Pren (as the town was called in Yiddish) is located in the southern part of Lithuania on the shores of the Nieman (Nemunas) river about 30 km south of Kovno and about 100 km away from its estuary into the Kurish Gulf (Kursiu Marios), the bay of the Baltic Sea.
The town was built on both sides of the river, the main part of the town being on the left hand side of the river, with a bridge linking both parts. Pren was mentioned for the first time in 1502, when the Great Duke Alexander handed the town over to Mikhail Gilinsky.
In 1609 Pren received the so called ‘Magdeburg’ rights of a town, which King Stanislav August ratified in 1791. By 1766 about 1,000 people lived there.
Until 1795 Pren 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 Russian. Prussia ruled there during the years 17951807. At the end of the eighteenth century Pren became a county and started to develop. During that time a glass factory and a paper mill, the largest in Lithuania, were established near the town.
After Napoleon defeated Prussia and according to the Tilzit agreement of July1807, Polish territories occupied by Prussia were transferred to what became known as the The Great Dukedom of Warsaw, which was then established. The king of Saxony, FriedrichAugust, was appointed Duke, and the Napoleonic codex 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, Pren belonged to the Great Dukedom of Warsaw. The Napoleonic Code was then introduced in this region, remaining in effect even during the Lithuanian period.
In 1815, after the defeat of Napoleon in Russia, all of Lithuania was annexed to Russia including Pren, which became part of the Suwalk Gubernia, and the town's development was encouraged. In 1868 a beer brewery was established there, which became famous throughout Lithuania because of the quality of its products. Market days and fairs took place. In 1827 there were 1,972 people in Pren and by 1856 2,304, among them 1,479 Jews.
During World War I Pren was under German occupation (19151918). During the years of Lithuania's independence (19181940) Pren was included in the Marijampole district, continuing to develop and its population increasing. Many light industries and workshops were established. In 1923, according to the first census of the new government, the population had risen to 3,260 people, among them 650 Jews.
|Pren in winter 193637|
At the end of 1939, according to the treaty between Lithuania and the USSR, a Soviet military base was established in Pren. In June 1941, with the invasion of Lithuania by the German army, the retreating Red Army blew up the concrete bridge over the Nieman, but the town itself was not damaged.
From then on until the autumn of 1944 Pren was under German rule, with all its terror and atrocities.
The Jewish Settlement till after World War I
Jewish settlement in Pren began in the seventeenth century. The Pinkas haKehilah mentions that the community belonged to the Horodna (Grodno) district of Va'ad Medinath Lita (16231764) and the district Rabbi was accustomed to visit and arrange the religious issues there. In 1766 there were 597 Jews in town.
During this period Jews made their living mainly from commerce. Most of them had gardens next to their dwellings, and several Jews rented land from estate owners, selling agricultural commodities, mainly milk products.
Young children received their elementary knowledge at the Kheder, the bigger ones at the Yeshivah. In the 1880s Pren also had some intellectuals, thirsting for knowledge, but who did not possess the means to purchase secular books. In 1882 the Society for Propagating Knowledge among Russian Jews sent 20 books in Hebrew and Russian to Pren and in the Hebrew periodical
HaMeilitz of the third of January 1882 a letter of thanks to this Society was published signed by 12 community members: Reuven Aryeh Leib Helman; Reuven Miller; Zelig Fridberg; Hilel Rozengard; Eliyahu Bergman; Avraham Yosef Rudaminsky; Yitskhak Fabil; Shimshon Markovsky (?); Binjamin Volk; Ze'ev Natanzon; Pesakh Mosheh Naftalin; Betsalel Fridberg. BenZion Gorfinkel volunteered to be the librarian.
During the years of famine 1869/71 many Jews left and settled abroad. In a list of immigrants of 1869/70 the names of Pren Jews appear as follows: S.Gelchevsky, Frume Heinson, A.Zavrev, M.Levin, M.Marlutsky, J.Serstver, E.Serstver, S.Katz.
The welfare institutions acting in Pren were: Lekhem Aniyim (bread for the poor), who among others collected funds by means of a lottery (1881) operated by Tsevi Haskel and A.Y.Rudaminsky, and Gemiluth Khesed , operated for many years by Aharon Rozengard, who financed its activity through donations. Pren Jews also collected money for communities which had suffered from pogroms or fires. In the summer of 1881 Avraham Yosef Rudmansky and Yitskhak Gorfinkel collected 90 Ruble, a considerable sum in those days, from Pren Jews, sending 40 Ruble to the Rabbi of Augustowa whose town had suffered from a fire, and 50 Ruble, through the editorial board of HaMeilitz, to help victims of pogroms. For a list of donors as published in HaMeilitz see Appendix 1.
