Translated by Aviva Kraemer
The small town [shtetl] Anushishok, or, as it is also called, Oniskis, is located close to the border of Courland. [In 1918 Courland was incorporated into Latvia] In the vicinity is the little town of Akniste, and Rakishok [Rokiskis] is 21 kilometers away. In actual fact there were in Lithuania two small towns with the very same name. One was on the Lithuanian-Polish border, and the other on the Lithuanian-Latvian border.
Before the First World War, when no border existed between Lithuania and Courland, one would pass by Anushishok when traveling from Rakishok to Jakobstadt [Jekobpils in Latvia].
The shtetl Anushishok, on the Lithuanian-Latvian border, is surrounded by large, dense forests; and 2 versts [equal to approximately .66 of a mile] from Anushishok there is a beautiful lake.
Anushishok's land belonged to the Polish count Kamar, and the Jews of the town paid a tribute for their properties. The more prosperous among them gradually bought out the land. The houses were all made of wood, except for the tavern, a large brick building, which belonged to the Polish count until a Jew by the name of Fein bought it from him. Later, the priest purchased the building and the first cooperative was established in it.
There was a large round market-place with a water pump in the middle from which the whole town drew water. All the main stores surrounded the market-place. A long road led from the market-place to the village and from there wound its way through Juodupe to Rakishok.
Before the First World War there were 60 or 70 Jewish families in Anushishok. As the shtetl was near the border of Courland, the Jewish inhabitants made a living by trading with the Latvians, and the Jewish artisans supplied the wares ordered by them. There was an extensive trade in horses and cattle and there was a big fair on market-day which took place every Thursday. Since Anushishok had a large church, which stood on a hill to the right of the market-place, hundreds of peasants would arrive in their carts every Sunday for church services, and the Jews would profit from their presence.
There were some big businesses in Anushishok. The best-known shopkeepers and merchants were: Leibe Grintuch who had a dry-goods store and traded in furs; Shlomo Fein who owned a big wholesale store of clothing, hardware, agricultural machines, enamel ware, galoshes; Shmuel Penn who owned a textile store; Yitzchak-Moshe Penn who had a textile store; Menachem-Mendel Penn, the owner of a clothing store, a dying plant, a hosiery plant, and who in addition was also a furrier; Yankel Kanelowitz who had a clothing store; Kaplan who had a clothing and haberdashery store; Velve-Bere Fein a timber merchant; Tzepaikin, a miller; Abba Zuckerman, a merchant whose business was in Elze-Muze (Courland), but was an inhabitant of Anushishok and who loved to lead the prayers in the synagogue even though his Hebrew-reading was not very good.
In general, the Jews made their living from shopkeeping, but there were also various artisans, butchers, peddlers, gardeners, and horse traders.
Until the First World War the economic situation in Anushishok was quite good. Parents raised their children in the spirit of Jewish tradition and observance, in the typically traditional way of life, although the Haskalah [Jewish Enlightenment] had already begun to have an influence at the beginning of the twentieth century, and newspapers and journals began to appear in the town.
There were a few cheders [Hebrew schools]. The most distinguished teacher was Beinish Belek, a Jewish scholar. His son Leib Belek was a well-known leader of the British Labor Party, and his second son, Ben Zion Belek, was the leader of the leftist movement in Lithuania. I remember other teachers, but cannot recall their names. The shochet [ritual slaughterer] was Shalom-Reuven Gordon, the grandson of the Skopiszki rabbi. He was known throughout the region for his learning and wisdom.
There were both Chasidim [adherents of a Jewish religious movement founded in the 18th century in Eastern Europe, devoted to particular rabbis and generally stressing pious devotion and ecstasy more than learning] and Mitnagdim [the opponents of the Chasidim within Jewish Orthodoxy] in the shtetl. There was a big Chasidic synagogue, and the Mitnagdim had their own prayer and study house.
When the First World War broke out and the front drew closer, the Jews of Anushishok began to pack their wagons. I was just a little girl, and was placed in the wagon beside my uncle, Shmuel Penn. The battle came ever closer, and my father did not manage to pack everything and therefore remained at home under the German occupation. So it was as though I had become an orphan.
We traveled for six weeks in the ox-drawn wagon until we arrived in Kaplancy in the Vitebsk province. From there we went to Kursk. I only returned to my home and family in 1921.
In 1921-1922 Anushishok Jews began to return from Russia. However, many of them remained in Russia, among them the Grintuch family and my uncles Shmuel Penn and Yitzchak-Moshe Penn. Those who returned found the town destroyed and plundered.
The new border between Lithuania and Latvia was disastrous for my hometown. Trade with the Latvians ceased as merchandise could no longer be transported to Latvia.
The post-war youth, returning from military service, from the front, looked around desperately and saw that there were no prospects. An emigration of the youth began. Elderly people, who lived from the support sent by their children, remained in the shtetl.
Anushishok Jews, in their new lands of immigration, were throughout the years closely connected to their old home, helping not only parents and friends, but also the communal institutions in the shtetl.
