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[Page 197]

Pikeliai (Pikeln)

56°25' 22°07'

Pikeln (in Yiddish) is situated in the northwestern part of Lithuania, in the Zemaitija region, 1 km. from the Latvian border. Pikeln was named after the nearby Pikelhof estate. Beside the town the Lusis River flows, and forested hills encircle it.

In the second half of the seventeenth century Pikeln became a town. In 1769 it received permission to maintain one weekly market and four yearly fairs. In particular the town developed at the second half of the nineteenth century. There were then in town about thirty shops, four workshops for processing leather, two liquor factories, and other workshops. Until World War I the town was an important center of trade with agricultural products. During the Russian rule (1795-1915) Pikeln was included in the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia and Telzh district. During Lithuanian rule it was included in the Mazheik administrative center.

The first Jews probably settled in Pikeln at the end of the eighteenth century. Over time, two prayer houses and other community institutions were erected. A yeshiva operated in the town, directed by Rabbi Ze'ev-Volf Avrekh and later by Rabbi Hayim Nathanzon. Over the next hundred years, the number of Jews in town increased to more than a thousand and became two thirds of the total population. According to the all-Russian census of 1897, 1,758 residents lived in Pikeln, including 1,206 Jews (68%).

In the decades before World War I the number of the Jews in Pikeln decreased as a result of a strengthened emigration abroad, so that by 1914 only about 150 families remained in town.

In a list of donors for the victims of the great Persian famine in 1871-72 the names of 130 Pikeln Jews are given, as published in the Hebrew newspaper HaMagid (see Appendix 1).

The Zionist movement became popular in these years, and in the regional conference of the Lithuanian Zionists that took place in 1900 in Vilna, a delegate from Pikeln, Z. Zaks, participated. Twelve Pikeln Jews donated money in 1898 for the Settlement of Eretz Yisrael as published in the Hebrew newspaper HaMelitz (see Appendix 2).

Among the rabbis who officiated in Pikeln were Mosheh-Shimon Vizitz; Benyamin Rabinovitz (1812-1870) 1832-1842; Avraham Harif (?-1877); Ya'akov Vilentchik (?-1888).

Personages born in Pikeln included writer and translator Dr. Aba-Yits'hak Krim (1893-?), who lived in America from 1906; the brothers Robert and Albert Shif, known philanthropists from New York; Rabbi Marcus Shif from Cincinnati; Rabbi Eliyahu-David Rabinovitz-Teomim (1842-1905), in 1901 emigrated to Eretz Yisrael and was elected as the rabbi of Jerusalem. He published many books on Judaism. The chief rabbi of Eretz Yisrael Avraham-Yits'hak Kook was his son in law.

Eliyahu-David Rabinovitz-Teomim

At the beginning of World War I, by order of the Russian army, the Pikeln Jews were exiled deep into Russia. During the years 1915-1918 the town was under the German military rule.

The marking of the border between Lithuania and Latvia cut Pikeln Jewish traders off from the markets of Latvia and seriously reduced their livelihood. As a result they dealt now with small trade, peddling and crafts. Most of them maintained auxiliary farms next to their houses.

According to the government survey of 1931, three Jewish businesses operated in town: one grocery, one textile shop and one pharmacy. There were also two big flour merchants and two horse merchants in Pikeln. The Jews owned a bakery, a leather processing factory, a workshop for producing soap, two flour mills, one sawmill and two taverns.

In 1937 Pikeln had seven Jewish artisans: two bakers, two butchers, one glazier, one tailor and one shoemaker.

The Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank), directed by Mosheh Nathanzon, played an important role in the economic life of Pikeln Jews. In 1927 it had 97 members. Other public institutions in Pikeln were Bikur Holim, Gemiluth Hesed fund, a library and a Heder where just seven boys studied before World War II.