The Pren community itself suffered from a pogrom carried out by Polish youngsters on August 15, 1882. During the pogrom 20 people were wounded defending themselves, amongst them the catholic priest who went to defend the Jews and was wounded in his head. The rioters robbed Jewish shops and houses and many of them were left very poor. On October 17, 1882 a call for help was published in HaMeilitz (Nr.38) signed by Aharon Rosengard, Ya'akov Finkelshtein, Eliezer Goldberg and Efrayim Shereshevsky. A fund raising action took place all over Russia and about 1,500 Ruble were collected. Among the main donors were Baron David Ginzburg who donated 400 Ruble, the St.Petersburg Committee 600 Ruble, the Gubernator of Kovno together with Herman Kahan persuaded the Kovno committee to send 150 Ruble, Shaul Hirsh Hurvitz 30 Ruble through the Rabbi of Memel, Rabbi Dr.Rilf, Lurie and Vitenberg from Memel sent 150 Ruble through the Rabbi of Kovno Elkhanan Spektor, Poliakov from Moscow 50 Ruble, Yehoshua Tseitlin 25 Ruble through the editorial board of HaMeilitz etc.
Eighty rioters were put on trial, which lasted for about two years. It took place in April 1884 at the district court in Marijampole and 48 of the accused received light punishments, 26 of them being released thanks to the amnesty granted by the Tzar. The prosecutor was Khlebnikov, who described the victims' sufferings impressively, and from the Jewish side there were Adv. Kaminsky from Warsaw and Adv. Frank from Kovno, assisted by Dr. Tsevi Cohen.
|The Old Synagogue|
The Pren synagogue was built in the eighteenth century and the old BethMidrash was rebuilt in 1903. There were two more praying houses (Klois), one of Goldberg and the other of Abelson.
In 1883 thirty families from Pren established a society whose aim was settlement in Eretz Yisrael. In the old cemetery of Jerusalem there are two tombstones of Pren Jews: YerukhamFishel ben Eliyahu, died 1882 and Mera daughter of Mosheh, died 1890.
In April 1915, during World War I, the Russian military authorities expelled Pren Jews from the town. Some settled in Vilna, but after the German army occupied Pren, they returned home, finding their houses, their praying houses, the ritual bath and the cemetery ruined and robbed. Thirty families needed to be supported by welfare institutions.
During the Period of Independent Lithuania (19181940)
(All pictures of this section were supplied by Peninah BinyaminovitzLevitan)
According to the autonomy law for minorities, issued by the new Lithuanian government Dr. Max Soloveitshik, the minister for Jewish affairs, ordered elections to be held in the summer of 1919 for community committees in all towns of the state. In Pren a committee of eleven members was elected. The committee, active till the end of 1925 when the autonomy was annulled, collected taxes as required by law and was in charge of all aspects of community life through subcommittees.
According to the first census carried out in independent Lithuania in 1923 there were 3,260 people in Pren, 954 of them Jews.
In the 1931 elections to the local municipality council, three Jews were elected: Y.Yonenzon, A.Ginzburg, Sh. Bruk. In the elections of 1934 three Jews were elected again out of nine council members: Rabbi Rubinov, Yonenzon, Ginzburg.
Most of Pren's Jews dealt in commerce, crafts and industry, and 5 families made their living from agriculture.
According to the 1931 survey of the Lithuanian government, Pren had 36 shops, 32 of them in Jewish hands (89%).
Their distribution according to the type of business is given in the table below:
|Type of the business||Total||Owned by Jews|
|Butcher's shops and Cattle Trade||8||6|
|Restaurants and Taverns||3||3|
|Textile Products and Furs||4||4|
|Leather and Shoes||1||1|
|Medicine and Cosmetics||1||0|
|Radio, Bicycles and Electrical Appliances||1||1|
|Watches, Jewels and Optics||1||1|
|Timber and Furniture||3||3|
In 1934 there were already 3 Jewish sawmills and 2 iron and tool shops.
By 1937 there were 52 Jewish artisans: 11 tailors, 8 butchers, 7 bakers, 6 shoemakers, 4 barbers, 4 stitchers, 2 hatters, 2 glaziers, 2 carpenters, 1 blacksmith, 1 painter, 1 photographer, 1 saddler, 1 watchmaker, 1 dressmaker, also 3 coachmen, 3 porters and 2 drivers.
According to the same survey there were 18 factories, 13 being owned by Jews (72%), as can be seen in the following table:
|Type of the Factory||Total||Owned by Jews|
|Oil production, Turpentine, Lime||3||1|
An important role in Pren's Jews economic life was played the folksbank, which had 219 members in 1927.
