“Radviliskis” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Radviliškis, Lithuania)

59° 49' / 23° 32'

Translation of the “Radviliskis” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Josef Rosin

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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(Pages 625-628)


Written by Josef Rosin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

In Yiddish, Radvilishak; in Russian, Radsivilishki.

Small city and district center in the Siauliai county.

Year Total
Jews Jews as
of Total
1833 338    
1879 469    
1897 3,959 676 17
1905 3,708    
1923 5,464 847 15
1934 5,865    
1940 6,855 About 250 families  

Radviliskis is located 20 kilometers southeast of the county city of Siauliai. Historical documents from the 16th century note the Radviliskis estate. From the middle of the 16th century Radviliskis was part of the Radsivel noble family. In 1687 it was granted rights to hold a weekly market. Between 1708-1710, Radviliskis was struck by a plague and most of its inhabitants perished. Between 1795-1915, Radviliskis was under Russian rule, first within the region of Vilnius, and from 1843 within the region of Kaunas. Between 1870-1873, a railway line was built between Libau-Kaunas and Radviliskis-Dvinsk, and a train station and workshops for repairing train engines, were built in Radviliskis. Henceforth the town began to develop. During WWI, while Radviliskis was under German rule, railway lines were built from Radviliskis to Tilsit and from Radviliskis to Yelgeva. As a result, Radviliskis became the biggest train junction in Lithuania. From 1879 Radviliskis was a district center. During the period of independent Lithuania, Radviliskis was granted rights to self-administration as a city.

The Jewish Settlements Till After World War I

Apparently Jews began to settle in Radviliskis in the beginning of the 19th century. The fact that Radviliskis became a big train junction attracted Jews to the town. The hundreds and thousands of travelers who passed through the train station and waited there for hours, sometimes until the following day in order to change trains, were the customers of the shops, restaurants and inns that belonged mostly to Jews. The thousands of Russian railway workers and the large Russian garrison unit stationed in Radviliskis during the early 80's also added to the Jews' means of earning a living. The forests nearby the town provided livelihood to the Jewish timber traders. The economic situation of the Jews of Radviliskis in those years was good.

In July 1890 a fire broke out in Radviliskis and the town was completely destroyed. Nearly all of its inhabitants became penniless.

In 1910 Jewish merchants and craftsmen asked for permission to found a credit cooperative union. The permit was granted two years later, being one of the first in Russia. The 1898 and 1900 lists of donators for Eretz-Yisrael mention many Jewish names from Radviliskis. The delegate was Moshe Cohen.

Among the rabbis who served in Radviliskis were: Rabbi Rueven-Yoseph Gordon (from 1882), who died in 1887 and was buried in Siauliai because the Radviliskis community still had no cemetery of its own; Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Horvitz (1884-1897); Rabbi Yakov Rabinovitz (until 1899).

At the outset of the WWI, on May 4, 1915, the Russian military authorities exiled the Jews of Radviliskis from their town into the interior of Russia. They were given two hours to leave their homes and property and go to exile. Fortunately, the town was not damaged during the war. Thus, a short while after the Germans captured the town, most of them returned to their homes. The Jewish community under German occupation was greatly enlarged because the Germans brought hundreds of Jewish forced laborers from Vilna. They were employed in train related labor and as time progressed they brought their hunger stricken families from Vilna. During this period hundreds of supply trains to the military passed through Radviliskis, and huge warehouses were built in the town for storing food supplies, medicine and other things. This provided plenty of livelihood to the local Jews.

The Period of Independent Lithuania

With the declaration of autonomy for the Jews, a ruling committee was voted in Radviliskis. The committee was active in most areas of Jewish life in the town from 1919 until the beginning of 1926

In the elections of the first Lithuanian Siem in October 1922, the Jewish vote was as follows: the Zionist party received 204 votes, the religious “Achdut” (Unity) party 83 votes, and the Democrats 7 votes.

In the 1924 town council elections, out of the 20 elected council members, 3 were Jews. In the 1931 and 1934 elections, out of the 12 elected council members, one was a Jew (Asher Lanton).

During the first years of independent Lithuanian rule the Jewish merchants of Radviliskis benefited from the irregularity of the train schedules because it required the passengers to remain in the town for many hours. The importance of this factor declined over time. The number of Jews in Radviliskis decreased during this period because the Jews working for the trains lost their jobs and left the town. In 1925 there was one Jewish dentist in town.

