rd and the 10th of July. The arrest of Jewish men and the abuse of young Jewish women did not stop, and from the first day of the armed Lithuanians' rule there were no limits to their atrocities.

The local Rabbi Levi Shpitz was also abused and shot to death by the Lithuanians after they asked him for a list of Jewish Communists which, of course, he did not have.

During the first days of occupation, a German entered the house of the 80 year old Dr.Y.Shapira and ordered him to dig a pit for burying a dead horse which lay beside his house. The old doctor hesitated, not understanding what he had to do. The German ordered two women, who were called Blind and Most, to dig the pit together with the doctor, upon which he stood the doctor beside the cadaver of the horse and shot him to death, then ordered the women to bury the doctor together with the cadaver of the horse.

Day after day there were arrests, with men and young women being sent to carry out so called work, but nobody returned. They were murdered and buried in mass graves around Tavrig.

The situation of the women and children and the few old men who still survived worsened from day to day. Deserted, orphaned, frightened, starving and helpless they walked aimlessly in the town.

On the 6th of September 1941 the District commander V.Milimas sent a “not to be published” circular (Nr.227) to the Mayor of Tavrig, to the Chairmen of the County Councils and to the police commanders, which contained details of the orders of treatment of the Jews.

The first clause said that the Jews had to be concentrated in one place, and that they must elect a Jewish council by themselves. Any Jew who applies to the authorities had to have the approval of the council. There followed orders of making it compulsory for Jews to wear a yellow “Magen–David” on their clothes; the counting of the imprisoned; a ban on the transfer of property to non–Jews; a ban of walking on sidewalks; Jewish doctors were allowed to care only for Jews; exceptions could be made for the employment of Jewish artisans only where there were no non–Jews who could do the job; Jewish property had to be nationalized and Jews were banned from administering their own property.

[Page 518]

Clause 10 of this circular said that Jews could only get the most elementary food products from remains left over after the non–Jewish population had received its needs. This clause also permitted the establishment of a Jewish police to keep order.

 


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The mass graves near Vizbutai village

 


Lit4_518b.jpg
The Monument on the mass graves near Vizbutai village with the inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian:
“At this place Hitler's murderers and their local helpers murdered 900 Jewish men in 1941”.

[Page 519]

Clause 12 allowed Jews to be sent to work where there was a shortage of non–Jewish workers. Their payment had to be brought to the office of the District Governor, where the workers would receive their wages.

On the same day, September 6, 1941, the police commanders of Tavrig received circular Nr. 228 for transferring Jews into one place.

All the Jews were concentrated into incomplete huts in Vytautas Street, which the Soviet army had started to build as sheds for trucks. The plot was fenced off with barbed wire and guarded by Lithuanian auxiliary police. Every strong woman and grown up child was sent to work. It was forbidden to bring in food. These huts, called a Ghetto, housed Jews in inhuman conditions, hungry and dirty, till the 13th of September. Then they were told to prepare to move to another place, where their conditions would “improve”.

On the 16th of September (24 of Elul 5701) trucks arrived to transport all of them to the Tavrig grove, about 6 km northwest of the town, 100–150 meters from the road to Shilel. There they were shot by drunken Lithuanian auxiliary policemen, who excelled in their cruelty. Little babies were shredded in two or their skulls were shattered on trees or rocks and thrown into the pits. A beautiful young girl, Henia Yezner, jumped into the pit alive after the murderers started to molest her.

On this day, 513 old women and children were forced to hand over all the valuables they still owned, to undress down to their underwear, and then they were murdered. One of the Lithuanian murderers, Atkatsaitis, boasted that “he still managed to slap a fat Jewish woman on the bottom”.

Several Jews who hid with peasants in the vicinity were caught after a short time, as a result of information given by neighbors.

Only a few Jews were left in Tavrig. Nadel, Nathan Goldberg and Yitshak Shum who worked at the military command, Yisrael Axelrod who worked as a specialist at the sawmill of Shereshevsky. After several weeks they were also murdered. The skilled tanner F.Itzkovitz, his wife and children were left alive for several more months, but after the Germans murdered his family he hanged himself.

According to Soviet sources about 3,000 men, women and children are buried in the mass graves in the Tavrig grove near the village of Antosunija. Near the village of Vizbutai approximately another 900 men and one woman are buried.

