Onuskis (Anishok or Anushishok in Yiddish) lies in the northeastern part of Lithuania, about 5 km. from the Latvian border and about 20 km. northwest of the District Administrative Center Rakishok (Rokiskis).
Anishok is situated on a plain between forested hills which is very scenic. The lands of the town belonged to the Polish Graf Komar, to whom the Jews of the town and the farmers of the area paid rent. Wealthier Jews bought land from him on which they built their houses. The mansion of the Graf was situated near the town.
The square in the center of town was ringed with shops, and the town's water supply well stood in the middle of the square. From the square a narrow alley led to the winding road to Rakishok. Most houses were built of wood, except for the tavern that was more substantial. This belonged to the Graf until he sold it to a Jew named Fain.
Before World War I a tombstone from the mid-eighteenth century was found in the Jewish cemetery, which suggests that Jews had settled in Anishok by that time. In the nineteenth century the Jews were the majority in the town. Before World War I about 80 to 90 Jewish families lived in Anishok, but during the war years their number decreased to about 50 to 60 families.
Most Anishok Jews had shops selling tools, grocery, haberdashery, hats and women's clothing. One Jew had a business in dyeing textiles. Others dealt in timber, horses and cattle. Others grew fruit. There were Jewish craftsmen and peddlers. Most income was earned on Sundays and on the Christian holidays when hundreds of peasants from the district came to church and afterwards did their shopping. Their best customers were the nearby Latvians, because at this time there was no border between Lithuania and Kurland (Latvia).
Before World War I and until the establishment of the Lithuania-Latvia border, the economic situation of the Anishok Jews was fairly good. They all led traditional lives. The Mithnagdim and Hasidim attended separate prayer houses. There were Hadarim for the Jewish boys. Jewish children were sent to study in the Jewish schools of Rakishok, Vilkomir and Kovno, and a few attended the local Lithuanian pro-gymnasium.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the ideals of Zionism and Haskalah gained support in Anishok. The Jewish youth embraced the Zionist and revolutionary ideas that were popular at the time.
The names of many Anishok Jews appear in the published lists of donors for the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael for the years 1898, 1900 and 1903. The fund raisers were M. Kaplan, R. Kaplan and M. Fain.
In 1902 and 1905 a circle of active revolutionaries was established in Anishok. Hirsh Lekert (1879-1902) was a member of this circle; he attempted to kill the Gubernator of Vilna, Fon Wal. The Gubernator was only injured and Lekert was caught and hanged. This assault made a great impression all over Russia and in particular among the Jews. Authors wrote about this event and the best known was the drama Hirsh Lekert by the Yiddish writer H. Leivik, that was performed for the first time in Vilna in 1931.
With the outbreak of war in 1914, as the front moved toward Anishok many Jews escaped to Russia. A few returned home in 1922 and 1923, but many remained there. The returning Jews found the town plundered and desolate without any economic prospects. Many of them then chose to settle in the district center Rakishok or in Kovno.
After the establishment of the Lithuanian state in 1918 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 for Community Committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In Anishok a community committee with five members was elected in 1920. It received administrative and financial support from the Ministry for Jewish Affairs in Kovno. Letters from the Ministry to the committee were written in three languages: Lithuanian, Yiddish and Hebrew. The committee was active in all aspects of Jewish life from 1920 until 1924.
As stated above, the severing of the connection with markets in Latvia caused economic hardships in the town. The estate owners and the peasants, who lost their clients in Latvia, were forced take their produce to the district center in order to sell it, and they did much of their own shopping there. As a result of this many of the Jewish merchants in Anishok lost their livelihood.
|A Jewish house in Anishok (1937)|
According to the government survey of 1931 the Jewish businesses included a pharmacy and a general store. In 1937 there were fourteen Jewish artisans: five tailors, four shoemakers, two butchers, two bakers and one other.
In 1939 there were no telephones in the town.
The economic situation became worse from year to year and many, in particular the young, left town to build their future abroad. Also the elderly moved to Rakishok and Kovno or joined their families abroad.
All this led to a decrease in the number of the Jewish families in Anishok. Only about twenty-five families remained in town, mostly elderly who were supported by their children in America and South Africa.
Among the rabbis who officiated in Anishok were:
Yisrael-Iser Klatzkin (1844-1921)Avraham-Dov Popel (1871-1923) who was among the builders of the Independence of Lithuania, later was Deputy Chairman of the Nationalrat (National Committee) of Lithuanian Jews, Chairman of the Association of Rabbis and a delegate to the Lithuanian Seimas where his speech against death penalty was printed in many newspapers around the world. Despite being active in the Agudath Yisrael party, he supported the funds for the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael. He died in Mariampol at the age of 52.
Tsevi-Nathan Kaplan, the last rabbi of the community, was murdered by the Lithuanians in 1941.
|Rabbi Avraham-Dov Popel|
Anishok Jews purchased Shekalim and took part in elections for the Zionist congresses. In 1927, 20 Shekalim were sold. In 1937, 55 Zionists voted for the nineteenth Zionist congress as follows: 20 for the Labor party, 24 voted for the General Zionists B, 6 for the General Zionists A and 5 for Mizrahi.
Jewish personages born in Anishok include:
Hirsh Lekert, who is mentioned above;
Yehoshua Bodzon (1858-1929), writer;
Beinush Belek, a melamed (teacher of a Heder). One of his sons, Leib Belek became a leader of the British Labor party and his second son Ben Zion was a leader of the leftist movement in Lithuania;
Yehoshua Bodzon wrote many popular novels in Yiddish that were published in Vilna in the 1890s. He later became an accountant.
In 1941 the Jews of Anishok were murdered by the Germans and their Lithuanian helpers. The location of the murder site is not known. Nor is it known whether the atrocities took place in the town or if the Jews were transported to be murdered along with the Jews of Rakishok or Obeliai.
According to a Lithuanian source the pharmacist Antanas Truskis hid the Jewish doctor Kovalsky.
Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, M-31/983; Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, files 88, 90
YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Jewish Communities, pages 4565, 4571, 4589
Bakaltchuk-Felin, Meilakh (Editor); Yizkor book of Rakishok and surroundings (Yiddish) Johannesburg, 1952, pages 366-369
Julius, Rafael; Pinkas Hakehiloth-Lita, Anishok, Yad Vashem, 1996 Folksblat, Kovno, 3.2.1935
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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