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[Page 108]

Kuršėnai (Kurshan)

5559' 2255'

Kurshan (in Yiddish) lies 26 km. from the district administrative center Siauliai (Shavl). It is surrounded by hills and forests on the shores of the Venta River in the northwestern part of Lithuania in the Zemaitija region. The main part of the town was built along the right-hand shore of the river and a bridge connected it to neighborhoods on its left-hand side. A railway station on the Shavl-Mazheik-Libau (Siauliai-Mazeikiai-Liepaja) line was 4 km. away, and another station, Pavenciai, on the Shavl-Telz (Siauliai-Telsiai) line, was situated at a distance of 3.5 km. Roads to these towns also passed through Kurshan.

From the sixteenth century Kurshan is mentioned in historical documents, but the town began to grow alongside an estate of the same name at the end of the eighteenth century. The construction of the railway line to Liepaja (Libau) and the building of the Kurshan station in 1873 accelerated the town's development: big markets and fairs were active in the town and several light industries were established.

During 1795-1914, Kurshan was under Russian rule, first in the Vilna Gubernia (Province) and from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia. During World War I, Kurshan was occupied by the German army which made it a district center, and during the years of Independent Lithuania (1818-1940) it was a county administrative center in the Siauliai district.


Jewish Settlement till after World War I

It is not known when Jews began to settle in Kurshan, but according to the Russian census of 1897, Jews comprised 48% of the total population of the town (1,542 Jews out of 3,189 residents). They traded in grains, flax, timber and cattle. Jewish farming families lived in surrounding villages: specifically there were six Jewish families who lived in the village of Kuzhi, about 15 km. east of Kurshan, until World War I. At the beginning of the war these Jews were accused of hiding German soldiers who had attacked Russian headquarters. This libel was one of the reasons that the Jews were exiled by the Russian army. Kurshan Jews also had to leave their town and abandon their property. During the war the town was destroyed, including its 255 Jewish houses. Before the war many Kurshan Jews had emigrated to South Africa and America.

In 1880 a Talmud Torah with 20 boys was established, where Bible and Hebrew grammar were taught. The older pupils were taught both the German and Russian languages three times a week.

Kurshan's synagogue was destroyed in one of the many fires, and thus, in 1879, a new synagogue was built, one of the most beautiful in Lithuania. But in 1915 this building too was burnt down, and in 1905 a large fire caused severe damage to one hundred Jewish houses.

For a partial list of rabbis who officiated in Kurshan during the years see Appendix 1.


During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940)

After the war some of the exiled Jews returned to Kurshan. They rebuilt their houses and organized the community. Following the passage of the Law of Autonomies for Minorities by the new Lithuanian government, the Minister for Jewish Affairs, Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections for community committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In Kurshan a community committee with eleven members was elected: two from the Tseirei Zion list, five artisans, four independents. The committee was active in all aspects of Jewish life from 1919 till the beginning of 1926.


General view of Kurshan


According to the first census performed by the new Lithuanian government, there were 841 Jews in Kurshan in 1923.

During this period, Kurshan Jews made their living from trade and crafts. According to the government survey of shops and factories, in 1931 there were 55 shops, 50 (91%) of them Jewish owned. Their distribution is given in the table below:

Type of business Total Owned by Jews
Grocery stores 9 8
Grain and flax 6 6
Butcher's shops and Cattle Trade 5 5
Restaurants and Taverns 4 3
Textile Products and Furs 9 9
Leather and Shoes 2 2
Haberdashery and domestic utensils 5 5
Medicine and Cosmetics 2 1
Building material and Furniture 2 2
Hardware products 3 3
Bicycles and electrical equipment 1 1
Timber and heating material 4 4
Stationery and Books 1 1
Others 2 0

There were 44 factories, 26 of them (59%) Jewish owned.

Type of Factory Total Jewish owned
Power Plants, Metal Workshops 4 2
Concrete products, Bricks, Tombstones 6 3
Textile: Wool, Flax, Knitting 7 1
Sawmills and Furniture 3 2
Flour mills, Bakeries, Food Production 16 12
Leather Industry: Production, Cobbling 2 2
Others 6 4

The Pres brothers owned a dairy, which produced cheese. In 1935 a Jewish doctor and dentist had clinics in Kurshan. The Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank ) played an important role in the economic life of the town, and had 345 registered members in 1927, which dwindled to 207 by 1932.


