Utyan (in Yiddish) is located in the northeastern part of Lithuania, near the Kaunas Zarasai road, is situated between two lakes, with the stream Vyzuona, a tributary of the river Sventoji, flowing through its middle. Utyan was first mentioned in historical documents in 1261, when the Lithuanian Great Prince Mindaugas handed the town over to a confederate, the Magister of the Livonian Order. In 1599 King Zigmund Vaza granted Utyan the right to maintain a fair, but during the Northern War (1700 1721) the town was destroyed by the Swedes and did not recover for a long time.
Until 1795 Utyan 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, so that the part of Lithuania which included Utyan fell under the rule of Czarist Russia. From 1802 it belonged to the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 became a part of the Kovno province.
The St. Petersburg Warsaw road, which was constructed in the years 1830 1835, passed through Utyan, causing it to develop rapidly. And in 1899 a narrow gauge railway line, connecting Ponevezh Utyan Shventsian, was constructed.
At the end of the 19th century two large fires devastated the town, when, in 1879, two thirds of its houses were burnt down, and the second fire, in 1890, destroyed half the houses. However, after a short time Utyan was rebuilt, this time according to a plan, which dictated that many stone or brick houses were built instead of the previous wooden ones.
Germany occupied Utyan from 1915 1918, when it was developed by the forced mobilization of the local population. At the end of December 1918 the Bolsheviks took over, establishing harsh Soviet rule, but in June 1919 the Lithuanian army managed to expel them, and from then on Utyan became a district administrative capitol in independent Lithuania.
Jewish Settlement till after World War I
Society and Economy
Jewish settlement in Utyan was among the oldest in Lithuania. In the old Jewish cemetery, located about three km from the town, there are headstones dating back to the 16th century. During the period of Va'ad Medinath Lita (The Autonomy Institution of Lithuanian Jews 1623 1764), the Utyan community was attached to the Galil (District) Vizhun. In 1665 there were 341 individual Jewish tax payers, which meant that the entire Jewish population counted at least 400 people, and then in 1765 the Jewish population of Utyan counted 565 people.
In 1846 Mosheh Montifiori (1784 1885), the well known lobbyist for Jewish affairs, came to Russia to meet Czar Nikolai I and his ministers, to try to improve aspects of Jewish life in Russia. Many Jewish communities presented memoranda to Montifiori, specifying their problems. Amongst them was an outstanding memorandum written by the Utyan born young Rabbi Mordehai Gimpel Yofe, mentioning that during the last famine about 150 Utyan Jews, adults and children, died of hunger. He contradicted accusations by the government that Jews are idlers and did not want to work on the land, proving that thousands of Kovno Gubernia Jews had asked to be allocated land for agriculture, but that only 16 families had actually been permitted to engage in agriculture.
In 1847 there were 1,416 Jews in Utyan, and in 1897 2,405, this being 74% out of a total population of 3,250.
During the second Polish uprising in 1863, the Utyan Jewish community sent a telegram of loyalty to the Czar, and the town judge came to the synagogue and read out the Czar's reply.
In the 1860s the splendid synagogue and bath house were built, for the huge sum of 10,000 Rubles.
A cholera epidemic hit the town in 1866 and many people died. The wealthy Aryeh Leib Mats established a committee to help victims and provide medication for the poor. The Pristav (representative of the government) helped with money, also allowing his horses to bring grain from the villages, as peasants were forbidden to enter the town at that time.
During the big fire of 1879 mainly Jewish homes were destroyed, as they were the majority. Many Jewish communities sent help, amongst them being the Moscow community where donations were collected at the initiative of the philanthropist Ze'ev Klonimus Wissotsky (the founder of the tea firm). As a result of the fire, the authorities prohibited the building of new houses which were not in accordance with the plan of the town, however preparation of such a plan took a long time. Realizing this, the Gubernator allowed Jewish merchants to erect temporary wooden buildings for their shops. Five years later, despite their protests and court applications, forty Jewish shop owners were ordered to destroy their temporary buildings, and as a result they lost their livelihood. As it was recounted, the whole issue came to the fore because of an informer on a Jewish merchant who had built a three storey house near the wooden buildings and whose business had failed.
As mentioned above, the big fire of 1890 burnt down most of the Jewish houses and their shops, including their contents. The splendid Synagogue, the great Beth Midrash, the Minyan HaKhasidim and the Klois, were all destroyed. The fire caused 300 families to become homeless and to live in great poverty. On the 7th of July 1890, the Hebrew newspaper HaMeilitz published an emotional appeal signed by local Rabbi Binyamin Aizenshtat, asking generous Jewish people to help, and thus save many souls.
As a consequence more and more brick and stone houses were built in Utyan, with many Jews volunteering to serve in the fire brigade, where a Jew (Aron Yosef fun Barg and later Meir Garber) was in charge for many years. The impact left by the fires was so strong, that for a long time the residents of Utyan would count the years according to them.
Utyan Jews made their living from commerce, shop keeping, crafts and peddling, the main economic activity taking place at the weekly market and at the four yearly fairs. Utyan Jews also dealt in timber, money lending for interest as well as taverns, and later on they opened wholesale shops.
Among the Jewish craftsmen one could find builders, fishermen, tailors, carpenters, blacksmiths, shoemakers, felt boots makers, shingle makers, tinsmiths, painters etc. The peddlers would travel through the neighboring villages with their merchandize.
At the end of the 18th century there were some Jewish owners of sawmills, but in particular Jews concentrated in establishing small enterprises. Two local Jews established workshops for knitting socks, marketing their products mainly in Vilna, but also in other places. These workshops employed poor Jewish girls, whose families lived in the lower part of the town, which had suffered from floods and from what was called Di Blote (The swamp). Wealthier people lived in the upper part of the town, called Barg (Mountain).
