56°16' / 21°32'
Translation of Shkud chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita
Translation of Shkud chapter from
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 1996
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
for permission to put this material on the JewishGen web site.
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 690 - 693)
Translated by Dov Edelman and Bob Kurtzman
(in Yiddish, Shkud)
A town in the Kretinga district
|Year||Total population||Jewish population|
Skuodas is in the Zhamut region in northwest Lithuania, two kilometers from the Latvian border and approximately 45 kilometers northeast of the district capital Kretinga. The Bartuva River crosses the town and divides it in half. The Old City is on the left bank of the river and the New City on the right bank with a bridge connecting the two parts. The nearest train station was three kilometers from the town.
In ancient Lithuanian chronicles, it is stated that in 1259, 3,000 inhabitants of the area attacked the Crusader Order near the town of Shkoudan. In 1568 King Sigmund-August gave the estate of Skuodas and the town which bore the same name to the nobleman from Zhamut named Hodkovitz (or Katkevitz) and from him it passed on to the Sapyega family. In 1572 the town received municipal powers and it was permitted to build a city hall, a court of law, and to have a coat of arms and a seal. The town dwellers were exempted from taxes to the estate for a period of 21 years. The town began to develop in the direction of the estate and for a short time was called Johannesburg. The population was made up mainly of Germans. In 1702 it was conquered by Sweden, but the Russian and Lithuanian armies expelled them within two years. During the period from 1795 to 1915 Skuodas was under Russian rule and belonged to the Vilna District, and from 1843 to the Kovno District. In the first half of the nineteenth century there were already six streets, two city squares, two weekly market days and three annual fairs. At the end of the nineteenth century the town became a district capital and it continued to hold this status during the period of Lithuanian independence (1918-1940), during the short Soviet period (1940-1941) and also under the Nazi occupation (1941-1945). In January 1945 during the battles between the German Army and the Red Army most of the city hall was destroyed by fire.
During the period until the end of the First World War, the affairs of the Jewish community were managed by an elected committee of twelve people known as The Dozen. In the beginning of the eighteenth century the Skuodas community built a synagogue that was famous all over Lithuania because it was one of the three oldest synagogues in the country. It was built of wood to the height of 15 meters. Inside there was an elaborate Holy Ark, embellished with wood carvings of animals, fruit, animals, flowers, crowns and the tablets of the Ten Commandments which reached up to the ceiling. This synagogue was used only from Pesach to Succot, because it was so tall that it was impossible to heat in the winter. In the winter, services were held in a nearby Beit Midrash. For Shabbat and holidays, a 366 branch chandelier was lit in the synagogue. Each light in memory of one of the martyrs who, according to tradition, was killed al Kiddush Hashem (martyred) and was buried in the courtyard of the synagogue. There was a memorial stone in the courtyard with an inscription based on this tradition. Also in the old city there was a house of prayer that was in use all year long. In the new city there was a synagogue and two kloisim (prayer rooms), one of which was also used as the heder in which the children learned Torah after their secular studies.
The old cemetery was at the end of the Old City, which was maintained by the Chevra Kadisha. The poor people were buried in the new part of the cemetery, the rich in the old part and the middle class in the middle.
The Jews of Skuodas engaged in commerce and in crafts. Part of the trade was with Riga and Libau in Latvia. In 1888 there were 200 Jewish peddlers in Skuodas.
Most of the Jewish children learned in schools such as heder and Talmud Torah. In 1879, the maski of the town, a Mr. Solovetchik, established a school, which he also administered and in which he taught. The language of instruction was Russian. In Hamelitz (Jewish newspaper), of June 3, 1879, there appeared an announcement inserted by the Committee for Dissemination of Haskala to the Jews of Russia that they supported his attempts to establish a school in the town and that they sent him a 100 ruble donation. In 1884 a heder metukan (advanced heder) was established. The teacher was Yisrael Schaff and the supervisor was Luira. The school was still active in 1894.
In 1910, twelve leaders of the community helped set up a Russian school, composed of four classes. It was located next to the Russian church. Some of the Jewish children learned general studies there, in addition to their studies at the heder.
On the eve of World War I, Dr. Karshtet opened a new school. He was a doctor who was one of the first organizers of cultural activities in the town, particularly for the youth. The first teachers were Yudel Mark, Tzernovsky, Weiner, and Shimon Band. Several of the teachers were brought in from other places. In addition to his devoted efforts on behalf of the school, Dr. Karshtet also gave medical and sociological help to the poor and the unfortunate in Skuodas. Because of his socialistic tendencies he was exiled by the government.
