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[Page 55]

Jieznas (Yezne)

54°36' 24°10'

Yezne (in Yiddish) can be found in the southwestern part Lithuania, near the road Alyte–Kovno (Alytus–Kaunas), about ten km. from the right–hand shore of the Nemunas River. An estate of the Lithuanian princes was already established in this place in the fourteenth century. In the seventeenth century the noble Patz family purchased the estate and erected a magnificent palace that for years was the glory of Yezne.

Before 1795 Yezne was included in the Polish–Lithuanian Kingdom. According to the third division of Poland 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, Yezne became a part of the Russian empire, first in the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia.

Yezne suffered much during the war between Russia and Sweden at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and later during the battles of Koschusko in 1794 against the division of Poland and also during the Napoleon invasion into Russia 1812. In 1837 a large fire ruined totally the town including the palace. During the period of independent Lithuania (1918–1940) Yezne was a county administrative center in the Alite district.

Jews settled in Yezne in the first half of the nineteenth century. They established a cemetery in 1912 and until then they buried their dead at the Jewish cemetery of the nearby town Butrimantz (Butrimonys). In 1866, there were 170 Jews (31%) out of a total population of 553 .

Names of Yezne Jews appear in a list of donors for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael from 1903. The fundraiser was Yehudah–Zalman Zilber.

At the beginning of World War I, in the first months of 1915, the retreating Russian army exiled Yezne Jews into the inner parts of Russia. After the war and the establishment of the independent Lithuanian state most of the exiled returned to the town. Their economic situation was difficult and they received help from the YeKoPo organization.

In 1918 Lithuania became an independent state and following the Law of Autonomies for Minorities issued 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 Yezne a community committee of seven members was elected. This committee functioned from 1920 until the end of 1925 when the Law of

[Page 56]

Autonomy was annulled by the Lithuanian government. In these years the committee was active in all aspects of the Jewish life in town.

According to the first government census of 1923, 989 residents were in town, 286 of them being Jewish (29%).

Yezne Jews made their livihoods in trade, crafts and agriculture. From the eighteen shops that were in town, sixteen belonged to Jews. Among them were several groceries, five textile shops, two leather shops and a few taverns.

In 1937 seventeen Jewish artisans worked in town: four bakers, three shoemakers, three butchers, one locksmith, one tinsmith, one carpenter, one photographer and one barber. Five families worked in agriculture. A branch of The United Company for Credit to Jewish Agrarians was active in Yezne.

The weekly markets and four or five yearly fairs were important factors in the economic life in town; the weekly fairs took place on Wednesdays. In 1939 thirteen telephone subscribers were in town, two of them in Jewish houses.

Before World War I the Jewish children in Yezne studied in a Heder and afterward in a Heder Metukan. During the period of independent Lithuania there was a Hebrew school from the Tarbuth chain in town in which about fifty children studied. There was a library in town with several hundred books in Hebrew and Yiddish. Many children continued their studies in Hebrew gymnasiums, mostly in Kovno.

Many of Yezne Jews were supporters of the Zionist movement and of all Zionist parties. In the elections for the first Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) in 1922, Yezne Jewish voters gave the Zionist list 156 votes and the religious Akhduth list received11 votes. In the elections for the Zionist Congresses Yezne Zionists voted as given in the table below:

Cong
No.
Year Total
Shekalim
Total Votes Labor Party
Z”S Z”Z
Revisionists General
Zionists

A B
Grosmanists Mizrahi
16 1929 22 19 3 6 9 1
18 1933 131 72 57 1 1
19 1935 88 86 1 1

 

Among the Zionist youth organizations Beitar and Gordonia were active in town. The youngsters of those organizations were the fund raisers for the National Funds (KKL, Keren HaYesod).

[Page 57]

An old synagogue with an Ezrath Nashim at the second floor existed in Yezne. The house of the rabbi was near it. Among the rabbis who officiated in Yezne were:

Tsevi–Hirsh Ish Hurvitz–from 1884;
Mosheh Stol–from 1903;
Yits'hak Belitsky–from 1907;
Mosheh Litvak, the last rabbi of Yezne community, was murdered in1941 by the Lithuanians.

The rabbis made their living by selling yeast, and giving permission to slaughter poultry and cattle and from Maoth Hitim before Pesakh and from Hanukah Money that the community would donate.