The education of young children the teaching of the alphabet and reading in the Sidur (Prayer book) was carried out by special Melamdim, such as Hayim Leizer, Shabtai Hone, Aizik the Shamash, Aharon Ben Zion (Are Benche), Hayim, the nipper and others. Higher level Melamdim at this time were Shemuel Yakobson, who was a specialist in Hebrew grammar, also Eliyahu Ber and Hayim Henakh, the latter being known as the best Gemarah (Talmud) teacher and from whom boys after Bar Mitsvah from neighboring towns would also come to learn. At the Klois of Iche Yankel (Yits'hak Ya'akov) there was a Talmud Torah, run by Melamed Mosheh Nathan, where poor boys studied free of charge.
At the beginning of the 20th century a modern school, a Heder Metukan (Improved Heder) was opened in Utyan headed by Reuven Vainonsky, over the objections of the veteran Melamdim.
There were no educational institutions for girls, and parents who wanted to provide them with a regular education were forced to hire private teachers. Shortly before World War I an educator for small children was brought in from Vilna, a woman named Granakh, who opened a Hebrew Kindergarten.
Religion and Welfare
Religious life, and in fact communal life, was focused around the prayer houses, which were partly located in the Shulhoif (the back yard of the prayer houses): the Great Synagogue, the cold one, which was built in 1862 and was so called because it was not heated in winter; the Beth Midrash and the Kloiz. Nearby was the Minyan HaKhasidim. The prayer houses which were destroyed in the fire of 1890 were rebuilt as solid brick buildings, and were named after their builders: Yitshak Yakov's Shul and Pese Yehudah's Kloiz. There was also another Synagogue named Hayei Adam. All prayer houses also served as places for studying Torah.
In 1865 many religious study societies already existed for the study of Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, Agadah and Halakhah. Later a society for Remembering the Death of Mosheh appeared, whose leader was Rabbi Shaul Getsl Tsin, later a well known Rabbi in New Jersey, USA.
The Hakhnasath Orkhim society established a house in Utyan in 1876, where travelers received three meals a day as well as some money, in order to prevent them from begging from door to door.
In lists of donors for starving Jewish communities in Persia in the years 1871 and 1872, many names of Utyan Jews are mentioned (see the list of 75 names published in the Hebrew newspaper HaMagid in 1872 at the Jewishgen.org. Web Site, Litvak SIG by Jeffrey Maynard).
(For the Rabbis who served during the years in Utyan see Appendix 1).
Zionist and other activities
An affinity to Eretz Yisrael was instilled among Utyan Jews, and some Utyan Jews immigrated to Eretz Yisrael during this period: Yehudah Zarecher with his wife immigrated to Jerusalem in 1825; Rabbi Mordehai Gimpel Yofe settled in Yehudiyah near Petakh Tikvah in 1888; Y.M.Lerinman came in 1905 and opened a wine store in Jaffa.
In the old Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem there are at least three headstones of Utyan Jews:
Nehamah bath Eliezer from Utyan (Wife of Tsevi from Utyan), died in 1867;
Esther (from Linkeve) bath Shelomoh HaCohen from Utyan, died in 1874;
Hirsh ben Avraham from Utyan, died in 1878.
Several families, among them the teacher Shemuel Yakobson, Dov Rubinstein and others were subscribers to the Hebrew periodical HaTsefirah.
In lists of donors for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael from the years 1898, 1900 and 1903 many Utyan Jews are mentioned (see list published at the Jewishgen.org. LitvakSIG by Jeffrey Maynard from HaMelitz 1893 1903, with 91 names). The fund raisers were Duber Rubinshtein, Shemuel Yakobson and Yisrael Gershon Cohen.
In another list from 1909, 55 names of Utyan Jews were mentioned (see Appendix 2) The fund raisers were Shemuel Yakobson and Eliezer Helfer.
The Utyan correspondents of Hameilitz were: Shabtai Zalman Margalith, Aharon David HaCohen and Shemuel Yakov Yakobson.
During the events of 1905 many Jewish youths were active in revolutionary movements, such as the Bund (Anti Zionist workers organization) or the Self Defense. Due to this latter activity there were no riots against Jews in Utyan and its surroundings.
In view of heavy pressure from the authorities, in particular against Jewish youth and because of difficult economic distress, many Utyan Jews immigrated to far away countries.
(For personalities born in Utyan see Appendix 3).
|A market day in Utyan|
During World War I
At the beginning of World War I the Russian rulers did not exile Utyan Jews to Russia, as was the case with most of the Kovno Gubernia Jews. This may have been due to Governor Veriovkin, who had estates in the vicinity of Utyan. In spite of this, because of intensive military activity before the German occupation, many Jews left the town and stayed in Russia during the war, but before this occurred, they still managed to absorb refugees from other Lithuanian towns, among them 82 children from Ponevezh.
During the three years of German occupation from September 1915 till 1918 Utyan Jews, together with the other residents, suffered from harsh rules and regulations which the Germans had introduced in economic and social fields. Many Jews were mobilized for forced labor, and the synagogue, which had been requisitioned during this period, housed the civil government.
Many Jewish children studied in government schools, where lessons had to be given in German, but because the teachers did not know German, the lessons were in Yiddish. The teachers were Reuven Vainonsky and Sarah Baron.
During the immediate period after the German retreat in 1918, the residents of Utyan were left without any rulers. The affairs of the Jewish population, the majority, were conducted by a public committee whose members were Miha Shohat, Mosheh Kopilovitz, Ben Zion Berman, Yisrael Beker and Kalman Meir Goldfain.
During Independent Lithuania (1918 1940)
Society and Economy
After World War I many Utyan Jews, who had stayed in Russia as refugees during the war, returned home. Jews from surrounding villages and even from Vilna also settled in Utyan.
According to the first census performed by the new Lithuanian government in 1923, there were 4,890 residents in Utyan, including 2,485 Jews (51%). This ratio of Jews to non Jews was more or less constant during the period of independent Lithuania (1918 1940).
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 (Va'ad Kehilah) in all towns of the state. In Utyan a Committee was elected which collected taxes as required by law and was in charge of all aspects of community life. It was active till the end of 1925 when the autonomy law was annulled.
