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Translation of the Pakruojus chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita
Translation of the Pakruojus chapter from
Written by Dov Levin
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 1996
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 1996
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
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.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
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(Pages 472 - 475)
Written by Dov Levin
Translated by Shaul Yannai
A county town in the Siauliai county.
Pakruojus is located in northern Lithuania, on the bank of the Kruoja River in the Samogitia province, 35 km east of Siauliai, the district's city. An estate by the name of Pakruojus is mentioned in historical documents dating from the 16th century. During that time, Lithuanian forces defeated in Pakruojus the army of the Swedes. Tradition has it that many of them were massacred and that the river's waters became red from their blood, and from this the river received its name (Kraujas in Lithuanian means blood). In 1631, the settlement received the status of being a town and the privilege to hold two fairs a year. From 1795 until 1914, the town was under Russian rule. Pakruojus stopped developing for a certain period of time due to the cholera plague that struck the Samogitia province in 1848. Apparently, this is the reason why the town's population temporarily shrunk (70 Jews also perished in that plague). According to some sources, in 1859 there were 642 residents in the town who lived in 43 courts. During the period under discussion, Pakruojus already had Christian and Jewish prayer houses, a school, a post office, a shelter (for the elderly?), two flourmills, two workshops for processing leather, a sawmill, and a brewery. The population of Pakruojus increased greatly at the end of the 19th century.
At that time, the Pakruojus estate and some of the town's land belonged to the family of Baron von Ropp. Pakruojus was the center of the county from the middle of the 19th century until WWI, and from 1843 it administratively belonged to the Siauliai district and to the province of Kaunas. During the period of Independent Lithuania and afterwards, the town continued to be the center of the county.
The Jewish Settlements Until After World War I
The Jewish community in Pakruojus was one of the first in Lithuania. Apparently, Jews settled in the town at the beginning of the 16th century. During the period of the Jewish Lithuanian Council, the (Va'ad Medinat Lita 1623-1764), the Pakruojus community belonged to the Birzai Galil (district). The council of this Galil used to hold its meetings in Pakruojus. According to the testimony of the community's Rabbi in 1932, Rabbi David-Asher, the son of Rabbi Y.Z. Tsekhnovski, one of the ancient headstones that survived in the old cemetery had an inscription dating from 1761. According to the same source, the length of the old Jewish cemetery was 45 meters and its width was 56 meters. The same source notes that there was another older cemetery, 6 km from Pakruojus (near the village of Puknyan). The elders of the town said that in olden days they used to go there in order to pay their respects to the forefathers. The old synagogue was renowned for the beauty of its Holy Ark, which was artistically engraved, and by the paintings that covered its walls and ceiling. A special plaque listed the names of all the Rabbis that served in the community, and memorial services were held for them during the holidays. In addition to this synagogue, there were three other prayer houses.
The Jews were a majority in Pakruojus for an extended period of time. Their relationship with the Lithuanians was generally sound. The Fon Ropp aristocratic family, which owned the town's land, had an especially favorable attitude towards the Jewish population. In 1894, many Jews attended the funeral of Baron Fon Ropp, the head of the family. Jewish dignitaries carried his casket and the town's Rabbi delivered a eulogy in the German language.
Most of the town's Jews engaged in handicrafts, peddling and petty trade. At the beginning of the 20th century, at least 60-70 families made their living through handicrafts. Among the latter were: 25 shoemakers, 20 tailors, 3 tinsmiths and blacksmiths and a few carpenters, goldsmiths, watchmakers, wool and flax carders, coachmen, transporters of soil, and others.
In 1879, a big fire broke out in Pakruojus, which destroyed 180 Jewish homes. In 1881, the Jewish community of Joniskis sent 640 kilograms of matzos to those who were harmed by the fire. In 1886, the town suffered from another fire.
Many of the town's Jews, mostly the younger generation, emigrated abroad, and to South Africa in particular. The first Jew from Lithuania to emigrate to South Africa was, apparently, from Pakruojus. Some of the town's Jews emigrated to Mexico, Uruguay, and to Eretz-Yisrael. Subsequently, the number of Jews who remained in the town was smaller than the number of Jews who had emigrated abroad.
