“Balninkai” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania

55° 18' / 25° 08'

Translation of the “Balninkai” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Dov Levin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1996



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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Lita: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Lithuania,
Editor: Prof. Dov Levin, Assistant Editor: Josef Rosin, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.

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(Pages 167-168)


In Yiddish, Balnik; in Russian, Bolniki

A county town in the Ukmerge (previously Vilkomir) district.

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

Year General
Jews %
1797 .. 52* ..
1863 297 .. ..
1897 576 255 44
1923 614 237 39
1933 616 142 23

* Men only, not including women and children.

Balninkai is located in eastern Lithuania, between the Alausas and Pirsenas lakes, about 30 km northeast of Ukmerge, the district's city.

In the 14th century Balninkai was an estate and a district center in the Great Lithuanian Principality. It became a town after it was granted the Magdeburgian Rights. The inhabitants suffered greatly during the wars with Sweden and Russia, and also from the great fire in the town in 1777. Balninkai recovered after that and its population began to grow. During WWI the town was severely damaged. Although the town became the center of the district during the period of Independent Lithuania, it did not grow more because it was far removed from the main roads and from a railway line. Many of the town's inhabitants made their living from the plentitude of fish in the lakes in the area.

The Jewish community in Balninkai became established at the end of the 18th century. In 1873 a synagogue was built in the town. Rabbi Haim Rodin served in the Rabbinate at the end of 1894.

The town had a butcher. It also had an improvised public bath but did not have a “Mikve”. The poor women would quarry a hole in the ice and used to bathe in the lake even in winter; the rich woman would go to the nearby town of Zelva, which had a public bath and a “Mikve”.

In contrast to many other towns in Lithuania, the number of Jews in Balninkai was smaller than the number of non-Jews. The Jews of Balninkai made their living from peddling in the nearby villages, from maintaining public baths (most of them did so without legal permission), and from fishing in the two lakes which was leased by a local Jew. In many families it was customary for the older girls to sew socks on special machines and sell them. Their economic condition was generally good. Perhaps this was the reason why they were nicknamed “Balinker Henner” (Bolink Hens), a term that implied a form of pride or arrogance.

The economic and social situation worsened towards the latter part of WWI when the town was destroyed during the war. In 1921, in accordance with the declaration of autonomy for the Jews, a ruling committee with 5 members was voted for in Balninkai: 2 from the General Zionists, 1 from the Mizrahi, and 2 from independent parties. The committee was active for a while in most of the areas of Jewish life in the town.

About 50 – 60 Jewish families lived in Balninkai during the period of Independent Lithuania. The standard of living was low and it was difficult to earn a living. The main sources of livelihood were peddling, fishing, and small commerce that almost each household dealt in. Only a few of the fishing merchants succeeded in their trade.

According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census, Jews owned in Balninkai a cloth shop, a store for heating materials, a wool carder and a bakery. In 1939 there were 5 telephones in town, 1 of them belonged to a Jew. In 1937 there were 11 Jewish artisans in Balninkai: 4 butchers, 2 oven makers, a baker, a tailor, a blacksmith, a tinsmith, and a shoemaker.

Since the Jewish population was small and their economic conditions were poor, there were no significant cultural and educational activities in Balninkai. The town didn't even have a public library and occasionally the younger generation complained about this lack. Most of the children studied in the”Heder” as they did before the war, which was located in the town's old Beit Midrash. The richer Jews sent their children to study in the Hebrew or Yiddisher High School that was in Ukmerge, the district's city. The Jews of Balninkai showed interest and even political involvement in Zionism in spite of the fact that there were hardly any active youth organizations or parties within the Jewish population. The division of votes in Balninkai to the Zionist Congresses was as shown in the table below:

Year Total
Revisionists General
Grosmanists Mizrachi
15 1927 10 10   9 1      
16 1929 50 20 5   10 3     2
17 1931 15 15   3 8     4
18 1933 .. 17   3 1   3 10
19 1935 .. 28 2     1 2 23

In January 1940, Jews were attacked in Balninkai. During the period of Soviet rule (1940 – 1941), Zionist activities were also forbidden in Balninkai and economic activities changed. Some of the wage earners began working for governmental institutions. The Beit Midrash continued to exist. Balninkai's last Rabbi was Rabbi Pesach Goldman.

When the Germans invaded Lithuania in June 1941 and the Russians retreated, a local group of Lithuanian nationalists took control of Balninkai. Among them were teachers and clerks. They brutally harassed the Jews and their Lithuanian neighbors, and murdered some of them. The family of Shemuel-Hirsch Levin was slaughtered without a second thought. A few weeks later, armed Lithuanians gathered all the local Jews (men, women and children) and led them by foot and on carts to the nearby municipality of Zelva. From there the Jews of Balninkai, together with other local Jews, were led to the Pivonija Forest near Ukmerge, where they were all murdered on the 5th of September 1941 (13 Elul 5702).


Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, files: 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murders in Lithuania) B, pages: 296-299, 411.
Punkan [Sparks] (Kovno), 1935.
Halper, Sheine, “Geven a Shtetl Boilnik” (There was a Shtetl Boilnik), Yiddisher Zeitung (Tel Aviv), 21.6.1963.

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