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[Page 166]

Molėtai (Maliat)

5514' 2525'

Moletai (Maliat in Yiddish) is located in the eastern part of Lithuania, 28 km. southeast of the district administrative center Utyan (Utena) and 42 km. from the nearest railway station. At the southern edge of the town the Siesartis River flows, where summer vacationers came to relax.

Before 1795 Maliat belonged to the estate owned by the regional Catholic Bishop. Until 1795 Maliat 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, Maliat became a part of the Russian empire, first in the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia.

At that time the estate was handed over to private ownership, and the town began to develop. In the second half of the nineteenth century many merchants settled in, and markets and fairs were organized. From then on, continuing through to the period of independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Maliat was a county administrative center.


Jewish settlement till World War II

Jews began to settle in Maliat in the eighteenth century. In 1765 there were 170 taxpayers. In 1847, 1,006 Jews had already settled in Maliat. According to the 1897 all-Russian census, the population of Maliat numbered 2,397 residents, of whom 1,948 were Jewish (81%). Most made their living in small trade and crafts. Jewish girls knitted socks for small shops in Vilna. Next to most homes, small auxiliary farms were maintained.


General View of Maliat


All the Jewish shops were located along the only street in town, extending one kilometer from the estate to the church.

In 1860 a large fire broke out in Maliat, and 130 houses burned down, including the prayer house with its ten Torah scrolls. Another fire in 1888 destroyed almost all the homes in the town. Only 40 of them were insured. After the fire of 1906 destroyed the majority of Maliat homes, the town was rebuilt over several years.

In the 1880s many Maliat Jews emigrated abroad, mostly to South Africa. At the cemetery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem at least five tombstones belong to Maliat Jews who emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael to live out their last days and be buried there.

In 1910 a Jewish elementary school was established, and there was also a Talmud Torah.

At the end of July 1915, in just four hours, Maliat Jews were exiled in sealed wagons to Penza in Russia. The retreating Russian army waged a pogrom against Maliat Jews: units of Cossacks robbed, murdered and raped.

Before World War I, in 1914 about 500 Jewish families (about 2,000 people) lived in the town. During the German occupation (1915-1918) the town's people were made to suffer through forced labor and confiscations instigated by the German army. Many families moved to Vilna at that time.

After the war, only two-thirds of the exiled people returned to Maliat. Helped by relatives from the United States and South Africa and by different institutions, they managed to restore their houses and businesses. In the years 1919-1920 the community received help from YEKOPO (The Jewish committee formed to help the victims of the war).

Following the passage of 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 Maliat a community committee of eleven members was elected: three from the ranks of General Zionists, four workers, and four independents. This committee functioned only until about the end of 1925 when the autonomy was annulled by the new Lithuanian government. For several years the committee was active in all aspects of the Maliat Jewish life. According to the first census performed by the government in 1923 there were 1,772 residents in Maliat, of whom 1,343 (76%) were Jewish.

At that time Maliat Jews made their living in trade, peddling, crafts and light industry. Fishing in the surrounding lakes and selling their catch in Utyan, Kovno and other towns, augmented their income. Important factors in the lives of Maliat Jews were the weekly markets and the two annual town fairs.


A Jewish Fisherman


According to the government survey of 1931 the town had 21 shops, 19 of them owned by Jews (90%). Their distribution according to the type of business is given in the table below:

Type of business Total Owned by Jews
Grocery stores 3 3
Grain and flax 2 2
Butcher's shops and cattle trade 1 1
Restaurants and taverns 5 4
Textile products and furs 5 5
Leather and shoes 2 2
Medicine and cosmetics 1 1
Hardware products 1 1
Timber and heating material 1 0

According to the same survey 17 light industries were in town all Jewish owned.

Type of factory Owned by Jews
Metal Workshops 1
Textile: Wool, Flax, Knitting 6
Flour mills, Bakeries, Food Production 3
Leather Industry: Production, Cobbling 3
Barber Shops, Bristle Processing, Photographers 4


Excerpt from the original survey where
five Jewish cloth shops from Maliat appear


Excerpt from the survey where
three Jewish knitting workshops from Maliat appear


In 1937, 80 Jewish trades people worked in Maliat : fourteen knitters, twelve tailors, ten bakers, nine butchers, four shoemakers, four tinsmiths, three carpenters, three leatherworkers, two felt boot makers, two milliners, two blacksmiths, two barbers, two potters, two watchmakers, two needle traders, one glazier, one etcher, one electrician, one book binder, one corset maker, one textile painter and one other.

An important role in the economic life of Maliat Jews was played by the Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank) that had a branch in Alunta, 15 km. away, where 24 Jewish families lived. In 1927, the bank had 318 members, in 1929 the number increased to 322 members.


The Jewish Folksbank in Maliat-Management and Workers
Sitting from left: M. Calpuin, R. Shachar, D. Weinbren, –, A. Flit, M. Margolis, A. Shapiro
Standing from left: –, –, E. Burgin, Z. Joselowitz, –, H. Weinbren, Pockman

(Courtesy of Naomi Musiker, from the Jewish Board of Deputies archive
in Johannesburg, scanned by Barry Mann and Maurice Skikne)


In 1939, the town had 22 telephone subscribers; 7 of them were Jewish.