The first chairman of the Committee was the cloth merchant Yisrael Beker; later he immigrated to Argentina, and Nisan Latz replaced him. Zaideman was the secretary of the committee. When tax payers refused to pay the taxes the committee had imposed on them, the young new chairman suggested rebuilding the nearly ruined Mikveh with the money collected, and thus the problem was solved.
After the committee was dissolved, all its property was transferred to the Jewish Folksbank. From then on this institution became the central focus around which many social activities took place.
During many years there was a Jewish mayor in Utyan, Avraham Zhurat. In the municipal council elections in 1931, seven Jews out of 12 council members were elected: Eliyahu Cohen, Shalom Zalman, Dr.Avraham Etingof, Yisrael Tsigar, Shalom Lifshitz, Yosef Glikman, Shalom Gold. The Jewish magistrate Yerakhmiel Berman served the town for sixteen years, until his retirement in 1935.
|A Street in Utyan|
At the elections for the first Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) in October 1922, Utyan Jews voted as follows: for the Zionist list 1,717 people, for Akhduth (Agudath Yisrael) 66, for the Democrats 12. Lithuanian rule having been established, Utyan was declared a district administrative capitol, upon which the town's economy developed quickly, with Jews also enjoying its benefits, making their living mainly from trade, crafts and light industry. They traded in flax, leather, timber, fruit, eggs, bristles, which they would buy from peasants in the villages or in surrounding towns, and sell on market days and fairs. Merchandize was exported abroad through nearby Dvinsk in Latvia, or through Ponevezh, which was connected to Utyan by a narrow gauge railway.
However, the establishment of produce and marketing enterprises by Lithuanian cooperatives and governmental companies caused the elimination of Jews from the wholesale and export trade.
|A Street in Utyan|
According to the 1931 government survey of shops in the state, Utyan had 97 shops, of which 84 were owned by Jews (87%). The type of business is classified in the table below:
|Type of business||Total||Owned by Jews|
|Grains and Flax||14||14|
|Butcher's shops and Cattle Trade||10||8|
|Restaurants and Taverns||11||7|
|Textile Products and Furs||10||10|
|Leather and Shoes||9||9|
|Haberdashery and Home Utensils||2||2|
|Medicine and Cosmetics||4||2|
|Watches, Jewels and Optics||3||3|
|Radio, Bicycles, Sewing Machines||2||1|
|Tools and Steel Products||9||9|
|Timber and Heating Materials||2||2|
|Stationary and Books||4||2|
According to the same survey, there were in Utyan 41 light industry factories, 25 of them owned by Jews (61%), as can be seen in the following table:
|Type of the Factory||Total||Jewish owned|
|Metal Workshops, Power Plants||4||2|
|Textile: Wool, Flax, Knitting, Dyeing Plants||7||7|
|Food Products: Mills, Bakeries||13||1|
|Dresses, Footwear, Hats||7||6|
|Leather Industry: Production, Cobbling||1||1|
|Barber Shops, Bristle processing and others||7||6|
In 1937 Utyan had 150 Jewish artisans: 31 shoemakers and stitchers, 19 needle workers, 18 butchers, 17 metal workers (tinsmiths, blacksmiths, locksmiths), 13 bakers, 10 carpenters, 6 hatters, 6 barbers, 6 painters, 5 felt boots makers, 5 watchmakers, 4 knitters, 2 glaziers, 2 book binders, 2 photographers, 1 oven builder, 1 electrician, 1 printer and 1 saddler. Jews also produced vegetables and fruit on leased land. During this period there were 2 Jewish lawyers (out of 3 in the town), 3 dentists and 1 doctor (out of 3).
The Jewish Folksbank, established after the war with the help of the Joint organization, played an important role in the economic life of the town. It had 35 members in 1920, by 1929 there were 529 members, and in 1935 about 600. There was also the Gemiluth Hesed society, which gave small interest free loans to anybody requiring such a loan. This
society was headed by Shemuel Lifshitz, Kathriel Finkel and Kalman Goldfain. There was also a branch of The United Association for Credit for Jewish Agriculture in Lithuania, headquartered in Kovno.
Relations between Jews and Lithuanians were more or less normal till the beginning of the 1930s. Occasionally there were some acts committed by ruffians, for example in 1926 four hoodlums attacked Jews walking in the street and chased them to the J. S. C. (Jewish Sport Club) club, where they smashed the windows.
Even during the years of autonomy law, Jews did not have equal rights. In 1922, land in the new part of the town was re parceled and hundreds of plots were divided among residents, but all Jewish requests to receive plots were denied.
|Fragments of the governmental survey of shops in the Utena District in 1931|
The situation of the Jews also began to deteriorate because of government intrigues, which pushed Jews out of the wholesale and export trades and imposed unreasonable taxes on them. There was also the influence of the Association of Lithuanian Merchants (Verslas), which spread propaganda to persuade people not to buy in Jewish shops. Another decree imposed on the Jews was to move market day to Sabbath, and there were other harsh measures. All these caused many Utyan Jews, mainly the youth, to look for their livelihood in the bigger towns of Lithuania or in far away countries. Many immigrated to South Africa, America, Cuba and Argentina, some of them later supporting those relatives who had remained in Utyan.
We can learn from the deeds of a prominent member of the community, Berl Sher, with many children and who was for many years a member of the municipal council, about the harsh conditions of most of Utyan Jews, who had to change their occupation frequently in order to make a living. His main occupation was covering roofs with slate, but often he baked beigls, produced candies and knitted socks. In the summer he traded different berries and before Pesakh he supplied the community with Matzoth.
In 1939 there were 115 phones in Utyan, 32 of them belonging to Jews.