In October 1991 a monument on the mass graves at Antosunija, created by the Lithuanian sculptor Bagdonas, was inaugurated at an impressive ceremony. Two plates on top of the monument have inscriptions in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “At this place Hitler's murderers and their local helpers murdered about 3,000 Jews, men, women and children”.

On the mass grave in Vizbutai a monument was erected with the following inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “At this place Hitler's murderers and their local helpers murdered 900 Jewish men in 1941”.

[Page 520]

After the war a few Jews returned to Tavrig, but their number diminished over the years. In 1970 14 Jews lived there, in 1979––12 and in 1989––only 8.

 


Lit4_520.jpg
Mass grave and monument at Antosunija
Two plates on top of the monument have inscriptions in Yiddish and Lithuanian:
“At this place Hitler's murderers and their local helpers murdered about 3,000 Jews, men, women and children”.

[Page 521]


Lit4_520.jpg
A black marble plate was also erected, on which is written:
“Their only guilt: they were Jews, whose ancestors lived here in peace for hundreds of years.
On this soil they built houses, they were craftsmen, merchants, doctors, and believed in one God.
Their memory shall be forever”

 

Sources:

Yad–Vashem Archives: M–1/E–1738/1619; M–9/8(3), 15(6); M–21/I/661, III/41;
M–33/984, 4043; P–21/2–94; TR–2 report19; TR–10/40, 275, 1096; 0–3/2592, 4043, 6093, 7519; 0–15/634; 0–32–4;
Koniukhovsky collection 0–71. Files 6, 7, 20, 40, 46, 163.
YIVO, NY–Lithuanian Communities Collection, files1386, 1561, 1665.
Galin Hayim, The Kibbutz in Tavrig–Lithuania, History of a Group of Khalutsim from Poland, June 1940 till the end of World War II, (Hebrew), Kiryath–Bialik 1991.
HaMeilitz (St. Petersburg) (Hebrew): 26.4.1881, 7.5.1883, 18.2.1884, 21.3.1884, 24.3.1884, 31.3.1884, 6.6.1884, 18.7.1884, 1.8.1884, 7.11.1884,5.12.1884, 8.12.1884, 14.2.1889, 3.4.1889, 21.12.1896, 15.7.1898,7.7.1901, 13.5.1902.
Dos Vort, Kovno (Yiddish): 26.12.1934, 24.3.1935, 26.3.1935, 28.4.1935.
Folksblat, Kovno (Yiddish): 25.3.1935, 5.6.1935, 17.6.1935, 18.6.1935.
Unzer Veg (Our way) (Yiddish), Kovno, 10.1.1926.
Di Yiddishe Shtime, Kovno (Yiddish), 29.10.1924, 29.5.1928, 21.2.1930, 27.6.1930, 12.5.1931, 19.6.1931, 7.7.1931, 18.3.1932, 28.4.1935, 30.4.1935, 5.5.1935, 15.5.1935, 22.3.1936, 20.3.1938, 23.4.1938, 12.5.1938.
Tauragieciu Balsas (Lithuanian) 2.10.1991.
Gimtasis, Nr. 35, 27 August–2 September, Vilnius, Rimvydas Racenas and Lazaris Palukstas “Zydams nebuvo lengviau” (To the Jews it was not easier).

[Page 522]

Appendix 1: A partial list of Rabbis who served in Tavrig

Aryeh–Leib ben Shaul (approx. 1820–1830). As a result of frequent blood libels, decided to study French in order to be able to converse with government officials and estate owners, for which his wife divorced him. It was recorded that on one of these cases he went to Petersburg in order to meet Czar Nikolai the First, but there are no details. Traveling back in carts he became ill and died in Vilna in the spring of 1839, but was buried in Tavrig.
Shimon Zarkhi (born 1788 in Zhezhmer – died 1860 in Jerusalem). During a famine in 1847, Rabbi Zarkhi took an important part in helping the poor. He studied Algebra and Astronomy by himself and also read Latin and Greek books. He arrived in Jerusalem in 1856 where he founded the “Talmud–Torah” “Etz– Hayim”.
Mosheh–Yitskhak haLevi Segal, in Tavrig from 1854.
Gershon–Mendel Ziv, in Tavrig 1880–1902.
Yitskhak–Ze'ev Olshwanger (1825 in Plungian–1896 in Petersburg), in Tavrig 1846–1878, was active in the “Khovevei Zion” movement, later Rabbi in Petersburg where he studied sciences, knew Russian and German well.
Avraham–Aharon haCohen Burstein (1867–1926 in Jerusalem). A delegate to the Katowitz conference of “Agudath–Yisrael” in 1912, came to Israel in 1924 and was a teacher at the “Merkaz Harav” yeshivah in Jerusalem till his death.
Yitskhak–Izik Fridman (1874–1944). One of the founders and leaders of the “Mizrakhi” party in Lithuania. Arrived in Israel in 1935 and was the Rabbi of the “Nakhalath–Yitskhak” quarter of Tel–Aviv for nine years. Published many books on religious and Judaic issues.
Levi–Tsevi Shpitz (1887–1941) the last Rabbi of Tavrig, murdered by Lithuanians in July 1941.

