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[Page 313]

Šiluva (Shidleve)

55°32' 23°14'


Siluva (Shidleve in Yiddish) is located in the western part of Lithuania, in the Zamut (Zemaitija) region, about 20 km. northeast of the Rasein (Raseiniai) district administrative center. The town was built on a hill surrounded by forests and was regarded as a resort town. In historical documents dating back to the fifteenth century Siluva was mentioned as a rural settlement. Subsequently, in the sixteenth century it acquired the status of a town. In 1612 the Catholic priests began to spread a story of a so–called miraculous happening in the area. In 1768 the Pope confirmed that the event was indeed a miracle and from then on every year thousands of pilgrims would come to pray and ask the “Holy Mother of Siluva” for forgiveness.

Until 1795 Shidleve 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 with most of Lithuania, Shidleve became a part of the Russian Empire, first in the Vilna province (Gubernia) and after 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia as a county administrative center. During the years from 1915 to 1918 the town was under German occupation. During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918–1940) Shidleve retained its status of a county administrative center.

Jews probably began to settle in Shidleve in the eighteenth century. The town had a Jewish prayer house in the nineteenth century. In 1854 a Jewish settlement near Shidleve named Preni was built on land granted by the Russian government. In 1847, 245 Jews resided in the town. According to the all–Russian census of 1897, 1,215 people lived in Shidleve, of whom 506 were Jewish (42%).

After World War I and the establishment of the independent Lithuanian state in 1918, the Jewish community in Shidleve declined and so did its percentage of the total population. According to the first government census of 1923, 992 residents lived in the town; 365 of them were Jewish (37%).

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 to community committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In Shidleve a Va'ad (community committee) of five members was elected, which was active between 1920 and 1924 in all fields of Jewish life. Shidleve Jews took part in the elections to the first Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) held in October 1922. They voted as follows: 124 votes for the Zionist list, four votes for Akhduth (Agudath Yisrael) and one vote for the Democrats.

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Shidleve Jews made their living mainly in the trades and crafts, while a few others were engaged in agriculture. Market days were an important element of the economic life of the town as was the annual fair which lasted a week and carried a religious component.

 

lit6_314.jpg
General view of Shidleve

 

According to the government survey of 1931 seven of the town's eleven shops had Jewish owners. The distribution according to type of business is given in the table below:

 

Type of the business Total Owned
by Jews
Butcher shops and cattle trade 2 0
Restaurants and taverns 1 1
Food products 1 0
Textile products and furs 2 2
Medicine and cosmetics 1 0
Sewing machines and electric equipment 1 1
Tools and steel products 2 2
Heating materials 1 1

 

According to the same survey in the Shidleve county, Jews owned a sawmill and two flourmills.

In the 1930s the economic situation of Shidleve Jews deteriorated. One reason for the decline was the open propaganda run by the Association of the Lithuanian Merchants (Verslas), which urged Lithuanians to boycott the Jewish stores. The rise of the Nazis in neighboring Germany contributed to

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the suffering of Shidleve Jews who became targets of more frequent anti–Semitic activity. One instance occurred in January 1928, when Lithuanians broke into a Jewish home demanding the return of a Christian child that the Jews had allegedly abducted. They broke windows and doors in the neighboring homes. The blood libel was prompted by a woman who five years earlier murdered her illegitimate child and was subsequently sentenced. A pogrom atmosphere lingered, but the police gained control of the situation. During that period many Shidleve Jews emigrated to South Africa.

Jewish children in Shidleve received their elementary schooling at three schools: the Hebrew school of the Tarbuth chain, the Hebrew school of the Yavneh chain and the Yiddish school. Some graduates continued their studies at the Hebrew gymnasium in Rasein. The community had a library containing books in Hebrew and Yiddish.

