Alite (as it was called in Yiddish) is located in the southwestern part of Lithuania on the shores of the Nieman (Nemunas) river, about 360 km from its estuary into the Kurish Gulf (Kursiu Marios), the Bay of the Baltic Sea and about 60 km south of Kaunas (Kovno).
The town was built on both sides of the river, and a bridge linked both parts. In documents of the fourteenth century Alite was already mentioned as a village. In 1377 the German Crusader Order conquered Alite, murdered a part of its population and destroyed tens of villages in the vicinity. In 1392 large battles between the Germans and the Poles broke out in the area.
In 1581 Alite obtained the rights of a town (Magdeburg rights). In 1775 the regional courts from Troki (Trakai) and Meretch (Merkine) were transferred to Alite, an event which contributed to its development and to the increase of its population. The Hansa merchants who arranged storehouses with salt on the shores of the river would also pass through Alite.
Until 1795 Alite was part of the PolishLithuanian Kingdom, when the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times Russia, Prussia and Austria caused Lithuania to become partly Russian and partly Prussian. The part of the state which lay on the left side of the Nieman river (Nemunas) was handed over to Prussia while the other part became a part of Russia. So the right side of Alite (Alite1) was ruled by Russia and the left side (Alite2)by Prussia who ruled there during the years 17951807.
After Napoleon defeated Prussia and according to the Tilzit agreement of July 1807, Polish territories occupied by Prussia were transferred to what became known as the The Great Dukedom of Warsaw, which was established at that time. The King of Saxony, FriedrichAugust, was appointed duke, and the Napoleonic code now became the constitution of the dukedom, according to which everybody was equal before the law, except for the Jews who were not granted any civil rights.
During the years 18071813, Alite 2 belonged to the Great Dukedom of Warsaw and was part of the Bialystok district. The Napoleonic Code was then introduced in this region, remaining in effect even during the Lithuanian period.
In 1915 all Lithuania was annexed to Russia including Alite, but Alite1 was included in Vilna Gubernia and Alite2 in Suwalk Gubernia. In 1856 Alite2 had 619 inhabitants and of them 285 were Jews. In 1886 there were 843 inhabitants in Alite2 and 926 in Alite1.
Because of these circumstances both parts of the town developed in a different way. The western part (Alite2) developed considerably more than Alite1, especially in the nineteenth century when the Russians constructed fortifications and barracks in the vicinity of Alite 2, paved roads to Kalvarija, Sejny and Daugai and built a railroad through Simnas to Suwalk connecting with the railroad network of Russia.
In 1909 as a result of a great fire most of the town's houses burnt down. During World War I Alite was not damaged.
In the years of independent Lithuania (19181940) both parts of Alite were united into one district town. The railroad to Vilna and Suwalk were cut off after Poland occupied the Vilna region. Instead the Lithuanian government built a railroad from Alite through Marijampole that connected at KazluRuda to the main line Kaunas Virbalis (Kybartai). All the governmental and educational institutions were located in the western part of the town (Alite2).
At the end of 1939, according to the agreement between the USSR and Lithuania, Vilna and its region were returned to Lithuania, and the USSR established four military bases in this state one of which was in Alite.
In June 1940, after Lithuania became a Soviet Republic, the Soviets started to construct an underground airfield and positions for heavy guns near Alite.
During the Nazi rule, 19411944, the Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators murdered tens of thousands Soviet war prisoners and thousands civilians, among them all the Jewish population of Alite and the surrounding towns.
The Jewish Settlement till after World War I
The Jewish community of Alite was one of the oldest in Lithuania. A few Jews lived there since the times of the Great Prince Vytautas (1335?1430). A more or less organized community began in the sixteenth century.
At the Jewish cemetery of east Alite (Alite1) tombstones dating back to the sixteenth century were found. A Pinkas (Notebook) of the Khevrah Kadisha from 1755, where the preface was copied from an older Pinkas, was preserved by the community. The oldest tombstone at the Alite2 cemetery could be traced back to 1852.
