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[Page 191]

Pašvitinys (Pashvitin)

56°09' 23°49'

Pašvitinys (Pashvitin in Yiddish) lies in northern Lithuania, about 42 km. northeast of the district administrative center Shavl (Siauliai).

Until 1795 Pashvitin was included in the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom. According to the third division of Poland in that 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 other towns of Lithuania, Pashvitin became part of the Russian Empire, first within the province (Gubernia) of Vilna and from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia. During this period and also during the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Pashvitin was a county administrative center in the Siauliai district.

Jewish settlement until after World War I

Jews probably first settled in Pashvitin at the end of the eighteenth century. They made their living in the small trades, peddling and crafts. In nearby villages Jews dealt in agricultural products. Among the Jewish craftsmen in the town were six shoemakers, six tailors, a number of glaziers and painters, a carpenter and a watchmaker. In addition there were carters, two or three melamdim, a teacher and a paramedic.

The weekly markets and the four fairs each year were important sources of income. Many of the town's Jews relied heavily on money sent by a former Pashvitiner from South Africa.

At the beginning of the 1860s a Beth Midrash was built in the town. In 1862 land was purchased for a cemetery, and a bath house was built. Previously the dead were buried at the Jewish cemetery of Yanishok (Joniskis).

According to the all-Russian census of 1897, there were 763 people in Pashvitin, 435 of them Jewish (57%).

Twenty-four Pashvitin Jews are named in the list of donors for the victims of the great famine in Persia in 1871-72.

The rabbis who officiated in Pashvitin included:
Mordehai Hilman (1868-1953), served in Pashvitin from 1841 to 1879, later was Rabbi in Glasgow and London, in 1934 emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael and became Head of the Yeshivah Ohel Torah in Jerusalem that had been established by his son-in-law, the Chief Rabbi of Eretz-Yisrael Yits'hak Halevi Herzog. Hilman published several books on the Talmud and the Rambam and died in Jerusalem.

Elhanan Cohen (1874-1941), served in Pashvitin 1898-1914, from 1926 was Rabbi in Dvinsk (Daugavpils), was murdered in Dvinsk in the Holocaust.

Rabbi Mordehai Hilman

In 1896 a Heder Metukan which taught Hebrew and the Bible was established in the town. This school was attended mainly by children from wealthier families. In 1899 a Heder HaKolel (Common Heder) in which the children of the affluent and the poor studied together was established in Pashvitin. This Heder was the first in its kind and served as an example for many Hadarim that were established in Zhager, Shavl and in other towns.

In June 1900 a blood libel developed into a pogrom against the Jews in Pashvitin that spread to neighboring towns. The windows of all the Jewish houses and the Beth Midrash were smashed and a few Jews were wounded. Until that time relations between the Jews and their Christian neighbors had generally been fair.

Pashvitin Jews were sympathetic to the ideals of Hibath Zion. As the first Zionist Congress approached a Bonei Zion (Builders of Zion) society was established in the town. Its members participated in all its activities and fund raising. Names of Pashvitin Jews appear in the list of donors for the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael from 1898. The fund raiser was Mosheh Plan.

On May 4, 1915, during World War I, the Russian military exiled Pashvitin Jews into the interior of Russia.

During Independent Lithuania (1918-1940)

After the war and the establishment of the Lithuanian state in 1918, only about half the exiled Jews of Pashvitin returned home. The returnees rebuilt their homes and organized the community. 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 Pashvitin a Va'ad (community committee) of seven members was elected: three General Zionists, two from Tseirei Zion and two independents. The committee was active in all fields of Jewish life from 1921 until the end of 1925.

The first government census of 1923 counted 818 residents in Pashvitin, 274 being Jewish (33%).

During this period Pashvitin Jews made their living mainly in the small trades. According to the government survey of 1931 all nine shops in the town were Jewish-owned: one haberdashery, one iron products and tools, one textile, one butcher shop, one grocery, and three grain businesses and one other.

In 1937 only six Jewish artisans remained in Pashvitin: two tailors, two butchers, one baker and one blacksmith. The flourmill that for many years was in Jewish hands passed over to Lithuanians. A number of Pashvitin Jews relied upon aid from their relatives abroad. In 1925 the town had a Jewish dentist, Ogenia Rozenberg.

In 1939 two out of fifteen telephone subscribers in the town were Jewish.

Beginning in the mid-1930s, the Jewish community decreased gradually. The economic crisis in Lithuania and the open propaganda by the Association of the Lithuanian Merchants Verslas that called for the boycott of Jewish shops, caused many Jews to look elsewhere for their future. Many emigrated to South Africa, America and Eretz-Yisrael.

During this period the Jewish children received their elementary education at the government school in Pashvitin.

The Jewish cemetery in Pashvitin
(Courtesy of Naomi Musiker, from the Jewish Board of Deputies archive in Johannesburg, scanned by Barry Mann and Maurice Skikne)

The Blekher family
Rear: Hayah Golda and her husband Yisrael Pinhas Blekher
Front: Ethel, Hanah, Hirsh holding Yosef, Yits'hak, Matityahu
(Courtesy of Naomi Musiker, from the Jewish Board of Deputies archive in Johannesburg, scanned by Barry Mann and Maurice Skikne)

Many Pashvitin Jews were Zionists and most of the Zionist parties had supporters in the town. The result of voting in the Zionist Congresses by Pashvitin Zionists is shown below:

Year Total
Total Votes Labor Party
Revisionists General Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrakhi
15 1927 13 12 12
16 1929 25 2 10
17 1931 10 10 1 2 2 5
18 1933 27 9 15 3
19 1935 30 16 13 1
21 1939 24 24 2 N. B. 22

The Zionist youth organization HaShomer HaTsair had a branch in the town.

The Yiddish poet and writer Leizer Leibovitz (1906-1972), whose work was published in the Jewish press in South Africa and from 1966 in Israel, was born in Pashvitin.

During World War II

With the annexation of Lithuania to the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940, some Jewish shops were nationalized. The Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded. At this time about twenty Jewish families remained in the town.

The war between Germany and the Soviet Union began on June 22, 1941. A few days later German soldiers entered Pashvitin. Lithuanian activists took control of the town and immediately began to mistreat the Jews.

A drunken German officer with two Lithuanians took hold of a Jewish girl. When her grandfather remonstrated with them he was shot.

The mass grave at the Narishkin Park
(Picture taken and supplied courtesy of Elkan Gamzu, July 2005)

A short time later the Jews were ordered to leave their homes. They were imprisoned in the old barn near the Stone Mill on the road to Zeimelis. From there they were taken out every day for farm work. One day they were loaded onto carts and driven to Zhager. It is believed that they were murdered together with Zhager Jews on the day after Yom Kippur 5702 (October 2, 1941). The names of the Lithuanian murderers are recorded in the archives of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

The inscription in Lithuanian and Yiddish on the monument:
“At this site Hitler's murderers and their local helpers
murdered about 3000 Jewish men, women, children
from Shavl district on the 2nd of October 1941.”



YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Jewish Communities, files 837, 838, 1534
Nates A.: Days of Yesterday (Hebrew), Tel Aviv, 1981


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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