Telz, (in Yiddish) one of the oldest towns in Lithuania, is situated in the northwestern part of Lithuania the Zemaitija region on the shores of Lake Mastis, and was mentioned in the chronicles of a Crusader Order in 1320. During the second half of the 15th century a royal estate was established there; merchants and artisans began to settle around it. The growing settlement suffered badly during the Swedish invasion in 1710, and two thirds of its population perished from epidemics at that time. In the middle of the 18th century a court was established in Telz, contributing to the development and growth of the town.
Telz was granted the Magdeburg Rights of self rule by King StanislawAugust in 1791.
Until 1795 Telz 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 Lithuania which included Telz fell under Czarist Russian rule, first from 1802 as part of the Vilna Province (Gubernia) as a district administrative center and from 1843 as part of the Kovno Province.
In 1812 Napoleon's retreating army passed through Telz, leaving behind desolation as well as a big gun, which can still be seen in the town park.
|The Main Street (about 1916)|
The town was damaged during the Polish rebellions of 1831 and 1863. In 1907 a fire lasting two days caused much damage, when the center of the town was burnt down. After some time the town was rebuilt, but brick houses were erected instead of the old wooden houses.
During World War I Telz was occupied by the German army who ruled there from 1915 till 1918, after which the Bolsheviks ruled for a short period.
Until 1931 Telz was the district administrative capitol without the rights of a town, and only then was a municipality elected. The Telz district included the towns of Seda, Zidikai, Skaudvile, Salantai, Kretinga, Plunge, Varniai, Gargzdai.
At the beginning of the 1930s a railway was constructed which connected Telz to the port of Klaipeda as well as to the Lithuanian railway network. This was a dominant factor in the economic development of the town.
Jewish Settlement till after World War 1
Apparently Jews settled in Telz at the beginning of the 17th century. At the time, during which the Va'ad Medinath Lita (16231764) was established, the Telz community was a subject of the Kahal of the Keidan district.
According to the order of the Russian Senate of the 1st of January 1800, a municipal council was established in Telz, which included three Jewish delegates. In 1804 the Jews were removed from the municipality at the request of the Christian delegates.
2,500 people lived in Telz in 1797, of them 1,650 were Jews (66%).
Telz Jews also suffered from Blood Libels, one in 1758, the second in 1827. In both cases the so called accused were released by the court, but as a result the Jewish population suffered through a period of fear. There were also plots by estate owners who saw the Jews as competitors in producing and selling alcohol, and in 1825 the nobles asked the Tsar to expel the Jews because they …spread diseases… and threaten to rob and to steal….
During the Polish rebellion of 1831 Telz Jews suffered both from the rebels and from the Cossacks. A Jew called Monish (Menashe) Lukniker was accused of helping the rebels and was hanged by the Russian rulers.
When the authorities in Telz started to arm the population and to enlist men to fight the rebels, local Jews suggested to the authorities that they should not conscript Jews into the army, as they had no arms and also did not know how to use them. Instead they offered to supply the army with the necessary materials, such as steel, leather, gunpowder etc. to which the authorities agreed, and a document was signed to this effect.
Telz was not spared the years of famine 18691872. An assistance committee for Telz Jews, established on behalf of the Gubernator, included the following members: Dr. Mapu, YehudahLeib Gordon, the merchants Leib Kantsel (Gordon's fatherinlaw), and Berman. Later on Izik Rabinovitz and wife, Idel Gordon, Meir Atlas, YehoshuaHeshl Margalioth, Yitshak Elyashev, Hayim Rabinovitz and his son in law Broide, Rabbiner Khazanovitz, Yeshaya Bai, Shabtai Raseinsky, Aharon Neimark, Gershon Meirovitz were also active. In the Hebrew newspaper HaMagid of the years 1872 and 1874, there are lists
of Telz Jews who donated money for hunger victims in other Lithuanian towns.
(See list in Jewishgen.Org. DatabasesLithuaniaHaMagidby Jeffrey Maynard)
In 1870 Telz had 6,481 residents, including 4,399 Jews (68%), and in 1897 there were 6,000 residents and of them 3,088 were Jews (51%).
During the persecutions and pogroms against Jews in the 1880s in Ukraine and other places, the self confidence of Telz Jews was damaged, as a result of which and also because of conscription into the army for a period of six years, many young Jewish men left Telz and immigrated to America, Argentina and South Africa. This wave of immigration lasted till World War I, and during the years 18701923 the Jewish population of Telz decreased by 2,854 people. The cholera epidemic of 1893 took many victims, especially among poor Jews, who lived in overcrowded and bad hygienic conditions. The local rabbi, Eliezer Gordon, initiated the establishment of a committee which collected money from the rich in order to supply the sick with medicines, disinfectants and medical help. Around this time the Telz Jewish hospital was established.
The local Jews made their living from commerce, crafts and peddling. In 1841 there were 25 Jewish artisans: 14 tailors, 10 shoemakers and one watchmaker, not counting wandering artisans. Until World War I there was a strong organization of Jewish artisans, which helped its members with loans for buying raw materials and tools. Among the Jewish merchants there were several who had big businesses of grains and flax and made a good living. There were also several textile merchants who imported merchandise from Germany, one of them being Ya'akov Rabinovitz.
|The Market Place in Telz 1950|
The Great Yeshivah was a source of income of many families, who supplied living quarters and food for hundreds of its students. Many families maintained gardens beside their houses as additional income. In the 1880s many Jewish families earned their living while residing in the surrounding villages.
The economic situation of most Telz Jews the small shop owners, the artisans, the peddlers, the coachmen and the carriers was difficult. There were also poor people who subsisted on welfare support and some who collected alms by going from house to house.
Telz had four synagogues (BethMidrash): the ‘greatnsbsp;, of the tailors, of the butchers and of the soldiers, where Jewish soldiers would swear the oath of allegiance to the Tsar. The great Beth Midrash in particular was impressive because of its dimensions, having beside it a large backyard, the Shulhoif, where the Khupah of wedding couples would be arranged, as well as lamentations during funerals. In addition to prayers, these synagogues were the centers of activities for various societies dealing with Torah studies, such as Talmud, Mishnah, Ein Ya'akov etc.