Education and Culture
Utyan Jewish children studied in two schools which were opened in the beginning of 1920. There was the Hebrew school of the Tarbuth chain with four classes and one preparatory class in which an average of 150 pupils studied, among its teachers Zar, Binder, the couple Laikh, Zilber, the director Matityahu Berkal and others. The second was the Yiddish Kultur Lige (Cultural League) school, where about 80 pupils studied, mainly from the poorer areas. The parents committee of this school also cared for the clothing and feeding of the needy children. Among the teachers of this school were Naftali Shteiman, his wife Rachel, Dambe, Lafkovsky.
Third line from below, from right: fourth Dr. Etingof*; seventh teacher Binder;
Second line from below, from right: second Hayim Zak*: Zalman Ozer;
Fourth line from left: seventh Yoheved Sharfshtein; ? Rapaport*
(*) murdered in Rashe forest
For several years an adult school was located in this school building, which in fact was like a popular university with leftist tendencies. During regular lectures about 50 people participated, but social and cultural events initiated by this institution, such as the drama circle, involved very many young people. After the fascist revolution in Lithuania in 1926, new rules discriminated more and more against this institution till it was closed. In the beginning of the 1930s the director of the Yiddish school was accused of communist activity, detained and expelled from Lithuania. So was the acting director, the teacher Yosef Gar who was close to the Poalei Zion Smol (Leftist Zionist Workers ) party, who was also detained and exiled from Utyan to Shaki.
First line from below, sitting from left: Vainer Nehemyah; Gurvitz Yitshak; Kushner Toibe Reize*; ; Rabin ?? *; Treivush Betsalel *;
Second line, sitting from left: Shapira Aba; Zak Rivkah *: Katz ? *; ; ; Muler Rasha *; Shuster Pesia *; Katz Kalman *;
Third line from left: ; Krom Sarah Malkah; Zak Dinah; Person Havah *; Korb Freide *;
Fourth line from left: Vainerman Yitshak; Mandel Barukh *; ; ; Gordon Braine *;
Fifth line from left: Katz Efraim; ; Sadur Alte; ; Ashkenaz ? ; ; Director and teacher Matityahu Barkel;
Sixth line standing: ; ; ; Shumakher Dov *; ; ; Latz Tsevi;
(*) murdered in Rashe forest
From 1923 a Hebrew pro gymnasium with about 50 pupils operated in town, some of these pupils continuing their studies at the Hebrew high school Or (Light) in Vilkomir.
There were two public libraries: one of Tarbuth with about 100 Hebrew books and the second of the Kultur Lige with about 700 books, mostly in Yiddish. After the Kultur Lige was closed by the government, the library was transferred to the Libhober fun Visen (Friends of Knowledge) society.
|Teacher Couple Laikh|
|The Yiddish School 1934 (?)|
The Hebrew Pro Gymnasium
Religion and Welfare
During this period most religious activity continued to be concentrated around the six prayer houses, one of them being the Hasidim. The handful of Hasidim had been reconciled to the hegemony of the Mithnagdim, but from time to time controversies did break out over different issues. The watchmaker Hayim Karpov, of Hasidic origin, initiated a campaign to eliminate the tax on yeast and to sell it at lower prices, in order to lighten the burden of poor women baking Haloth (Challas) for Shabath. However, as most of the public did not want to harm the Rabbi, whose salary largely depended on this tax, it was collected till the start of Soviet rule in 1940.
In several of the prayer houses societies for studying Talmud, Ein Ya'akov, Mishnah and Tehilim were active. In 1920 a Yeshivah Ketanah was established, named Atereth Binyamin after Rabbi Binyamin Aizenshtat who had just died. The Yeshivah was headed by Meir Yitshak Leib and David Yitshak Traub, and later came under the patronage of the Telz Yeshivah.
Among the welfare institutions acting in Utyan were: Lekhem Aniyim (Bread for the poor), Tsedakah Gedolah (Charity), Linath HaTsedek, Bikur Kholim (Help for the ill) and Hakhnasath Kalah (Help for poor brides). Every Utyan Jew could get medical treatment and hospitalization in the large Jewish hospital Bikur Kholim in Kovno for a small monthly payment.
|The Old Synagogue|
|The Hasidim prayer house (Shtibl)|
|Pese Yehuda's Kloiz|
The OZE organization concentrated on preventive medicine among school children. It also organized summer camps for sickly children which about 40 to 50 children attended every year. The doctor was Kukliansky. Funding was a monthly member's fee of one Lit, and from time to time there were tag days for collecting money for this organization. For some time it also supported a clinic where the poor received free medical treatment.
Zionist and other activities
Among Utyan Jews many belonged to the Zionist movement, and all Zionist parties were represented. There were also the religious anti Zionist Agudath Yisrael and the leftist anti Zionist Folkspartei parties.
The Zionist youth organizations in Utyan were: HaShomer HaTsair, Betar and others, in addition to an urban Kibbutz of HeKhalutz. Sports activities, mainly soccer, were performed in the local Maccabi branch, with an average of 115 members. There was also the Yiddishist sports club Y.S.C. with about 110 members in 1926.
(For a partial list of personalities born in Utyan see Appendix 3)
|Utyan children at a summer camp on behalf of OZE|
In the table below one can see how Utyan Zionists voted for the various parties at six Zionist Congresses:
|Total Voter||Labor Party
First line sitting from right: Ita Harit, Rivkah Levin
Second line from right; Rachel Slovo
Last line from left: Rivka Shub, Goldman
During World War II and Afterwards
World War II actually started on the 1st of September 1939, when the German army attacked Poland. A German Soviet agreement of August 23rd 1939 had stipulated that Lithuania would be under German influence, but that same year, in September 1939, it was decided by Germany and the Soviet Union that Lithuania would come under Soviet influence. According to this agreement on October 10th 1939, the Soviet Union returned Vilna to Lithuania, after it had been occupied by Poland. This included an area of 9000 sq.km. around the city, and Soviet troops were allowed to establish bases all over Lithuania.
