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[Page 186]

Užpaliai (Ushpol)

55°39' 25°35'

The Sventoji River bisects the town of Užpaliai (Ushpol in Yiddish). Surrounded by green hills and cold water springs, it lies about 15 km. (9 miles) from Utena (Utyan), the district administrative center.

Dating back to 1453, the town of Huspole appears as a reference in the treaty of Brest-Litowsk. In 1792 the town was granted Magdeburg rights of self-rule. Until then the town and the estate, of the same name, were owned by the noble families of Sapiega, Radzivil and others.

Prior to 1795 Ushpol was in the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom. However, the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times, Russia, Prussia and Austria, resulted in Lithuania becoming partly Russian and partly Prussian. That section of Lithuania, which included Ushpol fell under the rule of Czarist Russia. In 1802 it was in Vilna province (Gubernia) and after 1843 it was included in Kovno province (Gubernia).

In the nineteenth century the town developed considerably, attracting merchants to settle in the area. Markets and fairs were held regularly. In the period of independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Ushpol was a county administrative center. In 1932 the engineer Lupiansky built a reinforced concrete bridge over the river. This facilitated communication between the two parts of the town. Unfortunately, World War II saw the destruction of the center core of Ushpol.

Jewish Settlement until World War II

In all probability Jews started settling in Ushpol in the eighteenth century. In 1765 there were 109 taxpayers, and it is known that in 1847, 515 Jews lived in Ushpol. Their prayer house was built by 1859. The 1897 Russian census revealed that there were 740 residents in Ushpol. Of these 691 (93%) were Jews.

The Polish unrest in 1863 brought considerable suffering to the Ushpol Jews. A local Jew, Shnaiderman, complained to the Russian authorities about robberies instigated by the rebels in the area, whom the Russians later punished.

One night in the fall of 1888, a fire destroyed most of the Jewish homes and shops and all the three prayer houses. The hapless occupants escaped almost naked and barefoot from their burning homes and were rendered destitute. The Utyan community assisted them by providing garments and money. A desperate appeal for help, signed by the local rabbi Shemuel HaLevi Levin, was published in the Hebrew newspaper HaMelitz on October 10th, 1888.

Following the law of Autonomy for Minorities promulgated by the new Lithuanian government, the Minister of Jewish Affairs Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections to community committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In 1920, elections to this community committee of Ushpol were held, five members being elected. The committee operated in all aspects of Jewish life until 1925, when the autonomy was annulled.

lit5_186a.jpg [31 KB]
A Jewish Inn in Ushpol

In 1920 there were 58 Jewish families (283 people) in Ushpol: these included 66 children younger than twelve years old. Almost every family had a cow; some had two and a total of 60 cows belonged to Jews.

In the elections to the county council in 1923, three Ushpol Jews were elected. As members of the council, they provided significant help to their fellow Jews.

Ushpol Jews made their living in small trade, crafts and agriculture. In 1931 Ushpol had a total of 22 shops, 15 among them owned by Jews, one trading in flax, another ran a leather shop and two had pubs. In addition there were grain and timber merchants, two of the latter. Among the 23 Jewish tradesmen there were six needle workers, five butchers, four bakers, two shoemakers, one wood-carver, one blacksmith, one wool-comber, one barber, one dressmaker and one photographer. There were also several carters.

The Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank) with 123 members in 1927 played an important role in the economic life of Ushpol Jews.

In 1932, another fire broke out in Ushpol. This time, the greater part of the town including prayer houses and the library were all razed to the ground.

lit5_186b.jpg [32 KB]
Ushpol Jewish youth in the 1930s

(From the book “It was – It wasn't” by Y. L. Kopelansky)

Anti-Semitism was rife in the 1920s and 1930s, but after the Nazis took over in Germany, it became much worse. There were attacks on Jews and their homes and the breaking of windows was a regular occurrence.

In 1936, there was a serious threat of a pogrom in Ushpol. The incitement against Jews by some Lithuanians became intense and caused constant fear to all of Jewish descent. On Shabbath Rosh HaShanah the local rabbi Aharon-Naftali Kamraz sent a Jew on horseback to Utyan with an appeal to the Chief District Priest for aid in restoring calm to the area. The priest intervened and the planned pogrom was averted.

Jewish children studied at the Heder or at the elementary school where the teacher was David Anteshvilsky. The town had two prayer houses, a library with many books in Yiddish, a very good bathhouse and a sauna.