The Telz Yeshivah, which had been established in 1880 by three young men (Avreikhim)Yitshak Ya'akov Openheim, Meir Atlas, Zalman Abel with the help of a German Jew Ovadyah Lakhman from Berlin developed and prospered, and after Rabbi Eliezer Gordon was nominated as its head in 1884, it became the main institution of orthodox education. At the end of 19th century it had about 400 students and was counted as one of the greatest in the world. Next to it there was a preparatory class (Yeshivah Ketanah) for boys aged 1016.
Amongst the graduates of this Yeshivah were rabbis and spiritual leaders of great Jewish communities in the Diaspora and in Israel, such as Rabbi Professor Simchah Asaf, Rabbi Yekhezkel Abramsky, Professor BenZion Dinur, Avraham Hartsfeld, M.BarIlan and others.
The Yeshivah Building
(Picture supplied by The Central Archives of Lithuanian Jews in Israel)
The dormitories of the Yeshivah students
(Picture supplied by The central Archives of Lithuanian Jews in Israel)
|The Great Beth Midrash|
For a partial list of Rabbis who studied at Telz Yeshivah and their ultimate place of appointment see Appendix 2
Rabbi Eliezer Gordon and Rabbi Shimon Shkop determined the specific Telz system of instruction, which was accepted in most Yeshivoth of America, where many of their heads were of Lithuanian origin. Rabbi Eliezer Gordon was one of the delegates to the Hamburg Conference in 1909, where the decision was taken to create the Agudath Israel party.
In 1910 Rabbi Eliezer Gordon died of a stroke while in London in order to collect money for the Yeshivah. After his death his soninlaw Rabbi YosefLeib Blokh (18491930) was nominated to be the townnsbsp;s rabbi and head of the
Yeshivah. He was considered ‘great’; in Torah, resolute in his judgments and one of the most fanatic rabbis of Lithuania. His influence caused the Telz Yeshivah to become the stronghold of Mitnagduth (AntiChassidism) and of radical orthodoxy in Israel.
In 1859 a school was established in Telz, its first teachers being AvrahamSimkhah Mapu and Meir Shapira, and in 1866 a school for girls was opened. These two schools were partly financed by the government.
In 1879 Jewish women established a vocational school for girls and nearby a boarding school for girls from poor homes. The head of the founding committee was a rich woman named Feige Lurie who donated the money for maintaining this institution. Poor children studied at TalmudTorah schools and others at institutions of a Kheder type, where they learned reading, writing, Bible with Rashi commentaries and Gemara (Talmud). Two such schools were active till World War I, one run by Shimon Mosheh Viner and the other by Mosheh Fridman.
During the 1880s a JewishRussian school for boys and two classes for girls, were established by the poet YehudahLeib Gordon (Yalag). The orthodox proclaimed war against this school and its headmaster, who answered with his witty pen, but after seven years (18651872) in Telz he left the school and the town.
Despite the strong influence of the Yeshivah, whose directors were against Zionism, there was quite a noticeable activity of KhibatZion and later of the Zionist movement. In 1889 the Khovevei Zion (Fans of Zion) society was already active in Telz, and in 19011902 one hundred Shekalim were sold. The first activists of this movement in town were Gershon Epshtein and YosefHilel Berman. The Hebrew newspaper HaMeilitz of 1898 published three lists of donors aid settlement of Eretz Yisrael, and in 1899 an additional two lists were published. In the same year there were 41 members of the Zionist organization in Telz. In 1898 Telz Zionists were invited to send a delegate to Odessa for electing the Central Committee of Khovevei Zion.
A delegate from Telz participated in the conference of Zionist societies from Kovno and the Vilna Gubernias, which took place in 1909.
But already before the KhibatZion movement, Jews from Telz had immigrated to EretzYisrael. In the old Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem there are eight headstones of Telz Jews who died there during the second half of the 19th century:
Hanah, wife of Izik, died 1862;
Leib, son of Ya'akov, died 1863;
Izik Nagar, died 1866;
Ya'akov, son of BenyaminZe'ev, died 1868;
EtaGishe, wife of Mosheh Yehoshua, son of Yekhiel, died 1876;
Zlata, daughter of Mosheh, died 1890;
Sheina, daughter of Ya'akov Mendilsh, died 1891;
Avigdor, son of Rabbi Avraham,
AvrahamYitshak Epelman, born in Telz, came to EretzYisrael in 1883, lived in Jerusalem and made his living from bookbinding.
For a list of correspondents from Telz who wrote in the Hebrew newspapers of these times see Appendix 5.
During Independent Lithuania (19181940)
Society and Economy
On February 16, 1918, the establishment of the Independent Lithuanian State was proclaimed. Consequently the German army withdrew from the area, and life in Telz gradually returned to normal. Telznsbsp;s Jews, whose number at this period was only half of what it had been before the war, started to reconstruct their businesses and their spiritual life.
According to the first government census of 1923, there were then 4,691 people in Telz, including 1,545 Jews (33%).
Following the law of autonomies for minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government, the minister for Jewish affairs Dr. Menakhem (Max) Soloveitshik ordered elections to community committees (Va'ad Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In Telz a Va'ad Kehilah (Community Committee) of 11 members was elected in 1920, after the Tseirei Zion party managed to overcome the opposition of the local Rabbi for collecting taxes for public needs. The committee, active from June 1920 till the end of 1925 when the autonomy law was annulled, collected taxes as required by law and was in charge of all aspects of community life.
In the elections for the municipality council of 1920 and 1931 four Jewish delegates were elected: Dr. Rafael HoltsbergEtsyon, Mosheh Blokh, Yisrael Kraim, Shalom Talpiyoth (Talpes). In the elections of 1934 only three Jews were elected: Mosheh Blokh, Adv. Broide and Mordehai Levin.
Relations between Jews and Lithuanians were generally correct, but from time to time Jews were attacked as a result of libels. In June 1929 Lithuanian youngsters caused a disturbance and attacked Jews and in autumn 1935 rumors were spread that a Lithuanian girl had been raped, also that a Lithuanian child had been kidnapped by Jews. A frantic crowd attacked the Jews, six were injured, and many windows in Jewish houses were smashed. The police arrested the rioters, who were sentenced to jail. The situation became worse after the Nazis took over in neighboring Germany, and in particular after the annexation of the Memel district to Germany in 1939.