On June 15th 1940, Lithuania was forced to establish a regime friendly towards the Soviet Union, and after the new government headed by Justas Paleckis was installed, the Red Army took over Lithuania. President Smetona fled, Lithuanian leaders were exiled to Siberia, and political parties were dissolved. A popular Seimas was elected, 99% of its members being communists, and unanimously decided that Lithuania would join the Soviet Union.
Following new laws, the majority of factories and shops belonging to Jews of Utyan were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. Most of the artisans were organized into cooperatives (Artels). Some flats and buildings were confiscated.
There had been a short period of business prosperity after the Vilna region was annexed to Lithuania, when many of Vilna's Jews came to Utyan to visit relatives and shop there.
Several Jewish men, previously active in the Communist underground, now became important personalities, one of them being Faivush Ozer who was appointed to take charge of propaganda in the regional council of the communist party. In this job he also directed propaganda during elections for the popular Seimas, which decided to annex Lithuania to the USSR. Another Jew, named Berman, had an important job in the party's regional executive.
After these events the supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore most of the brunt, and the standard of living dropped gradually.
All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and the Hebrew Tarbuth school was closed. The Yiddish school was enlarged and became an official Soviet institution headed by teacher Fruma Bernshtein Melamed.
After part of Poland was annexed to Russia at the end of 1939, the students of the Radin Yeshivah arrived in Utyan as refugees and were sheltered there with the help of special funds.
In spite of sharp anti religious propaganda spread by the new rulers, synagogues continued to be active, but the number of worshipers diminished. The Polish Yeshivah students, who tried to maintain their daily activities as usual, were auspicious amongst them.
In the middle of June 1941 several tens of Jewish families and also some single people, branded as disloyal elements and enemies of the nation, were exiled by Soviet edict to the Altai region in Russia. Among them were owners of properties which had been nationalized, Zionist activists and others. Some family heads who were imprisoned in labor camps, perished there.
With the outbreak of war between Germany and the USSR, many Utyan Jews tried to escape to Russia, some being killed on their way by German bombings. Many of those who managed to reach Russia were conscripted into the Red Army and in particular into the Lithuanian Division, of whom about 30 fell in battle. . (For the list of Utyan men who fell in battle see Appendix 4)
The German army entered Utyan on Wednesday, at 2 PM on the 25th of June, the fourth day of the war, after bombing the town, and destroying several Jewish homes. Even before the Germans entered the town, Lithuanian nationalists took over local rule, began to bully local Jews and refugees who were passing through, pretending to search for weapons in Jewish houses, during which several Jews were murdered. After the Germans entered Utyan, Jews were taken to locate bombs and mines the Soviets had left behind, which also caused their deaths. The Lithuanians marked Jewish houses with the word Jude, led German soldiers to them, and together they maltreated, hit and tortured their residents.
1.Hayim Kuritsky; 2. ? Yakrin *; 3.Shimshon Katz; 4.Mina Shuster *; 5.Yehudah Katz; 6.Yom Tov Yakrin; 7.Liuba Shuster;
8.Tsevi Hirsh Sharfshtein; 9.Zelda Volf Shraiberg; 10.Tsadok Shraiberg; 11.Shabtai Shuster *; 12.Mordehai Idels; 13.Meir Shuster; 14.Yekutiel Sheinis *; Hayim Burkan; (*) murdered in Rashe forest
One day they burst into the synagogues at the Shulhoif and threw out Torah scrolls and other sacred objects. The Rabbi of Aran, Tsevi Ya'akov Bleiman, in Utyan on a visit, was taken from a neighboring flat where he was staying and forced to sing and dance with a Torah scroll in his hands. They then set all the books on fire, shaved Rabbi Bleiman's beard, tortured and badly wounded him. Due to the treatment he received from his son in law, Dr.Yudelovitz, he quickly recovered.
Due to new orders, Jews now had to wear yellow patches in the form of a Magen David on their clothing, on the back and on the chest. They were forbidden to walk on sidewalks, to buy or sell anything to a non Jew, and non Jews were forbidden to have any contact with them.
The Lithuanians detained Jews whom they suspected of being communists, and the jail was filled with prisoners, including the two Jewish doctors Dr. Yudelovitz and Dr. Oks. The synagogues were used as jails for Jews, Russians and communists.
On the morning of the 14th of July 1941 notices signed by the town's mayor Dr. Stepanavicius and the military commander, were posted in the streets, announcing that all Utyan Jews must leave their houses by 12 PM on that day, take their identity cards and move in the direction of Maliat (Moletai). They were allowed to take what they wanted without any restrictions, but were forbidden to destroy remaining property. A warning was also published, saying that any Jew found in the town after the fixed time would be shot on the spot. On that day Lithuanian newspapers published, with great satisfaction, that Utyan was the first town in Lithuania to be cleansed of Jews (Judenrein).
Even before the allotted time, Lithuanians ousted all the Jews, including the old, the ill and the invalids from their houses, hitting and abusing them. The sight of about 2,000 Utyan Jews leaving was terrible. It took just a few hours for them to be uprooted from their homes, which they and their ancestors had built and developed for generations.
After the Jews left the town they were led to the nearby Shilali forest. There everybody had to appear before a special committee, whose members were from the town's intelligencia amongst them a woman who registered their names and took their valuables from them, in particular gold and money. Whoever refused was shot immediately.
The Jews were left in this forest for three weeks, surrounded by a heavy guard of Lithuanians. Due to rain and hunger many became ill, and also unable to receive medical help, because the doctors were in prison. Every morning the men were taken to work in town, where they saw Lithuanians and Germans removing Jewish property from their houses. The only food the people in the forest received was bread. The men returning from work sometimes managed to bring some food and milk, which was divided among the children and the sick. In these hard
conditions there was friendship and comradeship among the Jews in the forest.
