Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Dr. Sonia Kovitz The population of Mazsheyk numbers around 10,000, among them around 700-800 Jews. Before the war [WW I] there was a large Jewish population with a lot of large businesses and warehouses. There were food and leather businesses, tile and sulphur factories. Shopkeepers would travel from the entire area to buy merchandise in Mazsheyk, even from Telz, Kretinga, etc.
There was a large shovel factory that would export manufactured goods to foreign countries. A dozen Jewish brokers made a living from this. They would travel to the villages to sell goods. We called them medina kromen [country shops]. They were Jews who made their living by traveling to the villages and selling them goods. After the war this means of earning a living died. There were a lot of rich Jews in Mazsheyk and it was known as one of the richest towns in the area.
Because of the war almost the entire town burnt down. After the war the Jews who had been forced to leave returned home from Russia and began to rebuild the burned houses and businesses. A lot of shops opened. Foreign firms opened an egg export warehouse. They exported to England and Germany. Also a liquor distillery Venta was opened, a roll mill Leymeh as well as tile, sulphur and knitting factories were opened. They all did a large turnover. A lot of Jews from the surrounding towns such as Latzkeve, Pikeln, Siad, etc. settled here. So Mazsheyk grew from day to day. The businesses were doing very well and they were prosperous.
A Hebrew progymnazia [pre-high school] and public school were founded and life in the town was good. That is how we lived until about 1929-1930. Then the situation of the Jewish population became extremely difficult for many reasons. The crisis penetrated everyone's life without exception. The railroad line Telz-Kretingen opened. The propaganda of the verslininkes [Lithuanian businessmen] proclaimed each to his own, i.e. Lithuania for Lithuanians.
The economic situation became more and more difficult. Many people emigrated to America, South Africa, and Palestine. The situation for the shopkeepers and merchants turned bad. In 1929 the folksbank had a turnover of 45 million lita, but in 1934 only 17 million lita.
Now a little about the cultural and social side of Mazsheyk. Maccabee once had sports and dramatics clubs, but many of the members emigrated and it went under. The library is half-forgotten and only occasionally is a book charged out. The problem is perhaps that no modern books are bought. There was also previously a culture league.
A Jewish women's union in Mazsheyk supported a public school for the poor and it worked well. The progymnazia [pre-high school] becomes smaller and smaller every year. There is a private kindergarten. OZA [infirmary and medical school subsidized by local community] has a playground every summer for about thirty poor children in a nearby forest.
There is a town firemen's union, which is in fact Jewish with all Jewish members. For quickly extinguishing the fire on the bridge over the Venta River, they were awarded 500 lita by the District Chief. Mazsheyk has two Jewish doctors, three Jewish dentists, and a Jewish private attorney. This is Mazsheyk.
By Yudel Gapanovitch
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Dr. Sonia Kovitz Our town Rakishok is located not far from the Latvian border, about 22 kilometers. We call Rakishok the Lithuanian Kamchatka [town in Siberia] because of its distance from our previous place of residence, Kovno. The population is over 5,000, of which 45% is Jewish.
Two hundred years ago Rakishok was located a half-kilometer away from present-day Rakishok, which began anew due to a sad incident. Rakishok belonged to a Count Titushevna. In the past the nobility had the right to punish their neighboring inhabitants. Count Titushevna had an administrator whose child was friendly with a local Jewish boy, a tailor's only son. And as it happens with children, the tailor's only son had a fight with the Christian boy and the Jewish boy was the victor. Then the administrator complained about the tailor and his son to the Count, who was an enemy of the Jews. The Count had the tailor come to see him and told the tailor of his decision. When the only son is about to be married, the tailor must let the Count know. If not, he will be punished.
The years went by and the young boy reached his thirteenth year. The father, afraid of punishment and not considering the evil intentions of the Count, told him the day and the hour of his only son's wedding. On that day, when the bride and groom were standing under the wedding canopy, the Count arrived with his people. He brought some dry willow branches, set fire to them, and burned the bride and groom in front of all the town residents.
The incident created many problems for the Jews and the town was under a ban. All the Jews had to leave. The more fortunate Jews left and the rest settled here, where the present day Rakishok exists, a half-kilometer from the place where the tragic event occurred. The site where the bride and groom were burned is the present Rakishok cemetery.
During the period of Lithuania's independence, our town was nicely built up. Before long our town was something to look at. The perpetual mud and the two deep ditches on each side of the street, towards which one had to run quickly in order to jump over them, have now disappeared. Finally even the back streets were paved, sidewalks were installed on both sides of the streets, and trees were planted. During the last ten years, dozens of new streets were laid from the railway station three kilometers from town. The railway station is one of the most beautiful in all of Lithuania. It was recently built and cost a half-million lita.