Thus few Jews remained in Anushishok after the War. They dispersed,
as Shalom Aleichem says: some to Lisi and some to Strisi. They settled
in Kovno and in Rakishok, and they also emigrated to their children who
were already overseas. The remaining Jewish families lived under the impact
of the new era. The little town was caught up in the Zionist ideal and
the Jews sent their children to Hebrew schools in Rakishok, Vilkomir and
Kovno. Jewish children also learned in the gymnasium in Anushishok.
Anushishok was a very small town, but was nevertheless well-known because of the personalities who had lived there.
The Revolution years from 1902-1905 brought forth new ideas and trends. An active revolutionary circle was established from which emerged the famous revolutionary and martyr, Hirsch Lekert, who, in May 1902 in Vilna, shot the provincial governor, Von Wahl. Lekert was illiterate, a shoemaker by trade, but he had a beautiful soul, a pure heart, a strong feeling for honesty and freedom. He was a very lively young man and Anushishok Jews remember him to this day. The shot that he fired reverberated throughout Russia, especially in the Pale of Settlement [the area assigned to the Jews in Czarist Russia]. He went proudly to the gallows as befits a hero who took revenge for the injustices done to his people. Soon after this event, a number of Anushishok Jews were arrested.
Anushishok was known for its rabbis. At the beginning of the 20th century the rabbi of the town was Rabbi Klatzkin, who later became the Rabbi in Swiadoscz [Svedasai?]. His son played a significant role in establishing the national council and was later the rabbi in Rasssein [Raseiniai] and Livoi [Laviai?].
The name Rabbi Avraham Dov Popel was renowned and acclaimed. He was the son-in-law of Avraham Penn, the wealthiest Jew in the shtetl.
Avraham Dov Popel was a great scholar and when he was still very young he was ordained by the greatest rabbis of his time. He studied mainly at the Eishishik [Eisiskes] Yeshiva, and he was known as a prodigy. When Rabbi Klatzkin left to become the rabbi in Swiadoscz, Rabbi Popel became the rabbi of Anushishok, despite the fact that his uncle, a brother of his father-in-law, was against his candidacy because he was a Mitnaged..
Rabbi Avraham Dov Popel was one of the finest personalities in Jewish Lithuania. Apart from his scholarship, he was a lover of peace and often served as a mediator in disputes between individuals and groups. He was also an eminent orator with a strong power of elucidation.
Before the First World War [in 1905], he became the rabbi of Mariampol. He was one of the leaders of Lithuanian Jewry and was vice-chairman of the national council and one of the builders of national autonomy, chairman of Agudat Israel and vice-chairman of the Yavne schools in Lithuania.
Rabbi Popel was also a representative in the Sejm [the Lithuanian parliament] and was famous for his speech in parliament against capital punishment, which was reported in the world press and, in particular, the press in the United States.
Even though Rabbi Popel was one of the pillars of the Aguda, he nevertheless always supported fund-raising for Eretz Yisrael [Palestine].
Rabbi Avraham Dov Popel died on the 4th of Shevat in 1923 at the age of 53. He left a wife and children. His wife Rachel died in the Shavl ghetto; his son Arieh, [who was doing his doctorate in chemistry in Belgium] was deported from France to a concentration camp where he perished. His daughter Henia died in a concentration camp. His daughter, Rivka Wilkov, lives in Johannesburg with her husband and daughter. [In 1962 they immigrated to Israel where Rivka Wilkov died in 1994. Her daughter, Aviva Wilkov Kraemer at present lives most of the year in Chicago and part of the year in Israel.]
After Rabbi Popel left Anushishok, Rabbi Kadesh became the rabbi of
In South Africa there are about 25 families of Anushishok origin. Amongst them are the following: three brothers Katz who have a clothing factory; Joseph Penn [deceased]; Berel Penn; Julius Penn [deceased]; Yitzhak Moshe Penn [deceased] and his sons Wolf [deceased], Abraham, and Dr. Aaron Penn; Kruz; Shulman; Tuvia Glass; Harry Miller; Yudel Tzupeikin.
The Anushishok Jews, wherever they are now settled, hold sacred the memory of the Jews of their idyllic, beautiful shtetl, who perished in Rakishok together with the Jews of Rakishok.
In Anushishok there is an old tombstone on which is inscribed that it was erected over 150 years ago. This proves that the Jewish settlement in the shtetl was not new. And now, nothing is left of the Jewish presence, as though it had never existed.
[Rachel (Ray) Kramer (Penn), who wrote this chapter on Anushishok, lived in Johannesburg for many years and then for a number of years in Cape Town. Her two daughters and their families are now living in Australia. Her sister, Raina Zemel, and brother, Berel (Barney) Penn are still living in Johannesburg.]
Photo of Hirsch Lekert: The great revolutionary and martyr, Hirsch Lekert, who was hanged in May, 1902, by the Tsarist hangmen. His memory is sacred!
Photo of Rabbi Avraham Dov Popel: Rabbi, gaon, Avraham Dov Popel of blessed memory.
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