On the 31st of July 1941 (7th of Av 5701), Lithuanian guards compiled a list of all men and women aged 17 55. Some of them, thought to be about 500 men, amongst them the town's Rabbi Nakhman Hirshovitz, the former Mayor Avraham Zhurat and his two sons, the wealthy Levior, the Shohet (ritual butcher) Yehuda Shafshtein and other important men, were taken away. All were murdered on that same day in the Rashe forest, about two km north of Utyan, and buried in previously prepared pits in a sandy area surrounded by swamps. The Jews in the forest, hearing the shooting, thought that Russian troops were approaching and that these would soon rescue them. Nobody reckoned that Lithuanians or Germans could engage in planned murder of innocent people, as the Germans and Lithuanians had spread rumors, which the people believed, that the men were working on a road. If not for these rumors, it could be that many Jews, in particular the youth, would have taken some initiative to rescue themselves.
According to a German source, 235 men, 16 Jewish women, 4 Communists and 1 robber were shot at that place on that day.
In the morning of the 7th of August 1941, another large group of the fit for work was led from the forest to the prison yard, where their documents, overcoats and trouser belts were taken from them. Then they were ordered to form lines and were led, guarded by armed Lithuanians, among them students and high school pupils, in the direction of Rashe forest for so called work. Near the forest they were ordered to run several km, urged on by hitting, after which they were ordered to prostrate themselves on the earth. The women who had walked ahead, were ordered to proceed, and were then shot. After several minutes, some of the men were ordered to stand up and to proceed too.
One of the survivors, probably the only one, recounted later that he saw long pits. A Lithuanian with a mask on his face stood by one of the pits, a whip in his hand and hit everyone who passed by. Fearing the whip, people run ahead to the pit, where a German stood and shot them with a machine gun. There was a car parked nearby, its passengers being the mayor, the district doctor and another person who, together with other Lithuanians, stood and watched the show.
After about three weeks, all Utyan Jews had been murdered in the same place and buried in the pits.
(For the partial list of murdered Utyan Jews see Appendix 5)
At the conclusion of the murders, the pits were covered with a layer of soil, later on covered with lime and then with another layer of earth.
According to the findings of a Soviet investigation committee after the war, 8 pits were found on this murder site: the largest was 100 meters long, 4 m wide and 3 m deep. Parallel to this pit there were 2 more pits, one 30 m long, the other 20 m long. Then 5 more pits were found. 9,000 peaceful citizens, men, women, the old and children were buried in all these pits after having been shot, some of them still alive. Scraps of clothing were found on the corpses, the men having worn 3 4 pairs of trousers and the women 3 4 dresses.
Jews from the towns of Ushpol (Uzpaliai), Avanaste, Inturik (Inturke), Dabeik (Dabeikiai), Vizhun (Vyzounos), Toragin (Tauragenai), Maliat (Moletai), Kuktishok (Kuktiskes), Radeik (Radeikiai), Shkumian (Skiemonys) were also murdered here.
A few Jews, wandering through villages and forests in the surroundings, were caught and murdered. Except for those who managed to escape to Russia or to the Kovno Ghetto, no Utyan Jew survived. Only Tsadok Bleiman Avitar, then a visitor in Utyan, was a witness to the murder and being wounded, managed to escape from the pit and travel in Kovno. A girl named Feige Yofe was saved by the local priest and later became a Christian.
The names of the 35 Lithuanian murderers and their German commander are recorded in the archives of Yad Vashem, as are the names of the few Lithuanians who endangered their own lives and hid several Jews. One of the survivors of Utyan was Leib Sher, who fought as a partisan.
After Utyan was liberated by the Red Army in the summer of 1944, surviving Utyan Jews began to return home from the USSR as well as from the woods. They began to hunt the Lithuanian murderers, of whom one was discovered, brought to trial and sentenced to 25 years in prison, but after a short period was pardoned and returned to his home in Utyan. Nine murderers were sentenced to the death penalty and their property was confiscated by the high court of the Lithuanian Socialist Republic for crimes against mankind and humanity….the murderers did not only murder the people, but with terrible cynicism they robbed the dead, ripped golden teeth from their mouths, chopped off fingers with golden rings, raped women before their death….. According to the court's decision, the verdict was definite and no appeal possible, but it is not known whether they were executed.
The remnants of the community, headed by Kalman Goldshtein, established a public committee which initiated the erection of a monument in memory of those murdered in Rashe forest, and on it an inscription in Hebrew and Yiddish, the first in Lithuania A channel was dug around the mass graves, to prevent damage from cattle.
Every year survivors of the Utyan Jewish community would arrange a commemoration service there, also visiting the great Jewish cemetery. These visits saved the cemetery from destruction till 1965, when it was razed in accordance with the town's plan prepared by the Utyan municipality. The small Jewish cemetery was destroyed earlier and its headstones used by nearby residents as building material.
|The mass graves and the monument in Rashe forest|
During the following years the authorities began to plot the yearly commemoration arrangements and also demanded that the inscription on the monument be changed. Despite the objection of the Jews to having a Lithuanian inscription on the monument and the intercession at the central committee of the communist party and the government, the old tablet was removed and a new one, with inscriptions in Lithuanian, Russian and Yiddish, was fixed instead.
In August 1988 a large sculpture named Pain created by the Lithuanian artist Valentinas Simonelis was erected in Rashe forest.
At the beginning of the 1990s a monument in the shape of a three storey tower was erected at the murder site. The inscription on it, in Yiddish, says: In this place the Hitlerist murderers and their local helpers murdered about 8,000 Jews, men, women and children on the August 7, 1941.
|The mass graves and the monument in Rashe forest|
The inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian on the front side of the monument:
In this place the Hitlerist murderers and their local helpers in July August 1941 murdered about 8,000 Jews, men, women, children
|The first excavations of the murdered in Utyan by the Soviet government in 1944|
|The sculpture Pain in Rashe forest|
At the same time at the site of the old Jewish cemetery, a memorial was erected and on it the inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: The old Jewish cemetery. Blessed is the memory of the deceased.
In 1970 the Utyan municipality destroyed the 200 year old synagogue Di Shul, whose front wall had been decorated by the local artist Yitshak Yofe.