Telz Jews made their living from commerce, crafts and light industry. An additional source of income was the leasing of rooms and the supply of meals to the hundreds of Yeshivah students who came from all over Lithuania and from abroad. A few families dealt in agriculture, but the main source of income for shop owners and peddlers were the twice weekly market days.
|View of Telz 1937|
The 1931 government survey showed that there were then 78 businesses in Telz, of which 63 were owned by Jews (81%). Their 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||17||12|
|Restaurants and Taverns||3||1|
|Textile Products and Furs||17||17|
|Leather and Shoes||4||4|
|Haberdashery and Appliances||3||3|
|Medicine and Cosmetics||4||1|
|Watches, Jewels and Optics||1||1|
|Radio, Bicycles and Electric Equipment||1||0|
|Tools and Steel Products||4||3|
|Machinery and Transportation||2||1|
|Stationery and Books||1||1|
According to the same survey there were 48 factories in Telz and of them 24 were Jewish owned (50%), as can be seen in the following table:
|Type of factory||Total||Jewish Owned|
|Metal Workshops, Tin, Power Plants||3||0|
|Chemical Industry: Spirits, Soaps, Oil||2||1|
|Textile: Wool, Flax, Knitting||5||2|
|Timber and Furniture||2||0|
|Paper Industry: Printing Press||2||1|
|Food, Flour mills||21||11|
|Barber Shops, Goldsmiths||4||4|
In 1922 Jewish artisans reestablished their society with 6 members. In 1937 103 Jewish artisans could be found in town, half of them belonging to their organization, including 14 tailors, 12 shoemakers, 11 butchers, 9 bakers, 6 watchmakers, 6 barbers, 5 stitchers, 5 painters, 4 photographers, 3 glaziers, 3 hatters, 3 corset makers, 3 tinsmiths, 3 dressmakers, 2 oven builders, 2 bookbinders, 2 locksmiths, 1 electrician , 1 blacksmith, 1 cloth dyer, 1 potter and 6 others. The economic situation of most of them was difficult, but the Gemiluth Khesed fund of the artisans, established with money from former Telz'ers in America, helped many of them by giving loans without interest. The artisans society signed an agreement with 3 doctors and a pharmacy to provide its members with medical help and medicines at lower prices. On Chanukah the society would organize a party, the proceeds of which were used for its activities. With the help of the HIAS society the artisans organization would support immigration of artisans abroad.
When Telz was connected to the railway line ShavlMemel in 1927, the Jewish coachmen and porters lost their living. In 1925 there were 2 Jewish women dentists in town.
From the middle of the 1930s the economic situation of most of Telz Jews deteriorated. The organization of Lithuanian merchants Verslas, supported by the government, led an open propaganda campaign against buying in Jewish shops. Lithuanian merchants established cooperatives and big modern shops, competing with Jewish artisans and shop owners, slowly supplanting them.
The Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank), whose director for many years was Mordehai Levin, played an important role in the economic life of Telznsbsp;s Jews. In 1920 it had 120 members, by 1927 the number had increased to 250 and a year later it had 300 members. There was also a branch of The United Society for Credit to Jewish Agriculture in Lithuania, which was centered in Kovno.
Telz had 168 phone subscribers in 1939, of them 41 Jewish, including 5 Jewish institutions.
Education and Culture
Almost the entire education system in Telz was in the hands of the orthodox .
In 1920 a Kindergarten connected to the Yavneh chain was established, and from the middle 1930s a Kindergarten belonging to the WIZO (Women's International Zionist Organization) was also active. By 1921 there was an elementary school for girls where, in addition to general studies, also prayers, Bible with Rashi commentary, Jewish laws etc. were taught, and where 120 girls studied in 1935. In 1920 an Educational Institute for Boys opened, where Gemara (Talmud) was taught to such an extent that after 4 years of instruction the students could be accepted at the Mekhinah (Preparatory class) of the Yeshivah. Girls continued their studies at the Hebrew Yavneh High School which had been established in 1921, and was famous all over Lithuania because of its strong religious education and the high standard of its general studies taught there. Rabbis and orthodox Jews of the Zemaitija region sent their daughters to this high school, whose first headmaster was Dr. Levi, followed by Shemuel Tsukerman. For the next 10 years (19231933) the headmaster was Dr. Yitskhak Rafael HoltsbergEtsyon, later the inspector of the government religious education chain in Israel, who died in 1982. Other headmasters were Mrs. Dr. LevitanShereshevsky, Dr. Zaltsberg, Shalom Shokhat, Shelomoh Trakhtenberg and Y.Shnaider, the last two murdered in the Holocaust, together with 7 of the 14 teachers who taught at this high school (See Appendix 6). During its existence 12 classes graduated from this school, which was disbanded in 1940 when Lithuania became a Soviet republic.
There were biannual courses taught for women teachers from 1923, and from 1928 also an annual pedagogic institution for women teachers granting a matriculation certificate. At this time, a teachers seminary women and men separately recognized by the Education Ministry, trained teaching personnel for all the schools of the Yavneh chain in Lithuania, pupils studying for 4 years, and altogether 10 classes graduated. Its spiritual director was Avraham Mordehai Vesler (18921941), who was murdered in July 1941.
|The Hebrew High School Yavneh|
|The second graduation class of the Yavneh High School for girls 1927|
|The one year Hebrew pedagogic institute Yavneh Telz, 1929|
All these educational institutions were connected to the Yavneh chain and were supervised by the townnsbsp;s Rabbi and head of the Yeshivah YosefLeib Blokh, and after his death in 1930, by his son AvrahamYitshak Blokh (18901941), who inherited his position.
For a partial list of the Rabbis who served in Telz during these years see Appendix 1.
For a partial list of the educational staff of the Yeshivah see Appendix 4.
In the years 19201927 there was a vocational ORT school, where dressmaking was taught, but attempts to establish a school of the popular Zionist Tarbuth chain in Telz during all these years failed.
