“Vandziogala” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania

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Translation of “Vandziogala” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Dov Levin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1996


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Miriam Goldwasser

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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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(Page 268)

Vandziogala (Vendzyagola)

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Miriam Goldwasser

- in Russian and in Yiddish pronounced the same.
A village in the Kovno district.

of Total
1833 183 - -
1847- 490* -
1859387- -
1897655374 57
1921--252 -
1940600350** 58

* Including the rural settlements in the surrounding area.
** 70 families
Vandziogala is located in the middle of Lithuania, 24 km. from north of Kovno. It is on both banks of the river Urka. In the year 1643 the settlement was awarded permission to hold a weekly market day and in 1664 a Catholic church was built there. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the village started to expand rapidly. In 1859 it already contained 40 dwellings. During the period of the Russian rule (from 1795 until 1915) Vandziogala was first included into the Vilna region and from 1843 it was included in the Kovno region. At the end of this period and during the period of Lithuanian Independence (1918-1940) Vandziogala served as the administrative center of the region. Close to Vandziogala was an estate which bore the same name.

The Jewish Settlement up to the start of the Second World War

The first Jews had settled in Vandziogala in the middle of the seventeenth century, when the settlement grew into a small town, and within a short period of time the Jews became the majority. The Jews were mostly occupied as artisans and in trade. The other (the gentiles) were occupied in occasional jobs. Almost every family had a vegetable patch which supplied them with vegetables for their personal use. Many Jews lived in neighboring villages and were involved in agriculture. These Jews were known as yeshuvniks. This was their official and socially acceptable name. They belonged to the Jewish community of Vandziogala and when they would die they were buried in the Jewish cemetery in Vandziogala. On the list of donors for the settlement in Israel (Eretz Yisrael) from 1914 there are mentioned names of 20 Jews from Vandziogala. The person in charge was M. Keidansky.

The religious and social life concentrated around the school and two synagogues. In the 1880's started the immigration of Jewish families across the ocean, especially the U.S. The immigration tempo was accelerating up to the start of World War I.

In 1915 the Russian Army Command had expelled the Jews from Vandziogala on suspicion that they were sympathetic to the Germans. The majority of the expelled Jews arrived at Vilna and its surroundings. After that area had been captured by the Germans, many among the expelled ones returned to Vandziogala.

Among the rabbis who presided over Vandziogala up to World War I were: R. Tzemach Zaksh, R. Binyamin Beinosh, R. Yehoshua-Tzvi Rabinowitz, who in his old age went up to Jerusalem (immigrated to Palestine), R. Aharon from Rozlea; R. Aharon Zeltzer, who resigned his rabbinic duties and made a living from shopkeeping, R. Nissan-Ovadia Rosensohn (who was a rabbi for over 40 years).

At the beginning of the 1920's, with the start of Independent Lithuania, the social activities in Vandziogala were renewed and this time on the democratic principles which had been adopted by the Jewish Autonomous Institutions. The Community Council, consisting of seven members, had been elected. This Council was active in the majority of aspects of Jewish life in the town. In the first few years after the end of World War I, the Jews were still a majority in the town. They occupied themselves mainly from artisanry, trade and agriculture. In Vandziogala there were also a few Jews who had been owners of small industrial plants, like: leather tanning (Nachum Yonah Koren), felt boots manufacture (Israel Pres), carpenter's shop (Meir Labunovski), a plant which dyed wool and fabric. The main financial activities went on during market day, which was on Wednesdays and on four yearly fairs.

Based on the census which had been carried out by the Lithuanian government in 1931, there were in Vandziogala in Jewish possession: two fabric stores, two restaurants, a shop for shoe manufacture, a plant for the production of lime and two windmills. In 1937 there were in Vandziogala 15 different Jewish artisans: five oven builders, three tailors, three shoemakers, a glass installer and two others.

An important role was played by the Jewish People's Bank (Folksbank). In 1920 there were in it 50 members and 82 in 1927. In the 1930's grew the activities of the Lithuanian Cooperatives, which stepped on the feet of the Jewish shopkeepers. Because of that the exit (the emigration) of the Vandziogala Jews restarted. Quite a few made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.