A Street in Kurshan


In 1937 there were 37 Jewish artisans: ten shoemakers, six tailors, six butchers, three tinsmiths, three barbers, two hatters, two knitters, two stitchers, one baker, one glazier, one leather worker.

Kurshan's Jewish artisans organized their own union and had a Gemiluth Hesed fund which was established and financed by membership fees and a donation from the Ezrah society. Its activities included courses for older members, where the Lithuanian language and arithmetic were taught.

In 1939 there were 84 telephone subscribers, 17 of them Jewish.

At the beginning of the 1920s a Hebrew elementary school was established, which joined the Tarbuth chain in 1927, with an average of 150 children studying there. Apart from the school there was a library with 500 books in Hebrew and Yiddish. In 1927 a Hebrew Kindergarten was opened, and in October 1932 a new school building was inaugurated.

Beginning in the mid-1930s, the number of Jews in Kurshan decreased gradually. The economic crisis in Lithuania and the open propaganda by the Association of the Lithuanian Merchants Verslas calling for the boycott Jewish shops caused many Jews to look elsewhere for their future. Many emigrated abroad, including to Eretz-Yisrael.


A class of the Hebrew School


A class in the Hebrew school 1930
(from the archive of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel)


Many Kurshan Jews belonged to the Zionist movement, and all Zionist parties were represented in town. There was also a branch of WIZO. These were the Zionist youth organizations: Hashomer Hatsair, Tseirei Zion, Betar and others, as well as a Hakhsharah (training) group of Brith HaKanaim. Sports activities were carried out in the local Maccabi branch with its 48 members.

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 107
15 1927 120 56 1 1 1 16 37
16 1929 178 92 5 2 29 34 22
17 1931 111 98 31 2 3 43 19
18 1933 288 119 28 31 37 13
19 1935 205 182 100 -- 2 13 52 15


A Hanukah party at the school
(from the archive of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel)


Religious life was concentrated in two new prayer houses built in 1921 to replace the beautiful synagogue that was destroyed during the war. For the rabbis who officiated in Kurshan during this period see see Appendix 1

Among the active welfare societies there were Ezrah, Bikur Holim and Gemiluth Hesed.

Aryeh Kubovitsky-Kubovi (1896-1955) can be counted among the notables born in Kurshan. He was a lawyer and Zionist party worker, activist of the Jewish World Congress, a member of the Zionist executive and a delegate to Zionist congresses. He served as the Israeli ambassador to Czechoslovakia, later to Argentina, and was the chairman of Yad Vashem.


The Halutsim in Kurshan at a party with the slogan
“Troubles of father and mother” 1933

(from the archive of the Association of Lithuanian Jews in Israel)


During World War II and afterwards

In 1940, Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, the factories, most of them owned by Jews, were nationalized, as were Jewish shops and farms, and commissars were appointed to manage them. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and the Hebrew school was closed. Supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore the brunt of this situation and the standard of living dropped gradually

When war broke out between Russia and Germany on the 22 nd of June, 1941, many Kurshan Jews tried to escape to Russia through Latvia, but only about 30 families succeeded. The majority returned because the border with Latvia was closed.

On the night of their entrance into Kurshan the Germans murdered two Jews. Lithuanian nationalists, already organized, forced the Jews to gather every day in the market place, whence they were led to various types of work, such as to bury dead Russian soldiers or the corpses of dead horses, or to move wrecked cannons and cars from the roads. No tools were supplied for these jobs, so work was very hard, made worse when they were abused and beaten. Some of these forced laborers fainted.

After a short time, all males aged 12 years and older were ordered to assemble in the great Beth Midrash. Ten invalids and mentally ill people were taken out and never seen again. Fifteen men were imprisoned in the local jail and from there they were taken to the Shavl prison.

A week later, 150 men were driven in trucks in the direction of Shavl, whence they were taken to a forest, about 3 km. from Kurshan. There, they were led in groups of twenty to a long pit that had been prepared before, and were shot. The remaining men, including the town's Rabbi Yerakhmiel Litvin, were murdered on July 16,1941 (21st of Tamuz, 5701).

For the women and children a so-called ghetto was established in two small streets in the town. The women were allowed to go out for one hour a day to buy food, but mostly they were cursed and chased away.


Padarbiu forest


The mass grave and monument with the inscription in Yiddish:
“At this site Hitler's murderers and their local helpers
murdered 100 Kurshan Jewish men on 22 July, 1941.”