The secular cultural center was the library, housing Hebrew and Yiddish books and where there was also a reading room with newspapers. The Yeshivah students would enter the library sneaking in order to glance at the books. In the beginning the directorate of the Yeshivah were against the reading of secular books, but in time they came to terms with it.
From time to time members of HeKhalutz, of The Artisans Organization and others would promote shows in order to collect money for various public organizations.
The second graduation class of the annual teachers seminar Yavneh 1931
On top of the picture the headmaster Dr. Rafael HoltsbergEtsyon
The fourth grade of the elementary Yavneh school 193839
with the headmaster Mentchovsky and teachers Fogelman and Mrs. Golomb
Sitting from right: Avraham Pozeritz, Nakhum Levin, headmaster Pinkhas Shnaider, Nakhum Sandler, Ya'akov Levin
Standing from right: Yisrael Ardman, Nathan Shkliar, Yavetz, Shpital, Yankelevitz, Tuviyah Ba'alShem
Zionist and other public activities
In spite of the fact that the antiZionist religious AgudathYisrael organization was dominant in Telz, there were many who belonged to the Zionist movement. Almost all Zionist parties were represented in town, including a branch of WIZO. In the table below we can see how Telz Zionists voted for the different parties during the six Zionist Congresses:
|Total Voter||Labor Party
|Labor party members at the Keren HaYesod committee 193435|
HaShomerHaTsair branch in Telz 1932 with Berl Cohen (First from right),
Mosheh Vareyes, Hanah Leibovitz, Hayah Leibovitz, Mikhal Noik and brothers Levin.
Standing from right: Sason, Eivin, Adv. Sh.Broide, V.Funk, Broide, Grinker, M.Noik
Sitting from right: Leah Kopl, Glaz, Abramovitz, Shepselboim, Borokhovitz
Collections for the National Funds (Keren Kayemeth, Keren HaYesod) were carried out by the local committees of these funds and by members of the Zionist youth organizations: Tseirei Zion; HaShomer HaTsairN.Ts.Kh. (Noar Tsofi Khalutsi). The founders were Hanah Sason, Mikhal Noik, Pikele Borokhovitz, Hayah Leibovitz and Hanah Leibovitz; Betar, founded in 1929 by Leib Tabatshnik, IskeYitshak Blokh, Esther Blokh, Eliezer Natanovitz, Noik, Leib Blokh, Meir Yoselevitz; and Gordonia.
The activists of the ZS (Zionist Socialist) party were: Nisan Sason, Are Grinker, Yosl Ba'al Shem, Shepslboim, Hayim Hurvitz, Sheindl Rabinovitz and her husband, Vigodsky and Reuven Katsin.
There were Kibutzei Hakhsharah (Training Kibbutzim) of HeKhalutz and of the General Zionists. The Khalutzim who succeeded in getting a Certificate (Aliyah Permission) and immigrated to EretzYisrael, joined Kibbutzim Dafnah, Givath Brener, Yagur and others. In 1933 the HeKhalutz HaDati (Religious Khalutz) organization was founded in Telz which established several Kibutsei Hakhsharah in Lithuania.
Sport activities were maintained at the Maccabi sports organization, which had about 70 members.
HeKhalutz HaDati (Mizrahi) in Telz 1934
In the middle of the second line Tsevi Bernshtein
|Athletes of Maccabi Telz 1926|
A great part of the orthodox population was organized in the Agudath Yisrael party and in the Tseirei Agudath Yisrael youth organization. These organizations published the monthly HaNe'eman (The Trustee) in Hebrew, whose editor was Y.Shemuelovitz from 1925, and the weekly Der Yiddisher Lebn (The Jewish Life), in Yiddish. Both were edited in Telz and printed in Kovno.
|The periodical Yiddisher Lebn (Jewish Life)|
Rabbi Kotz from Telz was the chairman of the executive of Tseirei Agudath Yisrael in Lithuania. This organization established three Kibutzei Hakhsharah in Lithuania and encouraged its members to learn Hebrew and immigrate to EretzYisrael. At their ceremonies they used the bluewhite flag.
In 1927 the religious Tifereth Bakhurim youth organization was established, the founding committee including: Mosheh Litvak, Yitshak Shmulevitz, Yosef Pogramansky and Mosheh Helfan. In 1929 the organization had 50 members, its spiritual leaders being Rabbi Elkhanan Viner and Rabbi Zalman Dubtsansky. The first members and activists were: Yisrael Khetz, Pesakh Cohen, Mikhael Cohen, the brothers Laikh, Elkhanan Klotz, Mendl Tsvik, Berl Vain.
Until 1920, when it was banned by the government, a branch of the antiZionist workers organization Bund was active in Telz. The activists were Rivkah Jafe, Motl Maler and others, who also activated a Yiddish elementary school for a short time.
There was a volunteer fire brigade headed by Mosheh Blokh, who was also the founder of the Revisionist party in Telz.
Religion and Welfare
The four synagogues continued to serve as the center of religious life just as before the war, the same being true of all the societies of learning the Torah. The great Beth Midrash served not only for praying, but also for sermons and speeches of rabbis and public workers, local and outside activists of the Zionist parties. The local rabbi would deliver a sermon to the public twice a year, on Shabbat Shuvah (before Yom Kippur) and on Shabbat HaGadol (before Pesakh).
In 1921 the Kolel Rabanim (quasiuniversity for rabbis) was established, where students participated in advanced studies in Judaism and Torah, from where important Rabbis in Lithuania and the Diaspora graduated. In 1927 a special building for this institution was erected, and in 1937 a handsome building for the Mekhinah (preparatory classes) of the Yeshivah was built. The headmasters and teachers of the Mekhinah were Avner Okliansky; Pinkhas Helfan, born in Telz in 1898; Mordekhai Katz, later partner in establishing the Telz Yeshivah in Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
In this Yeshivah, which became larger and stronger in this period and famous all over the Jewish world, discipline was severe, as a result of which many students left. Fanaticism among the orthodox was so strong that in autumn 1938, for example, two respected Rabbis beat a Jewish barber for working on Shabbat, for which they were sentenced in court to four days house arrest.