According to a list of taxpayers of 1765 there were 360 Jews who paid Head Taxes. In 1847 their number decreased to 262. In 1897 there were 482 Jews in town, 33.6% of the total population.
The Jews of Alite made their living from small commerce, barrooms and providing services to the many soldiers that were stationed in the barracks in the vicinity. Several Jewish families had large farms and made their living from agriculture.
In 1886 a fire destroyed 30 houses in Alite1. On May 12, 1890 a great fire destroyed almost all Jewish houses in town, and hundreds of families were left without a shelter. A big fire occurred also in 1909.
With the breakout of World War I the Jews of west Alite (Alite2) were ordered to leave the town. until April 8, 1915. They were allowed to take with them only enough to fill a cart. They crossed the river into Alite1 where the expulsion order was not in effect. During the German occupation (19151918) the Jews returned to their homes and businesses.
Tombstones from 1902 and 1896 at Alite 1 cemetery
Photographed by Sa'adyah Bahat in 1997
The Jewish School with the Teacher Milman 1915?
Picture supplied by Ruth BenDavid
On the list of donors contributing for the settlement of EretzYisrael in 1900 the names of 18 Jews from Alite were mentioned. (See Appendix 1).
Among the Rabbis who served in Alite during this period were: HayimNathan Levin (18251897), YosefYakov Rosenberg who served there for 40 years (?1922), Betsalel Levin, YitzhakNoakh Levinbuk (died in 1901 at the age of 48), his son Reuven Levinbuk, Joel Zalkind (1839?).
During the Period of Independent Lithuania (19181940)
Society and Economy
The Jewish community of Alite was one of the pioneer communities organizing its life according to the Autonomy Law regarding the minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government. In July 1919 a Community Committee of 11 members was elected in town. There were then 1,100 Jewish men in Alite, 425 among them had voting rights and 358 actually voted. 3 Orthodox, 3 Zionists, 3 Workers and 2 Mizrakhi members were elected to the Committee. The first chairman was Hayim Kretchmer, a ZS activist (in 1934 he immigrated to EretzYisrael). The Committee was active in all fields of Jewish life until annulment of Autonomy at the end of 1925.
According to the first government census of 1923 there were 6,322 people in Alite, and 1,715 among them were Jews (27%).
In the elections for the Municipality Council of 1931 four Jews were elected: Nakhum Bernstein, Strelitz, Lifshitz, Nakhum Beirakh. In the elections of 1934, among 12 elected Council members only 3 were Jews: M. Bokshitsky, Sh. Beiral and N. Monosovsky.
In 1935 there were about 8,000 inhabitants in Alite, mostly Lithuanians. Many were employed by the District offices. That year there were 1,400 Jews in town, but during the period not one Jewish person was employed by the District or Municipality offices.
The Jews of Alite made their living from commerce, light industry, crafts and agriculture. According to the government survey of 1931 there were 94 businesses in Alite, 76 were owned by Jews (81%).
Due to the Government's agrarian reform the lands of Jewish farm owners were taken away, and only a few continued to grow vegetables and tend orchards. Many Jews were suppliers for the army stationed in town. Fresh air, pine forests and the Nieman River attracted holiday guests in summer which added to the income of many Jewish families in town.