Rakishok is located in a low area and there are swamps nearby. Therefore plenty of people become sick with tuberculosis. There is no lake or river here, but there are two hot springs that are pleasant to visit. From the large marketplace, around which all the businesses are clustered, the Town Council took a large piece to turn into a boulevard, where they erected a memorial to Lithuanian independence. On one side of the memorial is a statue dedicated to the freedom of the Lithuanian people, and on the other a statue of Dr. Basanavicius. This boulevard and the smaller streets make a fine impression.
As far as culture is concerned in our town, there is one Lithuanian high school with eight grades, a Lithuanian grade school that was recently built, and a Lithuanian library. There is also a movie theater and one yavne [Mizrakhi Zionist school] where all the children study. There is a Jewish library that is somewhat forlorn, since no new books arrive for the Rakishker readers to enjoy. Thus the Jewish youngsters order books from Kovno.
In 1931 Rakishok called on A. Shapiro from Boston for assistance. He sent to the Rakishok Town Council 1200 pairs of shoes, boots, and galoshes for the Jewish and Christian poor. Immediately afterward a letter from Shapiro arrived at the Rakishok folksbank stating that he is giving $500 towards building the old age home. But due to evil machinations of one of the town's powerful men, it never came about.
By N. Rill
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Dr. Sonia Kovitz Plungian has about 5,000 inhabitants, of which 2,000 are Jewish. During the last few years the Jewish population has become smaller. Many have wandered away and no new families have moved here.
The economic situation of the Jews in Plungian is very sad. The crisis ruined both the shopkeepers and the artisans, and added to that is the propaganda not to buy from Jews. This does not happen as often as in other towns, but the [Lithuanian] nationalistic element initiates the propaganda. A large number of Jewish shopkeepers have gone under and others are at the edge of the abyss. The only good fortune is that 10% of the Jewish population is receiving support from South Africa and America, and a small number from Palestine. A large cause of the failure of private shops, both Lithuanian and Jewish, is the Lietukis [State Agricultural Cooperative], that makes large profits but does not pay taxes.
The folksbank does a great deal for its members. When it was founded there were about 330 members. Now there are 220 members, of which 15% are Christian. In addition there is a gemilas khesed [interest-free loan society].
It is difficult to describe the poverty of so many of our shopkeepers. They conduct business in a booth, whose license and taxation duties amount to more than the worth of all the merchandise. A lot of our shopkeepers wait for Thursday or Friday, when the mail comes from America and South Africa, in order to buy a little merchandise to put on their empty shelves. And what luck if the few dollars or pounds are accompanied by a parcel of used clothingthen their joy is complete. Who can say when they will next get some nice clothes but then again they become shopkeepers and sell the parcel of clothing to pay an old debt owed to the wholesaler or to buy a bit of firewood.
As in all the Jewish towns about 30 to 40 years ago, all the Jewish boys studied with a melamed [teacher]. There were twenty to thirty boys in a small room, where the melamed's wife would be milking the goat.
The poor boys studied in the talmud torah [free school for the poor]. Some years later one of the wealthy men presented the talmud torah with a nice (for that time) building and better teachers were hired. One of them was Reb Yeruchem Levinski. He was always very neatly dressed and made sure that the children were neatly dressed as well. Little by little he erased the negative impression made by the talmud torah students, but still the rich men did not send their children to talmud torah.
In talmud torah the boys would study everything from Hebrew through gemore and from there they would go on to the yeshiva. In talmud torah there are about 60 boys studying. It is a registered school, but without government subsidies.
In 1906 a teacher opened a kheder metukim [modern elementary school]. He taught everything in Hebrewthey learned songs and even presented plays. Therefore those opposed to it, the orthodox, called it kheder mesukan [dangerous school]. This school lasted only two years.
At the beginning of 1919 the youth were progressive and founded by themselves a Jewish public school with Yiddish as the language of instruction. The rented space was not comfortable, but there were 120 students with five teachersthree registered and two assistants. Later a Hebrew public school was also created. But in 1927, in accordance with a resolution by the Minister of Education, both schools were combined and given temporary permission to teach in Yiddish. The two schools together had 200 children. With the decline in the Jewish population the number of students went down to about 130-140.
There is also a Hebrew middle school, which is in very bad shape due to the lack of students. Without the government subsidy (3,000 lita a year) it would not be able to exist. The middle school is in a brick building that Prince Oginski gave to the Jews as a gift thirty years ago. In the same building there is also a tarbut [Zionist school] and library with 1,000 books500 Yiddish and 500 Hebrew. These books are borrowed by students from all the schools. There is also a very good Peretz library of 1,000 books, with 80 borrowers. The members of the Lovers of Knowledge group manage the library, which includes a small reading room.
Sixty newspapers arrive in the town every day, namely: 20 dos vort, 18 folksblat, 16 yiddishe shtimeh, and 6 der moment. In addition there is der yiddisher lebn and about ten copies of hayntike nayes. Every copy passes through at least three sets of hands.