On August 15, 1941, all the women and children were transported to Zhager (Zagare). Before leaving, the women were searched for money and gold by two Lithuanian women volunteers. They were stripped, and the search was brutal and humiliating. All that they possessed was taken away from them. In Zhager they were then forced to do agricultural work for Lithuanian peasants. Later they were murdered together with Zhager Jews. The names of the Lithuanian murderers are listed in the Yad Vashem archives in Jerusalem.

Only one man and one woman, who were hidden by Lithuanian peasants, were privileged to see the liberation.

After the war, according to Soviet sources, a mass grave of 180 corpses of men was found in the forest of Padarbiai, 3.5 km. south-east from Kurshan, near the village Gaudziai.


The mass grave in the town park of Zhager
where women and children from Kurshan were murdered, together with about 3,000 other Jews

(Picture taken and supplied courtesy of Elkan Gamzu, July 2005)


The mass grave in the town park of Zhager where women and children from Kurshan were murdered, together with about 3,000 other Jews.



Yad-Vashem Archives: M-1/E-128/56,1670/1566; M-9/15(6)
Koniuchovsky Collection 0-71, Files 102, 111
Central Zionist Archives: 55/1788; 55/1701; 13/15/131; Z-4/2548.
YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Communities,
Files 923-942
Ish Shalom M. BeSod Hotsvim uBonim (Hebrew), Jerusalem 5749 (1989)
Kamzon T.D. (Editor) Yahaduth Lita (Hebrew), Mosad haRav Kook, Tel Aviv, 1959, pages162, 169
HaMeilitz (St. Petersburg) (Hebrew): 13.5.1879, 12.7.1881, 21.7.1884
Cohen Berl,. Shtet, Shtetlach un Dorfishe Yishuvim in Lite biz 1918 (Towns, Small Towns and Rural Settlements in Lithuania till 1918) (Yiddish) New-York 1992.
From the Beginning to the End – The Book of the History of “HaShomer HaTzair” in Lithuania (Hebrew), Tel-Aviv 1986.
Folksblat, Kovno (Yiddish): 18.4.1939
Di Yiddishe Shtime (The Yiddish Voice) Kovno (Yiddish): 10.1.1922, 21.1.1922, 15.2.1922, 17.5.1922, 15.6.1928, 26.10.1932, 9.3.1938
Yiddisher Hantverker (Jewish Artisan) Kovno, (Yiddish): Nr.16, 1938.
Der Yiddisher Cooperator (Yiddish) Kovno, No. 2, 1927
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murder in Lithuania) vol. 1-2, Vilnius 1941-1944 (Lithuanian).
The Book of Sorrow, (Hebrew, Yiddish, English, Lithuanian), Vilnius 1997.

Appendix 1

Partial list of rabbis who officiated in Kurshan

Until World War I:

Yehiel-Mihel HaCohen Gold, served in the years 1840-1880.
Shemuel-Mosheh Shapiro (1843-1908), in Kurshan from 1879.
Shelomoh-Nathan Kotler (1855-1945), was Rabbi and head of the Yits'hak Elhanan Yeshivah in New York, returned to Lithuania and became Rabbi in Kurshan. Later settled in Jerusalem. Published many books.

During Independent Lithuania

Yisrael Rif (1870-1941), very honored by the community, was murdered with his family in the Holocaust.
Yits'hak-Izik Fridman (1874-1944) served in Kurshan 1914-1924, wrote many articles and books. He was one of the founders of the Mizrahi party in Lithuania, and emigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1935.


Rabbi Yits'hak Fridman   Rabbi Shelomoh Kotler


Appendix 2

List of 75 Kurshan Jewish donors for the victims of the Persian famine as published in Hamagid Nr. 15, 1872

(from JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania>Hamelitz by Jeffrey Maynard)

