Giedraiciai - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
55° 04' / 25° 17'
Translation of the Giedraiciai 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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In Yiddish, Gedrevitsh, also Gedrovitsh
Written by Dov Levin
Translated by Shimon Joffe
A county town in the Ukmerge (Vilkomir) district.
Giedraiciai lies in eastern Lithuania, on the left bank of Kiement lake, some 50 km. south east of the district town, Vilkomir. Before the founding of the town, there was a fortress of the same name, already mentioned in the year 1375. The town began to develop chiefly after the erection of a church in the year 1510. In the period of Russian rule, (1795-1915), it was part of the Vilna province. In the autumn of 1920, the Lithuanian army defeated the Polish forces and stopped their advance into Lithuania. The town suffered great damage as a result of the military action. Giedraiciai became a sub-district center in independent Lithuania.
The Jewish community until the Second World War
The Jewish community consolidated around the beginning of the nineteenth century. The Jews lived off petty trade, artisans and later on, agriculture. Religious life revolved around the only Beth Midrash (house of study) in the town. A well known rabbi, R. Haim, son of rabbi Aharon-Menakhem Halevi Hurwitz, officiated there from 1880 and in the period of Lithuanian independence.
As a result of the damages suffered during the military activity at the outset of Lithuanian independence, the Jewish community received financial assistance in 1920 from the Jewish Aid Society YeKoPo. The situation soon settled itself and the Jews again returned to their accustomed trades, namely petty trade, craftwork and agriculture. Almost each Jewish family owned a plot of land on which they grew vegetables or fruit trees. A few families also received assistance from their relatives in the USA.
According to a survey made by the Lithuanian government in 1931, the Jews in Giedraiciai held three textile shops, grocery shops, a shop for the sale of sewing machines, wool combs and a workshop for the manufacture of men's hats. In 1937 the town had 13 Jewish workshops, 2 tailors, 2 cobblers, 2 butchers, a baker, a hatter, a blacksmith, a barber, a tinsmith, and 2 others.
In addition to the Beth Hamidrash, the town had a Hebrew school with a Jewish library. Many of the town youths studied in the Vilkomir high schools. A few attended the Kovno University. The adults and the young were active in the Zionist parties. As early as 1914, there were donors for the Eretz Yisrael settlements in Giedraiciai. A. Hurwitz was the delegate then. The voting division for the elections to the Zionist congresses in the 1930's is shown in the following table.
HaShomer HaTsair was active among the youth movements. Dozens of youths participated in the sports club Maccabi.
During the Second World War and afterwards
In the aftermath of the annexation of Lithuania to the Soviet Union in the autumn of 1940, shops were nationalized, the majority being Jewish owned, all Zionist activity was stopped and the Hebrew school closed. During the first days of the German army invasion of the Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941, many of the Giedraiciai Jews attempted to flee to the Soviet interior. But most of them were forced to return due to threats by the Lithuanian nationalists who had seized rule of the area. The Germans entered Giedraiciai on June 30, 1941, but actual rule was placed in Lithuanian hands, headed by, among others, the chief of police, the local priest, and the headmaster of the pro gymnasium. In the beginning, the Lithuanians busied themselves with singling out anyone who, in their opinion, had been active during the Soviet regime or who assisted Soviet army personnel in the first days of the war. Using these excuses and others, the Lithuanians arrested a few dozen Jews and murdered them. The daughter of the aged tinsmith Chaikel Shapira, who was shot and buried near the local Beth Midrash, warned the murderers that this spilling of innocent blood would be avenged. The ritual slaughterer (Shokhet), Pinkhas Riman, was forced by the Lithuanians to dance and sing before them and cut off half his beard. Jewish girls were raped and murdered. On August 7, 1941, 30 Jews were murdered, all of them men of working age (a list of 21 names is included in the Koniukhovsky collection in Yad Vashem). The murdered were buried in the Kamarauchizna forest near the Silas farm, some 2 km. north west of the town. The remaining Jews, approximately 100, were marched a month later, escorted by armed Lithuanians, to the Vaitkiskiu Dvaras forest and there murdered and buried together with Jews from the nearby towns, Podberzhe, Shirvintos and others. According to a different version, the murder took place in Pivonija, near Vilkomir on September 5, 1941. Their property was carried off by the murderers and the neighbors. A few dozen Jews found refuge with local peasants, but some of them were caught and shot by the authorities or by the White Poles (members of the Armija Krajova), who were active in the region from the end of 1943 until the middle of 1944, when the Red army entered Lithuania. Only a few of the town's Jewish inhabitants survived until liberation day (by some accounts there were 22 souls). These were almost all to be found in Vilna. Thanks to their initiative, the bones of some of the victims were transferred to Giedraiciai and buried in an official ceremony in the middle of the town, before the New Year of 1944. A short time later the graves were vandalized. Thanks to the efforts of the survivors, the remains of their brethren were removed to the cemetery in Vilna on May 23, 1946, but a number of Lithuanians who participated in the murder of Jews (a list of 36 names is in the Koniukhovsky collection in Yad Vashem) was brought before the Soviet courts and sentenced to death or lengthy imprisonment. Some years later they were pardoned and freed. The survivors, for their part, rewarded the few peasants of the neighborhood who assisted them.
Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M-1/Q-1336/144;15; Koniukhovsky Collection 0-71, files 95, 96.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
Gotlieb, Sefer Ohalei Shem, p. 35.
On the Ruins of War and Turmoil, edited by Moshe Shalit, Vilnius, 1930.
Naujienos (Chicago), 19.8.1949.
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