In 1937, apart from Lithuanian students, the Yeshivah had 30 students from Germany, 5 from Hungary, 4 from America, 5 from England, 5 from Latvia, 1
from Africa, 2 from Switzerland, 2 from Belgium, 1 from the Netherlands and 1 from France.
Telz welfare institutions included the hospital with its 16 beds, headed by Dr. Menukhin, Bikur Kholim, Linath HaTsedek, Khevrah Kadisha, Gemiluth Khesed (Loan fund managed all the years voluntarily by Ya'akov David Maizel), Gemiluth Khesed of the artisans Ezrath Poalim, Gemiluth Khesed of the Artisans Organization, a popular kitchen and a Women Society for supporting the poor and the ill. The OZE organization ran a clinic and a summer camp for children from needy families under the direction of Mrs. Rachel Blokh and Mrs. Sonia Rostovsky. In 1939 a building for this camp was inaugurated in a village near Telz, which was named after Dr. Menukhin, who worked voluntarily at OZE.
In 1939 there were about 2,800 Jews in Telz, about 27% of the total population.
During World War II and Afterwards
World War II started with the German invasion of Poland on the 1st of September 1939, but its consequences for Lithuanian Jews in general and Telznsbsp;s Jews in particular had already been felt several months earlier. On the 20th of March 1939, Hitler transmitted an ultimatum to Lithuania to leave Memel within 24 hours. About 7,000 Jews who lived in Memel and in its region escaped, leaving most of their belongings behind, looking for asylum in the Zemaitija region and in Kovno. Many of them settled in Telz, where the Jewish community cared for them.
In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union, becoming a Soviet Republic. Following new laws, the majority of the factories and shops belonging to the Jews of Telz were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded, several of the activists were detained, Hebrew educational institutions were closed, and the Hebrew school converted into a Yiddish one.
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 1941 several Jewish families who were considered unreliable elements were exiled to Siberia. Among them were at least 2 Zionists with 4 family members (Grisha Volpert, wife Hayah and 2 little daughters) and 2 merchants with 5 family members (Josel and Gavriel Zax), whose enterprises were nationalized
|The ending party of the Gemara Society at the Khevrah Kadisha klois, 1930|
The new rulers confiscated the buildings of the Yeshivah and the Mekhinah, and converted them into an elementary Lithuanian school and a storehouse. The residents of Telz were prohibited from renting rooms to Yeshivah students on the pretext that the rooms were needed for Red Army soldiers. As a result the students dispersed into five nearby towns (Telz, Trishik, Yelok, Papelan and Shidleve), thereby forcing the teachers to travel from place to place in order to teach them.
Rabbis Mordehai Katz and Eliyahu Meir Blokh left Telz in the autumn of 1940 in order to collect money for the Yeshivah and to discuss the possibility of transferring the Yeshivah to another country. They arrived in America in the winter of 1941, together with ten Yeshivah students, who had made the trip through Siberia, Japan and Australia. In this same year a Yeshivah opened in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, headed by these two Rabbis.
After the war the TelzStone Yeshivah was established near Jerusalem.
When the Jews of Telz became aware that the German army had invaded Lithuania on the 22nd of June 1941, they began to escape to the surrounding villages and to Russia, but very few managed to get there. On the 23rd the town was bombed by the Germans, and on the 26th they entered Telz.
Even before the Germans entered Telz, armed Lithuanians with white stripes on their sleeves took over the town. On Friday, June 27, Telznsbsp;s Jews were expelled from their houses and directed to the shore of Lake Mastis, having been ordered to leave their houses unlocked. On the shore of the lake they were encircled by armed Lithuanians under German command, which they interpreted to mean that they were going to be murdered or drowned in the
lake. The townnsbsp;s Rabbi Blokh consoled them, telling them that they should behave quietly and proudly as Jews behave who are going to die on Kiddush HaShem (Sanctification of God). During the night men and women with children were separated from each other, and anyone showing opposition was beaten with rifle butts. The men were left by the lake, whereas the women and children were allowed to return home, where they found their houses emptied of their contents, the doors and windows broken.
|The Telz Jewish cemetery|
The next day, Shabbat, June 28, armed Lithuanians appeared, expelling the women and children from their houses with beatings, after which they were led to the Rainiai farm, about 4 km from Telz, where they found the men who had been separated from them the night before. A Jew, an American citizen, who had come to visit relatives in Telz, refused to go with them, waving his American passport. He was shot on the spot.
The Jews were held in the open on this farm for several days, and thereafter were imprisoned in stalls full of manure as well as in the barns, men and women being separated. The Lithuanian commander of the camp, Platakis, nominated a Jewish representative committee of seven members, headed by Rabbi AvrahamYitshak Blokh and his brother Rabbi Zalman Blokh. The other members of the committee were the engineer Tsemakh Ginzburg, Gurvitz and Yitshak Blokh. This committee tried to improve conditions, such as setting up a field kitchen, where rye flour porridge was cooked. In the mornings the prisoners would get 100 grams of black bread, 20 grams of butter and several potatoes. They also got permission to be together with their families.
After eight days the men were taken to work, their first task being to dig up from their graves the corpses of 73 political prisoners who had been imprisoned in Telz prison and had been murdered by Soviet security men before they withdrew. Under the pretext that Jews had taken part in that murder, the Telz men were forced to wash the corpses, to kiss them and lick the decayed wounds. The thirty men who were the victims of this abuse, having been beaten and wounded, were forced later to kneel in the street during the funeral of the murdered. The Catholic Bishop Staugaitis proclaimed the day of the funeral, July 13, as Holy Sunday, to symbolize victory over Soviet Rule.
All the guards in the camp and in the working places were Lithuanians.
After two weeks an order was issued for the Jews to hand over their money, gold and silver items and other valuables. They were promised through their representatives that everything they handed over would be deposited in the Lithuanian Government Bank till after the war. Each family was allowed to keep 1,000 Rubles. The Jews were warned that anyone not obeying this order would be shot. High school pupils and students, escorted by Lithuanian auxiliary police, came to the camp and robbed the Jews of everything they still possessed, even prams.