It has been a very long time since we have seen a Jewish theatrical performance. There is a Zionist Socialist pioneer kibbutz of about 25, busy at all kinds of tasks, and other Zionist groups that sell shares and do whatever is asked of them.
There is a division of OZA [infirmary and medical school subsidized by local community] here, which has existed for 12 years and accomplished many things; a bikur cholim [society for visiting the sick] with a yearly fund of 1200-1400 lita; a beautiful shul [synagogue]; besmedresh [synagogue]; and two kloyzn [prayer houses]. As in all the Jewish towns there is a khevra kadisha [burial society] that runs its own affairs.
The main town Plungian has two nearby smaller shtetlakh: Kol, 18 km.away, and Plotl, 20 km. away. Our cemetery is about 400 years old. The Rest family have documents from their great-great grandfathers dating back 350 years, showing that they were already living in Plungian.
There are about 60 artisans here. They include three watchmakers, two photographers, four tinsmiths, thirteen bakers, six tailors, three dressmakers, eight shoemakers, one carpenter, five blacksmiths, two furriers, two locksmiths, three tanners, three mirror manufacturers, two wigmakers, one quilter, and two glaziers. Admittedly many of the artisans are unable to make a living from their trade, even though they are qualified, because of the propaganda against giving work to any Jews, despite their being good workers. The recently built Telz-Memel railway line has also made it more difficult for local Jewish merchants.
There are three Jewish doctors and two Christian; two Jewish lawyers and one Christian. There are two pharmacists, of which one is Jewish. There are no large Jewish enterprises other than an electric works, which also has a mill and a sawmill.
At the founding of the Town Council we had eleven Jewish councilors, a Jewish mayor and an assistant. With every year that passes Jewish representation drops on the Town Council. This year we have three Jewish councilors and Jewish vice-mayor. We have no other Jewish appointees in government institutions beyond those on the Town Council.
Since the large fire in Plungian five years ago, the streets are unrecognizable. Fine, brick and wooden houses have been built that are more comfortable than before, but the respectable householders have become bitter over the large debts that they now find impossible to repay.
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Dr. Sonia Kovitz Yurburg is located in Raseyn District. It has beautiful, broad streets with concrete sidewalks on either side, fine houses, and a lovely park in the center of town. Large areas of beautiful woods and fields stretch around Yurburg. There are two parks: one is Jewish and named Tel Aviv, and the other is Lithuanian. It is well maintained and once belonged to a Russian Prince. Today it belong to the Lithuanian public high school. The town has 6,000 inhabitants, of which 6,000 are Jews from various classes of society, such as merchants, artisans and shopkeepers.
The only institution that today takes care of maintaining the economic position of the Jews is the folksbank with its loans, but what good are loans when there is no way to use them? There is no business.
Cultural life in Yurburg has always been better than in the surrounding towns. There is a Lithuanian public school; four grade schools (two Lithuanian, one Hebrew, one Yiddish); a Lithuanian agricultural school; and two libraries called Mendele and Brener.
A small number of Jewish youngsters attend the Lithuanian public school. Most of them are grouped around hehalutz [Zionist group that trains settlers for Palestine] and betar [Zionist Revisionist group that teaches self-defense].
Yurburg is known for its synagogue, that has stood for approximately 170 years, with its variety of historical fixtures that are a rarity in Lithuania.
The economic and community life in our town is very sad, but let us not be pessimistic. Just an hour before daybreak it is very dark and there is a struggle between light and dark, in which light in the end triumphs.
By I. Dan
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein
Lazdai was once a small village and today is a very fine town with about 4,500 inhabitants, of which 1,700 are Jews. The streets had sidewalks added and then trees were planted. New brick two- and three-story houses were built. Besides all this, there are plenty of tiny, crooked little streets, full of dirt and mud. Around Lazdai stretches the wide-open countrytreeless, barren fields as far as the eye can see.
The newly arrived officers, the youth, and above all the intellectuals did not at first succeed with their anti-Semitic agitation. During the last days the winds of anti-Semitism are already blowing here.
The community possesses a besmedresh [synagogue], shul [synagogue], kloyzn [prayer houses], and a yeshiva with 17 students. The besmedresh has only a few good, old-fashioned students. The community has its own modern bath in good repair and a sanitary slaughterhouse.
Young Jews hang about without work. Unemployed, they are burdens to their fathers and sit around dreaming of Palestine. The only ones who are able to hold on are the Jewish shoemakers and quilters, about 40 in all. However, the tailors (five Jewish, three Christian with more than 30 employees) are not to be envied. The one and only Jewish locksmith shop is vacant. The five wigmakers (four of them Jewish) stand around in the street all day long. The two Jewish watchmakers still hold on. And because the rural economy is in trouble, the 20 Jews involved in agriculture have sold out. The smithies (seven blacksmiths), an entirely Jewish occupation, are going under.