The Jews of Radviliskis made their living through commerce, crafts and light industry. According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census there were 42 shops and business in Radviliskis, 32 of them (76%) owned by Jews:

Branch or Type of Business Total Owned by Jews
Groceries 9 7
Flax and Crops 5 5
Butcher shops and cattle trade 5 3
Restaurants and taverns 6 3
Food products 1 1
Drinks 2 2
Clothing, furs and textiles 4 3
Footwear, leather and shoemaking 2 2
Haberdashery and house utensils 1 1
Medicine and cosmetics 2 0
Radios, sewing machines and electrical equipment 1 1
Tools and iron products 1 1
Lumber and heating materials 1 1
Paper, books and stationary 1 1
Miscellaneous 1 1

According to the same census, there were 27 industrial enterprises in Radviliskis, 11 of them (41%) owned by Jews. The division into business branches is shown in the table below:

Branch or Type of Business Total Owned by Jews
Metal works, power stations, locksmith's workshops 2 1
Textile: wool, flax, knitting 6 1
Wood industry: saw-mills, furniture 1 1
Food industry: mills, bakeries, drinks, candies and chocolate 11 4
Footwear and clothing: furs, hats 2 1
Leather industry: production, cobbling 1 1
Others: Barber shops, bristles processing 4 3

In 1937 there were 37 Jewish artisans in Radviliskis: 5 tailors, 5 shoemakers, 2 hat makers, 2 butchers, 2 bakers, 2 glass cutters, 2 blacksmiths, 2 leather workers, 2 photographers, 2 barbers, a seamstress and shoe stitcher. The artisans had their own union and their own lending fund.

The "Folksbank", the first in Lithuania and which began to function in 1920, played an important role in the economic life of the Jews of Radviliskis; 80 members were listed at that time. In 1927 the membership reached 194. From the middle of 30's, the number of Jews in the town declined. The economic crisis that beset Lithuania and the open propaganda of the Lithuanian Union of Merchants (Verslas) against buying from Jews motivated many Jews to seek their future elsewhere. Many towns, including in Radviliskis, adopted another method in order to isolate Jewish shopkeepers from commerce: they moved the location of the market, around which most of the Jewish shops centered, elsewhere.

In spite of the dire economic situation, no families in Radviliskis received aid from relatives who lived overseas because during the good years there was no immigration from Radviliskis to South Africa and the United States.

In 1939 there were in Radviliskis 56 telephones, of which 13 belonged to Jews.

The Jewish children received their elementary education in the Hebrew school that was part of the “Tarbut” network. Some of the school graduates continued their education in the Hebrew high schools (Gimnasia) in Siauliai and Panevezys. In the beginning of the 20's Radviliskis had a school that taught in Yiddish; but it lasted only a few years. In Radviliskis the “Tarbut” network taught the Hebrew language in evening classes and also a drama class that staged plays in Hebrew. In 1922 there were 40 people who participated in these classes.

Many of the Radviliskis Jews belonged to the Zionist camp. All of the Zionist parties were represented in town and in each home there hung a blue box of the Keren Hakayemet. During the 20's and 30's the division of votes to the Zionist Congresses in Radviliskis was as shown in the table below:

Year Total Shekalim Total Voters Labor
Revisionists General
Grosmanists Mizrachi
15 1927 36 24 3 9   5     7
16 1929 94 52 4 28 2 3     15
17 1931 72 57 8 33   6     10
18 1933   129 133 2 4       10
19 1935 207 182 127   3 7     45

The following Zionist Youth Organizations were active in Radviliskis: “Bnei Akiva”, "Tzeirei-Zion" (The Youth of Zion) and “Gordonia” which had 50-60 members, “Hashomer Hazair”, “Betar” and others. In 1934 there was in town an urban Kibbutz that was part of the "Hekhalutz" movement. Sport activities were held in the “Maccabi” branch, which had about 30 members.

Religious life centered around the synagogue. The religious youth was organized in “Tiferet Bakhurim”. The Rabbis who served in Radviliskis were: Rabbi Yokhanan Zopovitz-Zarkhi, a member of the national “Hamizrahi” board in Lithuania, the future Rabbi of Tiberias (died there in 1946); Rabbi Yitzkhak Begon, author of “Sede Yitzkhak” (Keidan, 1932), was the last Rabbi of Radviliskis and perished in the Holocaust together with his community.

Among the welfare institutions were: “Hakhnasat Kala”, “Linat Zedek” (Hospice for the Poor) and others. In Radviliskis there also was an active infirmary of the “Oza” network.

During World War II and Afterwards

In 1940 Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union, becoming a Soviet Republic. The factories, some of which belong to Jews, and the majority of the shops were nationalized in Radviliskis as well. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded. The Hebrew educational institutions were closed. The supply of goods decreased and prices rose sharply as a result. The middle class, composed mostly of Jews, suffered a severe setback and its standard of living dropped gradually.