Among those who served in Ushpol were the following rabbis:

Naftali-Hertz Klatskin (1823-1894)
Yisrael-Mosheh Halbershtam (he died in Ushpol in 1871)
Shemuel Levin (from 1888)
Aharon-Naftali Kamraz (from 1934). In 1939, before World War II, he was paralyzed and succeeded by his son Leib Kamraz. Both were murdered along with many others in 1941.
Many Ushpol Jews were Zionists. Almost all Zionist parties had sympathisers. The results of the elections for the Zionist Congresses are given in the table below:

Year Total
Total Votes Labor Party
Revisionists General Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrakhi
14 1925 30
15 1927 16 16 12 —   4
16 1929 41 23 14 4 1 1 3
17 1931 14 10 7 1 2
18 1933 47 43 3 1
19 1935 94 82 9 1 2

Among the Zionist youth organizations active in Ushpol was HaShomer HaTsair headed by David Even. Sports activities included about thirty athletes in training at the local Maccabi branch. Aba Shlosberg and Eidelman were among the outstanding athletes.

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The Maccabi branch in Ushpol

(From the book “It was – It wasn't” by Y. L. Kopelansky)

Famous people born in Ushpol included the following:

Eliyahu Klatzkin, grandson of Rabbi Naftali-Hertz and father of the philosopher Dr. Ya'akov Klatzkin. Eliyahu published many books on Judaism. He died in Jerusalem in 1932.
Moshe-Mordehai Bloshtein (1894-1964) who lived in Canada from 1919; he studied medicine and psychology and published articles on education and psychology in Dos Yiddishe Vort, a periodical in Winnipeg and in other journals.
In 1939 there were twelve telephone lines in town, two of them in Jewish homes.

During World War II and Afterwards

In the summer of 1940, Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. The new government nationalized several Jewish shops and disbanded the Zionist parties and youth organizations. The Hebrew educational institutions were closed.

A short time after the German invasion into the Soviet Union on June 22nd, 1941, local Lithuanian nationalists took over the control of Ushpol. With the arrival of the Germans in Ushpol on June 26th, 1941, Jews were ordered to move to a ghetto on two narrow streets near the Beth Midrash and the bathhouse.

Killing and looting began immediately. Groups of five to ten healthy and strong Jewish men were dragged to the deep swamps at the outskirts of the town, where they were submerged by force until they slowly and cruelly drowned. Jewish families were massacred beside the cemetery and thrown into a lime pit. The remaining Jews, the poor and the wealthy, were taken to so-called “work” and put to death near the Butiskis village and flung into pits prepared in advance. Murders occurred in other places as well – near the Russian cemetery, near the bathhouse, on the road to Utyan near a blacksmith, on the road to Yuzhint near the Bajorai village and at many other places.

There were ruthless rapes and attacks on young Jewish girls. The daughter of the young rabbi Leib Kamraz was raped in the presence of her father. He was held in detention for several days without food or water then marched to the Utyan Road to dig a grave for himself. The rabbi attacked one of the Lithuanians, attempting to strangle the roughneck. The latter was treated in hospital and barely survived, but Leib Kamraz was shot on the spot by another Lithuanian.

Life in the ghetto became increasingly difficult. Fewer and fewer young men remained alive and women, especially the younger ones, were subject to horribly demeaning persecution.

lit5_186d.jpg [25 KB]
Digging up the remains of Ushpol victims
for transfer to graves in the Rashe forest (see Vizhun)

(From the book “It was – It wasn't” by Y. L. Kopelansky)

lit5_186e.jpg [27 KB]
The remains were put in coffins
and transferred by truck to the mass graves in Rashe forest

(From the book “It was – It wasn't” by Y. L. Kopelansky)

On August 29th, 1941 (6th of Elul, 5701) all remaining Ushpol Jews were ordered out of the ghetto, led to Utyan and murdered in the Rase (Rashe) forest, about 2 km. (1.5 miles) from the town, along with Jews from Utyan and surrounding area. The names of these murderers are kept in the Archives of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

All the Jews, except for one solitary soul who tried to hide in Lithuanian homes, were caught and perished. Only one Jewish woman, married to a Lithuanian man, survived. With great effort her husband managed to keep her in hiding.

After the war when the few survivors returned, the graves for their fellow townsmen were fenced in and a monument in the memory of those who perished was built.

lit5_186f.jpg [31 KB]
The sculpture Skausmas (Pain) near the road
to the mass graves at Rashe forest.

Sculptor: V. Simonelis

lit5_186g.jpg [22 KB]
The mass graves and the monument at Rashe forest


YIVO – New York, Lithuanian Communities Collection, files 57-61
HaMelitz – St. Petersburg, 10.10.1888
Yankel-Leib Kopelansky – “It was , It wasn't” (Yiddish),
Nes Tsiyonah – 1998

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