Šaukėnai (Shukyan in Yiddish) lies in northwestern Lithuania, about 33 km. (20 miles) north of Siauliai (Shavl), the district administrative center, with dusty unpaved roads connecting it to Kelme and Kursenai. Shukyan was mentioned in historical documents from the end of the fifteenth century. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries merchants and artisans resided there. In 1760 the king granted the people of Shukyan permission to maintain a weekly market and hold three fairs annually.
Shukyan was part of the Polish Lithuanian Kingdom until 1795, when the third
division of Poland by the three superpowers of the times, Russia, Prussia and
Austria, resulted in most of Lithuania becoming Russian territory until World War I.
During the Russian rule (1795-1915) Shukyan was included in the province
(Gubernia) of Vilna and from 1843 in the province of Kovno, the town
developing in particular during the nineteenth century. Until 1896 and during
independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Shukyan was a county administrative center.
Jewish Settlement until after World War I
Jews apparently settled in Shukyan at the beginning of the eighteenth century. In 1766 there were 177 Jewish poll tax payers, who made their living from minor trading with surrounding villages. Market days and fairs were their main source of income.
In 1812 the nearby estate of Zhelataria owned ten taverns in the surrounding villages, nine of which were managed by Jews. 569 Jews lived in Shukyan in 1847, and according to the all-Russian census of 1897 this had increased to 624 (63%) Jews out of a total population of 992.
The Hebrew newspaper HaMagid #18 (1872) published a list of 64 Shukyan Jews who donated money to alleviate the Persian famine (see Appendix 1).
A serious fire in 1891 reduced the living standard of Shukyan's Jews.
The wooden synagogue built in the eighteenth century was famous for its beautiful carved bimah and aron kodesh.
Rabbis who officiated in Shukyan during this period include: Yits'hak-Ya'akov Reines (1840-1915) who lived in Shukyan between the years 1867-1869 and was one of the founders of the Mizrahi party, and also published many books on Judaism; Nahum-Mihal Kahana (from 1872); Josef-Eliyahu Frid (between the years 1875-1891), immigrated to America; Ya'akov Pralgever (from 1891).
There were 48 subscribers to rabbinic literature between the years 1898 and 1928.
|The Famous Wooden Synagogue of Shukyan|
Following the Law of Autonomy for Minorities being instituted by the new Lithuanian government, the minister of Jewish affairs Dr. Menakhem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections to community committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In Shukyan a Va'ad Kehilah with seven members was elected: two from the General Zionists party, one from Tseirei Zion and four non-party men. The Va'ad (committee) was active in most aspects of Jewish life until the end of 1925.
According to the first census performed by the government in 1923, there were 791 residents in Shukyan, 324 (41%) of them Jews.
During this period, the Shukyan Jews made their living from trade, crafts and light industry while in the surrounds of nearby villages there were several Jewish farmers.
The government survey of 1931 revealed that the town had four Jewish shops: three textile shops and an agency for Singer sewing machines. According to the same survey there were six Jewish-owned factories: one shoe manufacturer, two sawmills, one flourmill, one leather factory and one millinery.
The economic crisis of the 1930s and the blatant anti-Semitic propaganda of the Association of Lithuanian Merchants (Verslas) led to a boycott of Jewish shops, causing many people to seek their future elsewhere. Shukyan Jews emigrated mainly to South Africa, to America, and Eretz-Yisrael.
In 1937 there were still ten Jewish artisans in Shukyan: three shoemakers, two tailors, two butchers, a baker, a hatter and a knitter.
In 1939 the town had seventeen telephones, one of them Jewish-owned.
An average of forty-five Jewish children studied at the Hebrew school, which was part of the religious Yavneh network.
The religious life of Shukyan centered around the old synagogue (burnt down in 1944 when there were no Jews resident in the town) and the Beth Midrash. The last rabbis who officiated in Shukyan were Yisrael-Benjamin Faivelson (who died in 1938) and his son Barukh.
Many Shukyan Jews were Zionists and were members of almost all the Zionist parties. The results of the elections for the Zionist congresses are given in the table below:
|Total Votes||Labor Party
In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Under new laws, the majority of the factories and shops belonging to the Jews of Saukenai were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and Hebrew educational institutions were closed.
At this time, some 700 residents lived in the town, including about 300 (43%) Jews.
The war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out on June 22nd, 1941. Several days later, on June 26th, the German army occupied Shukyan. During the first days of the occupation, armed Lithuanians burst into the synagogue during prayers, driving out the men who were wrapped in their Talith and Tefilin and led them off to labor units. They were forced to remove Russian vehicles from the roads and were abused while doing so.