The crisis has everyone by the throat like never before. The majority of Jewish employment opportunitiesstorekeeping and peddlinghave ended. And if the former (40 storekeepers) stand around all day waiting for a customer, the peddlers are absolutely in despair and depressed. The new flax law has tolled the death knell for the peddlers. The bricklayers, who five years ago heard gold in their pockets (there was a building boom), go around with long faces. The painters have just a little work. The fish industry, grown larger, has diminished the livelihood of its workers. The porters, all of them Jewish, live with permanent hunger. At least the wagon drivers still have work because there are no trucks. The one and only Jewish ropemaker is starving. The two Jewish cartwrights work just a few days a week.
Lazdai, once known as a city of many, far too many, horse dealers, no longer seems so significant. The well-known author P. Markus, who lived in Lazdai, described the life of the horse dealers in his book Around the Stable.
The only institution that stands watch over the poor Jewish masses is the Jewish folksbank that numbers 250 members. Jews in need obtain necessary loans there. The gemilas khesed [interest-free loan society] is very busy.
The electric station is in Jewish hands, but deep in debt. At the electric station there is also a working sawmill. Another Jewish mill found itself in the same situation. One mill, two kilometers from Lazdai, has been standing empty now for seven years.
This summer the market was moved to another place. The motive: to beautify the city. But everyone sees this as an evil brought down on the impoverished storekeepers.
And so this is life in the last years of a once proud shtetl.
By an Anikshter
Translated by Dr. Sonia Kovitz A chain of mountains surrounds the town of Aniksht, nestled deep in the valley. Aniksht has now been nicely built up. Since Lithuanian independence, the town with its natural beauty has come to resemble an earthly Garden of Eden. Aniksht is encircled by two pine forests like a braided wreath. The Lithuanian poet Baranauskas (1835-1902) described the area in his classic poem Anikshter Vald [Aniksht Forest]. At the foot of the forest flows the Shventa, a large river that snakes through the town. The summer is more enjoyable than the rest of the year, since many people come here for their summer vacation from other cities and towns.
When the Great War [WWI] raged and ferociously destroyed everything in its path, Aniksht was spared neither by the pillars of fire nor by the bullets and bombs that left the town half in ruins. In 1920 the Jewish population gradually began to return. Exhausted from long wanderings, they settled in the half-ruined houses, whose windows they had to stuff with rugs. Exchanges of letters started up between Lithuania, America, and South Africa. Overseas relatives responded with great warmth by sending large sums of money and packages.
A new season began, a season of building, trade and manufacturing. Houses seemed to spring up from the earth. Streets were paved and sidewalks built. In a few short years Aniksht became a beautiful, flourishing town. The flax trade grew and some traders even became wealthy. People who knew the fishing net trade began to manufacture nets, at first in a small way and then on a grander scale.
Factories with machines now employ up to 100 people, and the fishing net manufacturers make a fine living. The stocking factory is also very successful and employs many workers. The stockings are shipped throughout Lithuania. The mechanized shoe factory is also successful and employs 150 people such as sewers, shoemakers, polishers, brush makers, etc.
At the end of the summer the muddy autumn arrives with howling winds and rain that beats monotonously on the roofs, and it is gloomy here. The young students leave and melancholy spreads over Aniksht like a black veil, dragging everybody down. Then everyone wants to escape to places where life pulses more quickly.
The population of Aniksht and its surrounding districts numbers 4,000. There are three types of Jewish schools: tarbut [general Zionist], yavne [Mizrakhi Zionist], and Yiddish. A few young people complete the four-year course of the Aniksht Lithuanian middle school. There are two libraries containing books old and new, and we have no reason to complain about our selection of literature. The Anikshter Lovers of Knowledge society often stages theatrical presentations. The public school presents traditional children's events for Purim and Chanukah. Excursions often come to Aniksht to view the beautiful sites in the area such as the Puntiker stone, as large as a small house, where the Lithuanians brought burnt offerings long ago. The stone is seven kilometers from Aniksht. The Rubik Lake, nine kilometers away, is broad and long and has many islands covered with trees and diverse vegetation. The scenery is very beautiful there.
An Anikshter now living in America (in Chicago) is the well-known social activist and writer Z.B. Komaika, who from America helped Lithuania fight for recognition as an independent country.
One of the recent rabbis of Aniksht was Rabbi Eliahu Dov Shur, one of the best types of people of the old generation. He served as rabbi for 25 years in Zupran, Lodi, and Birz, and for 30 years in his hometown of Aniksht. He was also the rosh yeshiva [head of yeshiva] in Krakinava, the town of his father-in-law, Rabbi gaon [sage] Natan Note Luria. Rabbi Shur was a man with high morals,and although a rabbi of the old generation, he nevertheless had a sense for the contemporary, was not fanatical, and was liked and respected by all classes of people. His work sefer n'tiyus khaim [Book of Life Inclinations] was a great success in the rabbinical world. Rabbi Shur was one of the first Lovers of Zion and in his old age he settled in Palestine, where he died at the age of eighty-eight.