Many Shidleve Jews supported the Zionist ideology. In 1899 a Zionist Society was formed in town, and the 1899, 1900 and 1903 lists of contributors for the benefit of Eretz–Yisrael contained many names of Shidleve Jews. Appendix 1 names fourteen contributors as published in HaMelitz in 1903. The fundraisers were Eliezer–Aryeh Kaplan, Ya'akov Meirovitz, Mosheh Movshovitz and Neta Shain. Among Shidleve Zionists there were supporters of all Zionist parties, as shown by the number of votes cast during the elections to the Zionist congresses, presented in the table below:

 

Congress
No.
Year Total
Shkalim
Total Votes Labor Party
Z”S Z”Z
Revisionists General Zionists
A B
Grosmanists Mizrakhi
18 1933 37 23 1 3 10
19 1935 53 16 3 8 26
21 1939 44 36 8 2 National Block
26

 

The Beth Midrash of Shidleve was a large and beautiful building. It was renovated at the end of the 1930s, thanks to a donation by a former Shidleve Jew living in South Africa.

Among the rabbis who served in town were:

Tsevi–Hirsh ben Avraham Abele, died in 1856.
Ben–Zion–Ya'akov Levitan who served in Shidleve for 36 years, from 1903 until his death in 1939.
Yosef Pagramansky, the last rabbi, who was murdered in the Holocaust together with his community.

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Aharon Frank (1889–1945), a writer, teacher and educator was born in Shidleve. He published many stories and articles. Frank was one of the founders of the first Hebrew gymnasium in Virbalis. He died in the concentration camp of Dachau after being transferred from the Shavl (Siauliai) ghetto.

 

lit6_316.jpg
Aharon Frank

Following the annexation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940, and its subsequent transformation into a Soviet republic, the Jewish factories and most of the shops in Shidleve were nationalized. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and Hebrew schools were closed. Supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore the brunt, and the standard of living dropped gradually. At that time approximately 80 Jewish families still lived in the town.

On June 24th, 1941, two days after the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, the Germans entered Shidleve. All the Jews of Shidluve were immediately transferred to nearby Ribuk (Ribukai) village where they were imprisoned in barns. The men were taken to the railway station Lidevyan (Lyduvenai) where they were forced to perform hard labor amid abuse by the Lithuanian guards.

At the beginning of August 1941 a group of 100 people that included Jews from the nearby villages, was taken out of the barns and led to the village of Padubysis, about six kilometers from Lyduvenai. There they were murdered and buried in mass graves. The remaining Shidleve Jews were murdered on August 21st, 1941 (28th of Av, 5701) and buried in sand pits near the Ribuk village, about one kilometer northeast of Lyduvenai.

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Three Jews, Mosheh Fainshtein, Berl Mehr and Yehayahu Medinetz, were warned about what was going to happen by a Lithuanian friend and they managed to escape and hide at a Lithuanian peasant's farm for some time. When they became aware of the existence of the Shavl ghetto, they managed to infiltrate the ghetto with the help of the same peasant.

The list of mass graves which appears in the book Mass Murder in Lithuania Vol. II includes these two locations:

  1. The Padubysis village, 6 km. from Lyduvenai, on August 15–16 of 1941; the victims numbered about 115 to 120.
  2. In the sands of the Ribukai village, 1 km. from Lyduvenai, in August 1941; the victims numbered about 300.

 

lit6_317.jpg
The mass grave near the village of Padubysis

 

At the beginning of the 1990s a monument was built at the Jewish cemetery carrying an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “The old Jewish cemetery. Let the memory of the deceased be sacred.”


Sources:

Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, 0–3/2580; M–9/15(6)
YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Jewish Communities, files 1311–1315
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem, page 204
Di Yiddishe Shtime, Kovno,11.1.1938; 12.1.1938; 20.12.1938;
Naujienos, Chicago, 11.6.1949
Mass Murder in Lithuania Vol. II

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lit6_318.jpg
The mass grave in the Ribukai village

 

Appendix 1

A List of 19 Shidleve Jewish donors for the benefit of the settlement of Eretz–Yisrael, as published in HaMelitz #224 in 1903
(From JewishGen Databases Lithuania HaMelitz by Jeffrey Maynard)


Surname Given Name Comments
CARMEL M  
FRIDLANDER B Tz  
FRIDLANDER Dov Avigdor husband of Gitel Lichtenshtein wed 1903
FRIDLANDER G  
GOTHELP M  
LEWITAN B Y Rabbi ABD
LICHTENSHTEIN A  
LICHTENSHTEIN Gitel wife of Dov Avigdor Fridlander wed 1903
LICHTENSHTEIN R  
MEDNITZ Y  
MEHR A  
MEHR M  
MEHR P Z  
MEHR Yisroel Tzvi  

 

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