|The Minister for Jewish Affairs in Lithuania Dr. Shimshon Rozenbaum (2) on a visit to Alite 1924. (1) Leib Gorfinkel, (3) Adv. Mendel Bokshitsky|
|The Main Street (Vilnius) in Alite 2 where many Jewish houses stood|
The distribution according to type of business is given in the table below:
|Type of business||Total||Owned by Jews|
|Butcher's shops and Cattle Trade||10||4|
|Restaurants and Taverns||10||8|
|Textile Products and Furs||13||10|
|Leather and Shoes||7||7|
|Medicine and Cosmetics||6||2|
|Watches, Jewels and Optics||2||2|
|Tools and Steel Products||7||7|
|Building Materials and Timber||1||1|
|Stationery and Books||4||2|
According to the same survey there were 51 factories in Alite and of them 24 were owned by Jewish (47%), as can be seen in the following table:
|Type of Factory||Total||Jewish Owned|
|Metal Workshops, Tin, Power Plants||6||3|
|Chemical Industry: Spirits, Soaps||3||1|
|Textile: Wool, Flax, Knitting||4||4|
|Timber and Furniture||6||3|
|Paper Industry: Printing Press||2||2|
|Leather Industry: Production, Cobbling||1||1|
In 1937 there were 61 Jewish artisans in Alite: 9 tailors, 8 bakers, 8 butchers, 6 hatters, 5 carpenters, 4 tinsmiths, 4 barbers, 2 blacksmiths, 2 shoemakers, 2 painters, 1 oven builder, 1 glazier, 1 bookbinder, 1 locksmith, 1 cord maker, 1 corset maker, 1 photographer, 1 watchmaker, 1 tailor, 1 laundry worker and 1 other worker.
|(The Survey of the shops)|
The Jewish Folksbank had two branches in both parts of the town and played an important role in the town's economic life. In 1925 in Alite1 the bank had 213 members and in Alite, 2 144 members. In 1927 the eastern branch (Alite1) had 161 members and the western branch 364 members. There was a private bank as well owned by Yosef Marshak.
In the middle of the thirties the economic situation of Alite Jews started to decline due to the open propaganda of the Lithuanian Merchant AssociationVerslas propagating against buying at Jewish stores. To achieve their goal the Lithuanians established consumer cooperatives (Lietukis). As a result of this propaganda antiJewish outburst began to occur in many places. In April 1932, 21 tombstones at the Jewish cemetery were desecrated in Alite.
According to the information of telephone book list of 1939, there were 130 telephone owners in Alite and among them 50 were Jews.
Education and Culture
The Jewish children of Alite had the opportunity to choose a suitable school among the several the town had to offer: Hebrew elementary school that was affiliated with the Tarbuth chain; Hebrew progymnasium; a vocational school of the ORT chain; several Khadarim (Chadar) and a Yeshivah. The town had a library with Hebrew and Yiddish books.
|The Hebrew School 1937|
Many of Alite, teenagers studied at the Hebrew High School (Hareali) in Kovno thanks to scholarships granted by a Jew, a native of Alite AzrielMordehai Tcheis who lived in the USA. He also donated funds to build this High School. Many Jewish boys and girls studied at the governmental High School in town where tuition fees were only token (150 Lit. per year=$25).
Sitting from right: Eva Alperin (died during escape to Russia), Sheine Halperin (murdered in the Holocaust), Devorah Katzovitz (in Israel),
Standing from right: Hayah Katzovitz (in Israel), Mere Berlinsky (not known)
Picture supplied by Ruth Ben David
There was a drama circle performing Yiddish plays in town from time to time. Jewish theaters from Kovno would also visit Alite occasionally. In 1927 The Jewish Theater Studio performed the wellknown play of ShalomAleikhem The Great Win. During this period there were two cinema theaters in town, both Jewish owned and contributing to cultural life.
In 1935 22 families of Alite subscribed to the Jewish Encyclopedia which started publication in Paris in Yiddish. Among the subscribers there were several mixed families in which the husband was Christian and the wife Jewish (Dr.Stepanov, Petrov etc.) and also a German family (Kesting) which converted to Judaism.
Jewish youth rowing on the Nieman River
Picture supplied by Ruth BenDavid
A group of youth in the 1930s
The third from right: Sheine Helperin, the fourth: Hayah Katsovitz
Below: Sheine Helperin, over her: Hayah Katsovitz
From right: Benjamin Latskovitz, Kliatchko, Aba Zakhupinsky
|A Group of HaShomerHaTsair 1933|
Zionist and other Activities
All Zionist parties had their supporters in Alite. The ZS (Zionist Socialist) party was very active. The party members managed to acquire seats in the directorate of The United Professional Society which united workers and petty clerks. This could be attributed to the Zionist Socialist's success to interest the Jewish workers in professional activity.