Translated by Dr. Sonia Kovitz Azsheren is in the farthest corner of Lithuania. Before the Great War [WWI] it was called Novo Aleksandrovsk by the Russians and was a flourishing commercial town. Now Azsheren is left with only small piece of its former region. The largest part of Azsheren remained with the Poles in occupied Lithuania. Azsheren lies cut off not only from its countryside, but also from the nearby town of Dinaburg (Dvinsk now Daugavpils), and is an economic expatriate from its former natural beautyits dense network of lakes.
For all these reasons Azsheren has begun to die. In contrast to the strong tempo of building activity in all other Lithuanian cities, there is no activity here whatsoever. Before the war Azsheren had a population of 9,000 and now only 4,200. The Azsheren population is a mix of Jews, Lithuanians, Pole and Russians. There is not even a Polish public school in Azsheren, and the Russian public school is just a part of the Lithuanian public school. Azsheren maintains as community institutions a Town Council and a Jewish and a Russian home for the aged.
The Lithuanian commercial high school has great influence here. The majority of Jewish children attend there because of their parents' inability to send their children to study elsewhere, and there is no Jewish middle school here. Businesses in Azsheren are going bankrupt. The peasants in the area are very poor and earn only a little from milk production.
By eyner [someone]
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Dr. Sonia Kovitz Kupishok is an old, historic town. In Kupishok is a large old synagogue that is big enough to hold all the town's Jews. Kupishok has a small Hasidic group, a good-sized stone bathhouse that has not been used for ten years, and an old cemetery that has not been used in 100 years. The Jews in the town are divided into two camps: hasidim and misnagdim. We have two rabbis, two ritual slaughterers, and two burial societies.
Our town's population is made up of Jews and Christians, about half and half. All together there are about 3,000 people. The people live in peace with each other. The Lithuanian middle school has about 300 students, the Lithuanian public school about 200, the yavne [Mizrakhi Zionist school] 120, and the Yiddish school, 60.
By ben-ir [a native son]
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Dr. Sonia Kovitz Pren has 4,000 inhabitants, of which 1,000 are Jews. The Jewish community is concentrated around the town's large square market place where both Jewish and Christian shops are located. The market is divided down the middle by a row of shops. Monday is market day. The real market or more correctly, the larger market, is outside the town. During the last ten years, Pren has made many changes in its appearance. The entire town has been paved and wide sidewalks put in. We have electric energy from the Petroshun Electric Station. Pren also has a new, modern slaughterhouse that belongs to the Town Council.
With its factories, Pren is no different from any of the other towns in Lithuania. In Pren there is the famous Goldberg's Brewery. There are also three mills and three sawmills. Characteristically in the enterprises owned by Jews there are only four Jewish workers. The two tanneries belong to Jews. There are workshops where the owners are the only workers.
Our town is a fortress of the Zionists. All branches are represented such as Zionist Socialists, Revisionists, mizrakhi, and more. The number of orthodox Jews is also considerable.
The relationship between Jews and Lithuanians is peaceful and we do not hear anti-Semitic remarks by hooligans. The Jews are mostly shopkeepers, merchants and traders. The craftsmen according to profession are: ten bakers, ten butchers, five tailors, five shoemakers, four wigmakers, three furriers, three quilters, one harness-maker, one tinsmith, three wagon drivers, two drivers and three porters. No Jewish blacksmith, carpenter or brickmason would be successful here.
The artisans are having a hard time making a living just like the shopkeepers. Aid from overseas is certainly a very important source of funds.
There are few artisans and apprentices and the majority of the population lacks a trade. The only exception is the young women who become dressmakers. The only sport played is soccer. Time is spent also in Zionist kibbutzim. Almost every third youngster has been to hakhshara [training for immigration to Palestine] for two years and now dreams of a certificate [permission to go to Palestine under the British quota for immigration]. When the gates of the world first opened for immigration, the young people of Pren departed for all parts of the worldArgentina, America, South Africa and even Birobidzhan. Now emigration is only to Palestine.
The active charities are bikur kholim [society for visiting the sick], a women's group, and a gemilas khesed [loan-free interest society].
Many Jewish students go to the Lithuanian public high school and the Lithuanian four-grade elementary school. At the Hebrew tarbut [Zionist school] there is a library that has Hebrew and Yiddish books. We receive about sixty copies of Jewish daily newspapers. We receive 20 dos vort, 15 der moment, and 12 each of folksblat and yiddishe shtime. We are very weak in cultural activities. Once in a while there is a dance evening with the occasional addition of an obscure play or a children's performance put on by the tarbut school.