 

lit6_057.jpg
A mass celebration at the market square in Jieznas 1930

 

There were welfare societies in town: Hakhnasath Orkhim that had a special building for accommodating travelers and refugees; Mathan Beseter ws a charity fund that the rabbi held; Bikur Holim, Hakhnasath Kalah and Hevrah Kadisha.

Among the persons born in Yezne who became known were Dr. Yits'hak Peretz (1899–1967), educator and linguist, graduate of the Hebrew gymnasium in Kovno, studied Semitic linguistics in Germany, from 1934 teacher of the Hebrew language at the Levinsky teacher seminar in Tel Aviv , later the head of the Hebrew language class at Tel Aviv University, died in Tel Aviv; Yisrael Shwartsblat, rabbi in Odessa; Dov Aloni (Dubin), educator.

[Page 58]

In June 1940, Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, light industry enterprises owned by Jews were nationalized. 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 the Zionist parties were disbanded and the Hebrew school was closed.

Still before the invasion of the German army into Yezne on June 25, 1941, the Lithuanian nationalists organized and began to mistreat the Jews. They made searches of Jewish homes, robbed and murdered a few Jewish youngsters. The also took Jewish men for so–called work in order to mistreat and humiliate them. The first mass murder took place at August 16, 1941 (23rd of Av 5701). All Jews were ordered to gather in the market square and from them the Lithuanians selected 63 men and 26 women. These Jews together with Jews who arrived in five carts from Stoklishok, were led in the direction to Pren (Prienai) and were murdered there. On August 28, 1941 (5th of Elul, 5701) the Germans took a number of families, together about 70 persons, and transferred the to Alytus, where the murdered together with the local Jews and buried in the mass graves there. The final liquidation of Yezne Jewish community occurred on September 9, 1941 (11th of Elul, 5701). On that day the women and children were concentrated in the Synagogue. There they were forced to undress down to theie underwear and then they were led through the town to the lake and there, behind the fruit garden, near the village of Strazdiskes, they were shot and buried. The men who remained in town were forced to totally undress and then they were led through the town to the lake and there they were shot and buried in the same mass grave. That day 144 Jews were murdered. Of the eighteen Jews who managed to escape the massacre, only four survived: Yosef Gordon hid at the home of a Lithuanian peasant. After the war he came back to Yezne and lived there for two years (from July 1844 till May 1946); Meir Shador, Putchkarnik and Magulevitz. A few of them emigrated to Israel. The names of the Lithuanian rescuers are recorded in the archives of Yad Vashem.

Sources:

Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, M–1/Q–1313/134; Koniukhovsky collection 0–71, file 120
“On the Ruins of Rars and Riots.” The records of the regional committee of YeKoPo 1919–1930 (edited by Moshe Shalit) (Yiddish), Vilna 1931
To the Remory of the Rartyrs of the Yezne Community Who Perished in 5701 (Hebrew), (edited by Dov Aloni), published by the former Yezne Jews in Israel, Tel Aviv 1968
HaMelitz, St.Petersburg, 26.1.1882
Gimtasis Krastas (Homeland) (Lithuanian), # 2, 9.1.1992

[Page 59]

lit6_059a.jpg
The mass grave near the village of Strazdiskes and the monument with the inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian:
“In this place the Hitlerist assassins and their local helpers on September 3, 1941 murdered 144 Jews, men women, children.”

 

lit6_059b.jpg
The monument beside the path to the graves in Alytus with the inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian:
“Stop and think it over, this earth is saturated with blood of innocent people.”

[Page 60]

lit6_060a.jpg
A broken Magen–David stands as a monument on the hill of the remembrance site

 

lit6_060b.jpg

 

On March 19, 1993 a new metal monument was inaugurated in the Vidzgiris forest in the shape of a broken “Magen–David”. The nine huge graves in which the bones of the murdered Jews were buried, were covered with a round black cover and on it there is a white pyramid. Near the path that leads to the hill a memorial plaque was erected that tells the story of the massacre in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “Here in this place in the years 1941–1944 the Nazis and their local helpers murdered tens of thousands of Jews children, women, men and old people, most of them from other countries.

Let their memory last forever.”

The architect of the site was Mrs. R. Vasiliauskiene and the sculptor was A. Smilingis

 

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