Luokė (Luknik in Yiddish) is in the northwestern part of Lithuania, in the Zamut (Zemaitija) region, 21 km. southeast of the district administrative center Telz (Telsiai). Luknik is mentioned in documents dating from the sixteenth century as an estate and a village that served as a county administrative center. From the middle of the seventeenth century the markets and the fairs of Luknik were known in the whole Zamut region. Until the middle of the nineteenth century the town belonged to the Bishops of Zamut and later to the noble Oginsky family.
Until 1795 Luknik was included in the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom. According to the third division of Poland in the same year by the three superpowers of those times, Russia, Prussia and Austria, Lithuania was divided between Russia and Prussia. As was the case with most of Lithuania, Luknik became a part of the Russian Empire, first in the Vilna province (Gubernia) and then from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia. From 1915 to 1918 the town was under German occupation. During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Luknik was a county administrative center. In 1887 and 1934 fires destroyed almost the entire town.
Jewish settlement till World War II
Jews first settled in Luknik in the seventeenth century. In 1766 there were 556 taxpayers in the town. In the fire of 1887, seventy Jewish houses burned down within a few hours and about 170 Jewish families lost everything. The Jews from the neighboring towns sent carts filled with food and clothing to the victims. However for a long time afterwards many of the victims still depended on aid.
Around this time a wealthy Jewish merchant became known from Irkutsk, Siberia: Hayim Tsevi Golgot had been abducted at the age of fourteen, thirty years before, to serve in the army of Czar Nikolai I. Golgot was taken as a Kantonist and had been raised in a Christian family. He located his parents and family in Luknik and from then on sent money to his parents every month. He also donated money for the victims of the fire.
In 1847, there were 949 Jews in Luknik. According to the all-Russian census of 1897, the town's population was 1,626, 798 of them being Jewish (49%).
Before Pesakh of 1888 a blood libel rumor was spread in the town. The Jews were saved from a pogrom by miracle. However because of the bad economic situation, the fire and the feeling of insecurity, many Luknik Jews then emigrated to South Africa, America and Eretz-Yisrael.
In 1903 the Dorshei Zion (Preachers for Zion) society was established in Luknik.
In a list of donors for the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael published in the Hebrew newspaper HaMelitz during 1893, 1895 and 1903 twenty-nine names of Luknik Jews appear (see Appendix 1).
After the war and the establishment of the independent Lithuanian state in 1918 the Jewish community in Luknik shrank, as did its percentage of the total population. The first government census of 1923 counted 1,287 people, 513 of them being Jewish (40%).
Following the imposition of the Law of Autonomies for Minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government, the Minister for Jewish Affairs, Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections to the community committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In Luknik a Va'ad of nine members was elected. The committee worked for several years in all fields of Jewish life.
During this period Luknik Jews dealt in trade, crafts and light industry. Jews in nearby villages made their living in agriculture. In 1925 two Jewish doctors and a dentist practiced in the town.
According to the government survey of 1931 all six shops in Luknik were in Jewish hands: one grocery, two textile shops, one sewing machine shop, one pharmacy and one egg business. Other small shops were not included in the survey.
According to the same survey the Jews owned the power plant, a barbershop, a candy factory and a dyeing workshop. In adjacent villages within the county, Luknik Jews owned two flour mills, a spinning mill, a sawmill and a wool combing workshop.
In 1937 ten Jewish craftsmen worked in the town: six tailors, two shoemakers, one hatter and one barber.
The local Jewish People's Bank (Folksbank) was the center of economic life in the town. In 1927 it had 91 members.
In 1939 there were twenty-two telephone subscribers in town, seven of them Jewish.
The Jewish children received their elementary education at the Hebrew school that was part of the Yavneh chain. The town had a library with Hebrew and Yiddish books.
|The Hebrew Yavneh school|
|Total Votes||Labor Party
Zionist youth organizations included Gordonia with about 30 members, Beitar, and Maccabi with 32 members.
The religious life centered around the two Batei-Midrash; one of these was considered one of the most beautiful in Lithuania.
Among the rabbis who officiated in Luknik were:
Shemuel ben Yosef, who wrote an explanation of the book by the Vilna Gaon on Geometry and Algebra
Shelomoh-Zalman Zaksh (1814-1876)
Shelomoh-Nathan Kotler (1855-1945), was a rabbi in New York, in 1901 returned to Lithuania and officiated in Kurshan and Luknik. After World War I, he returned to America and was a rabbi in Detroit for seven years. Kotler emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael and settled in Jerusalem where he published several books on the Talmud. He died in Jerusalem.
|Rabbi Shelomoh-Nathan Kotler|
Shelomoh Kravitsky, the last rabbi of the community, was murdered in the Holocaust.