The Leibovitz family with two German soldiers (1916)
First line from left: soldier, small boy, Hanah, Sonya
Second line: Hirsh, Ya'akov, soldier

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

During this period the rabbis who officiated in Pikeln were:

Josef Ben Zion Fridman (1858-1920)
Hayim Zalman Kron who in 1925 was the counselor for Jewish affairs in the Lithuanian Ministry of the Interior
Yisrael Farber, the last rabbi, murdered by the Lithuanians in 1941.
Despite the falling Jewish population in Pikeln, the public and political activities continued. By 1940 about twenty Jewish families lived in town.

The table below shows how Pikeln Zionists voted for five Zionist congresses:

Year Total
Total Votes Labor Party
Revisionists General Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrakhi
16 1929 13 6 3
17 1931 12 7 5
18 1933 45 10 32 2 1
19 1935 36 35 1
21 1939 10 10 7 2 N. B.

In 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. During the year of Soviet rule (1940-1941), Zionist activity was disbanded, as in all Lithuania, and there were great changes in their economic circumstances.

After the German army invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June, 1941 and Soviet rule ceased in Pikeln, Lithuanian nationalists took control of the town. During July 1941, Pikeln Jews suffered greatly from the abuse and oppression by their Lithuanian neighbors. On 5 August they were transferred to the Latz barns near Mazheik (Mazeikiai). The men were put to work digging pits, while the women and children were imprisoned in the barns together with the women from Mazheik and the surroundings, and kept there for four days under terrible conditions.

On August 9, 1941 (Shabbat, 16th of Av, 5701) all were taken to the same pits where a few days earlier the men were murdered, and there they too were killed in the most vile and cruel manner. Women were forced to undress. The children were thrown into a long ditch and many of them were buried under heaps of soil and lime while still alive. In the same place, together with the Mazheik Jews, Jews from the nearby towns of Akmyan (Akmene), Vekshne (Vieksniai), Zhidik (Zidikai), Tirkshle (Tirksliai), Pikeln (Pikeliai), Klikol (Klykouliai) and Siad (Seda) perished.


Yahaduth Lita (Hebrew), Vol.1-4, Tel Aviv
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, Files Z-4/2548, 13/15/131, 55/1788, 55/1701
JIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Jewish Communities, Files 869-875
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem (Hebrew), page 155
Hamelitz (Hebrew), St.Petersburg, No. 120 (1893), No 29 (1894)

The mass murder site near the Jewish cemetery

The monument at the entrance of the murder site with the inscription
in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “At this site Hitler's murderers and
their local helpers executed about 4000 Jews and people of other nationalities”.

Appendix 1

List of 130 Pikeln Jewish donors for the victims of the great Persian famine in 1871/72 as published in HaMagid #16, 1872
(from JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania> HaMagid  by Jeffrey Maynard)