Surname Given Name Comments
BLUMBERG Gershon  
BLUMBERG Mordechai  
CHAYAT Leib ben Shmuel partner of Nechemiah
CHAYAT Moshe ben Dovid  
CHAYAT Yosef ben Tzvi  
EINBER Mendel  
GARBER Mordechai HaCohen Cohen
GLEZER Eizik  
GLIK Chaim  
HALEVY? Dovid ben Shaul Levy
HALEVY? Dovid Tzvi Levy
HESELZOHN Getzel ben Eliezer Shmuel  
HESELZOHN Tzvi brother of Yakov
HESELZOHN Yakov brother of Tzvi
HESELZOHN Yakov Leib  
KAZAV Meir ben Yakov  
KOBELER Yitzchok ben Tzvi f-i-l of Leib ben Avraham
KOIFMAN Dovid Yitzchok  
KREMER Dovid Tzvi ben Yehuda  
KREMER Shmuel  
KREMER Yosef ben Tzvi  
LIPSHITZ Leib brother of Yehoshua
LIPSHITZ Mordechai brother of Shaul
LIPSHITZ Shaul brother of Mordechai
LIPSHITZ Yehoshua brother of Leib
MALTZ Avrohom  
MEGRADUS Raphael  
MEYERER Nechamiah  
NOTWEIZER Meir ben Shmuel  
NUROK Meir  
ORDONG Naphtali  
PAWEKER Yitzchok  
PELSER Yitzchok  
SANDLER Shaul ben Dovid HaCohen boy
SHOHAM Moshe ben Yisroel Yona boy
SHOHAM Shmuel Nachum from Panevezys
SHOHAM Yisroel Yona  
SHU”B Lipman  
TAMINZSKER Leib ben Avraham  
WEGER Aharon Moshe ben Yitschok  
  Aharon ben Elchanan  
  Avraham ben Yakov  
  Chaikil ben Elchanan bridegroom with his son
  Chaim ben Tuvia  
  Chaim Ber  
  Dovid ben Tzvi  
  Eli ben Sender  
  Eli ben Shimon  
  Isser ben Nechamiah  
  Leib ben Avraham s-i-l of Yitzchok Kobeler
  Leib ben Ezriel  
  Leib ben Mordechai HaCohen Cohen
  Meir ben Yakir  
  Mendil ben Yehuda boy
  Neche m-i-l of Yakov Tzvi woman
  Nechemiah partner of Leib Chayat
  Shabasai ben Kalonimos  
  Shimon Moshe  
  Shimon Yakov  
  Yakov Tzvi s-i-l of Neche (woman)
  Yehuda Eliezer  
  Yisroel ben Yeshiahu  
  Yisroel Dov ben Tzvi  
  Yosef ben Matitiahu  
  Yosef ben Titzchok  


Appendix 3

List of 119 Kurshan Jewish donors for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael as published in HaMelitz.

(from JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania>Hamelitz by Jeffrey Maynard)