On July 25th, 1941 the Lithuanians demanded 50,000 rubles from the Jews, threatening them with expulsion from Shukyan if this sum was not forthcoming on their terms. The local priest, to whom a few Jews appealed for help, told them that this is retribution for what you did to Jesus. The money was collected and handed over to the Lithuanian auxiliary police, the Jews hoping in vain that the situation would now improve.
At dawn on July 28th, 1941, the Lithuanians forced all Shukyan Jews from their homes, confining them to the old synagogue. There they were robbed of their money and valuables. Subsequently they were led, guarded, to the farm of a Jewish family, Rozental, near the village of Shukishok (Sukiskis). Ten Jewish families from the surrounding villages had already been banished there. The Lithuanian guards imprisoned them all in the stables and the barn robbing them of their shoes and their suits. No Germans were seen in the town.
On July 30th, 1941 the Lithuanians selected 128 children, girls and women plus four men from a list of more than 330 Jews present in the barn; they were all transferred to the farmhouse. The balance, about two hundred, were taken from the barn dressed only in their underclothes and led to the Dulkiskis forest, 5 km. (3 miles) from the town and 500 meters (1500 feet) to the left of the Shukyan-Shavl road. A big pit had already been prepared by local peasants. The Jews were shot in groups at the side of the pit and buried in this mass grave. The families who remained on the farm were told that they had been taken to work.
The remaining Jews in Shukishok were dispersed over five farms in the area. Fifty children and fifteen mothers and girls, who were supposed to care for the children, were imprisoned in a flourmill in Shvila. This mill was owned by a Jew named Tchesler from Kelm, and was 5 km. (3 miles) from Shukyan.
Eight youngsters, who had managed to escape from the Zhager massacre, sought asylum with the priest of Shukyan. He proposed that they become Christians, to which they agreed, but this did not rescue them. They too were shot and buried in the Catholic cemetery where a cross marks their grave.
Early in the 1990's the director of the Jewish Cultural Center in Shavl (Siauliai) asked the local authorities and the local priest for permission to erect a tablet on their graves, with the following inscription: Here eight Jewish youngsters are buried, the eldest among them being twenty-four years old. They were murdered on November 1, 1941, All Saints Day. All were led to the ghetto of Zhager, but survived by escaping from there, after which they found asylum in the church of Saukenai. At the end of September 1941 they received the Holy Cross. Priest Jonas Stasevicius baptized and adopted them, but this was not enough for the murderers and their leaders. These youngsters died because they were born Jews. Rest in peace.
Of the sixteen Jews who escaped from Zhager and returned to Shukyan, only two survived. The others were caught in their refuges and exterminated.
After the war the Soviet authorities located the mass grave in the forest, where they found about four hundred victims.
|The mass grave in the Dulkiskis forest|
On August 29th, 1941 all Jews from the farms were gathered together and led on carts to Zhager (Zagare). Many Jews from the nearby towns had already been confined there. The fate of Shukyan's Jews was the same as those from Zhager. All were murdered on October 2nd, 1941 (11th of Tishrei 5702).
Yad Vashem Archives M-915(6); Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, files 102, 112
YIVO, New York Collection of Lithuanian Communities, files 1291-1295, 1551
Di Yiddishe Shtime, Kovno 21.5.1937; 25.5.1937
Lituanus, Chicago 27.3.1981
Siauliu Krastas, Siauliai 14.5.1991
|The monument on the mass grave in Zagare is
where many Shukyan Jews were among the slain.
A list of Shukyan donors, published in HaMagid # 18 (1872), for victims of the Persian Famine 1872:
(from JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania> HaMagid by Jeffrey Maynard)
|CHANOCH||Leib Meir||Hamaggid #18||1872|
|HOTZ||Yisroel Meir||Hamaggid #18||1872|
|KAHANA||Nachum Michel||Hamaggid #18||1872|
|KATZ||Moshe Eliezer||Hamaggid #18||1872|
|SERSMAN||Chaim||from (Haliwian)||Hamaggid #18||1872|
|SHTEIN||Yechezkel Mordechai||Hamaggid #18||1872|
|WEIS||Moshe Aharon||Hamaggid #18||1872|
|ZAKS||Yehoshua ben Zev||son of the Rabbi||Hamaggid #18||1872|
|ZAKS||Zev||Muflag, Nifla||Hamaggid #18||1872|
|Boruch Michel||Hamaggid #18||1872|
|Eliezer Ephraim||Hamaggid #18||1872|
|Leib Hirsh||boy||Hamaggid #18||1872|
The above article is an excerpt from Preserving Our Litvak Heritage by Josef Rosin. The book contains this article along with many others, plus an extensive description of the Litvak Jewish community in Lithuania that provides an excellent context to understand the above article. Click here to see where to obtain the book.
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