Alsėdžiai (Alsiad in Yiddish) is situated in the northwestern part of Lithuania, in the heart of the Zamut (Zemaitija) region, about 14 km. (8 miles) northwest of the administrative district center of Telsiai. The village is surrounded by hills, groves and lakes and the Sruoja stream flows through it.
Its distance from a railway line and from the Siauliai-Klaipeda main road prevented its development. The nearest railway station was at Mazeikiai, situated a distance of about 45 km. (28 miles) from Alsiad. Only during the period of independent Lithuania was the railway line connecting Siauliai to Klaipeda constructed, and the nearest station at Lieplauke was thus only 9 km. (5 miles) distant. This influenced the economy of the village, reinforcing its connections with the big cities of Lithuania.
Alsiad is an old settlement, having been mentioned in historical documents since 1253. The first church was built in 1471. The estate and the village, including the adjacent lake, was owned by the Bishops of Zamut who dwelled in a magnificent palace until the nineteenth century.
In 1702, King August the Second authorized an annual fair, and in 1790 King Stanislaw August expanded this edict to allow two per year.
During Russian rule (1795-1915) Alsiad was first included in the Vilna Province (Gubernia) and later in the Kovno Province. During the period of independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Alsiad was a county administrative center.
Jewish Settlement until World War I
According to statistical data from 1662, there were four Jews, two men and two women (not including children) in Alsiad. Their number increased and before World War I there were about 300 Jews in the village. In 1897 there were 1,088 residents of whom 295 (27%) were Jews.
In 1908 fourteen Rabbis of the region assembled in Alsiad by invitation of the Telzer Rabbi Eliezer Gordon in order to discuss Jewish education. The resolutions included one stipulation that secular subjects in the Hadarim would not exceed an hour and a half per day, another that a daily newspaper in Hebrew and in Yiddish would be published.
Some Alsiad Jews emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael in the 1870s. One of them was David, the son of Benjamin, who died in 1880 and whose headstone exists in the old cemetery in Jerusalem.
It was published in HaMelitz #184 (1893), that Avraham-Yits'hak Bolnik and his new wedded wife Rachel Broida (on the 3rd of Elul) donated money, probably for the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael.
During the period of independent Lithuania the number of Jews in the village decreased. According to the first census conducted by the government in 1923, there were then 1,049 residents including 199 Jews (19%). Before World War II only 30 Jewish families remained. The Jews made their living from commerce, mainly grains and flax, crafts and agriculture. The government survey of 1931 showed that there were several shops in Alsiad owned by Jews. These were groceries, textile outlets, a butcher, a pharmacy and a barber shop and a few more small shops not included in the survey.
|A bride, groom and guests at a Jewish wedding in Alsiad in 1930s|
In 1937 four Jewish artisans worked in the village; a baker, a hatter, a shoemaker and a butcher. Jews also owned four flour mills in the adjacent villages, two workshops for processing leather (owned by the Kalvaria and Faktor Brothers) and a factory for blocks (for shoe making) and wooden nails (owned by Zundel Klein and sons) which, even before World War I, sold its products all over Russia.
Many Alsiad Jews made their living from agriculture, the weekly markets and the now quarterly fairs being the basic livelihood for most of them. However, many lived in dire financial straits and needed help from relatives abroad. Over the years, many of the village's Jews emigrated to South Africa and to Eretz-Yisrael.
In 1920 a fire broke out in Alsiad and 35 of the 45 Jewish houses burned down. Donations from outside the town and loans from the Joint Distribution Committee (the Joint), enabled the reconstruction of the vicitms' houses, including the Beth Midrash.
In 1939 there were nine telephones in the village, three of them owned by Jewish families.
Among the Rabbis who served in Alsiad were Zvi Broida (at the beginning of the nineteenth century) and Avraham-Aba Zak (1890-1941) who was murdered by Lithuanians. There were also societies for studying the Talmud, Mishnah and Orakh Hayim.
|Rabbi Avraham-Aba HaCohen Zak|
|Hebrew Elementary School 1933|
Jewish children received their elementary education in a Talmud Torah and in the Hebrew school of the Tarbuth network.
(Picture taken and supplied by Gilda Kurtzman, July 2005)
Many of Alsiad's Jews were Zionists and were supporters of most of the Zionist parties. The division of votes at the elections for the Zionist Congresses in the 1930s is presented in the table below:
|21||1939||21||19||4||--||4 -||Nat Blk
There was a branch of Maccabi with an annual average of 25 members.