On the 14th of July several Germans and Lithuanians appeared in the camp, driving all from the sheds and barns. The women and children were returned to the sheds, but the men up to the age of 15 were forced to run in a circle, fall down and stand up, while Lithuanians armed with sticks stood around, scourging them and hitting them all over their bodies. Many of Telznsbsp;s residents came to see the special show and clapped. Several elderly Jews died there and then, the others, smitten and wounded, were put back into barns.
80 young and strong Jewish men were then taken from there, given shovels and buckets, and led to a nearby grove where pits already existed. They were forced to pump the water out of the pits, then they were shot and thrown into the pits. The shooting was heard at the camp, but the prisoners did not realize what was going on. During the night the Lithuanians came to the camp, demanding 24 men more for work, and after a short while shooting was heard again.
The next day, June 15, 1941 (20th of Tamuz 5701) all men were taken out of the camp, and led, in groups, to the grove and murdered. They were forced to undress and stand on a plank which was put across the pit, and there they were shot. Many fell into the pit unhurt, and thus buried alive. In the afternoon a big rain storm erupted, and the shooting stopped. Those men still alive were ordered to retrieve some garments from the pile, to dress and run to the shacks, where they were concentrated in one of them. Some managed to infiltrate into the women's shack and disguise themselves as women, but the next morning the killing continued, including the disguised men. The rabbis, whose beards were cut off or plucked off together with the skin of their faces, were in the last group.
|Telz and the nearby murder site|
|Mass grave sites near the dairy company in Telz|
|Inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian:
in this place was till 1987 the Telz Jewish cemetery
Pictures taken by Yosef Woolf, Ilaniyah ,Israel, 1996
|Monument on the mass graves at Rainiai|
|The inscription on the monument above in Lithuanian:
In this place was spilled the blood of about 7000 Jews, children, women, men, who were cruelly murdered by the Nazis and their local collaborators in 1941.
|Road sign to the Monument on mass graves at Rainiai killing site|
The woods of Rainiai.
In this place the blood of 500 innocent Jewish girls and boys was spilled.
They were murdered in 1941 by the Nazis butchers and their local collaborators.
Before the shooting the men were forced to take off their clothes, the good clothes being taken by the murderers for themselves and the rest brought to the camp. The women recognized the garments of their husbands and in them even photos of themselves and their children, and a great cry arose. In the nights the Lithuanian guards would burst into the barns and frighten the women, many of whom were raped.
Several days after the murder, the thin layer of soil which covered the corpses at the graves, started to crack and a terrible stench enwrapped the area. This may have been one of the reasons for transferring the women to Geruliai camp, about 10 km from Telz.
On July 22 Lithuanians appeared in Rainiai camp, announcing that in a few hours all women and children would be transferred to the Geruliai camp. Most of these miserable women had to walk on foot, carrying their few belongings to the new camp, with only a few being taken on carts. Before the transfer several SS men with Lithuanians arrived in Rainiai camp and ordered the women to hand over their leather handbags, shoes, boots etc. and also any money they still had.
At the Vishovian (Viesvenai) estate, located about 9 km southeast of Telz, Jews from the following towns were concentrated: Alsiad (Alsedziai), Riteve (Rituva), Vorne (Varniai), Luknik (Luoke), Loikeve (Laukuva), Zharan (Zarenai), Naveran (Navarenai). Here, like in Rainiai, the men were badly beaten and were then murdered on July 1517. Women and children were also transferred to the Geruliai camp.
This camp had six big shacks where soldiers of the Red Army had been accommodated before, full of lice in the straw, on the ground, and on the walls. The Telz women and children, together with women and children brought from the surrounding towns, altogether about 4,000 people, were crowded into these shacks. The men from these towns had been shot previously at the Rainiai grove and other places. Food was scarce and many women endangered themselves by going to neighboring villages in order to exchange possessions for food. In August 1941 epidemics of typhus and scarlet fever spread. There was no soap and water was in short supply, so many people died. In several cases women and children were taken to the hospital in Telz, but only a few survived.
The law allowed farmers to take Jewish women from the camp for harvesting, because of a shortage of workers, but they had to undertake to keep in touch with the police and return the women immediately on request. Several hundreds of young women were taken by the farmers, their fate depending of the mood of the farmer. There were some who suffered from the farmers who exploited them ruthlessly, but there were also other farmers who treated them more humanly, later even saving some of them after they managed to escape from the ghetto.
Most of the women and children who stayed in Geruliai camp, managed camp life in spite of the hard conditions there, the women's committee attempting to contact the Lithuanian leadership. They approached Bishop Staugaitis to ask his community to show mercy to the women, but he refused. The district commander pacified them, saying that they would not suffer for long, because their end was close. The district doctor Mikulskis, who was close to the Jews and spoke fluent Yiddish, promised to help them. At a meeting of Lithuanians he demanded that the suffering of the women be ended by their quick liquidation.
By the end of August farmers were ordered to return all their women workers to Geruliai. In and around the camp there was a feeling of increased numbers of guards and policemen from neighboring towns.
On Shabbat, August 30th 1941, (7th of Elul 5701), Lithuanian policemen expelled all women and children from the shacks, after having robbed them of their last belongings the night before. The Lithuanians selected about 600 girls and young women from the crowd and led them by foot to Telz. The remaining women were ordered to take off their upper dresses and their shoes and to place them in orderly piles. They were then ordered to form lines, 75 women in a line, and were thus led to the pits which had been prepared near the camp. There they were placed at the brink of the pit and the murderers shot them from behind, the other women standing aside, witnessing the murder of their friends whilst waiting for their turn. Those men who had impersonated women were also among the murdered. Many of the women fell into the pit wounded and were thus buried alive. Children were thrown into the pits alive, the heads of babies being crushed with stones.
Those women and girls who had been brought to Telz were imprisoned in a socalled Ghetto, which had been established in a shabby alleyway near the lake. Three sides of the Ghetto were encircled by a high wooden fence, with several lines of barbed wire, the fourth side being the lake. There was a gate in the fence, guarded by Lithuanian policemen. Inside the ghetto there were small wooden houses, empty, no furniture and no beds, without windows, doors or stoves. In the middle of the Ghetto was the old Beth Midrash and in the alleyway there was a swamp which had never dried out.