Fundraising for KKL (Keren Kayemeth LeYisrael The Jewish National Fund) was organized from time to time. Donations for KKL were also made on occasion by the Olim LaTorah in the synagogue.
There was also a branch of WIZO (Women's International Zionist Organization), headed by Mrs Dr. Kovarsky. WIZO would arrange lectures on different subjects in the afternoon hours in the Hebrew pro gymnasium; the topics ranged from Zionism, the Arab question etc.
Sitting in the first line from right: Aba Zakhopinsky, SarahGita Finkelstein, ( ?).
Second line from right: (third) the dentist, (fifth) Hayim Kretchmer, (seventh) Virshov.
Third line from right: (third) Osherovsky, (fourth) Hayah Katsovitz.
Fourth line from right: (first) Leib Veisenberg from Kibbutz Amir
In the table below we can see how Alite Zionists voted for the different parties at six Zionist Congresses:
|Total Votes||Labor Party
The Zionist youth organizations active in Alite were Gordonia with 3040 members, HaShomer HaTzair and Beitar. Sports activities were organized by the local branch of Maccabi with its 74 members. There was a Kibbutz Hakhsharah (Training Kibbutz) affiliated with the HeKhalutz and a training center of Brith HaKanaimthe youth organization of the Grosmanists. Many of the trainees of these organizations immigrated to EretzYisrael.
Adv. M. Bokshitsky as the commander
of the Volunteer Fire Brigade 19311932
Picture supplied by Sa'adyah Bahat
There was a Volunteer Fire Brigade in Alite with Jews and Lithuanians working as volunteers headed by Adv. Mendel Bokshitzky who was also the initiator of the group.
Religion and Welfare
Although according to its administrative status Alite was one town, the Jews of Alite maintained two different communities. Each community had its own synagogue and its own Rabbi. Several welfare institutions, such as Gemiluth Khesed, were separated in both parts of the town.
The BethMidrash building of Alite 2 still exists and is presently used as a storehouse for salt. (see picture below).
Picture taken by Sa'adyah Bahat (Bokshitzky) in 1997
Note Magen David above door
|Here was the BethMidrash in Yiddish and Lithuanian|
The Rabbis who served during the last years of the community's existence were:
Nakhman Koloditzky (in Alite2),
Yehudah Yablonsky (in Alite1), and
The last two were murdered together with their communities in 1941.
During World War II and Afterwards
World War II started with the German invasion of Poland September 1, 1939, and its consequences for Lithuanian Jews in general and Alite's Jews in particular were felt several months later.
In agreement with the RibbentropMolotov treaty on the division of occupied Poland, the Russians occupied the Suwalk region, but after delineation of exact borders between Russia and Germany the Suwalk region fell into German hands. The retreating Russians allowed anyone who wanted to join them to move into their occupied territory, and indeed many young people left the area together with the Russians. The Germans drove the remaining Jews out of their homes in Suwalk and its vicinity, robbed them of their possessions, then directed them to the Lithuanian border, where they were left in dire poverty. The Lithuanians did not allow them to enter Lithuania and the Germans did not allow them to return. Thus they stayed in this swampy area in cold and rain for several weeks, until Jewish youths from the border villages smuggled them into Lithuania by various routes, with much risk to themselves. Altogether about 2,400 refugees passed through the border or infiltrated on their own, and were then dispersed in the Suwalkia region including Alite.
In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, the majority of the factories and shops belonging to the Jews of Alite were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. All the Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded, several of the activists were detained and Hebrew educational institutions were closed. The Hebrew school changed into a Yiddish one and on the occasion of the October celebrations in 1940 a festive rally for the parents of the students was arranged in the school. A choir and a ballet under the guidance of the teachers Saulitzky and Rabinovitz, a play For Peace under guidance of the teacher Slutzky and poetry recitals under guidance of the teacher Elperin were organized at the school.
Supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore most of the brunt, and the standard of living dropped gradually. At the beginning of June several Jewish families whose enterprises were nationalized were exiled deep into Russia.
