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Akmenė (Akmyan)

56°15' 22°45'

Akmene (Akmyan in Yiddish) is in the northwestern part of Lithuania, on the Dabikine Stream, a tributary of the Venta River in the Zamut (Zemaitija) region. The town was built in the first half of the sixteenth century. In the seventeenth century it became a county administrative center. During the Northern War with the Swedes in 1705 it was totally destroyed. In 1792 Akmyan was granted the Magdeburg rights for self rule and received permission to hold four annual fairs.

Until 1795 Akmyan was included in the Polish–Lithuanian Kingdom. According to the third division of Poland in the same year by the three superpowers of those times, Russia, Prussia and Austria, Lithuania was divided between Russia and Prussia. As most of Lithuania, Akmyan became a part of the Russian Empire, first in the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia.

By 1859 there were 62 houses in town. For some time following the Polish rebellion of 1863 the town was under the control of the rebels. As a result of the railway construction from Romni in Ukraine to Liepaja (Libau) in Kurland in 1873, the development of Akmyan was arrested. Akmyan managed to retain its status as a county administrative center during independent Lithuania (1918–1940) and during the Soviet rule (1940–1941).

 

Jewish settlement till World War II

Most likely Jewish settlement in Akmyan began in the middle of the eighteenth century. Jews made their living by peddling in the surrounding villages, and in crafts. A small number worked in agriculture. In the first half of the nineteenth century Jews made up about 80% of the total population. In 1847 there were 667 Jews in the town and in 1859 the total population numbered 790 people. In the village of Alkishok (Alkiskiai), not far from Akmyan, the Jewish cemetery may be found in the southwest corner of the Christian cemetery.

 

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A Jewish peddler

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In 1893 a fire caused great damage to the Jewish community. An appeal for help by the local rabbi Aharon–Eliyahu Kahana appeared in the Hebrew newspaper HaMelitz on behalf of the sixty Jewish families made homeless and destitute by the fire. At this time the Jews of Akmyan made up one–third of the population, as can be seen from the all Russian census of 1897: “543 Jews among the total of 1,501 (36%),” but the number was steadily decreasing due to ongoing emigration abroad before World War I. By the order of the retreating Russian army in the summer of 1915, Akmyan Jews were exiled to remote parts of Russia.

After the war following the establishment of independent Lithuania in 1918, a number of the exiled Akmyan Jews returned home. In 1921 there were 150 Jews in town and the first census performed by the new government in 1923 counted 1,453 residents in Akmyan; 360 (25%) of people in the entire county were recorded as Jews.

Following the passage of the Law of Autonomies for Minorities by the new Lithuanian government, the Minister for Jewish Affairs, Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections to community committees, Va'adei Kehilah, to be held in the summer of 1919. In Akmyan a community committee of five members was elected: three Akhduth (Agudath Yisrael), one General Zionist and one representing the workers. The committee worked for several years in most fields of Jewish life.

 

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A Jewish house in Akmyan

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The exodus of Jews from Akmyan continued during this period, mainly due to the worsening economic situation.

According to the government survey of 1931 fourteen shops were in opened in town, eleven of them (79%) were Jewish: four textile shops, three butcher shops, one grocery, one grain merchant, one shoe store and one for sewing machine repairs. There was also a flourmill owned by a Jewish person.

In 1937 seven Jewish trades people worked in Akmyan: a baker, a carpenter, a tinsmith, a butcher, a watchmaker and two others. In 1925 a Jewish doctor, Rivkah Gurevitz, provided medical services.

Many Jewish people received loans at the Akmyan branch of the Jewish Peoples Bank (Folksbank). In 1927 the bank had 94 members and in 1929 there were 108 members. It was one of the smallest branches. The total paid out to bank members in loans was about 45,000 Litas (about $4,500). In 1939, there were 36 telephone subscribers in Akmayan, six of them Jewish.

Despite dwindling numbers in the community, the activity of the main institutions such as the synagogue and the Yavneh school continued. Rabbi Nahum–Mordehai Verbovsky, who began duties in Akmyan in 1907, was the last rabbi of the community. He was murdered by Lithuanians in the summer of 1941.

Many Akmyan Jews belonged to the Zionist camp. In the elections for the first Seimas (Parliament) in 1922, the Zionist list received 66 votes, the religious list Akhduth 31 votes and the Democrats one vote.

The division of votes for two Zionist congresses is given in the table below:

 

Congress
Number
Year Total Shekalim Total Votes Labor Party
Z”S Z”Z
Revisionists General
Zionists
A B
Grosmanists Mizrahi
18 1933 40 19 3 8 1 9
19 1935 60 39 2 3 6

Zionist youth organizations were represented by HaShomer HaTsair and Beitar.

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During this period relations between Jews and their Lithuanian neighbors were generally amicable. But in the second half of the 1930s the situation began to deteriorate, In March 1939 Lithuanians attacked a group of Jews who resisted the attackers, forcing them to retreat.

 

During World War II and afterward

In 1940, Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. During the year of the Soviet rule (1940–1941), Zionist groups were disbanded across Lithuania, and great changes affected the economy.

At the end of June 1941, a short time after the German army invaded Lithuania on June 22, Lithuanian nationalists of Akmyan rounded up all the Jewish men. In collaboration with the few Germans who arrived in Akmyan, they shot the former textile shop owner Shmit as well as Josef and Faivush Joselevitz. On August 4, 1941, all the Akmyan Jews were taken to the large barn on the shore of the Venta River near Mazheik. The men were forced to dig pits and the women were imprisoned with other Jewish women previously held in Mazheik. All were murdered together with the Jews of Mazheik and the surrounding areas on August 9, 1941 (Shabbath, 15th of Av, 5701).

A few years after the war the murder site was fenced in and a monument erected.

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The mass grave and the monument in Mazheik

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lit6_006.jpg
The monument at the entrance of the murder site (seen in the back of the above photo) with the inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian:
“At this site Hitler's murderers and their local helpers executed about 4000 Jews and people of other nationalities.”

 

Sources:

Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, M–1/E–1771/1673; Koniukhovsky collection 0–71, file 21
Oshri, Hurban Lite, pages 260–263
Kamzon Y.D., Yahaduth Lita, page 73
Levin, Dov, Akmyan, Pinkas Hakehiloth–Lita, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 1996
Di Yiddishe Shtime, Kovno, 29.10.1924
Der Yiddisher Kooperator, Kovno, # 11 (34), 1929, page 11
HaMelitz, St. Petersburg, 4.4.1893
Cartographic survey of Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania, 1990

 

The above article is an excerpt from “Protecting 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.

https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/ybip/YBIP_Lithuania3.html

 

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