During these years the economic situation of the small shop owners and artisans deteriorated due to competition by associations of Lithuanian merchants and artisans, who agitated against buying from Jews. Many families in town needed to be subsidized by relatives in the USA, and most of the youth left the town and emigrated abroad or found work in Kovno. In 1939 there were 100 telephones in Pren, 28 of them were owned by Jews.
During this period a Hebrew school of the Tarbuth chain was inaugurated, with about 130 pupils, and next to the school there was a library with about 3,500 books.
Many Jewish children continued their studies at the Lithuanian high school in town.
There was also a Yiddish school, and in 1927 a Kindergarten was established, with Zagarnik as teacher. A private library by Ofenshtein, with books in Hebrew and Yiddish, was also inaugurated. For a short time a Yeshivah Ketanah was active, directed by fourth class students of the Telsh Yeshivah, and during the Autonomy there existed a very active Cultural Youth Society. The local branch of the Tarbuth society organized evening courses, with 45 people participating in 1922.
All Zionist parties had their supporters. The table below shows how Pren Zionists voted for the different parties at six Zionist Congresses:
|Total Voter||Labor Party
First line below, from right: Cohen
Second line from right: Dushchansky, Ushpitz, Teacher Kagan, Tsviyah Milshtein, Khayah'le, Standing: Abelson ……
Third line from right: Dorka Gendler, Peninah Binyaminovitz, Khyene Fugler, Golda'le, Eta Cohen…
Fourth line from right: Mendel Milshtein, Yisrael Goldband, Roza Katz, Berta Kovensky, , Elka Smolensky, Nekhamah Abelson, Mordehai Kovensky
The Zionist Youth Organizations active in Pren were: Gordonia with about 50 members (activist M.Ainshtein), ZS Youth about 100 members, Hakhalutz HaTsair 35 members, and Betar (activists Shilansky and Shtukarevitz families).
In 1933 a branch of HeKhalutz was established with nearly 60 members. For some time a small cooperative factory produced candies in order to support the Khalutsim. Sports activities took place at the Maccabi branch with its 103 members. Jewish artisans were organized within The Society of Artisans.
The old wooden synagogue, the Beth Midrash, which had been rebuilt in 1903, was used for lessons on behalf of The Society for studying Torah, and the Klois also served people during this period. The Rabbi and the Shokhet (slaughterer) made their living mainly from the Shekhitah fees, this being in addition to the small salary they received. The butchers and the poor objected more then once to the high Shekhitah (ritual butcher) fees, and finally in 1934 a Shekhitah strike broke out.
Standing in front: Gershon Raibshtein, Avraham Shtukarevitz, from right: Shemuel Rudnik, Rubinov,Dorka Gendler, Leah Palenbaum, Yosef Tsvaig, Munia Shtukarevitz
Second line: Mendel Milshtein, Yisrael Tsines
First line sitting from right: Shemuel Rudnik*,Yisrael Gurevitz*, Asnath Smolensky*, Avraham Shtukarevitz
Second line: third from rightMina Finkelshtein, sixth Palenbaum Leah*
From right: Shemuel Rudnik, , Vartovsky, Gita Fugler, her brother, , .
From right: Yisrael Gurevitz, Elka Smolensky, Asnath Smolensky, Nekhamah Abelson, Mendel Milshtein
For a partial list of the Rabbis who served in Pren during the years see Appendix II.
The welfare institutions in Pren during this period included Lekhem Aniyim,
Bikur Kholim, Hakhnasath Kalah, Hakhnasath Orkhim, Tsedakah Gedolah, Linat haTsedek and Khevrah Kadisha.
Among the personalities born in Pren were:
Mordehai Rudnik (18931941), member of the ZS (Zionist Socialist) center in Lithuania, director of the Hebrew high school in Shavli, murdered in Ghetto Shavli;
Yosef Gotfarshtein (19031980), lived in Paris, writer, journalist and translator, published articles on theater and art in the Jewish press in Kovno and Paris, and also wrote the extensive article The Folklore of Lithuanian Jews in Yahaduth Lita vol.1, translated into French stories by Y.L.Peretz and others.
During World War II and Afterward
World War II started with the German invasion of Poland on the 1st of September 1939, and its consequences for Lithuanian Jews in general and Pren Jews in particular were felt several months later.
According to 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 Suvalkija region, including Pren.
In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, the majority of shops and factories belonging to the Jews of Pren were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. Several Jewish houses whose size was more than 220 square meters were nationalized and their owners forced to leave them.
The 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.