On Thursday June 19, 1941, it became clear that the war was approaching. Units of the Red Army with many tanks stationed in Alite2 started to move eastwards across the bridge to Alite1 and the Soviet officers sent their families home to Russia.
On June 22, 1941 World War II began. At dawn of that day Alite was bombed by the German air force. The centers of both parts of the town were destroyed and many Jews were killed. The German army entered Alite2 in the evening of the same day. Heavy battles between the attacking Germans and the Red Army who tried to stop the invasion lasted until Tuesday, the 24th of that month, . On that day the Russian resistance collapsed and the Germans moved forward. The airfield in Alite1 was captured by German parachutists prior to the battle. Only a few Jews managed to escape with the retreating Red Army to Russia.
After two Germans were killed near the flour mill of Marshak, 42 Jewish men and also Lithuanians were murdered near their houses, the owner of the mill among them. The murdered Jews were buried in their back yards.
When the battles moved eastward, the Jews who tried to escape, returned to town, but found their houses looted and destroyed. At that time order in town was maintained by the German Field Gendarmerie, but the Lithuanian nationalists complained to the German Town Major that the Gendarmerie doesn't allow them to handle the Communists and the Jews without restrictions. In the memorandum they wrote that they take upon themselves to cleanse the area from undesirable elements in ten days. Their wish indeed was granted. Several hundred Jews were taken from their homes, transported to Suwalk and murdered. Several dozen Jews were concentrated in one of the synagogues in town and the building and its inhabitants were set on fire. After the Gestapo arrived in Alite the remaining Jews were crowded in a Ghetto set up on a few streets in the poor district of the town.
Following a German order a Juden Rat was appointed: Adv. Halperin, Adv. Salansky and Kopl Nemunaitzky. They were called to the Municipality to be informed of restrictive clauses concerning Jews: the ban included restriction from walking on the sidewalks, and from being on the street after 8 o'clock in the evening. The order was for all Jews, men and women ages 14 to 50 to wear a yellow patch in the front and in the back and to present themselves to the German Kommandantur or to the Municipality at 7 o'clock every morning. The Jews of the Ghetto tried to organize for the sake of mere survival, but frequent arrests, abuse and murders didn't make the existence of any organization possible.
In the middle of August 1941 the Soviet war prisoners, who were imprisoned in camps nearby, were ordered to dig big trenches in the Vidzgiris forest. The Jews from Alite and the neighboring towns were cruelly murdered in these trenches by armed Lithuanians. After the war a few of these murderers were caught and sentenced. The shocking stories they told their investigators implied a willingness to kill Jews with cruelty.
According to German sources, between the 13th of August and the 9th of September 1941 in the Vidzgiris forest 1,137 Jews, men, women and children were murdered. According to an unconfirmed source Jews from Czechoslovakia were murdered at the same site, as well as tens of thousands of Soviet civilians and war prisoners.
Only two Jewish girls survived, Belkin and Hayah Kaplan, thanks to the help of two Lithuanians who took care of them through the years of the Nazi occupation. There were two more Lithuanians who helped Jews: a woman who was sent to jail for what she had done and a peasant who lost his mind because of the torture he suffered in jail. Their names are preserved in the archives of Yad Vashem.
The list of mass graves in the book Mass Murders in Lithuania. 19411944 part 2, includes three mass graves:
The monument beside the path to the graves with the inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian:
Stop and think over, this earth is saturated with blood of innocent people
On March 19, 1993 a new metal monument was inaugurated in the Vidzgiris forest in the shape of a broken MagenDavid (see next page). The nine huge graves in which the bones of the murdered Jews were buried, were covered with a round black cover and on it there is a white pyramid. Near the path that leads to the hill a memorial plaque was erected that tells the story of the massacre in Yiddish and Lithuanian: Here, in this place, the Nazis and their local helpers, in the years 19411944, murdered tens of thousands of Jewschildren, women, men and old people, most of them from other countries. Let their memory last forever. The architect of the site was Mrs. R. Vasiliauskiene and the sculptor A. Smilingis
|A broken MagenDavid stands as a monument on the hill of the remembrance site|
|The graves with black round covers and white pyramids|
|The wall bearing the name of Alite in The Valley of the Communities in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem|
The Jewish cemetery of Alite2 was destroyed and nothing was left of it. In Alite1 the old Jewish cemetery was fenced in at the beginning of the 1990s and on the two pillars of the entrance gate two plaques were installed with inscriptions in Yiddish: The Alite Jewish cemetery, sacred is the memory of the dead and in Lithuanian: Alytus eternal resting place for the Jews, may the remains of the dead rest in peace.