During these years there was rebuilt one of the two synagogues and there was also started a Hebrew school, based on the system of the Tarbut schools. At this school there studied close to 30 boys and girls. Part of the graduates continued their studies in Hebrew Gymnasium in nearby Kovno. Part of the children studied in the traditional cheder system and the most outstanding among its students continued to study in the yeshivas of Kovno. A most positive influence in the areas of education and culture was provided by the local rabbi Israel Rosensohn, the son of Rabbi Nissan-Ovadia, who had been mentioned previously. The ceremony of R. Israel's entry into his rabbinic position took place in the beginning of 1922 with lots of celebrations including fireworks. The head of the community who welcomed the rabbi with bread, salt and wine wished the rabbi to act for the sake of the idea of national resurrection and Hebrew education. And thus under the rabbi's influence there was established a group of young Mizrachi and within its activities the rabbi used to lecture about the history of the Jewish people and about the state of affairs in Eretz Yisrael. In Vandziogala there was also established a Zionist branch and every Saturday there were talks and lectures. However, because of constant departures of young people the Zionist activities diminished. Towards the Twelfth Zionist Congress in 1925 there were sold in Vandziogala 50 shekels, but towards the Eighteenth Congress in 1934 only half were sold. Out of the 14 people who voted for the Fifteenth Congress, 12 gave their votes to the "Israeli Labor Union", one for revisionists, one for general Zionists Aleph. In the elections for the next Congress, the Sixteenth in 1935, there were only six electors: four among them cast their vote for general Zionists Bet and two for the "Israeli Labor Union".

The last rabbi of the community of Vandziogala was R. Chaim Klibanov. He was killed by the Lithuanians in the summer of 1941. Among the children of the community was Amos Levin, who made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael in 1940.

During World War II and after it

Because of the annexation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union in the fall of 1940, there were tremendous changes in the life of the Jewish community of Vandziogala. Part of the businesses and factories which had belonged to Jews were nationalized: the Zionist activities were forbidden; Hebrew educational centers were closed.

With the intervention (entry) of the German Army into the Soviet Union on the 22nd of June, 1941, part of the Jews of Vandziogala, especially the young ones among them tried to escape deeper into Russia through Latvia. Some of them were killed by the local Lithuanian nationalists who had been stalking them on the roads; the majority of them were forced to go back because the German Army overtook them. On the 25th of June 1941, the Germans had entered Vandziogala and immediately harsh edicts were passed onto the Jews. For example, the Jews were required to wear the yellow badge and were forbidden to walk on the pavement (sidewalk). The local Lithuanians helped the Germans to identify the houses belonging to the Jews and to mark them with a sign "Jude". The Jews, men and women, were forced to perform difficult and demeaning jobs in the houses of their Lithuanian neighbors and in their agricultural holdings (on their farms), to clean outhouses and so on. Some of the Jews were taken to work in agriculture on the estate called Labunova which was close by.

On the 8th of July 1941, armed Lithuanians arrested 68 Jews, they stole their clothes and their shoes and killed them in the woods called Borekas, which was close to the Jewish cemetery. The remainder of the Jews were herded into a kind of a ghetto at the end of Keidan Street. Their belongings and their property had been stolen by Lithuanians.

On Saturday the 9th of August 1941, according to a different version on the 16th of August, the synagogue was attacked by tens of armed Lithuanians during the prayer. Approximately 100 of the attendees and among them the sixth rabbi of the community, Rabbi Chaim Klibanov, were taken out of the synagogue and were put on carts. A few women were added to them and all of them were brought to a village called Bobt (Babtai), which was 12 km. from Vandziogala and were kept for two weeks in the local synagogue until they were killed. On the 28th of August all the remaining Jews of the community had been brought to the market square: women, children and men who had been captured in their places of hiding in the surrounding area. All of them were taken to Bobt and were shot at the same place where the men had been shot. Several women showed resistance so they were shot by the killers in their feet and then were buried while still alive. Of all the Jews of Vandziogala fewer than ten survived. Some of those arrived at the Kovno ghetto and escaped from there before it was liquidated or joined the partisans. The local Lithuanian inhabitants of the village turned the synagogue into a cow shed. They used the tombstones from the Jewish cemetery to pave the sidewalks near their houses.

Based on the documents listed: 57/1198-Q/I-M; 13-/2/M-9; TR-2 file #54, collection of Koniechovsky O-71, file 143, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548, The Jewish Voice (Kovno) 26.1.1922 15.2.1922.

See also “Vandziogala” - Jewish Cities, Towns and Villages in Lithuania until 1918

“Vandziogala” - Yahadut Lita (Lithuanian Jewry), Vols. 3 and 4

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