On the day the war between Germany and the Soviet Union broke out, June 22, 1941, many of the Jews of Radviliskis fled to nearby villages. Several families were able to make it to the interior of the Soviet Union. The German army entered into Radviliskis on June 26. All Jews were ordered to return to town. When they returned, they discovered that their homes are marked with the word “Jude”, written in chalk and in large letters. Each day the men and young women were taken to do different types of work, sometimes just in order to torture and humiliate them. The initiators of these acts were the Lithuanian auxiliary police. On one occasion, the men were ordered to draw water from a well, to pour it on the sidewalks and then crawl over it in order to dry it up. Orthodox Jews were ordered to pick up feces with their yarmulkes and then put them on their heads. The town's Rabbi, Yitzhak Begon, had a part of his beard cut, which was then placed in the upper pocket of his coat as though it was an ornamental handkerchief. The women were forced to clean the taverns' floors from the drunkards' vomit and to clean public buildings. The first victims were two Jews who were shot on the street for no reason at all.

On July 8, 1941, at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, all the Jews were ordered to report within 15-20 minutes outside the front door of their houses. The armed Lithuanians led all the Jews with their bundles to the old and deserted wooden barracks of the Lithuanian military. Here they were told that Jews are forbidden to have any contact with the Christian population. They were also ordered to wear a yellow patch on their chests and backs and were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks. The men and young women were still taken each day to do various types of work. Those who remained in the camp were ordered to build around it a barbed wire fence around it. Two policemen, a Lithuanian and a German, guarded the gate.

On Saturday, July 12 (17 Tamuz, 5701), after everyone returned from work, all men 16 years and older were ordered to go to the yard. From here they were led in columns to the grove next to the Jewish cemetery, where they were shot and buried. The number of victims was about 300.

The women and children remained in the camp. Some of the men who returned late from work and also those who were caught on the roads were brought to the camp. Lithuanians would come to the camp fence saying they have greetings from their husbands; they said they saw them working somewhere and were asking for money and clothing on their behalf, and the women gave them all they asked for.

One day an order was given under penalty of death: everyone must hand in all of their money and valuables. The frightened women gave all they had. On the very same day the women and children were taken from the camp and moved to the barracks far away from Radviliskis. This was the place where Russian prisoners of war were previously held, and where the typhus disease broke out among them. By a miracle, none of the 500 Jewish women and children got typhus. Gradually, the women adjusted to life in this camp. They did different types of work outside the camp and organized a joint kitchen where they cooked soup for all the people in the camp. The camp commander permitted them to buy groceries outside of the camp. Work in the kitchen was by rotation. Those who had money paid for the soup, while those who did not received it for free.

On August 26, 1941, the people in the camp were told that the barracks are needed for the German army and that the Jews will be moved to Zagare. In order to meet this end, so the Jews were told, they will be transported there for free, but those who prefer to go to Siauliai will need a permit from the town's authorities. The majority, about 400, moved to Zagare, where the day after Yom Kippur, on October 2, 1941, they perished with all the other Jews that were brought there from the surrounding towns. Some of those who went to the Siauliai ghetto were murdered there, and some survived after being in concentration camps in Germany, where Siauliai Jews were taken in the summer of 1944 after the ghetto was liquidated. Among the survivors were also some who fled to Russia and a few who were hidden by Lithuanians. The names of the Lithuanian murderers, and not to mention them in the same breath with the names of savers, are kept in the Yad Vashem archives.


Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, files M-1/e-1716; M-9/1(6); O-3/4569, 6877; Konyochovsky Collection 0-71, files 102-104, 112.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: files 1061-1122, 1545, 1678.
Gotlieb, Sefer Oheli Hashem, Pinsk, 1912, p. 193
Dos Wort (Kovno), 11.11.1934, 13.11.1934, 23.12.1934.
Dos Naye Wort (Kovno), 25.4.1934.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] – (Kovno), 21.8.1919, 28.8.1922, 19.6.1930, 29.7.1930, 26.6.1931, 26.2.1933, 20.7.1948.
Dar Yiddisher Kaparater [Jewish Cooperation] (Kovno), # 8-9, 1929
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 2.11.1885, 24.7.1890, 4.5.1893.
Yiddisher Handwerker (Kovno), # 16.
Folksblatt [The People's Newspaper] – (Kovno), 22.7.1935.
Punkan [Sparks] (Kovno), # 18, 12.6.1931.
Zum Yugent [To The New Generation] (Slabotka-Kovno), March 1928.

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