|The inscription on the tablet of the entrance gate in Yiddish|
|The inscription on the tablet of the entrance gate in Lithuanian|
Remaining tombstones at the Jewish cemetery in Alite 1, in 1997
Picture taken and supplied by Sa'adya Bahat
List of Donors from 1900 for the Settlement of EretzYisrael
Dr. Sh. Rabinovitz
Partial List of Personalities Born in Alite
Prof. Heinrich Otz (1859?), published a book in German about the research on The Bible, Berlin 1911
Rabbi David Rapaport (18601927) from 1926 the first Rabbi of KefarSaba in EretzYisrael
AzrielMordehai Tcheis (18741939) from 1888 in Manchester USA, philanthropist who donated the means for the building of the Hebrew High School (Hareali) in Kovno, granted scholarships to youngsters born in Alyte and vicinity for high education in the Kovno University and abroad.
Hayim Pekeris (Peker) (1908), Prof. of Applied Mathematics in the Weitzman Institute, member of the Academies of Science in USA and Israel, laureate of the Rothchild Prize and the Israel Prize in mathematics in 1980.
Yosef Glazman (19121943), the last commissioner of Betar in Lithuania, commander of the partisans of Ghetto Vilna, fell in battle with the Nazis.
Yisrael Habas (1868?), from 1907 in EretzYisrael, established and directed the religious weekly Hayesod, among the buyers of the lands of BeneiBrak.
Beraha Habas (1900?), daughter of Yisrael, in the years 19351953 member of the editorial board of the daily newspaper Davar, published 30 books on personalities and events of the history of the Jewish settlement in EretzYisrael
David Umru (Latzkovitz), poet, writer and journalist, published his works in the Yiddish press in Lithuania, perished in Vilna in 1941.
Shemuel Matis (19141941), published poems, stories and literary articles in the Yiddish press in Lithuania and Argentina, perished at his attempt to flee from Kovno in 1941.
Adv. Mendel Bokshitsky (18991941), an active public worker, member of the Municipality Council, chief of the Volunteer Fire Brigade, active General Zionist. murdered in Ghetto Vilna.
YadVashem Archives: M1/E2215/2314; M11/34; 053/21; 03/369
Koniukhovsky Collection 071, Files 124127.
JIVO, NY, Collection of the Jewish Communities in Lithuania, Files 75,1376, 1509, 1662.
Yitshak LifshitzLelo Kniah (Without surrender)through three Ghettos to the Partisan wood, (Hebrew) Jerusalem 1985
Lite, NewYork 1951, Volume 1 (Yiddish).
From the Beginning to the End The Book of the History of HaShomer HaTzair in Lithuania (Hebrew), TelAviv 1986.
Dos Vort, Kovno (Yiddish): 11.11.1934.
Folksblat, Kovno (Yiddish): 4.6.1935; 19.7.1935; 21.7.1935; 19.11.1940.
Di Yiddishe Shtime (The Yiddish Voice) Kovno (Yiddish): 18.8.1919; 19.6.1931; 25.4.1932; 7.3.1937.
Yiddisher Hantverker (Jewish Artisan) Kovno, (Yiddish): Nr.3, 1938.
HaMeilitz (St. Petersburg) (Hebrew): 10.6.1890, 22.1.1901
Family History Library, Europe Film Area, Lithuania, Alytus Civil Registration, Microfilm Nr. 0747740 Item B, Salt Lake City, Utah
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