All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded, several of the activists were detained (Palenbaum, M.Ainshtein etc.) and Hebrew educational institutions were closed. The Yiddish school, directed by Khmilevsky, remained open.
Some Jews began to join institutions under the new rule. In the middle of October 1940 a Jewish antireligious meeting took place at the culture club. The meeting opened with a lecture by Reuven Rom The harm of religion, with Markin, Lundorf, Shor, Lisovsky and Malevsky sitting at the table on the stage. The meeting was addressed by Nathan Rom on behalf of the Comyug, as well as by Y.Epshtein, the secretary of the local communist party. During celebrations of the October Revolution a special party was arranged for Jewish workers. The activists were: Reuven Rom, Sh.Lundorf, Rafael Blum, A.Sheines, Hayim Gordon, Veber.
The German army entered Pren on June 24th 1941. Groups of Lithuanian nationalists immediately organized and took over the rule of the town. They summoned all the Jewish intelligence, pretending they were needed for work. Among them were the director of the school Ya'akov Rainer, the teacher Shelomo Cohen, the long standing Jewish representative in the municipality council Avraham Ginzburg, the secretary of the magistrates court Minah Finkelshtein and others. All were shot by local high school students.
Several Jews were detained instantly, to be accused of being in opposition to the Soviet regime. Some, together with other detainees, were transferred to the jail in Mariampol, whereas others were shot on the spot.
Restrictions against Jews were issued. They were not allowed to have any contact with nonJews and had to wear a yellow patch on their back and chest. In Pren a special ban was issued, forbidding smoke be seen coming from Jewish chimneys, so that Jews could not have warm meals at home. Meanwhile humiliation, abuse and robbery continued.
On the fourteenth of August 1941 the annihilation machine started to work. Lithuanian auxiliary policemen ordered the Jews to gather in the synagogue and from there transferred them to the barracks the Soviets had started to build. Armed Lithuanians continued to patrol the streets, dragging every Jew they met to the barracks. Inside these barracks the Jews were kept in terrible conditions, without water and food, and without any sanitary facilities.
In addition to Jews from Pren, Jews from Balbirishok (Balbieriskis), Veiver (Veiveriai), 89 Jews from Yezne (Jieznas), some Stoklishok (Stakliskes) Jews and other small villages were also brought to the barracks. Congestion became unbearable and diseases spread.
On August 25 Jewish men were forced to dig big pits behind the barracks at the beast cemetery. One pit was 20 by 4 meters and the other 10 by 4 meters.
On August 26 (the third of Elul 5701) the final stage of the annihilation began. On that day large groups of Jews were led from the barracks to the pits at the beast cemetery. It is impossible to describe the terrible death procession of hundreds of Jews from Pren and its vicinity. The first two groups comprised men only. They had to undress down to their underwear, and thus clad were led to the pits. After them came mixed groups of men, women and children. The old and ill were brought in carts.
They were shot by machine guns next to the pits and then covered with lime, while many were still alive. According to eye witnesses, corpses in the pits still moved hours after the murder.
|The site of the mass graves with the monument|
People reported that Mrs. Sarah Blum strangled her own two children, explaining that it is better for their mother to kill them, rather than have them fall into the hands of murderers.
It is known that Mordehai Damsky, who spoke Lithuanian well and had close trade relations with Lithuanians, found shelter with a Lithuanian priest. Hearing that the Jews were being led to their death, he left his hideout and joined his community.
The owner of the known Goldberg's beer brewery, Shakov, hid with his family at the Lithuanian Dr.Brunda, and paid for this with all his property.
After some time the doctor expelled the family. Shakov and his family, who were left without a penny, tried to hide in a forest, but afraid that they would die there from cold and hunger, handed themselves over to the commandant of the town. All were shot.
Yudl Yonenzon, a rich Jew, gave a Lithuanian Activist a large sum of money for hiding him, but after some time he was shot by his so called benefactor.
Only a few of Pren's Jews survived this terrible time: Yosef Podriachik, (one day to be Dr.Yosef Guri of the Hebrew University), Khyene FuglerFlaxman, Berta KovenskyShtapler all managed to escape to Russia, Peninah BinyaminovitzLevitan who was hidden by a Lithuanian priest (all living now in Israel) and Eliezer Mozes, who happened to be in the Kovno Ghetto and from there managed to join the partisans in Lithuania and Belarus. He died eventually in Kibbutz Kinereth.
According to Soviet sources 1,078 Jews, men, women and children are buried in the mass grave in Pren, on the left shore of the Nieman river.