During World War I the German conquerors changed the Russian elementary school into a German school. Among the teachers in this school were: Hindel Helman, Mrs. Shleminess, and Mrs. Feinstein.
Throughout the existence of the community, and especially from the beginning of the twentieth century and on, life in Skuodas was vibrant. Many of the members of the Jewish community took part in the various aspects of the cultural, educational and public affairs of the city. They were also active in Zionistic and other organizations. The Jews of Skuodas were actively involved in promoting municipal services such as the Postal Service, delivering mail (1903), and maintaining the bathhouse and mikve, supervising the slaughterhouse, taking turns in manning the Fire Department, etc.
In 1905 echoes of the resistance to the Tsarist regime, also reached the streets of the Jewish Skuodas, and the young people participated in demonstrations against the government institutions.
Among the rabbis who held positions prior to World War I were: Rabbi Aharon ben Rabbi Yakov Horowitz (during the 60s of the 18th century); Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Zak (from 1779 until his death in 1788); his son, Rabbi Yitzchak Zak (1788-1801); Rabbi Eliyahu Baruch Kamai (1868-1879); Rabbi Yechiel Michel Hovsha who held the position for 38 years (from 1880 until his death in 1917). In addition to his serving in the rabbinate Rabbi Hovsha was active as a community leader and managed all of the charitable institutions in the town. During World War I he did much for the poor of the town. He wrote articles for Hatzfira and in the periodical Haivris which appeared in Berlin. Among his articles was one published in 1911in which he advocated the establishment of a Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. This was widely read and discussed by rabbis and scholars. In 1912 Rabbi Hovsha participated in the founding convention of Agudas Yisrael. Among his books are: Water Tank (5659 - 1899), Babylon, the Correct Explanation of the Book of Books, a controversial book that was translated into German, (5675-1915), And Shmuel Died (Warsaw, 5658 - 1895), a book about Rabbi Shmuel Mohliver, and other books.
Jews from Skuodas immigrated to Eretz Yisrael even before Hibas Tzion. In the old cemetery in Jerusalem one can be find at least five gravestones of Jews from Skuodas who were interred there during the second half of the 19th century. A Zionist organization was founded in Skuodas in 1897. In 1896 a delegate from Skuodas was among the 160 delegates from 93 cities and villages who participated in a congress of Russian Zionists.
In this period the Jews of Skuodas made a living from commerce, trades, agriculture, transportation and light industry. Whereas before World War I commerce was mainly conducted with Riga and Libau which were in Latvia, after Lithuania took control of the Memel region in 1923, new markets opened which promoted the development of local industry, mainly in the footwear industry. Local factories produced approximately 400 pairs of shoes daily which were marketed throughout Lithuania, mainly in Memel. Many young Jews were employed in that industry. In Skuodas, spinning mills, wool dying, weaving, button and candy factories were also established.
According to the survey conducted by the Lithuanian government in 1931, there were 81 stores and business establishments in Skuodas, 66 owned by Jews (80 %). The distribution according to economic branch is presented in the following table:
|Economic branch or type of business||Total||Jewish
|Grains and flax||4||4|
|Butcher shops and cattle dealing||12||8|
|Restaurants and bars||6||2|
|Dealing in food products and eggs||7||7|
|Clothing, furs and textiles||10||9|
|Leather and shoes||9||9|
|Sewing supplies and household utensils||3||3|
|Medicines and cosmetics||3||1|
|Watches and jewelry||2||2|
|Radios, bicycles, sewing machines||2||1|
|Tools and iron goods||2||2|
|Machinery and overland transportation||2||2|
According to that survey there were 32 light industrial plants in Skuodas 24 of them were Jewish owned - (75%). The distribution according to economic branch is presented in the following table:
|Economic branch or type of business||Total||Jewish
|Metals, machinery, foundries, sheet metal working||1||0|
|Textile: wool, linen, weaving||5||4|
|Clothing and footwear||13||11|
In addition, Skuodas had many Jewish craftsmen: bakers, builders, stove manufacturers, tailors, sheet metal workers, furriers, butchers, watchmakers, dressmakers etc. The butchers in Skuodas were famous for their quality meat products which they marketed throughout Lithuania.
Jewish teamsters made a livelihood from transporting goods to and from the railroad station. And also from transporting fish from Drubian, which is situated close to lakes rich in fish. Some Jews owned land outside of the city and they engaged in agriculture. Medical services were provided by two Jewish physicians that lived in the town.
