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[Page 140]

Leipalingis (Leipun)

54°05' 23°51'


Leipalingis (Leipun in Yiddish) lies in the southwestern part of Lithuania, high on the west bank of the Seira River, about 10 km. northwest of the resort town of Druskeninkai. Leipun was mentioned in historical sources dating from 1503 as a small estate belonging to the Lithuanian princes. A 1516 source mentions the small town that was beginning to be built. Over time the ownership of the estate passed through several noble families. In 1923, as a result of agrarian reform in Lithuania, the lands of the estate were divided among peasants and the main building became a school.

Until 1795 Leipun 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. The part of the country to the west of the Nieman (Nemunas) River, including Leipun, was handed over to Prussia. From 1795 to 1807 the town was under Prussian rule, and from 1807 to 1813 it fell under the auspices of the Great Dukedom of Warsaw. In 1813, after the defeat of Napoleon, all of Lithuania was annexed to Russia, and Leipun was included in the Augustowa province (Gubernia) and in subsequent years in the Suwalk Gubernia.

In the years of Independent Lithuania (1918–1940) Leipun was a county administrative center in the Sejny district. Until 1923 the residents of Leipun suffered attacks by armed Polish gangs who came from over the border.

Jews settled in Leipun at the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1847 a Jewish settlement was established on land granted by the Russian government. Jews from nearby Meretch (Merkine) settled there too. In time they erected a synagogue that became known for its beauty.

According to the all–Russian census of 1897, 1,314 there were residents in Leipun, 134 of them being Jewish (10%). 25 Jewish families made their living in agriculture.

On April 1, 1915 the retreating Russian army expelled Leipun Jews from their homes and their farms were badly damaged. In 1919 Jewish aid institutions carried out a survey of the Jewish farms in the vicinity: according to the survey half of the cattle and horses were lost and only eighteen families remained of those who had returned to the area. Eight families from Meretch joined the settlement, increasing the number to twenty–six. In 1919 and 1920 the Leipun Jewish community received help from YeKoPo that included food, cultural needs and heating fuel.

In 1920 a fire burned down twelve Jewish houses. As a result an all–Jewish volunteer fire brigade was established.

[Page 141]

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Leipun volunteer fire brigade 1934

 

According to the first government census of 1923, Leipun's population was 751 residents, 160 of them being Jewish (21%).

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 for community committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In Leipun a community committee was elected at the beginning of the 1920s. The committee was active until the end of 1925 in all aspects of Jewish life. The survey conducted in 1921 by the Va'ad HaKehilah recorded that 38 Jewish families lived there, comprising 119 persons including 33 children aged 7 to 13.

According to a survey carried out by the “Joint” in 1922, ten Jewish shopkeepers, six butchers, four fishermen, three coachmen, two peddlers, two tailors, two shoemakers, two glaziers and one carpenter lived in Leipun. Six families were landowners and five families cultivated rented lands.

The commercial activity of most of the Jews was based on the weekly market that took place on Thursdays and on the four yearly fairs.

The government survey of 1931 showed that in Leipun all shops were Jewish–owned: five groceries, three textile shops, one butcher shop, one tavern and one grain business. The same survey also showed that a wool combing workshop, a bakery, and a flourmill were owned by Jews. The power plant that supplied electricity to the town was also in Jewish hands.

[Page 142]

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A Jewish family outside a Jewish shop in Leipun

 

lit6_142b.jpg
A Jewish coachman

[Page 143]

In 1937 there were only seven Jewish artisans in town: three shoemakers, two butchers, one baker and one barber. Among the fourteen telephone subscribers listed in 1939, three were Jewish.

There was no Jewish school in Leipun and the children were sent to study in the nearby towns of Serey (Seirijai) and Meretch.

Many Leipun Jews were supporters of the Zionist movement. They purchased Shekalim and participated in the elections for the Zionist congresses. The table below shows how Leipun Zionists voted in the four Zionist congresses:

 

Congress
No.
Year Total
Shkalim
Total Votes Labor Party
Z”S Z”Z
Revisionists General Zionists
A B
Grosmanists Mizrakhi
15 1927 10
16 1929 20 10 6 4
18 1933 8 5 3
19 1935 26 9 17
21 1939 12 12 3 National Block
9
17

 

In addition to the cultural and political Zionist activities there was fund raising for the National Funds. For this goal a special committee was elected. Zionist youth organizations included a branch of Gordonia with 40 to 50 members and a branch of Beitar.

 

lit6_143.jpg
Stamp of the committee of Keren Kayemeth LeYisrael in Leipun

 

With the annexation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union and the change of its status to a Soviet republic in the summer of 1940, nationalization of factories and bigger shops owned mostly by Jews, followed. As a result all Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and Hebrew educational institutions were closed.

[Page 144]

On June 22, 1941, the German army invaded Lithuania. Leipun Jews tried to escape to the USSR but did not succeed and returned home. The Lithuanian activists had already taken control of the town and began to mistreat the returning Jews in a variety of ways. On September 9th1941 (16th of Elul, 5701) 155 men, women and children were brought beside the Christian cemetery of Leipun, near the Seira River, and there they were shot and buried.

On the eve of Rosh HaShanah 5702 (September 23rd, 1941) the remaining Jews were taken by armed Lithuanians to the town Olkenik (Valkininkai) in the Vilna region and then they were led together with the Jews from this town and its vicinity to Eishishok (Eisiskes). On the way the Lithuanian guards shot two or three Jews every half–kilometer until by the end of the trek 70 Jews had been murdered. In Eishishok the Jews were locked in cowsheds and the abuse and torture came to its climax. All valuables, boots and good overcoats were looted. Women were raped. The abuse continued when the Jews were taken out of the cowshed and brought to the horse market in the town that was encircled by a high plank fence.

During the days until Shabbath Shuvah (September 29th, 1941) groups of Jews were taken out of the market and murdered near the Catholic cemetery of Eishishok. Among the murdered was the last rabbi of the Leipun community, Aizik Stempner.

The names of the Lithuanian murderers are recorded at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

[Page 145]

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The mass grave beside the Christian cemetery in Leipun

 

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The mass graves in Eishishok

[Page 146]

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The monument on the mass graves with its inscription in Hebrew, Lithuanian and English

 

Sources:
Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, M–9/15(6); Koniukhovsky collection 0–71, file 131
YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Jewish Communities, files 350–353
The first Jewish district conference of YeKoPo for helping the victims of the war (Yiddish), Vilna, 1920
Dos Vort, Kovno, 19.6.1939; 21.6.1939
Di Yiddishe Shtime, Kovno, 9.2.1923; 19.6.1939; 20.6.1939; 21.6.1939; 22.6.1939; 3.7.1939; 12.7.1939; 14.7.1939
Folksblat, Kovno, 20.6.1939; 18.7.1939
Dzuku Zinios, Lazdijai, (Lithuanian) # 56, 25.7.1992


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