The following were the Alsiad reporters who sent articles to the Hebrew press of the nineteenth century; Z. Klein and Yom-Tov Lipman to HaMeilitz and Shimon Zak to HaZeman.
|A class of the Hebrew School 1937-38|
During World War II and Afterwards
When Lithuania became a Soviet Republic in 1940, shops and factories were nationalized, some of them Jewish owned. All Zionist parties were disbanded and the Hebrew educational institutes were closed.
The German army entered Alsiad a few days after the outbreak of war between Germany and the Soviet Union. Even before the Germans entered, a local Lithuanian group was organized, headed by the local blacksmith Baltis, which began to plot against the Jews, on whom a penalty of 50,000 rubles each was twice imposed.
On July 5th, 1941, the Jews were imprisoned in a ghetto which included the Beth Midrash, the bathhouse and two other houses. Every morning a parade was arranged; the men were forced to run head down in circles while Lithuanian policemen whipped them. After that they were forced to do different types of labour, such as weeding gardens and cleaning latrines.
On July 24th the above Jews were ordered to prepare themselves to proceed to another ghetto which had been established for Jews of the area in the village of Geruliai, about 10 km. (6 miles) from Telz. Prior to this, armed Lithuanians who had come from Telz in order to murder Alsiad Jews were stopped by the local priest Dambrauskas, who told them that they could do so only after shooting him first.
Before the Jews were transferred to Geruliai the Lithuanians forced them to hand over all their money, their silver and gold jewels and other valuables. Each was allowed to keep only 100 rubles for expenses. The eighty-three years old Rabbi A.A. Zak and the remaining old people were loaded into a car, the others onto carts. On the way they were robbed of most of their belongings. Arriving in Telz the men were left there and the women were sent to Geruliai. Next morning the men did not find their shoes or their garments, but were then ordered to dress in worn out uniforms of Lithuanian soldiers and sent to work. The Lithuanians forced them to destroy the big Beth Midrash of Telz and to transfer the building materials to the railway station. Thirty-six of Alsiad's young men, who were left in Telz, were sent to spread lime onto the mass graves in Rainiai, where Jewish men from Telz had been murdered on July 15th (the 20th of Tamuz).
On August 14th, 1941, these thirty-six men were sent to dig a large pit: they were told that this pit was intended for a German aircraft which had crashed in the vicinity. Several days later, on the 23rd of Av, the men of this group, together with two Jews from the village of Makushki and two from the village of Geilishok, were shot and buried in this pit. Three were killed elsewhere.
The older men who were left were transferred to the Geruliai camp, joining the other Jews from Telz and its surroundings who were concentrated there. On Saturday, August 30th (7th of Elul) all Jews were ordered to leave the camp with their belongings. That same day, after the young women had been separated and taken away, all were massacred with machine guns between 8 a.m. and 12 noon. Thirty-eight Alsiad Jews were among the dead.
Some Alsiad women were among the 400 young women from Geruliai who were transferred to the Telz ghetto, while others worked for farmers, harvesting potatoes.
Before the liquidation of the Telz ghetto, at the end of December 1941, the farmers who employed these Jewish women were ordered to return them to the ghetto for medical inspection. All were executed.
In order to take revenge on the priest who had opposed murder, the Lithuanians brought thirty women and children from the Telz ghetto to Alsiad, shot them and buried them near the priest's home. This happened on the day of the liquidation of the Telz ghetto, December 24th, 1941 (6th of Teveth 5702). Only one woman managed to escape.
|The monument on one mass grave in Geruliai|
|The monument on another mass grave in Geruliai|
The family of Alsiad's shokhet, Josef-Ber Faktor, owners of a leather processing factory, were allowed to stay in the village, in order to finish processing the stock. Shortly before the work was complete, the family escaped from the village. They found shelter with a Lithuanian acquaintance until the liberation by the Red Army in the autumn of 1944. Before their escape Mr. Faktor managed to remove the Torah scrolls and other holy books from the Beth Midrash, giving them to the priest Dambrauskas for preservation. The latter then transferred them to another priest in Laukuva. After the Germans were expelled and the Russians returned, the priest returned the books to the Faktor family. The Faktor family survived and was privileged to emigrate to Eretz-Yisrael.
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem (Hebrew), page 10 Devar HaShavua (Hebrew) Tel Aviv, 9.4.1953
Di Yiddishe Shtime (Yiddish), Kovno, 25.4.1938
Hamelitz (Hebrew), St. Petersburg, 5.4.1885; 8.1.1886
Yedioth Yad Vashem (Hebrew), Nr. 8-9, Mars 1956
Folksblat (Yiddish), Kovno, 5.9.1930
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