The popular Jewish bank in Skuodas (Volksbank) gave merchants and craftsmen loans so they could develop their businesses. In 1928, 228 members were registered in the bank and its equity was 30,000 Lit. Among the founders of the bank were listed Eliyahu Tanur, Mendel Hatzkless, Ephraim B. Z. Ordena, and Michal Fogelman who was also its manager.
For many years all commerce in Skuodas was in Jewish hands until the Lithuanian Merchants Organization (Verslas) began to set up a chain of cooperative stores to take the commerce from Jewish hands. The first such store opened already in 1929. The Lithuanian Merchants Organization conducted open propaganda advocating the boycotting of Jewish stores.
In the middle of the 30's the government decided to destroy 40 old buildings in Skuodas that housed stores. A delegation of Jews requested the Minister of the Interior to revoke the decree. In those years many Jews from Skuodas emigrated to the United States, South Africa and the size of the community diminished.
Skuodas had a drama group which presented two theatre productions every year. Among the productions were 'The Sale of Joseph, Mirele Efrat, King Lear, Yoske Muzikant and others. Members of the group also appeared in declamations and readings in Hebrew and the income was earmarked for educational and social programs. Among the producer/directors who worked with members of the group was Faivel Neiman. There also was a choir conducted by the pharmacist Mr. Zilberstein.
The cultural institutions in the town included the library which had 1000 volumes. The library was sponsored by The Zirei-Zion Association. The librarians who ran the library were teen age youths who worked voluntarily. The library lent books twice a week to readers. Besides all of these, evening classes were held in Skuodas for adults where they learned Hebrew, English and German on beginners and advanced levels. In 1926 a silent movie house began to operate in Skuodas. It projected silent movies in the new elementary school that was under the management of B.Z. Fogelman.
When the President of Lithuania, A. Smetona, visited Skuodas in 1926 he was greeted with great honor in the synagogue and there he was blessed by Rabbi Jacob Kaplanski who was a scholar and gifted preacher, who spoke in perfect Lithuanian and brought before him the peoples' requests to better the conditions of their lives.
Beginning in the 20's, charitable organizations were set up in Skuodas. Some of them renewed their activities which had been interrupted by the War: Gemilus Chasadim Fund whose capital was recruited from the contributions of men of means gave interest free loans to the needy for long periods of time; Linas Tzedek Fund activated teenagers to nursing the chronically ill and established a duty roster by which every family sent someone to spend the night by the bed of an ill person; Bikur Cholim Society provided economic welfare and moral support to the ill and their families, saw to it that they obtained medical advice and medicines and lent medical equipment, which they had available, at no charge. The Society's income came from monthly contributions and collections made at special events and funerals. The Maos Chitim Society concerned itself with anonymous gifts of food products for Passover (Pesach). The Lehchem Aniyim Society was managed by women from Skuodas who gathered funds for the maintenance of the poor of the town. . The Hachnasas Kalla Society arranged weddings and raised money for dowries for poor brides; all monies came from monthly contributions and from pledges made in the synagogue, etc.
The Zeirei Zion and Z.S. parties were very active and each worked separately in matters of culture and the national funds until they unified into one party. The Mizrachi had a respected place among the parties in Skuodas and enjoyed support from the Rabbi. The General Zionist party was also active in Skuodas.
In 1934 an organization was founded in Skuodas called Haoved and most of the craftsmen joined it. The members did not participate in special training programs for preparation for collective living in Palestine. But they and their wives participated in study programs on the history of Zionism and the Histadrut. The woman's organization Wizo engaged in public and social activities, and helped the national funds, the high school and other such groups. The distribution of the votes in Skuodas, in the 20s and 30s, for the Zionist Congresses is presented in the table below:
In the beginning of the 20s a Zionist youth group was organized in Skuodas from among the student youths called Hanoar. The initiators were Shlomo London, Mendel Baskind and Ephraim Tzizling. The movement had about 80 teenagers but began to break up when Hashomer Hatzair and Gordonya came on the scene. The Gordonya Branch was founded in 1925 and its success can be attributed in no small measure to the teacher Tzvi Rozenzweig. Some of the members of this movement in Skuodas settled in Israel in kibbutzim and agricultural settlements. Also Hashomer Hatzair began its activities in Skuodas in 1925 strictly as a scout movement under the leadership of Harry Yudelman. Only in 1928 did they join the general Hashomer Hatzair movement of Lithuania. This branch in Skuodas was considered one of the better branches in Lithuania and it conducted well planned and comprehensive cultural programs. Many of its members went to training programs in collective living and settled in Israel.
|Mass Grave in Skuodas|
|Old Jewish Cemetery in Skuodas
(Photographs are courtesy of Gilda Kurtzman)
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