Most of the remaining Utyan Jews and their siblings immigrated to Israel. In 1970 there were 28 Jews in Utyan, in 1979 12, and by 1989 only 9 Jews remained.
At the list of mass graves of the book Mass Murder in Lithuania Vol. 2, the mass grave of Utyan Jews appears as follows: The site Rashe forest, 2 km north of Utyan; time 31.7.1941, 7.8.41, 29.8.41; number of murdered about 4,000 men, women and children.
|A sculpture of Yits'hak Jofe|
According to the Jaeger report those murdered in Utyan included:
July 31, 1941 235 Jewish men, 16 Jewish women and 4 Lithuanian communists.
August 8, 1941 483 Jewish men, 87 Jewish women, and 1 Lithuanian who robbed the corpses of German soldiers.
August 29, 1941 in Utyan and Maliat 582 Jewish men, 1,731 Jewish women and 1,469 Jewish children
All together 4,603 Jews.
Standing from right: Efraim and Taibe Katz, Frida Komeraz Dragetsky, Leib Rozenberg (from Salok), his wife Zelda Komeraz, Hayah Kuritsky Mazinter, Hayim Nir Kushnir,
Above them: Mirah Kuritsky Kremer and her son Dani Kremer. Below: Hayim Kuritsky and his wife Hayah Kaplan
Yad Vashem Archives: M 9/13 (2), 0 3/718; 0 53/21
YIVO, NY Lithuanian Communities Collection, files 62 63; 1375; 1587; 1662
Report of the special government committee for investigation of the crimes committed by the Fascist Germans and their helpers in Utyan district (Lithuanian).
Oshri, Hurban Lita (Hebrew), pages 159 194
Gar Yosef Viderklangen (Yiddish), Vol. 1, Tel Aviv 1961, pages 159 184
Yizkor Bukh Utyan un umgegend Lite (Yiddish) (Yizkor Book: Utyan and Surroundings) Tel Aviv 5739 (1979)
Yerushalmi Eliezer, Pinkas Shavli (Hebrew) Jerusalem 5709 (1948), pages 335, 375, 420.
HaMeilitz (St. Petersburg) (Hebrew):16.3.1865; 5.8.1879; 30.11.1879; 21.11.1883; 8.3.1887; 8.4.1887; 21.4.1887; 27.4.1887; 12.5.1887; 7.10.1888; 22.6.1890; 25.6.1890; 10.5.1893
Dos Vort, Kovno (Yiddish): 26.11.1935
Folksblat, Kovno (Yiddish): 23.5.1935; 10.10.1935; 29.10.1935; 30.10.1935; 27.7.1938; 23.8.1938; 6.7.1939; 10.7.1939
Di Yiddishe Shtime, Kovno (Yiddish):28.7.1922; 1.11.1922; 26.4.1923
Kovner Tog (Yiddish)10.7.1926; 15.7.1926v Yiddisher Lebn ,Kovno (Yiddish): 15.7.1938
Naujienos Chicago (Lithuanian) 1949
1941 1944 (Lithuanian).
Appendix 1 Partial list of Rabbis who served during the years in Utyan
Till the beginning of the 19th century the names of rabbis who served in Utyan (if there were some) are unknown.
Duber Yofe died in 1823
Avraham Tsevi Aizenshtat (born in1813 in Byalistok. Died in 1865 in Koenigsberg when coming there for curing), grandfather of Leon Rabinovitz redactor of HaMeilitz
Binyamin Aizenshtat (1846 1920) son of Avraham Tsevi, served in Utyan for 52 years till his death.
Avraham Tsevi Aizenshtat (1871 1939), son of Binyamin, born in Utyan where he served for 19 years till his death
Avraham Aba Shlomovitz (1852 1906) in 1888 established a Yeshivah in Utyan
Nakhman Hirshovitz, the last Rabbi of Utyan, murdered by the Lithuanians in 1941
|Tombstone of Rabbi Binyamin Aizenshtat||His son: Rabbi Avraham Tsevi|
Appendix 2 List of Utyan donors for the Settlement of Eretz Yisrael in 1909
Lifshitz Tsadok, Rubinshtein Dov, Gordon Shimon Leib, Brener Refael, Katz Yakov, Berkovitz Leib, Matz Alter, Tsin Shaul Getsl, Gold Shalom Heshl, Matz Tsevi, Vaininshker Reuven, Goldfain Hayim Zalman, Shulman Zalman. Kraskin H., Druk Yehiel Yosef, Levit Hayim, Bak Mendel, Katz Yisrael, Hayat Dov Leib, Epshtein Aharon Yosef, Lifshitz Ben Zion, Kav Ben Zion, Kav Yeshaya, Levin Monish Yitshak, Ulfbelman Shemuel, Kantor Elhanan, Glikman Ben Zion, Buz Barukh, Shapiro Aba Leib, Sharfshtein Yosef, Peril Avraham Dov, Miler Yerakhmiel, Katz Nahum, Shvabsky Aba David, Shub Avraham Mosheh, Finkel Yonah, Zak Eliyahu Avraham, Polavnik Barukh, Hadav David, Meler Mendl, Aizenshtat Meir, Barilsky Hayim Tsevi, Berlin Ze'ev, Haitovitz Tsevi, Bershtein Shelomoh Yakov, Lifshitz Shneur Zalman, Gilinsky Barukh, Katz Mosheh, Shadur Leib, Rufeil Yekutiel, Zurer Hayim Shelomoh, Bak Betsalel Nisan, Finkel Shimon, Azur Shimon.
Appendix 3 Partial list of personalities born in Utyan
Mordehai Gimpel Yofe (1820 1892), a well known rabbi in his generation, one of the first rabbis helping the Hovevei Zion movement. Died in Petakh Tikvah.
Dov Aryeh Hayat (1893 ?), rabbi in Libau, later in Long Beach and Boston.
Matityahu Utyaner one of the important men of Vilna and one of the most learned men in Lithuania.