The closure of the border with Vilna and its region which previously provided significant trade with Maliat, and the open propaganda of the Lithuanian Merchants Association (Verslas) urging people not to buy in Jewish shops, caused hardship to the town's Jews. The decision of the local authorities to foreclose 22 Jewish shops on the market square under the pretext that they were too old, aggravated the already pitiful situation. Following the destruction of 14 shops and three private homes in 1931 many Maliat Jews chose to emigrate to America, to Uruguay and in large numbers to South Africa, where an Association of Former Maliaters (Landsmanshaft) was active for many years.

The Jewish children of Maliat acquired their elementary education at the Yiddish school (established in 1910) and at the Heder (with 30 boys). During independent Lithuania the Yiddish school joined the Kultur Lige chain, and a Hebrew school of the Tarbuth chain was formed. On average 160 children studied in both schools. The teachers at the schools were A. Helfer, A. Shapiro, M. Pakman, G. Burgin, R. Gordon, A. Sudavsky, A. Shadkhan, Turetz, Zang, Vareis, Shapiro, Rozental, Reznik, Pilevsky, Kosover, Aizen.

In 1924 a Talmud Torah was also opened. Some of the students continued their studies in the Hebrew high schools of Vilkomir (Ukmerge), Utyan and Kovno. Maliat also had a library and a drama circle.


The Hebrew school
(Courtesy of Naomi Musiker, from the Jewish Board of Deputies archive
in Johannesburg, scanned by Barry Mann and Maurice Skikne)


Religious life was concentrated at the four prayer houses. Among those who served as rabbis were the following religious authorities: Meir-Shalom HaCohen Guryon who worked in the 1820s and 1830s and died in Jerusalem in 1839; Yisrael-David Heilperin, died in 1883; Ya'akov-Meir Yaka served from 1901; Yits'hak-Aryeh Bilitsky (1887-1933) served in Maliat from 1920; his son, Neta-Hayim Bilitsky, the last rabbi of Maliat, who served from 1933 until 1941 and was murdered together with his community.

In 1891, before the Zionist movement was formed, Shimon Gordon from Maliat emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael and was one of the founders of Haderah. In 1898 the Hebrew newspaper HaMelitz (#173) mentioned two Jewish families, Helper and Shnipilishky, who donated money to the development of Eretz-Yisrael.


The Synagogue


In the 1920s and 1930s Zionist activities intensified, and most of the Zionist parties had their followers, as can be seen from the results of voting for the Zionist congresses in these years:

Year Total
Total Votes Labor Party
Revisionists General Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrakhi
15 1927 20 16 11 2 2    1
16 1929 62 34 27 1 1 4   1
17 1931 30 27 23 2   2
18 1933 163 144 11 4   1 3
19 1935 261 236 2   2 21

Among the Zionist youth organizations Gordonia and Beitar had branches in Maliat. Also the Bund had an active membership together with a sport team. Sport activities were also organized by the Maccabi branch with its 30 members.

Shemuel Kagan was born in Maliat. He was the head of a Yeshivah in Slabodka for some time.


During World War II and afterwards

In summer 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, the factories, mostly them owned by Jews, were nationalized, as were Jewish shops, and commissars were appointed to manage them. 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 that time about 400 Jewish families lived in Maliat.

On June 26, 1941, several days after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the German army entered Maliat. Prior to the invasion Lithuanian nationalists had taken over the town and arrested the supporters of Soviet rule; in particular they targeted the Jews. A short time later these Jews were murdered.

The first week, following the German invasion, 60 Jewish youngsters were shot and buried in the swamps of Babulka, 500 meters behind the old palace. Other Jews were herded to Utyan where they were murdered together with the local Jews.

On August 26, 1941 the Germans forced the remaining Jews, mainly women and children, to the Beth Midrash where they were kept for three days without food and water. On August 29, 1941 (6th of Elul, 5701) they were ordered out of the Beth Midrash and led to a place one kilometer out of town, 350 meters to the right of the road leading from Maliat to Vilna. There they were murdered and buried in a mass grave. In the early 1990s a monument was erected on the mass graves carrying an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian.


The mass grave and the monument


The inscription on the monument in Yiddish and Lithuanian:
“In this place on 9.8.1941 the Hitlerist murderers and their local helpers
murdered about 700 Jews, men, women and children.”


After the war the grave was uncovered and 700 bodies of men, women and children were found at this site of mass murder.

Several Jews who managed to escape the massacre sought shelter in the surrounding areas but were caught by the Lithuanian auxiliary police and murdered. A few survived, thanks to a few Lithuanians who hid them during the war. Their names are preserved in the Yad Vashem archives.



Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, M-33/985; Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, file 95
Central Zionist Archives: 55/1788; 55/1701; 13/15/131; Z-4/2548.
YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Jewish Communities, files 1529,1667; pages 69585-86
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem (Hebrew) page105
Di Yiddishe Shtime (Yiddish), Kovno, 17.1.1922; 30.5.1930; 23.6.1931; 25.10.1933
Der Yiddisher Lebn (Yiddish). Kovno-Telz, 11.7.1924
Der Yiddisher Cooperator (Yiddish), Kovno, # 5(1928); # 11(1929)
Folksblat (Yiddish), Kovno, 7.8.1938; 27.9.1940


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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