By a Zagerer
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Dr. Sonia Kovitz Zager is actually not one shtetl but two: Old Zager and New Zager. From the beginning of time there has been a small, narrow river called the Sveta that divides the two. The little river dries up in some places during the summer so that a rooster can easily walk across. Over the river there is a small bridge, maybe a little bigger than the size of an olive [Talmudic measurement]. In another place there is a footbridge of one small board with a railing. This is how the two parts of the shtetl are connected. The two parts always had separate rabbis, ritual slaughters, cantors, and cemeteries, as well as separate quarrels over interpreting the Law and separate discussions about whom to call for an aliyah [blessing over the Torah] or whom to choose as gabbai [head of the synagogue], and so on.
Recently the terrible economic situation has joined the two parts and made them into a single shtetl in every respect. There is one synagogue, two study houses, one cemetery and, l'havdil [separates what is sacred from what is not], one bathhouse, which is still in Old Zager since there is no other place to put one. New Zagerers used to jokingly refer to the other side as the Old Zagerer corpses as a sign of their poverty, negligence and lack of vitality, but now this name has disappeared since now the same lack of vitality rules in New Zager as well.
Walking in the New Zager streets on a non-market day, a stranger thinks that Zager does not have any inhabitants. There are a considerable number of decorated, painted two-story brick buildings along the streets, with convenient wide sidewalks, but not a person to be seen. Here and there you'll see a girl with a tree limb in hand, dragging a goat. Only during summer evenings, around 8 o'clock, the town suddenly becomes lively. People run out of all the houses, a commotion, a tumult. What is happening? A car from Shavel is arriving in Zager! About ten minutes later it is again completely quiet.
The economic situation in Zager is desperate. Shopkeepers stand in the doorways of the half-empty shops, yawning and trying to keep their eyes open. Others play checkers or joke with each other to pass the time. Some are found sleeping under the shop counter. Others stand and stare despairingly into the distancethey have pale, sunken, bony cheeks. What are they thinking? Who knows perhaps where to run to get a loan or perhaps they are waiting for the letter carrier, hoping he will bring a money order from somewhere. In Zager, dozens of shops in the middle of the market place are closed. Houseslarge brick, spacious, decoratedstand empty without dwellers. Rent is shamefully cheap. Anyone with a little money can come to Zager and purchase the nicest brick house and sell the bricks. He is sure to make a profit. In Zager a shop stays open only because there is simply nothing else to do. If it closesit means the last hope is gone. Whoever was able to, mainly artisans, escaped to other places. The town is empty. There are fewer Jewish residents than ever.
There are several reasons for the miserable economic situation. First, because the border with Latvia is right outside the town so we are cut off from a larger populated area; second, because the town is isolated, far from the railroad (28 versts) [1 verst = 2/3 of a mile] and without a highway. When it starts to rain just a little, the roads in the area turn to mud and become almost impossible to travel on. All winter there are almost no cars. In the fall Zager is like a solitary island because without any means of returning to where they came from, almost nobody travels here. Very often horses and wagons get stuck in a pothole and in order to extricate them, special horses and helpers must be dispatched. Furthermore, even without taking into consideration the terrible return trip, the verslininkes [Lithuanian businessmen] still come to agitate with their svoi do svego [Russian: each person for himself, i.e. Lithuania for Lithuanians] propaganda.
In Zager there is a yavne [Mizrakhi Zionist school], kheder [religious school], kindergarten, library, a sports organization, and constant friction between parties and between the various Zionist groups. There are also young Jewish men and women in Zager who are no better and no worse than in other towns. The young people are pessimistic: they have nothing to do and nowhere to emigrate to. An entirely sad situation!
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Dr. Sonia Kovitz
The Jewish community was concentrated at the Sesupe River around the school and besmedresh [synagogue]. A large fire 70 years ago [in 1865] left no trace of the Jewish quarter. After the fire the Jewish population rebuilt in a more spacious area with new and nicer buildings made principally of brick. With the change of regime from Poland to Russia, the town increased in size and many Russian officials settled here. The town was a district center and before the war, Naishtat had a population of over 4,000 people, of which 40% were Jews.
As a border town Naishtat played a large role in the general workers' movement struggle against Czarism and in the Lithuanian independence movement. Weapons and illegal literature from A to Z were smuggled through the town. The well-known S. R. [Social Revolutionary] Mendel Rozenbaum, who once won first prize in the Kovno folksblat [People's Paper] competition to describe a Jewish shtetl in Lithuania, mentioned in his memoirs that he had traveled across the Wladyslawow border with suitcase [smuggled] literature.
In the years 1904-1905, propagandist Rozenbaum accomplished important work here, establishing groups linked to the bund [Jewish socialist labor movement] and poalei tzion [Labor Zionists]. In the reactionary years after 1905, a large emigration to America and Africa began. As a result, the great increase in the Jewish population became a decrease.