The situation of the women was very difficult. They walked around barefoot, almost naked and were hungry. Some of the garments of the murdered women were brought to the ghetto, the good ones having been taken by the murderers.
Some of the women were taken to work as maid servants in Lithuanian houses where they got some food. Others were allowed to go to the town for several hours in the evenings, in order to beg from door to door for some food. Many were taken for agricultural work by farmers of the surrounding villages. There they were forced to have sexual relations with the farmers. One rich farmer at one of the villages took ten young girls, 1418 years of age, for work. After the work was finished only five returned to the ghetto, it becoming known later that the other five had been raped and brutally murdered. Most of the farmers used the women for difficult work and treated them with contempt. There were also cases where friendly relations developed between the women and the farmers, some of whom eventually sheltered them when they escaped from the ghetto.
In the ghetto the surviving doctors Dr. Blat, Dr. Shapira and the dentist Srolovitz established an improvised clinic. In the terrible ghetto conditions, these doctors tried their best to help the sick women and especially the many women in confinement. All the babies born died after a short time.
On Rosh HaShanah 5702 the women gathered in the old Beth Midrash and a twenty year old woman Kadishon volunteered to be the SheliakhTsibur (Hazan) for prayers. On Yom Kippur too prayers took place and another woman Goldah Hamerlan was the Hazan.
A Lithuanian committee which came to check, as it were, sanitary conditions in the ghetto, disseminated rumors that a typhus epidemic was raging there, as a result of which the local people refused to supply any food to Jewish women, ousting them from the doors of their houses fearing infection.
The autumn of 1941 was cold and the women in the ghetto as well as those who worked in the fields harvesting potatoes, suffered greatly from the cold. From time to time rumors spread that the liquidation of the ghetto was imminent. There were also rumors that conversion to Christianity could save lives, and many young girls approached the local priest asking for conversion. These girls were allowed to leave the ghetto every Sunday in order to go to church.
|The monuments on the mass graves near Geruliai|
|Forest near the village of Viesvenai. One of two adjacent massacre sites|
On December 22nd an order was issued to return all the women who worked in the villages to the ghetto. Several peasants brought the women tied up, fearing that they could escape on the way. This was the indication that the end of the ghetto was near. Several hundred women managed to escape from the ghetto over the lake or under the fence.
On the 30th and 31st of December 1941 (9th and 10th of Teveth 5702) the women were taken out from the ghetto and led in groups to the pits beside the Rainiai estate, where they were murdered. Of the women who escaped 64 survived and actually survived to liberation day. Several tens arrived at the Shavli (Siauliai) ghetto, their fate eventually being the same as the other ghetto Jews.
According to Soviet sources there are four mass graves near Telz:
|After the war, memorial monuments were erected at the murder sites and in the
Holocaust Cellar on Mount Zion in Jerusalem,
where this tablet in memory of the Telz community was affixed.
(Translated by Ralph Salinger)
YadVashem archives: M9/15(6); TR10/40; 03/640, 3217; 022/53, 55; 036/2/204207
Koniukhovsky Collection 071, Files 34, 35, 37, 59
YIVO,NY, Collection of the Jewish Communities in Lithuania, Files 461465, 1666
Elitsur (Ritov) Sarah, Biyeri ubemistorim (Hebrew), Tel Aviv, 1987
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem (Hebrew), page 350
Telsiai Book (Hebrew and Yiddish), editor Yitshak Alperovitz, Association of former Telz Jews in Israel, Tel Aviv, 1984
Janulaitis Augustinas. Zydai Lietuvoje (Jews in Lithuania), (Lithuanian) Kaunas 1923
Baltakevicius Juozas, Lietuvos Miestai (Lithuanian cities), Siauliai 1932
HaMeilitz (St. Petersburg) (Hebrew): 7.7.1869, 4.3.1879, 21.2.1882, 9.5.1882, 20.7.1883, 30.7.1883, 7.2.1893
Dos Vort, Kovno (Yiddish): 25.10.1934, 10.11.1934, 11.11.1934, 13.11.1934, 18.12.1934, 4.3.1935, 12.3.1935, 22.8.1935, 10.10.1935, 17.10.1935, 22.10.1935, 30.10.1935, 25.9.1938, 2.12.1938, 12.2.1939
Folksblat, Kovno (Yiddish): 18.8.1935, 20.8.1935, 26.8.1935, 14.10.1936, 24.5.1937, 11.7.1938, 28.7.1939, 29.11.1939, 3.11.1940, 19.11.1940
Di Yiddishe Shtime (The Jewish Voice) Kovno (Yiddish): 22.9.1920, 15.10.1920, 18.5.1922, 26.1.1923, 25.5.1923, 3.1.1928, 17.6.1928, 26.10.1928, 26.6.1929, 1.10.1929, 11.11.1929, 29.1.1930, 14.2.1930, 14.5.1930, 3.9.1930, 25.3.1931, 19.6.1931, 26.6.1931, 15.1.1932, 27.5.1932, 24.9.1935, 10.10.1935, 16.10.1935, 17.10.1935, 23.10.1935, 4.11.1935, 3.8.1936, 26.5.1937, 10.10.1937, 20.10.1937, 18.5.1938, 6.6.1938, 20.12.1939
Yiddisher Hantverker (Jewish Artisan) Kovno, (Yiddish): Nr.4, 1.11.1938.
Di Tsait (Time) (Yiddish), Kovno, 4.12.1933
Der Yiddisher Lebn (Jewish Life) (Yiddish) KovnoTelz,15.7.1938
HaNe'eman (The trustee) (Hebrew) Telz, Nr. 21,1930
HaTsofeh (Observer) (Hebrew) Tel Aviv, 30.8.1940, 2.9.1940, 19.7.1946
Yiddishe Tsaitung (Jewish newspaper) (Yiddish), Landsberg, December 1947, JanuaryJuly1948
Tsait (Time) (Yiddish) Shavl, 12.6.1924
Folksshtime (Voice of the people) (Yiddish) 7.6.1958
Appendix 1 A partial list of Rabbis who officiated in Telz.