In 1810, Rabbi Khaim, the son of Rabbi Tuvia Katz from Pakruojus, led a group of the Vilna Gaon's students to settle in Eretz-Yisrael. In the Safed Kolel registrar it is written that he was one of the first ten Olim.
The 1903 list of donors for settling Eretz-Yisrael notes the names of some Jews from Pakruojus. The delegate was R. Klinitzki.
Among the Rabbis who served in Pakruojus during that period were: Rabbi Meshulam-Zalman Zak (served around 1750-1770 and passed away in 1800); Rabbi Khaim Katz (emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael in 1810 and passed away in Safed in 1813); Rabbi Josef Joffe (served 1879-1883); Rabbi Mordekhai of the Three Khasidim association, who made his living from carpentry and refused to receive a salary for being a Rabbi; Rabbi Josef-Yakov, the son of Tsvi (served 1840-1855); Rabbi Shaul, the son of Rabbi Khaim (served 1856-1858); Rabbi Avraham-Yehoshua Kharif (served 1861-1879); Rabbi Avraham-Yehoshua Heschel (served 1890-1906).
During the Period of Independent Lithuania
About 100 Jewish families remained in Pakruojus when Independent Lithuania was established in 1918. However, the younger generation continued to emigrate to other places during this period as well. 3 Jews were elected to the local municipal council which had 12 members. In accordance with the law of autonomy for the Jews, a ruling community committee of 5 members was elected in Pakruojus. This committee was active for a number of years in most areas of Jewish life in the town.
The Jews made their living mostly from petty trade and labor. Among other things, Jews owned the following in Pakruojus: the big flourmill in the area was owned by David and Shalom Maizel; a sawmill was owned by the Luria family; the lime furnaces were owned by the Sheinkman, Tray and other families; the families of Yisrael Kaplan and Aharon Shneider owned large fabric shops; the families of Kulitzman and Valk owned shops for metal products. There were also a few merchants in Pakruojus who engaged in trading crops. In 1925, there was a Jewish doctor in the town. According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census of shops and businesses, the following were owned by Jews in Pakruojus: 7 shops that traded in crops, 3 large grocery stores, 3 fabric stores, 3 butcheries, a shop for sewing machines, a leather shop, a restaurant, a store for metal materials and working equipment, and two other shops. There was also a Jew who traded in horses. According to the same census, Jews also owned 4 flourmills, 2 wool carders and a metal shop.
In 1937, there were 19 Jewish artisans in Pakruojus: 5 tailors, 3 shoemakers, 2 butchers, a baker, a glazier, a hat maker, a barber, a tinsmith, a watchmaker, a Tapar (Hebrew, tapar, which refers to a craftsman in shoemaking who makes the uppers), and 2 others.
The Jewish Popular bank (Folksbank) played an important role in the economic life of the Jews of Pakruojus. At its peak, it had 107 members. That is to say, almost each Jewish family was tied to that important establishment. In 1939, Pakruojus had 31 telephones, of which 12 were owned by Jews.
Most of the Jewish children studied in the Hebrew school in the town, which also had two libraries, one with Yiddish books and the other with Hebrew books.
Many of the Jews in Pakruojus belonged to the Zionist camp. Fundraising for Zionist funds were also done in the synagogue. Subsequently, a tradition evolved which allocated for Zionist purposes the income from the food and drinks that were served during prayers. Every now and then there were quarrels between the supporters of Keren Kayement LeYisrael and the supporters of Keren Tel Khai. We can learn about the division of votes to the Zionist Congresses in Pakruojus from what is shown in the table below:
There were also a few Zionist Youth Organizations in Pakruojus such a Beytar and others.
The relations between the Jews and their Lithuanian neighbors deteriorated severely during the latter half of the 1930's due to rising incitements to boycott Jewish merchants and artisans and to deal only with their Lithuanian counterparts.