 

Righteous Teachers

Shelomoh Fridberg (1868); Barukh–Nathanel Naividel, born in Tavrig in 1847; Yosef Gorfinkel; Duber Toiber; David–Shelomoh Epstein;

[Page 523]

Appendix 2: A partial list of personalities born in Tavrig

Shemuel–Yosef Shereshevsky (1831–died in New York), translated the Bible into Chinese, lived many years in Tokyo.
Iser–Ber Wolf (1844–1935), industrialist, philanthropist and public worker in Kovno.
Menakhem–Dov Dagutsky (1846–?), 1886 Rabbi in Birmingham, 1891–Johannesburg, 1896– Rochester.
David–Teveli Katsenelenboigen (1850–1931), Rabbi in Virbaln, Suwalk, and St. Petersburg, public worker and author of books on Talmudic subjects.
Barukh Rabinovitz (1880–?) Rabbi in Zuhovitz, Vitebsk and from 1926 in Chicago.
Hayim–Fishel Epstein (1874–1942), Chief Rabbi in Dorpat (Latvia) and lecturer at the local university. From 1923 Rabbi in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Brooklyn and St. Louis. Officiated as President of the Orthodox Rabbis Society and published books and articles.
Sh.P.Rabinovitz (1845–1911), writer and translator. Published books on Jewish history in Warsaw and translated “The History of the Jewish People” by Graetz into Hebrew. (8 volumes)
Beinish Epstein (1896–1981). From 1926 in America, published articles in the American Jewish press, in the Warsaw “Moment” and in Hebrew periodicals in Israel.
Y.L. Barukh (Borukhovitz) (1873–1953), writer and translator, from 1926 in Israel, published poems, stories, historic and literary essays in the Hebrew press and translated more than 20 books from Yiddish, English and German into Hebrew. Died in Tel–Aviv.
Dr. Aba Lapin (1863–1940), physician and public worker, chairman of the Historic–Ethnographic Society of Lithuanian Jews and member of the Zionist center.
Dr.Meirovitz famous surgeon, who worked for many years at the Jewish Hospital “Bikur–Kholim” in Kovno.
Reuven Barkath (1905–?), son of Rabbi A.A.Burstein, member of the labor party center in Eretz–Yisrael, member of the directorate of the “Workers Association”, Ambassador of Israel to Norway, Chairman of the 7th Knesset”.
Yehoshua Avni (Goldberg) one of the first settlers in Herzliyah.

[Page 524]

Appendix 4: List of exiled Tavrig Jews to Komi SSR in June 1941
(supplied by Eliezer Paluksht)

Abramovitz Nakhman* + 4 family members
Aronson Yevsey * + 3 family members
Berman Hirsh + 1 family member
Bernstein Feivel + 0 family members
Berman Orl * + 1 family member
Gudel Albert + 3 family members
Gitkin Yosef + 2 family members
Gitkin Iliya + 1 family member
Hirzon Avraham * + 3 family members
Epel Avraham + 2 family members
Epstein Yisrael * + 4 family members
Fridman Mendel * + 4 family members
Kaplan Yisrael + 2 family members
Palagin Max * + 1 family member
Paluksht Nathan * + 4 family members
Pubzup Gedalyah * + 3 family members
Shereshevsky Herzl + 3 family members

(*) died in exile

Altogether 17 families with 58 people were exiled from Tavrig to Komi SSR. A few of the family heads were sent to the terrible Reshoty camps in Siberia.

 

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