During the war years 1914-1915, more than a quarter of the town was burned and the town was reduced to a shambles. At the end of 1918 when the first self-government [of independent Lithuania] was organized, the town changed its name from Wladyslawow to Naumiestis and began to revive. Refugees returned and people began to rebuild with the help of credit extended by the Joint [American Joint Distribution Committee] and the folksbank. Jewish life became active with a community council, political parties, and societies, and one could see that the town was returning to the way it once was. Meanwhile, the Lithuanian District Council moved the district center to Shaki [Sakiai] and this change, along with a number of other economic factors, caused the town to lag behind in growth. Its young people began to depart to destinations throughout the entire world and the Jewish population continued to decrease. In 1925 the Jewish population numbered 1,000 and made up 33% of the general population, but today  Naumiestis has 3,100 inhabitants of which only 750 (25%) are Jews. Thus the decrease in population affected the Jews more than the non-Jews. Also Germans live in Naumiestis, about 10% of the general population, a sign of the German drive toward the East.
A year ago the town took the name Naumiestis-Kudirko in connection with the unveiling of a memorial to the Naishtater Vintsas Kudirko, a Lithuanian writer and the author of the Lithuanian National Anthem.
Naishtat is located right on the border with Germany [East Prussia]. From the west flows the small stream Shirvinta, separating the town from the German side where the town of Schirvindt is located (not to be confused with the Lithuanian town of Shirvint near Vilkomir. On the east and north sides, the Sesupe River meanders around the city and there the Shirvinta empties into the Sesupe. So in this way Naishtat has rivers on 3 sides. There is a cement and iron bridge over the Shirvinta that links us to Germany. On the south side are the roads to Kibard-Verzhblove [Kybartai-Virzhbalis], a distance of 18 kilometers, and the highway to Vilkovishk and the Vilkovishk train station (the Kovne-Virbaln railway line), a distance of 15 kilometers. On the north side across the bridge over the Sesupe, a small outlying suburb is located with a population of 100 families, of which five are Jewish. The 25-kilometer highway to the only district city, Shaki [Sakiai], passes through this suburb.
Before the war there were various businesses such as four brush manufacturers that employed over 100 Jewish workers, three flax manufacturers, and two lemonade and beer breweries. Most Jewish women worked in a cigarette factory on the German side. Various Jewish artisans made a livelihood, namely four shoemakers, three tailors, two blacksmiths, a coppersmith, a locksmith, roofers, and even Jewish brick masons. Many Jewish women were employed as knitters of socks and other items. Today there is hardly a trace left of these enterprises or of any Jewish artisans.
In the several Jewish businesses that are active today, such as the three mills and one flax manufacturernot to mention the large flax factory Lietukis, where many non-Jews workthere are no more than three or four Jewish employees.
Of artisans today there are two quilters, a tailor, four watchmakers, two cap makers, three wig makers, seven butchers, and eight bakers. No one has any idea how the young people will learn a trade. There is a new trade, thoughchauffeuring, which employs three Jewish families; they maintain the auto traffic.
The sole field that remains virtually undiminished is Jewish agriculturethe Jewish rural economy. Today 25 Jews are involved in agriculture, of which ten live exclusively from it, eleven are close to making a living from it, and four let their fields so they cannot be counted. In addition to these, there are also a couple of tenant farmers who rent land and work it. In all the 25 Jewish families own a total of over 320 hectares.
In the field of commerce there has been a great decline in activity. Before the war there were big businessmen, exporters, and contractors who conducted their large enterprises at home and abroad. Today there are no more big businessmen, just as if there had never been any.
When Germany halted small border traffic it was a catastrophe for most of the local Jewish population. Because of the reprisals of the Hitlerites, all businesses that had traded with Germany were forced to close. As a result, two poultry and egg export businesses, three grain export businesses, six groceries, ten markets, two shipping businessesin all, 24 businesses went under. In addition, sales dropped in 35 stores such as bakeries, butchers, photographers, etc. that had done business with the Germans. Indirectly another 20 families suffered. By ending the small border traffic the Germans victimized a total of 80 Jewish families, or 40% of the Jewish population.
Today the professional make-up of the local Jewish population, numbering 193 families with about 750 souls, is divided as follows: in stores and commerce 87 families, or 45%; in crafts 30 families, or 15%; in agriculture 20 families, or 11%; in specialty skilled handwork 15 families, or 8%; in unskilled labor 5 families, or 2.5%; in Jewish institutions 5 families, or 2.5%; in industry 3 families, or 2%; in professions 3 families, or 2%; without professions 24 families, or 12.5%.
As is evident from the tabulation, the productive element of the Jewish population was barely 40%. The folksbank, to which 150 comrades belonged, or over 70% of the Jewish population, played a very important role in the economic life of the local Jewish community. The local folksbank was one of the first in Lithuania, founded in January 1920, and for five years it also served the Jews of Shaki, until they created their own folksbank five years later.
The folksbank was the axis around which the entire economy revolved and in part the community life of the local Jewish population as well. In addition to the folksbank there were two active gemilas khesed [interest-free loan] societies that were founded with the help of American and South African landsleit [Jews from the same locale].
