Vaiguva (Vaigeve in Yiddish) lies in the northwestern part of Lithuania, in the Zamut (Zemaitija) region, about 55 km. to the southwest of the district administrative center Shavl (Siauliai). The Vaiguva River flows nearby. An estate has existed there since 1557 and a village was established in 1598.
Until 1795 Vaiguva 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 the other towns of Lithuania, Vaiguva became part of the Russian Empire, first under the auspices of the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 under the Kovno Gubernia in the Siauliai district. At that time Vaiguva became a county administrative center. It held this status also during the period of independent Lithuania.
Jews probably first settled in Vaigeve in the nineteenth century. Until World War I and in the first years after the war the Jews comprised a third of the total population, but later their numbers dropped to such an extent that just before World War II only ten Jewish families remained in the town.
According to the all-Russian census of 1897, 530 residents lived in Vaigeve, 193 of them being Jewish (36%).
Before World War I Vaigeve Jews made their living in the trades and crafts, mainly in tailoring. The tailors would work in nearby villages during the week and return home for Shabbath.
In times of famine the Jewish and Christian residents left the town and looked for food elsewhere. The wealthiest man in the town, Barukh Faivelzon, who ran the estate and the hotel that belonged to a Polish nobleman, set up long tables with food near his home and every passer-by, Jew or Christian, could eat his fill before going on his way. Barukh's wife delivered provisions to every passer-by for his journey, that included a piece of bread, a herring and 10 Kopeikas. When the hunger worsened a help committee headed by Dr. Rilf, the rabbi of Memel, was established in town that would send every week money to Vaigeve.
A first aid station was set up in the house of Barukh Faivelzon. The doctor from Uzhvent, P. Girbudas worked there. During Nazi rule he tried to help the Jews imprisoned in the Beth Midrash.
At the end of the nineteenth century the children of the Heder established the Kinyan Torah society, whose goal was to buy books for the Beth Midrash. With the help of the Kopeikas they collected enough holy books to fill a cupboard in the Beth Midrash. The climax of this project was the purchase of a Talmud that was carried into the Beth Midrash with great ceremony.
The rabbis who officiated in Vaugeve during the years were:
Efraim-Dov Berezinsky, from 1902 in Vaigeve
Mosheh Luria, the last rabbi of the community, murdered by Lithuanians in 1941.
For some time the town also had a Hazan, a Shohet and a Melamed.
During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940) most Vaigeve Jews were farmers. According to the first census performed by the new Lithuanian government in 1923, 389 residents lived in Vaigeve, 118 of them Jewish (30%).
According to the government survey of 1931 there were two Jewish shops in the town: one sold food products and the other textiles. According to the same survey a wool-combing workshop operated in the town and two flourmills in villages of the county were Jewish-owned. In 1937 there were four Jewish artisans: two tailors, one baker and one butcher.
In 1921 a fire burned down 22 Jewish houses.
|A street in Vaigeve after the fire of 1921
In the summer of 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Under new regulations, the factories owned by Jews were nationalized, as were some of the Jewish shops. Some of the former owners were employed in them and the others had to look for another source of income. By this time about ten Jewish families remained.
A few days after the outbreak of war between Germany and the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the Germans entered Vaigeve. The Lithuanians immediately took control and began to harass the Jews. An order was issued but not executed, that all the Jews should concentrate in one of the Jewish farms of the vicinity. At the beginning of July the Jews were ordered to leave their houses and concentrate in the Beth Midrash. They were not permitted to take anything with them. There they were kept in terrible conditions without food or water. At the end of July 1941 they were transferred to nearby Kelm (Kelme). The seventeen children were separated by force from their mothers and were placed under the supervision of the two Faivelzon sisters. On July 29, 1941 (5th of Av, 5701) all Vaigeve Jews together with the Kelm Jews were murdered at the nearby sand quarries. The children were transferred to Zhager (Zagare) where they were murdered on the day after Yom Kippur 5702 (October 2, 1941).
|The mass grave in Kelm
|The monument at the massacre site with the inscription in Hebrew and Lithuanian:
In memory of the scholars and residents of the town of Kelm and surroundings, who were murdered by the bloody Nazi scoundrels
- damn them - in 5701 (1941). Immortalized by the remnant of the Broida-Ziv families of Kelm.
Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, M-1/E-1023/930; M-9/15(6);
M-33/973, 995; Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, files 47, 48
Fridman, Eliezer-Eliyahu, Memoirs 5618-5686, (Hebrew), Tel Aviv 1926
Gotlib; Ohalei Shem, page 50
Komunistu Zodis (Word of Communists) (Lithuanian) Kelme, 11.6.1988
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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