David Nathan Brinker (Bar Yakar) , public worker at the Mizrahi party in Eretz Yisrael. Died in 1951 in Jerusalem.
Morris Kantorovitz (1881 1964) for many years member of South Africa's parliament
Ze'ev Volf Shor (1844 1910), writer and journalist, in the 1870s. He described his travels through Africa, India, China, the Philippines and more in the Hebrew newspapers HaMeilitz, HaYom, HaShakhar. From 1888 in America, where he was among the pioneers of the Hebrew press and of the Zionist movement. He was a delegate to the fourth Zionist congress which took place in 1900 in London. He founded the Hebrew periodical Hapisgah in 1889 which became the central tribune of the Hebrew literature in America and East Europe. He published several books. Died in Chicago.
Ya'akov Meir Lerinman (1847 1929), from 1905 in Eretz Yisrael, published articles in HaMeilitz, HaTsefirah etc. and one book. Died in Yafo.
Reuven Rubinshtein (1891 1967), delegate of the Lithuanian Seimas, one of the leaders of Lithuanian Jewry, redactor of the largest Yiddish daily newspaper in Lithuania Di Yiddishe Shtime, in 1940 exiled by the Soviets to Siberia, from 1948 in Israel. Member of the editorial board of the three volumes of Yahaduth Lita. Died in Tel Aviv.
Yisrael Hodosh (1908 1972), born in Vilna but as a small boy moved with his parents to Utyan. From 1934 in Eretz Yisrael. One of the founders of the Yiddish newspapers in Tel Aviv Letste Naies and Yidishe Zeitung, from 1956 its redactor. Published in it articles and translations from Russian and French. Died in Tel Aviv.
Aharon Brestovitsky (1916 1944), wrote articles in different Yiddish periodicals and in the newspaper Vilner Tog. Perished in the Kloge forced labor camp in Estonia.
Appendix 4 Utyan men who fell in battle during World War II serving in the Red Army and at the Partisans
Evenshtein Avinoam (IDF);
Zar David; Zar;
Hadav (?) Nakhum Leib;
Motie (son of Barukh Shvok);
Appendix 5 A partial list of Utyan Jews who were murdered by the Lithuanians in summer 1941
Mrs. Ashkenazi with 2 children;
Abramson and family;
Brener Ahi Khanan and family;
Burkan Yosef; Burkan Hanah;
Burkan Perl; Brener Reuven and family;
Buslovitz David and family;
Bleiman Mosheh and family;
Bernshtein Meir Yitshak;
Britanishky Mosheh and family;
Belitsky and family;
Baralsky and family;
Fridman Montsik; Fridman Pesie;
Fridman Ben Zion;
Finkel Batyah and family;
Finkel Katra and family;
Finkel Binyamin and family;
Fanger Yosef (Teacher) and family;
Finkel Yonah; Finkel Zalman;
Finkel Itse the musician;
Feldman David and family;
Feldman Haikel and family;
Feldman Avraham and family;
Fainblum and family;
Flat Aba and family;
Flekser Motl and family;
Goldfain Golde and family;
Garber Elkhanan and family;
Dembo and family;
Hamburg Esther and family;
Hayat Aba and family;
Hayat Hirshl and family;
Hayat Lerner and family;
Katz Yehudith; Katz David;
Katz Rachel and her two sons;
Katz Eliezer, Yosef;
Katz Meir Yitshak (Pharmacist);
Katz David (Hotel owner);
Katz Yosef (in Kovno ghetto);
Katz Yosef (in Dvinsk ghetto);
Khor Shimon and family;
Kagan Yosef and family;
Kupeliovitz Meir and wife;
Kupeliovitz Sarah Feige;
Kuritsky Mina and family;
Kuritsky Yerakhmiel and family (from Aniksht);
Klavin Idl and family;
Krasko Tsemakh and family;
Kavinsky Nahum and family;
Kutsgal Hayim Yisrael;
Kutsgal Shneur and family;
Kvores Zalman and family (from Alunta);
Kaufman Yakov and family;
Kacherginsky Shepsl and family;
Kab Yerakhmiel and family;
Kab Yakov Note;
Kris Meir and family (in ghetto Dvinsk);
Kremerman Mantsik and family;
Kuznietz Leibl and family;
Kovolsky Tsirke and family;
Krevner Yakov and family;
Lifshitz Iser; Lifshitz Hayah;
Lifshitz Ben Zion;
Laiftog Shelomoh Dov;
Levin Motl and family;
Levin Yisrael and family;
Leibovitz Shemuel and family;
Lifshitz David and family;
Landau and family;
Lap Mosheh and family;
Latz Mendl and family;
Latz Nisan and family;
Luninsky Sasha and family;
Lishinsky Sasha and family;
Marantz Mosheh and family;
Markus Barukh and family;
Miler Hanah and family;
Miler Hayim Eliyahu and family;
Markus Hayim Leib;
Markus Berl and family;
Minster Itsik and family;
Neimark Golde and family;
Nates Faivel and family;
Nathanson Barukh and family;
Pakeltsik (tailor) and family;
Segal Eliyahu and family;
Segal Liova and family
Rokhman and family;
Rotenberg and family;
Rupeitz Mordehai (from Aniksht);
Ribnik Mihael and family;
Rabin Hirsh (kantor) and family;
Rudiatchevsky Hayim Shelomoh and family;
Sheinis Ozer and family;
Sheinis Hirshe and family;
Shelkan Tanhum and family;
Shraiberg Abrasha and family;
Sharfshtein Yehoshua and family;
Shuster Meir and family;
Shohat Mikhl Tsadik and family.
Troib Avraham and family;
Troib Nathan and family;
Treivish Yeshaya and family;
Treivish Hirsh and family;
Vaininsky Reuven and family;
Vainerman Aba and wife;
Yakrin and family;
Yofe Itsik and family;
Yofe Yitshak (Sculptor);
Zak Yosef and family;
Zak Shmerl and family;
Ziskind Berl and Itsik;
Zilber More and family.
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