It is worth mentioning that several years ago there were two active movie theaters that gave two to three shows a week. Today there is only one theater that gives one showing a week and to a small audience. Radios are not widespread either, with the reason beinglack of money.
Also the Lithuanians, for an entire assortment of reasons, have a weakened social and cultural life. The Zhiburyo [Lithuanian: Sparkling Light] Society had its own gymnazia [high school] and teachers' course, but both institutions have now closed. The only organization that is active is the Marksmen's Association.
The town council consists of five Lithuanian councilmen (a poet, teacher, pensioner, female doctor and a priest), three Jews (all storekeepers), and one German councilman. This mix in the town council is, you understand, a result of the new election system.
Until recently relations with the Lithuanians were very good. As for the Jewish and Lithuanian masses living side by side, relations were always and are still normal. Only among the Lithuanian so-called upper classes, the intellectuals, may the merciful G-d save us, have traces of Nazism been observed. Certain disagreements along national lines occurred over the issue of taking away half of the market place to make a square, and most recently over the firefighters' brigade that the Marksmen's Union wanted to take over. But in general there is no aggressive anti-Semitism. The explanation is perhaps in part the fact that there are no verslininkes [Lithuanian businessmen].
In conclusion, it should be noted that both the Lithuanians and the Jews of Naishtat boast about the great personalities from here. Among the Lithuanians, in addition to the above-mentioned Dr. Vintsas Kudirko, there was an array of people who were originally from Naishtat or the surrounding area, or who lived here for a long time. They were, for example, the Lithuanian philologist Yablonski; the Lithuanian representative in Moscow, ex-President Kazys Grinius; the Russian-Lithuanian poet Baltrushaitis, and many more.
Of Jewish personalities from Naishtat, one should mention the well-known artist Max Band, who maintained a connection with his hometown and visited from time to time.
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Dr. Sonia Kovitz This once muddy town is today a fine, good-looking place. There are 120 Jewish families living in Ponedel, among which are various artisans. There are six shoemakers, who have work only during the autumn months, when there is mud; some quilters, tinsmiths, dressmakers (whose competitors are their Christian friends), a tailor, a wig-maker, and a man who is a butcher and wagon driver. The last two trades change often. The butcher becomes the wagon driver and vice-versa entirely on the basis of supply and demand. The rest are involved in trade and retail trade, from which they barely make a living.
The latest blow the town experienced was the razing of the shops from the middle of the marketplacethe place most important to many Jews for earning a living. The excuse for the order to clear the marketplace of its shops was for aesthetics, to beautify the town, but the change was in line with the nationalistic endeavors of the verslininkes [Lithuanian businessmen] to push out the Jewish shopkeepers.
In Ponedel there used to be fine, active young people. There were parties, programs, and discussions. Today these young people are in South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, and Palestine. They wandered away because the town was too provincial for them and it was to difficult for them to live here both economically and spiritually.
And those who stayed are longing to get out, to escape, to go somewhere else if at all possible. Meanwhile they cling to the Zionist organizations, tiferes bokhurim, etc.
There is a Jewish library with thousands of books, but the reading material is limited. No new works arrive and the old ones have been all been read.
The Hebrew public school and the folksbank revive a little community life.
Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Dr. Sonia Kovitz Between the right bank of the Nieman and the mountains that stretch along the river lies the shtetl Srednik. On the left bank of the Nieman across from Srednik clings a shtetele [very small shtetl] called Kruki, with a young pine forest where dachnikes [renters of a dacha, Russian for country house], who cannot afford the luxury of a train or coach, come every summer to refresh themselves. The youngsters boast that the famous movie actor Al Jolson came from Srednik.
In Srednik there are over 100 Jewish families, in Kruki about 30. Before the war [WWI] the Jews were so called water-peopleor kandzhortnikes, who would work on the rafts that used both rivers to go to Germany. During the war Srednik was entirely burned down. With the help of the Joint [Joint Distribution Committee] the town was rebuilt. Some Jews did not return after the war. The kandzhort [rafting] has completely declined, but a few once again travel in the area.
The economic situation of the Jews is far from good. Today the majority of Jews are shopkeepers. There are also artisans, tailors, shoemakers, seamstresses, and bakers. Their businesses are not doing well either, but better than the retailers. The majority of the Jews have their own houses, with a little garden that they work themselves. Srednik's Jews rent orchards from the area's Christians. There are five wagon drivers and they earn their bread in difficult conditions. America has played a respectable role in the economic life of our town. People receive a little money and some clothing.
The pulse of business life beats weakly. We have a Maccabee [sports club] here, but it shows signs of life only during the summer when the members are busy with soccer. At Maccabee there is a large library of Yiddish books. There is also a Hebrew public school. Srednik has two banksa folksbank and a Jewish credit bank. Srednik also has many young people who are very well educated, but who wander around without prospects.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Lita (Lithuania) Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2018 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 8 July 2006 by LA