Surname Given Name Comments
BEITLER Michel  
BROIDA Shraga Feiwish  
BROIDA Yakov Yitzchok  
CHAYAT Avraham Yitzchok  
CHAYAT Dovid Yitzchok  
CHAYAT Mendel  
CHAYAT Yitzchok  
DALTAR Shmuel  
FELSER Shraga  
GARBER Yitzchok boy
GEITON Yitzchok  
GERBER Dovid  
HELMANN Shmuel  
HENER Shmuel  
HENES Yitzchok  
HODES Aharon father of Meir & daughter Sheina
HODES Avraham Segal  
HODES Eliezer Yitzchok  
KATZ Isser  
KATZ Leib  
KATZ Meir  
KATZ Moshe  
KATZ Shneur  
KATZ Uri boy
KATZ Yehuda ben Moshe  
KATZ Yosef Eliezer boy
LONG Shlomo  
LONG Yakov  
MASHOD Simcha woman
MILNER Aharon  
NEIAWADIL Boruch Netanel s-i-l of the rabbi
OHRMAKER Dov nephew of Falk ben Moshe Yom Tov
PARNFELD Leizer ben Tzvi  
PARNFELD Tzvi father of Leizer
PLUNGIAN Yechezkel  
RABIN Eliahu  
REIN Chaim  
REIN Michel  
REIN Yechezkel ben Michel  
SALANT Kalman  
SALANT Shraga  
SEGAL Avraham  
SEGAL Chaim Tzvi boy
SEGAL Kasil bridegroom
SEGAL Moshe  
SEGAL Moshe brother of Shmuel Raphel
SEGAL Shmuel Raphel brother of Moshe
SEGAL Tzvi ben Chaim  
SEGAL Uri boy
SEGAL Yechezkel  
SHEMESH Mendil  
SHU"B Eliahu  
TELZER Yakov  
WEKSNER Avraham  
YELAK Yakov  
ZELAK Chai' woman
  Abba ben Yitzchok  
  Aharon Leib  
  Avraham Rabbi Gaon ABD
  Avraham ben Aharon  
  Avraham ben Kadosh  
  Avraham Binyomin  
  Binyomin ben Eliahu  
  Boruch Zalman  
  Chaim ben Noson  
  Chaim ben Yoel  
  Ches ben Aharon  
  Dov ben Eliahu  
  Dov ben Menachem  
  Dovid ben Yisroel  
  Dovid Yosef boy
  Dvorah woman
  Eizik ben Shmuel  
  Eliahu ben Yehuda  
  Eliezer Tzvi  
  Falk ben Moshe Yom Tov uncle of Dov Ohrmaker
  Fruma woman
  Leib ben Shlomo  
  Libe woman
  Meir Aharon  
  Meir ben Nachum  
  Mordechai s-i-l of Zev
  Mordechai ben Yehuda  
  Mordechai Leib  
  Moshe ben Yakov  
  Moshe ben Yehuda  
  Moshe ben Yitzchok  
  Moshe Meir  
  Moshe Meir boy
  Moshe Yitzchok  
  Nachum boy
  Nachum ben Aharon  
  Shalom ben Noson  
  Shalom Dov  
  Shaul ben Yehuda  
  Sheima son of the Rabbi  
  Shlomo ben Yitzchok  
  Shmaya ben Shraga boy
  Shmuel Eizik  
  Shmuel Moshe  
  Sima woman
  Tzvi ben Elchanan  
  Tzvi ben Mordechai  
  Tzvi Dov from Deselen
  Yakov ben Nachum  
  Yakov ben Shmuel  
  Yakov ben Yechezkel  
  Yakov ben Yechezkel  
  Yakov Menachem  
  Yekutiel ben Yitzchok  
  Yissachar Moshe  
  Yitzchok boy
  Yitzchok ben Abba  
  Yitzchok ben Binyomin boy
  Yitzchok ben Mordechai  
  Yitzchok Leib  
  Yosef ben Eliahu  
  Yosef ben Shraga  
  Zalkind grandfather of Eidil son of his daughter
  Zev boy
  Zev ben Moshe boy

Appendix 2

List of Pikeln donors for the Settlement of Eretz Yisrael as published in HaMelitz
(from JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania>Hamelitz  by Jeffrey Maynard)

Surname Given Name Comments Town Source: Hamelitz Year
DONCHIN B   Pikeliai #107  
FRIDBERG   Doctor Pikeliai #107 1898
HARS Fani fiancee of Avraham Segal of Shavel   Pikeliai #201 1900
KOHN Ch Y   Pikeliai #107 1898
KWEIT Dovid son of Rabbi Gaon Sh. Helman Kweit   Pikeliai # 120 1893
NUROK B   Pikeliai #107 1898
NUROK Z   Pikeliai #107 1898
SHLEZ L   Pikeliai #107 1898
YELOWITZ K   Pikeliai #107 1898
ZAKS N husband of Devorah Sergei of Krotingen Pikeliai #156 1895
ZAKSH Selig at Chan Purim dinner in Vilna Pikeliai #77 1901
ZAKSH Z on occasion of Weisbord-Glemba wedding Pikeliai #185 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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