56°17' N. 23°51'
Ylakiai (Yelok in Yiddish) lies in the Zamut (Zemaitija) region in northwestern Lithuania, 30 km. west of the district administrative center of Mazheik (Mazeikiai) and 13 km. from the Latvian border. A settlement bearing this name was part of a property of the aristocratic family of Sapiega, and was first mentioned in a historical document dating from the eighteenth century. Yelok developed particularly in the nineteenth century and was known for its great markets and fairs. During World War I some houses were destroyed, but after the war the town was rebuilt and during independent Lithuania it became a county administrative centre.
Yelok Jews had established a settled community by the beginning of the nineteenth century. Public life centered around the Beth Midrash. Yelok was one of the first communities to open a branch of Agudath Yisrael. Thirty Yelok Jews were named in two lists of donors to the Agudah Fund for the years 1913 and 1914. There were also donors to funds for the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael. Two lists of donors published in the Hebrew newspaper HaMelitz mention nineteen names of Yelok Jews (see Appendix 1). The fundraisers were K. J. Ziman and Yehudah Blumental.
Until World War I Jews made their living in trade, small scale agriculture and peddling. Two large flourmills were Jewish-owned. Important commercial activities took place on the weekly market days (Wednesdays) and during the five yearly fairs.
During these years the Jews comprised more than half of the population. According to the 1897 Russian census, 1,367 people lived in Yelok, 775 of them being Jews (57%). Before World War I, in 1913, 150 Jewish families with about 800 persons resided in Yelok.
After the war and with the establishment of independent Lithuania in 1918, Yelok was rebuilt. The first census performed by the new government in 1923 showed 999 residents in Yelok, 409 being Jews (41%).
Following the Law of Autonomies for Minorities issued 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 Yelok a community committee of eleven members was elected which functioned for several years and was supported by the Ministry for Jewish Affairs in Kovno. The first meeting of the committee took place on October 30, 1920 when J. Bernshtein was elected chairman, K. Yamin deputy chairman and A. Katz treasurer. It was also decided to revive the Ezra (Aid) society.
During this period Yelok Jews made their living in trade and crafts. According to the government survey of 1931 there were twenty shops in town, seventeen of them Jewish-owned (85%), as shown:
|Type of business||Total||Owned by Jews|
|Grain and flax||1||1|
|Butcher's shop and cattle trade||2||1|
|Restaurants and taverns||2||1|
|Textile products and furs||4||4|
|Leather and shoes||1||1|
|Haberdashery and house utensils||1||1|
|Medicine and cosmetics||1||1|
|Bicycles and electrical equipment||1||1|
Seven Jewish craftsmen worked here in 1937: two tailors, two butchers, one shoemaker, one knitter and one needle worker. The Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank) played an important role in the local economy; in 1927, 93 members were registered there. In 1939 Yelok had eleven telephone subscribers, four of them Jewish.
|A Jewish House in Yelok, 1938|
Many Yelok Jews emigrated to America, South Africa and Eretz-Yisrael. Those who remained continued to maintain the Hebrew Yavneh School, where about 40 pupils studied, the Talmud Torah, the Gemiluth Hesed fund and the library. Thus Zionist activities continued and even grew stronger. During this period the Zionist youth organization HaShomer HaTsair and a branch of the sport organization Maccabi were active locally. Most Zionist parties had members, as we can see from the votes for the Zionist congresses in the table below:
|Total Votes||Labor Party
Among the rabbis who officiated in Yelok were Yehoshua Leibovitz; Shemuel-Ya'akov Rabinovitz, who was Yelok's rabbi for most of his life until his death in 1930, and who published many books on religious issues; Meir-Mordehai Zilberman; Nakhman Hirshovitz. The last rabbi was Meir Pakalnishky who was murdered in the summer of 1941.
In the summer of 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. As elsewhere, local factories, Jewish shops and Jewish flourmills were nationalized, all Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and the Hebrew school was closed.
On June 22, 1941 the German army invaded Lithuania. A few days later Lithuanian nationalists took over in Yelok and began to abuse the Jews. One Lithuanian, restaurant owner, Mikas Glaubartas, cut the beards of elderly Jews with a knife, injuring them badly. In July and August a band of armed Lithuanians, headed by the chairman of the local council, Kazis Venckus, led groups of Jews to the Jewish cemetery to the southwest of the town, and shot them. Thus all Yelok Jews were murdered and buried in a large mass grave. According to a Soviet-Lithuanian source, the number of victims during Nazi rule amounted to 475 men, women and children.
|The mass grave with the entrance gate|
Lithuanian, Yiddish and Hebrew:
On this site Hitler's murderers and their local helpers murdered
446 Jews, 25 Zamuts and 4 Karaims in 1941.
Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, Z-4/2548, 13/15/131, 55/1701, 55/1788
YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Jewish Communities, files 510-516
Gotlib; Ohalei Shem, page 94
Mirsky; Torah Institutions in Europe (Hebrew), page 186
Levin, Dov; Yelok, Pinkas HaKehiloth-Lita (Hebrew) Yad Vashem 1996
HaMelitz, St.Petersburg, 26.6.1883; 23.4.1893
Di Yiddishe Shtime, Kovno, 31.10.1935
Dos Yiddisher Lebn (Jewish Life) (Yiddish). Telz, 5.5.1938
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murder In Lithuania), Vol. 2. page 399
Neuzmirsime (We will not forget) (Lithuanian), Vilnius, 1950
List of 19 Yelok donors for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael as published in Hamelitz
(from JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania>Hamelitz by Jeffrey Maynard)
|BALKIND||Yakov brother of Chaim Bentzion in Chwedana||#229||1899|
|BORIN||Beinish father of Chaya||#7||1903|
|BORIN||Chaya bas Beinish wife of Sh D Shif||wed 1902||#7||1903|
|FRIEDBERG||husband of widow Miriam Nurok from Shavel||doctor, wed 15 Sivan||# 120||1893|
|SHIF||Sh D husband of Chaya Borin||wed 1902||#7||1903|
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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