Laukuva (Loikeve in Yiddish) is situated in the Zamut (Zemaitija) region in western Lithuania, about 40 km. north of the district administrative center Tavrig (Taurage). Loikeve originally developed alongside an estate that is mentioned in historical documents from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In 1778 it was granted the right to a weekly market day and two fairs per year.
Until 1795 Loikeve 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 was the case with most of the other towns of Lithuania, Loikeve became part of the Russian Empire, first within the province (Gubernia) of Vilna and from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia. During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Loikeve was a county administrative center in the Taurage district.
Jews settled in Loikeve in the eighteenth century. The community grew and developed during Russian rule (1795-1915). According to the Russian census of 1897, the town had 753 residents, 418 being Jews (55%). During World War I Loikeve was occupied by the German army who controlled it from 1915 till 1918, at which time it was handed over to the new Lithuanian state.
After the establishment of Independent Lithuania its economic situation became difficult. The American Red Cross sent clothing to Loikeve for distribution amongst the needy, but the local priest refused to give any to Jews.
Following the passage of 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 Loikeve a Va'ad of seven members was elected, which was active for several years in all aspects of Jewish life.
The first census carried out by the new Lithuanian government in 1923, showed 724 residents in Loikeve, 305 of them being Jewish (42%).
During this period Loikeve Jews made their living mainly from trading. The main road from Kovno to Memel (Klaipeda), which passed through Loikeve, played an important role in the economy of the town. According to the government survey of 1931 there were then seven shops, six of them in Jewish hands (86%). The Jews also owned a wool combing workshop, a bakery, a sawmill and four flourmills. There were only a few Jewish artisans. In the surrounding villages four or five Jewish families earned their livelihood from agriculture.
Over the years the economic situation of Loikeve Jews deteriorated and many emigrated to South Africa, America and Eretz-Yisrael. In 1939 there were twenty telephone subscribers in Loikeve, of whom six were Jewish.
Jewish children received their education at a Talmud Torah and at the Hebrew school of the Tarbuth chain. Many of the graduates continued their studies at the Yeshivah or the Hebrew gymnasium in Telz or elsewhere. There was a library with about 500 books in Hebrew and Yiddish.
The number of Loikeve Jews who supported Zionist ideals increased during the 1930s. Their votes for Zionist congresses were as follows:
|Total Votes||Labor Party
There were branches of the Mizrahi party and of the Zionist youth organizations Beitar and Hehalutz. The community also maintained welfare societies, including Gemiluth Hesed, Linath Hatsedek and a women's society.
Religious life concentrated around the Beth Midrash. These rabbis, amongst others,
officiated in Loikeve:
Eliyahu-Mosheh Zilbert, 1902-1910
Hayim-Zelig Kaplinsky, from 1911 until his death in the Holocaust in 1941.
In the summer of 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new regulations, factories owned by Jews were nationalized, as were some Jewish shops. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and the Hebrew school was closed. Supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore the brunt of this situation and the standard of living dropped gradually. At this time about 300 Jews lived in Loikeve.
On the evening of June 24, 1941, two days after the invasion of the USSR by the German army, German soldiers entered Loikeve. An immediate order was issued that all Jews who had escaped to nearby villages could return home, where they found their houses had been looted by their Lithuanian neighbors. The Jews were ordered to wear a yellow Magen David on their garments and were forced to bury Soviet soldiers who had died in battle, to remove dead horses, and to clean German vehicles as well as latrines and rubbish piles. Germans broke into Rabbi Kaplinsky's house and attempted to pluck out the rabbi's beard. The rabbi's daughters intervened and offered them scissors, so the Germans were satisfied with cutting off one edge of the beard.
On Sunday, June 29, 1941, the Germans together with Lithuanian auxiliary police, rounded up all Jewish males aged fifteen years and older. They thrashed them and forced them to assemble in the market place where they were made to hand over everything they had in their pockets. One man, whose pockets were empty, was beaten to death. All this was watched by passing Lithuanians on their day off, who found it entertaining.
Afterwards the men were transferred by trucks to the Mastubarn camp, about twenty kilometers from Heydekrug (now Silute). This camp was a section of the central working camp of Heydekrug. A week later other men who had just arrived in the town or were from nearby villages, were brought to this camp and forced to dig drainage channels. This work lasted from dawn till evening and the workers would receive 300 grams of stale bread and half a liter of watery soup per day. The German Meister treated them brutally. In winter, when drainage work was impossible, the Jews were sent to the nearby Stonishken railway station, where they had to load wagons.
The women and children and one old and poor man remained in the town. Every day new orders were imposed: they had to hand over the Lithuanian flags which they possessed; they were forbidden to leave the town or buy food from peasants; they had to hand over all books and Torah scrolls which the Germans then burned. Germans and Lithuanians would enter the Jewish houses and ask for clothes and money, ostensibly for the men in the camp, at the same time stealing everything they fancied.
On July 8, 1941 the women and children were rushed out of their houses and taken to the Beth Midrash. There they were kept for four days without food or water, in subhuman conditions. After that they were transferred by trucks to the Geruliai camp, about ten kilometers from Telz, where thousands of women and children from the surrounding towns had been collected. On Shabbath, August 30, 1941 (7th of Elul, 5701) the elderly women and the children were murdered. According to Soviet sources 1,580 men, women and children were buried in mass graves at this site.
The remaining women and girls were transported to the Telz ghetto and with the liquidation of this ghetto on December 24, 1941 (4th of Teveth 5701) they were murdered in Rainiai village, about six kilometers from Telz. According to Soviet sources 840 men, women and children were buried in this mass grave.
Seven women and one child survived, having been hidden by Lithuanian peasants.
In July 1943 the men of the Heydekrug camp were transferred to Auschwitz. On arrival one hundred of them were sent to the gas chambers. The others were taken to Warsaw two months later in order to evacuate the ruins of the ghetto. Several died in a typhus epidemic, and the remainder were sent to Dachau concentration camp. Only four Lithuanian Jews survived to be liberated by the American army. Josef Aharonovitz, who arrived in Dachau unconscious, was transferred to the sick room by a Kapo, where after two months of devoted care by a Frenchman, he recovered and survived.
|The mass grave and the monument near the village of Rainiai|
|The monument at the mass grave at Rainiai|
|One of the mass graves at Geruliai|
|Another mass grave at Geruliai|
Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, M-1/E-1671; M-9/15(6)
Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, files 4, 8, 9, 34, 36, 37
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem, page 104
Di Yiddishe Shtime, Kovno, 27.8.1919
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.
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