The Rabbis who served in Pakruojus during the period under discussion were: Rabbi David Asher, the son of Rabbi Yitzkhak-Tzvi Tsekhnovski (from 1906 until 1939); Rabbi Khaim-Zalman Kron, who was the town's last Rabbi and who perished in the Holocaust.
One of the town's natives was Yehoshua Latsman (1906-1984), who wrote poetry and articles in Jewish newspapers in Lithuania and Israel and passed away in Rishon LeTzion.
During World War II and Afterwards
After the Germans conquered Poland, a group of Khalutzim arrived in Pakruojus whose members organized a Kibbutz training program in the town. In August 1940, Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union, becoming a Soviet Republic. The effects of that great change were felt immediately: the factories and shops were nationalized, all Zionist activities were disbanded, and the Hebrew school and the Hebrew library were shut down. Some Jews became involved in the Soviet national system. As a result, the relations between the local Lithuanians and their Jewish neighbors deteriorated further.
Right after the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, on June 22, 1941, many Jewish refugees from the surrounding areas, who fled from the approaching Germans, arrived in Pakruojus. In the days that followed, Jews from Pakruojus also started running away from their homes - towards Birzai. On June 28, most of the Jews of Pakruojus were fleeing their town. Some of them were arrested by armed Lithuanian nationalists (who called themselves partisans) in the town of Joniskelis and were murdered. Others were locked up in Pakruojus, and after the Lithuanians robbed them of everything, they were freed and returned to their homes. In the meantime, the Germans entered Pakruojus and handed over the administrative rule of the town into the hands of the Lithuanians. The latter, led by the chairman of the local regional council, began murdering and torturing their Jewish neighbors. The pretext for that was, supposedly, that a number of Jews were involved in Soviet rule and communist activities. The coachman, Moshe Platski and the teacher Khaya Eidelman were murdered immediately due to that pretext, but common Jews, and especially the wealthier ones, were also hurt. In the nearby town of Klovainiai, the Lithuanians murdered Isserman, the owner of the flourmill, and his large family, in spite of the fact that Isserman volunteered to the Lithuanian army during Lithuania's war of independence and later belonged to the Lithuanian Marksmen Organization (Siaulai).
In the following weeks, the Jews, men and women, were forced to do various types of work in von Ropp's estate, to sweep the town's streets, and so on. At the same time, 31 Jews were arrested and were sent to the Siauliai prison. On July 31 (another version says it was on July 10), 1941, all of the remaining Jewish men were assembled in the synagogue and were taken from there to Morkakalnis, a distance of 5 km from Pakruojus, where they were murdered by armed Lithuanians. The women and children were permitted to live a while longer in the alley where the synagogue was located. But on August 5, they too were all taken to the same place and were murdered there. Among the victims was the community's last Rabbi, Rabbi Khaim-Zalman Kron and his family. The corpses of the dead were thrown into pits that were dug in advance. After the war, the bones of 300 people were found in those pits.
The only Jews who were permitted to continue and live in the town were the town's doctor, Markus Shreiber, his wife and two children. Dr. Shreiber continued to do his work until April, 1942, when he, his family, and 20 other Jews who hid in the surrounding areas, were murdered by the local authorities.
Only a few of the Jews of Pakruojus survived: some of them were able to escape to the Soviet Union, and some others ended up in the ghettos of Siauliai and Kaunas. Some of the names of the murderers are kept in the Yad Vashem archives.
At the beginning of the 1990's, memorial plaques were placed in the Jewish cemetery of the community of Pakruojus and next to the mass grave of the murdered Jews of Pakruojus. Both have identical inscriptions in Yiddish and Lithuanian.
Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, M-9/15(6); Koniukhovsky Collection 0-71, files 113, 114; 28, 3785/27.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1788, 55/1701, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: file 1535, pp. 69672-69668.
Gotlieb, Ohalei Shem, p. 147.
Yaari, A., Igrot Eretz-Yisrael, p. 338.
Yerushalmi, A., Pinkas Shavli, Jerusalem 1957, pp. 76, 143, 149.
Kamzon, The Jews of Lithuania, p. 172.
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