Surname Given Name Comments Source in Hamelitz Year
ADELZOHN Chaim Rabbi #237 1897
ARONZOHN Ber   #237 1897
BALKIN Yisroel   #237 1897
BIKOWITZ Eliezer   #237 1897
BLUMBERG Mordechai   #237 1897
BODONES Dovid Meir   #237 1897
BROINROIT Avraham   #237 1897
CHAWKIN Shlomo from Zager #237 1897
CHAZAN Yehuda Eliezer   #237 1897
DONN Dov Tzvi   #237 1897
FELDMANN Yitzchok   #237 1897
FORMANN Yakov Tzvi   #237 1897
GITELZON Avraham   #237 1897
GLEZER Aizik   #237 1897
GLEZER Mordechai   #237 1897
GOLDBERG Chaim   #237 1897
GOLDIN Binyomin   #237 1897
GOLDWASER Yehuda   #237 1897
GORDON Abba Shub #237 1897
GROSBARD Aharon   #237 1897
GROSBARD Zusmann   #237 1897
GROZINSKI Dov Tzvi   #237 1897
HESHILZOHN Yakov   #237 1897
HIRSHZOHN Ber   #237 1897
HIRSHZOHN Shimon Yakov   #237 1897
HORWITZ Dovid   #163 1897
HORWITZ Dovid   #237 1897
HOTZ Bentzion   #237 1897
HOTZ Binyomin Zev   #237 1897
HOTZ Micha Moshe   #237 1897
IZRALSHTAM Shalom   #237 1897
KAPLAN Chaim   #163 1897
KAPLAN Moshe   #237 1897
KAPLAN Yisroel   #145 1897
KARNOWSKI Fane bas Yekil   #247 1895
KARNOWSKI Sonie bas Yekil   #247 1895
KARNOWSKI Yekil father of Fane & Sonie   #247 1895
KATZAV Dov Zev   #237 1897
KIBOWILZKI Shatz   #237 1897
KILEIA Zusmann husband of Hende Nurok wed 1897 #145 1897
KITEIA Yisroel   #163 1897
KITEIA Zusman   #163 1897
KITEIA Zusmann   #237 1897
KOHN Leib   #237 1897
KOHN Shaul   #237 1897
KOHN Zalman   #237 1897
KOPIL Bentzion   #237 1897
KORSH Reuven   #237 1897
KRAWITZ Avraham   #237 1897
KREMER Dovid   #237 1897
KUBOZOITITZKI   Shatz #145 1897
LEWI Yakov   #237 1897
LEWITAS Aizik   #237 1897
LEWITATZ Yisroel   #237 1897
LEWITES Y son-in-law of Y Y Shagam #188 1893
LIFSHITZ Aharon   #163 1897
LIFSHITZ Leah bas Leib wife of Yesheyahu Tzukerman wed 12 Av #181 1893
LIFSHITZ Leib father of Leah   #181 1893
LIFSHITZ Tzvi   #237 1897
LIFSHITZ Zalman   #237 1897
LIPOWSKI Yisroel   #237 1897
LIPOWSKI Yosef ben Eli   #237 1897
LIPOWSKI Zev   #237 1897
LIPSHITZ Aharon ben Tzvi   #145 1897
LIPSHITZ Akiva   #237 1897
LIPSHITZ Mordechai ben Yehoshua   #237 1897
LIPSHITZ Yosef   #237 1897
LIPSHITZ Zalman   #163 1897
LIPSHITZ Zalman   #145 1897
LURIA Mordechai   #237 1897
MARAM Shimon Moshe   #237 1897
MARAM Yakov   #237 1897
MEKOS Chaim Tzvi   #237 1897
MIRNIK Nechemiah   #237 1897
MITELZOHN Aharon   #237 1897
NACHUMOWITZ Shalom from Kruk #237 1897
NAFTALIK Mendil   #163 1897
NAFTALIN Mendil   #145 1897
NUROK Henda wife of Zusmann Kileia wed 1897 #145 1897
NUROK Yakov   #163 1897
NUROK Yakov   #145 1897
ORDONG Naphtali   #237 1897
PEKER Zalman Meir   #237 1897
PROZ Yitzchok Leib   #237 1897
ROZIN Zev   #237 1897
RUBIN Betzalel   #237 1897
RUBIN Mordechai   #237 1897
SHAGAM Y Y f-i-l of Y Lewites #188 1893
SHAHAM Yisroel Yona   #237 1897
SHAPIRO Avraham son of the Gaon S M   #237 1897
SHAPIRO Chaim Tzvi ben ha Gaon Shmuel Moshe   #247 1895
SHEFER Gershon   #237 1897
SHIFMANN Getzil   #237 1897
SHLOMOWITZ Chaim   #237 1897
SHLOMOWITZ Tzemach   #237 1897
SHNEIDER Zalman Yosef   #237 1897
SHTEIN Yechezkel Mordechai   #237 1897
SHUSTER Eliezer   #237 1897
TEPER Michel   #237 1897
TEREN Boruch Eliezer ben Yitzchok   #163 1897
TEREN Boruch Eliezer husband of Feiga Ita brother of Yitzchok Mendil #145 1897
TEREN Feiga bas Yitzchok   #163 1897
TEREN Feiga Ita wife of Boruch   #145 1897
TEREN Yitzchok father of Feiga & Boruch Eliezer Deputy Government Rabbi #163 1897
TEREN Yitzchok Mendil   #237 1897
TEREN Yitzchok Mendil brother of Boruch Eliezer #145 1897
TON Shmuel   #237 1897
TON Yakov   #237 1897
TZITRON Feiwil   #237 1897
TZUKERMAN Yesheyahu husband of Leah Lifshitz wed 12 Av #181 1893
WEINER Mordechai   #237 1897
WEINOWSKI Zusmann   #237 1897
WEIS Zelig   #237 1897
YANKELOWITZ Yitzchok   #163 1897
YANKELOWITZ Yitzchok   #145 1897
YODEIKIN Moshe   #237 1897
YODEIKIN Zalman   #237 1897
ZALTZBERG Kalman   #237 1897
  Avraham Abba son-in-law of Aizik #237 1897


The above article is an excerpt from “Protecting Our Litvak Heritage” by Josef Rosin. The book contains this article along with many others, plus an extensive description of the Litvak Jewish community in Lithuania that provides an excellent context to understand the above article. Click here to see where to obtain the book.


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