The Jewish cemetery of Pren was totally destroyed and at its site a monument was erected.
|The monument at the site of the destroyed Jewish cemetery with the inscription in Lithuanian: till the year 1941 were buried (here) Jewish residents.|
YadVashem archivesM1/E1972/1792; M1/Q1341/145; TR2 report 88; O53/3,21.
Koniukhovsky Collection 071; files 120,129.
YIVO, Collection of Lithuanian Communities, NewYork, Files 876901, 1538, 1671
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem, (Hebrew).
Dos Vort daily newspaper in Yiddish of the ZS party, Kovno10.11.1934; 11.12.1934; 23.12.1934.
Di Yiddishe Shtime daily newspaper in Yiddish of the General Zionists, Kovno, 26.1.1923; 25.5.1923; 29.5.1928; 31.5.1928; 1.6.1928; 6.6.1928; 7.6.1928.
HaMeilitz, Odessa St.Petersburg, (Hebrew), 22.2.1881; 5.7.1881; 3.1.1882; 1.8.1882; 22.8.1882; 17.10.1882; 7.11.1882; 5.12.1882; 19.12.1882; 28.3.1884; 19.5.1884; 11.6.1886; 30.10.1887; 3.5.1896.
Folksblat daily newspaper of the Folkists, Kovno (Yiddish), 4.11.1935; 30.5.1939; 15.10.1940; 19.11.1940.
Yiddisher Hantverker (Jewish artisan) (Yiddish). Kovno, 1.10.1938.
Di Tseit (The Time) (Yiddish) Kovno, 4.10.1933.
Naujas Gyvenimas (Prienai), 4.9.1991.
List of donors to Jewish communities which had suffered from pogroms and fires
List of donors to Jewish communities which had suffered from pogroms and fires
David Aryeh Zilbernik 5 Ruble (Malinova farm owner)
Eliezer Goldberg 5 Ruble
Aharon Rozengard 3 Ruble
Nakhum Aharon Fridberg 3 Ruble
Ya'akov Moshe Goldberg 3 Ruble
Ya'akov Finkelshtein 3 Ruble
Avraham Fridberg 3 Ruble
Yitskhak Akabas 2.5 Ruble ( from Mikhalishky village)
Z. Bagransky 3 Ruble
Efraim Shereshevsky 2 Ruble
Avraham Yosef Rudaminsky 2 Ruble
Dov Ziman 2 Ruble (from Rudupe farm)
Yosef Mordekhai Hurvitz 2 Ruble
Neta Langleben & son 2 Ruble
Yosef Finkelshtein 2 Ruble
Mendel Levinzon 2 Ruble
Eliezer & David Yavenzon 2 Ruble
Binjamin Volk & his mother in law Peshe 2 Ruble
Tsvi Hertz & broth. Kaplan 2 Ruble
Yitskhak Gorfinkel 2,13 Ruble
Yitskhak Rubin 1 Ruble
Moshe Leib Hurvitz 1 Ruble
Tsvi Haskel 1 Ruble
Aharon Langleben 1 Ruble
Dov Gershenovitz 1 Ruble
Moshe Panemunsky 1 Ruble
Aryeh Finkelshtein 1 Ruble
Aharon Tsvi Hurvitz 1 Ruble
Duber Finkelshtein 1 Ruble
Ze'ev Goldberg 1 Ruble
Zelig Katz 1 Ruble
Yisrael Bernshtein 1 Ruble
David Leib Zagar 1 Ruble
Sarah Mondshein (widow) 1 Ruble
Pesakh Moshe Naftalin 1 Ruble
Meir Talpiyoth 1 Ruble
Hilel Goldberg 1 Ruble
Eliezer Tamovsky 1 Ruble
Moshe Neta Feinberg 1 Ruble (from Matsin village)
Zogvil Lapulatsky 1 Ruble ( from Marsupi village)
Meir Fogler 1 Ruble
Donations of 60 Kop. and less without names.
Partial List of Rabbis who served in Pren
Partial List of Rabbis who served in Pren
Tsemakh in Pren during the third or fourth quarter of the eighteenth century
Nathan died in 1822
NakhumShraga Revel (18381896) for 12 years in Pren
YehudahLeib Rif in Pren 18711883
BenZion Krenitz born 1858, in 1898 in Pren
AvrahamDuber Reines, in 1903 was already in Pren, died in 1956 in Jerusalem
AvrahamYa'akov Neimark, born in 1879, served in Pren 19091924, from 1925 member of the Rabbinate of TelAviv, published the book Eshel Avraham in 10 volumes which includes innovations and explanations on the Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi, received twice the Rav Kook Award
Khaim Pun, from 1938 in Pren, murdered in 1941
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