Ze'evVolf Lipkin (father of Yisrael Salanter), in Telz 18351858 (the year of his death).
Yosef Rozin (Reizin) , in Telz 18641873, died in 1885 in Slonim.
Yehoshua Heler (18141880), in Telz 18761880.
Eliezer Gordon (18401910), from 1874 in Telz, from 1884 headmaster of the Yeshivah.
YosefLeib Blokh (18491930), since 1884 headmaster of the Yeshivah, from 1911 Rabbi of Telz.
AvrahamYitskhak Blokh (son of Yosef Leib) (18911941), from 1930 Rabbi of Telz and spiritual leader of the Yeshivah, member of Moetseth Gedolei HaTorah (Council of Leading Rabbis), leader of Agudath Yisrael and active in the Yavneh chain. Murdered on the 15th of July 1941.
Appendix 2 A partial random list of Rabbis who studied at Telz Yeshivah and their ultimate place of appointment.
AvrahamEliyahu RegensburgChicago; Yom Tov Lipman LevinBrooklyn; Yitskhak Lax Bronx; Shimon GrosbeinBrooklyn; Moshe Shatskes headmaster at the Yeshivah University in NewYork; Robinson Chicago; Yosef David FeinPortland; Eliezer Pupko Philadelphia; Dov Revelheadmaster of the YitskhakElkhanan Yeshivah in NewYork; Moshe Ze'ev CohenChicago; Yisrael LevTrenton, USA; Barukh Rabinovitz Chicago; Yitskhak Izik FridmanNakhlath Yitskhak, Israel; Eliezer PshedmeskyBronx; Moshe Shimon ZivitzPitsburg; MirvisCapetown, S.A.
Appendix 3 A partial list of personalities born in Telz
A.L.Esterman (18591944), graduate of Berlin University, active Zionist together with Dr. Leo Motskin, Shmeriyahu Levin and others, later judge in TelAviv.
BenShemuel Melamed (1869?), one of the Zionist activists in Germany, established the Young Yisrael' movement in Germany together with Dr.Leo Motskin.
Yehudah Zilbert, Rabbi in Novgorod Russia for 37 years.
YisraelAba TsitronKitroni , member of the Va'ad Leumi and one of activists of the Mizrakhi party in EretzYisrael, wrote articles on Halakha issues.
Avraham Zusman (18311915), lived in Jerusalem from 1856, one of the founders of the first public library in town and among the establishers of the newspaper Ariel which in 1877 united with HaKhavatseleth, died in Jerusalem.
Moshe Krein (18921933), from 1920 in Johannesburg S.A., editor of the newspaper Dos Neie Vort (The New Word), wrote poems and articles, from 1930 high official of the Foreign Trade Ministry in Moscow, died in Berlin.
Ya'akov Rabinovitz (1909?), journalist, secretary of the ZS (Zionist Socialist) party in Lithuania, was imprisoned in Kovno ghetto, from 1948 in Montreal, published articles at Dos Vort Kovno, Afrikaner Yiddishe Canader Odler etc.
AvrahamAba Verner (18371911), Rabbi in Finland until 1891, later Rabbi for 20 years in London.
Yisrael Aharoni (Aharonovitz) (18821946), from 1901 in EretzYisrael, pioneer of research of fauna of EretzYisrael and neighboring countries, established the Zoological Museum at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, lecturer on Zoology at the University.
Berl Cohen (19111993), general secretary of the ZS party in Lithuania, deputy editor of the Yiddish daily Dos Vort in Kovno. In the years 19411943 was imprisoned in Kovno ghetto and survived thanks to a Lithuanian peasant who saved him. In 1950 immigrated to America and settled in Brooklyn, published several books in Yiddish, among them the extended book Shtet, Shtetlakh un dorfishe Yishuvim in Lite bis 1918 (Cities, towns and villages in Lithuania until 1918), NY 1992.
Appendix 4 A partial list of the educational staff at the Yeshivah
Meir Atlas (18481925)
Shimon Shkop, teacher in Telz 18841902
Khayim Shalom Tuviyah Rabinovitz, teacher in Telz 19001931
Eliyahu Meir Blokh (18941955), teacher in Telz till 1940 when he went to America for collecting money for the Yeshivah, partner in establishing the Telz Yeshivah in Cleveland
Azriel Rabinovitz, teacher since 1931, murdered in the Holocaust
Yisrael Ordman, teacher, murdered in the Holocaust
Mordekhai Rabinovitz, teacher
Yehudah Leib Khasman (18691936), since 1896 spiritual director at the Yeshivah, since 1927 spiritual director at Khevron Yeshivah, died in Jerusalem
Pinkhas Moshe Gordon, spiritual director
Zalman Blokh (18861941), since 1924 spiritual director
Ya'akov Katz, spiritual director 19031908
Shemuel Fondiler, Mashgiakh (inspector), murdered in the Holocaust
Moshe Olshvang (19021941), inspector, murdered in the Holocaust
Appendix 5 Partial list of correspondents who wrote in the Hebrew newspapers:
HaMeilitz: Avraham Dimant, Ze'ev Holtsberg, Levin, Shelomoh Fridman, YehoshuaHeshl Kalman
HaMagid: Eliezer Benyamin Dobkin, Yitskhak Markus, Meir Brik, Eidl Gordon
HaTsefirah: Khayim Aharonson, Barukh Margalioth, Eliezer Benyamin Dobkin
HaCarmel: Avraham Simkhah Mapu, Meir Eliyahu Shapira
Appendix 6 List of the teachers of the Hebrew Yavneh high school in Telz during all the years of its existence. ( * ) murdered in the Holocaust:
Rabbi Dr.Borer *,
Rabbi Khayim Kron *,
Rabbi Yitskhak Shmuelovitz *,
Mrs. Hindah Rabinovitz *,
Mrs. SarahLeah Helfan *,
Gitah Gutman *,
For the Lists of:
Telz murdered Jews
Telz Jews who passed away after World War II
Telz men who fought during World War II in the ranks of the Red Army
Telz men who fell in battle fighting against the Nazis
Go to the Appendices in the Telz Shtetlinks page: https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/telz/Home.html
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