In September 1934 a fire that lasted for 24 hours burned down 100 Jewish houses, both Batei-Midrash and the Hebrew School, wooden buildings which had dried out from the summer heat. Even with help from fire brigades from the nearby towns the local brigade failed to extinguish the blaze. Only six Jewish houses were left intact. Lithuanian Jewry mobilized aid for the victims of the fire and organized collections of money. Within a year the school and one Beth Midrash were rebuilt.
|The new Beth Midrash|
Most of the Torah study and welfare societies that were common in the Lithuanian Jewish communities also existed in Luknik.
During World War II and afterwards
Following the annexation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union in summer 1940, the Jewish factories and most of the shops in Luknik were nationalized. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and the Hebrew school was closed. At that time about 300 Jews remained.
When the German army invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Luknik Jews escaped to the villages in the vicinity. About 25 families managed to escape to Russia, following the retreating Red Army. The Germans entered Luknik on the evening of June 25. The next day the Lithuanian nationalists took control of the town. The Jews returned home to find their houses had been entered and looted. Local Lithuanians abused their Jewish neighbors and took them away for forced labor. In particular they tortured the rabbi, Shelomoh Kravitsky. They cut off half his beard and forced him to run, soaking him with buckets with water.
A committee that the Lithuanians established to deal with the Jews, imposed a fine of 50,000 rubles on them. In order to insure that they would pay, the Lithuanians took three hostages, whom they released after the money was paid.
A few days later all the Jews were concentrated in the market square and from there they were led to the Gudiske estate, one kilometer east of the town. They were crowded into a barn and a local, not-very-bright carter was appointed as their guard. Every day Jews were taken out of the barn for different labor, such as burying the Russian soldiers who had died of untreated wounds, sweeping the streets and weeding. Many Lithuanians found it amusing to see their neighbors crawling on the ground and weeding.
Guards found that a family from a near village had a cushion covered with red cloth; the family was accused of intending to create a red flag from the cloth, and as a result they were cruelly beaten.
Jews were forbidden to talk to non-Jews. They could not receive any food or water; a guard was posted near the well to prevent the Jews from drawing water from it. The Jews were forced to take water from the nearby swamp. The Lithuanian auxiliary police threatened the young girls with death, then took them out of the camp at night and raped them.
On July 15, 1941, two S.S men on motorcycles appeared in the camp and ordered the Jews to bring all their belongings to the yard and to hand over their money and valuables. The women and children were returned to the barn and the men were made to stand in a line. The men were forced to run, and at the sound of a whistle blown by an S.S. man they had to fall and then stand up and keep running. Some who was not quick enough were beaten badly. Although wounded they were ordered to run to the barn and lie down there. That same night the strong and healthy men were taken out of the barn, supposedly to work in the peat fields. Instead they were led one kilometer from the barn and shot there. A day or two later the remaining men were murdered in the same place.
On July 17, 1941 the women and children were taken out of the barn and transported on carts to the Viesvenai camp where women and children from Riteve (Rituva) and other towns were already gathered. After about a week all the women and children were transferred to a larger camp in Geruliai, about ten kilometers from Telz (Telsiai). There many women and children from many other nearby towns were already concentrated. All were murdered at this place together with the women of Telz. Only a few survived, having been hidden by Lithuanian peasants.
According to Soviet sources a mass grave containing the bodies of 120 men was found in the village of Gudiske, one kilometer east of Luknik.
|The mass grave in Gudiske|
The monument with the inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian:
In this place the Nazi murderers and their local helpers murdered a group of Luknik Jews in 1941.
|The mass grave and the monument near the village of Geruliai|
Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, M-9/15(6); Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, Files 36, 38
YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Jewish Communities, file 1389
Kamzon Y.D., Yahaduth Lita, Tel Aviv, pages 46, 59
Dos Vort, Kovno, 13.9.1934; 16.9.1934; 7.11.1934; 4.2.1935
Di Yiddishe Shtime, Kovno, 1.12.1922
HaMelitz, St. Petersburg, 15.8.1879; 13.7.1880; 20.9.1881; 21.5.1883; 9.8.1887; 22.8.1887; 19.12.1887; 15.3.1888; 10.4.1888; 1.6.1888; 9.6.1889
List of Luknik donors for the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael as published in Hamelitz
(from JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania>Hamelitz by Jeffrey Maynard)
|ASHKENAZI||Chaim Zondil b-i-l of M E Reinwald & Y N Oshri of Birz||#46||1895|
|FEIWELOWITZ||Shmuel Moshe husband of Chana Tow||wed||#161||1895|
|REINWALD||Moshe Eli b-i-l of h Z Ashkenazi & Y N Oshri of Birz||#46||1895|
|RODAK||Zlata fiancee of Avraham Yakov Hacohen of Vilna||#120||1893|
|TOW||Chana wife of Shmuel Moshe Feiwelowitz||wed||#161||1895|
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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