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[Page 86]

Mažeikiai (Mazheik)

55°38' 22°56'

The town of Mažeikiai (Mazheik in Yiddish) lies in northwestern Lithuania, in the Zamut (Zemaitija) region, on the Venta River. Before the second half of the nineteenth century it was a small village with only a few dozen inhabitants. In 1868 a railway was constructed between Romni in Ukraine and Liepaja (Libau) in Latvia, prompting the development of Mazheik into a larger town. In 1872 Mazheik was connected to Riga by a railway, and it became an important junction through which tens of trains passed every day. Mazheik developed rapidly after 1902 when locomotive and wagon repair shops offered services, and a school for railway workers was established. Most of the students at the school were Russian.

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The Station Street

During Russian rule (1795-1915) Mazheik was included in the Vilna Province (Gubernia) and from 1843 in Kovno Province. On May 1st, 1901, the name of the town was changed to Muravievo, after governor-general (General Gubernator) Muraviov who crushed the Polish rebellion of 1863.

During the period of independent Lithuania (1918-1940) the name reverted to Mazeikiai and it became a district administrative center. It retained this status during the Soviet rule (1940-1941), during the Nazi occupation (1941-1944) and after World War II when Mazheik was included in the Soviet Union once more.

Jewish Settlement until World War II

Jewish settlement in Mazheik dates back to the 1870s when the rapid development of transportation services and commerce began. Most of the Jews made their living from peddling and small trade with the surrounding villages. They were also wholesalers: they owned stores and exported some consumer goods. There were a few Jewish factory owners as well.

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A street in Mazheik

The “Temporary Regulations” of the Czarist government of 1882 forbade other Jews to settle in Mazheik. This restriction was annulled in 1903, but the prohibition for Jews to purchase property remained unchanged until the end of the Czarist rule. As a result Jewish homes were built on plots registered to non-Jewish names. Many of the Jewish children studied in Russian schools. In 1885 Rabbi Ze'ev Volf Avrekh commenced duties in Mazheik.

According to the all-Russian census of 1897, there were 1,979 residents in Mazheik, 435 (21%) of them Jews.

A Zionist society was formed in town. Lists published in HaMelitz in 1898 and 1899 included 33 names of Mazheik donors. The fundraiser for the Odessa Committee for support to Jewish Agrarians in Syria and Eretz-Yisrael was Leib-Zalman Epel (see Appendix 1). Mosheh Markusevitz was the local correspondent for Hamelitz. The religious anti-Zionist Agudath Yisrael party was very active and its list of membership for the year 1913 included ten Mazheik Jews (see Appendix 2).

Shortly after the outbreak of World War I, in 1915, many Lithuanian, Courland and Mazheik Jews were exiled to Russia by order of the Russian military.

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A street with the Central Pharmacy

After the war, following the establishment of the Lithuanian independent state, some of the exiles returned to their hometown, which was almost entirely burnt down by then. Following the law of autonomies for minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government, the Minister for Jewish Affairs Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections to community committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In Mazheik, a community committee with seven members was elected in November 1920. At the first meeting of the committee, on July 12th 1921, Mosheh Tov was elected chairman, J. Rubinshtein secretary with Avraham Getz as the treasurer. The committee worked through structured cultural and social service subcommittees under the chairmanship of Rabbi Josef-Ze'ev MamYafe. The members of the Culture Subcommittee included Benjamin Rier and Yits'hak Avrekh, while Dov Klaf and M. Rubel served on the Social Service Subcommittee. Later, the staff of the committee and its sub-committees changed several times. The committees served until December 1925 when autonomy was annulled.

Most of the Jews integrated well into the life of the town during its period of restoration and economic development. With the active assistance of the Joint Distribution Committee (“The Joint”), retail and wholesale trading in food staples such as eggs and poultry increased, while timber and other agricultural products were exported successfully to Germany and England. Jews took over several light industries: flour mills, flax-processing shops, shingle production, match manufacture, liquor, clothing and others. The weekly market days were held on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, resulting in significant revenue to the Jewish merchants.

According to the first census of the new Lithuanian government in 1923, the population of Mazheik was 4,281; 682 (16%) were Jews. In 1936, 4,960 people were resident in town with 750 (15%) of them being Jewish.

According to a survey performed by the Government in 1931, there were 89 shops in Mazheik, 77 (86%) owned by Jews. The business distribution of these is given in the table below:

Type of business Total Owned by Jews
Grocery store 9 8
Grain and flax 1 1
Butcher shop and Cattle Trade 7 5
Restaurant and Tavern 5 5
Food Products, Eggs 13 13
Beverages 2 2
Dairy Products 2 1
Textile Products and Furs 11 10
Leather and Shoe store 8 8
Haberdashery and House Utensils 7 5
Medicine and Cosmetics 3 2
Watches, Jewels and Optics 2 1
Hardware Products 4 3
Bicycle and electrical equipment 1 1
Timber and Furniture 1 0
Heating Materials 5 5
Machines, Transportation 2 2
Stationery and Books 1 0
Others 5 5

There were 35 types of light industry concerns, 20 (57%) owned by Jews.

Type of factory Total Jewish owned
Machines, Metals, Locksmiths 3 1
Headstones, Glass, Bricks 1 0
Spirit, Soap, Oil 1 1
Textile: Wool, Flax, Knitting 5 5
Sawmills and Furniture 5 2
Flour mills, Bakeries 11 6
Dresses, Footwear 5 2
Leather Industry: Production, Cobbling 2 2
Others 2 1

In 1937, there were 28 Jewish tradesmen in town: seven tailors, four shoemakers, four butchers, two dressmakers, one baker, one printer, one barber, one leather worker, one corset-maker, one tinsmith, one painter, one seamstress and three others.

The booming economic situation in the 1920s resulted in the resettlement to Mazheik of many Jews from the neighboring towns of Latskeve (Leckava), Pikeln (Pikeliai) and Siad.

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The management and workers of the Mazheik Jewish Folksbank (July, 1920)

Sitting from left: B. Levit, L. Yezersky, H. Glikman, B. Zarende, M. L. Levit, A. B. Rabinovitz, A. Shtupel, Sh. Landver
Standing from left: D. Hurvitz, Sh. Shakhmundes, Y. Rier, Y. Minster, Y. Lempert, Y. Itzikson, Y. Deletitsky, Y. Rabinovitz

Starting in 1929, the economic situation of Mazheik Jews deteriorated with the economic crisis in Lithuania and rising competition from Lithuanian merchants, who took over many Jewish commercial enterprises. The economic stagnation of the Jewish community was reflected in the budget of the Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank) which decreased from 45 million Litas in 1929 to 17 million in 1934. During that period, the number of clients with term deposits in the bank decreased from 312 to 280 and at the same time emigration to America, South Africa and Eretz-Yisrael increased.

In the mid-thirties, there were two Jewish doctors in Mazheik, three dentists and one lawyer. In 1934, three of the twelve members of the Municipal Council were Jews.

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The students and teachers of the Hebrew school and pro-gymnasium

(Picture courtesy of Yehoshua Trigor-Trigubov)

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A group of Jewish girls

Sitting from left: Pesia Kalner, Sarah Likhtenshtein, Keile Aharonovitz, Henia Klaf, —, Gita Trigubov
Standing from left: Mrs Paris, Bilhah Rubin, Tirtsah MamYafe, Shoshanah Smole
(Picture courtesy of Yehoshua Trigor-Trigubov)

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