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[Page 371]

Vainutas (Vainute)

55°22' 21°52'

Vainutas (Vainute in Yiddish) lies in the western part of Lithuania, in the Zamut (Zemaitija) region, about 35 km. to the northwest of the district administrative center Tavrig (Taurage). The narrow Sisa (Shisha) River flows through the town.

The town of Vainute has existed since the sixteenth century. In 1792 it was granted the right of self rule as a town.

A view of Vainute

Until 1795 Vainute 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 the other towns of Lithuania, Vainute became part of the Russian Empire, first within the province (Gubernia) of Vilna and from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia in the Rasein district. During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Vainute was a county administrative center in the Taurage district.

After the Memel (Klaipeda) district was annexed to Germany in 1939 the border between Germany and Lithuania was drawn five kilometers from Vainute.


Jewish settlement before World War II

Jews are first believed to have settled in Vainute in the middle of the seventeenth century. In 1766 there were 515 Jews. Before World War I about 80 Jewish families lived in Vainute, making their living in agriculture, trade and crafts.

In a list of donors for the great Persian famine in 1871-72 the names of 57 Vainute Jews appear (see Appendix 1).

During the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940) the Jewish population decreased. The first census conducted by the new Lithuanian government in 1923 counted 1,291 residents in Vainute, 348 of them being Jewish (27%).

Vainute, on the road from the mill to the town

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

In the 1921 elections for the Local Council nineteen men were elected, two of them Jewish. At that time most of the Jews made their living in agriculture, with a minority in the small trades and crafts. The farmers held large fields, pasture areas and plantations, cultivating them intensively using agricultural machinery. The other Jews also had small plots for auxiliary farms that brought them additional income. Some families were peddlers and other families were supported by relatives living abroad.

According to the government survey of 1931 there were eleven shops and businesses in the town, ten of them (91%) owned by Jews: five textile shops, three businesses with meat and horses, one pharmacy and one mixed goods shop. According to the same survey Vainute Jews owned a wool-combing workshop, a bakery, a sawmill, a flourmill and a power plant.

In 1937 there were fifteen Jewish tradesmen: seven butchers, three tailors, one wool knitter, one shoemaker, one barber and two others.

The Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank) played an important role in the economic life of Vainute's Jews and their economic condition was generally sound.

In 1939 there were twenty-two telephones listed, half of them in Jewish homes and businesses.

In the years before World War II relations between the Jews and the Lithuanians worsened. The open propaganda of the Lithuanian Merchants Association (Verslas) to boycott Jewish shops and the Nazi propaganda from across the nearby border had their influence. Every year, before Pesakh, Vainute Jews were afraid to go out in the evenings because of risk of blood libel that was raised from time to time. Before Pesakh in 1940 a Lithuanian housemaid falsely accused her Jewish employer of slaughtering her son to use his blood to bake his Matsoth. Other peasants believed the libel and created a pogrom against the Jews. In the middle of the night they smashed the windows of all the Jewish houses, injured some Jews and looting homes.

A wedding in 1938: the bride is L. Leibovitz

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

The Jewish children received their elementary education at a Heder and at the Hebrew Tarbuth school. After graduating, most of the youngsters either worked with their parents or began to learn a trade. Only a few continued to study at the Hebrew gymnasium in Tavrig and in the Telz yeshivah. The community maintained a library with Yiddish and Hebrew books.

Zionism was embraced by the Vainute Jews at the end of the nineteenth century. Regular fundraising was conducted for settlement of Eretz-Yisrael. The names of twenty-one Vainute Jews appear in lists of donors, as published in the Hebrew newspaper HaMelitz in 1898 and 1900 (see Appendix 2). The fund raiser was Yisrael Yavetz. Subsequent fund raisers included Shalom-Yits'hak Levitov (1903), Yisrael Yavetz, Yosef Aizikovitz, Yehudah-Avraham Asherovitz and Leib Sheinberg (1909) and Tsevi Rabinovitz (1914).

In 1901 Agudath Benei Zion (The Sons of Zion Society) was active in Vainute; that group and others collected donations for the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael. In that year many Vainute Jews signed up to buy shares in the bank of the Zionist movement Otzar Hityashvuth HaYehudim (Jewish Colonical Trust [in Eretz-Yisrael]).

In the years of Independent Lithuania, Vainute Jews took part in the voting for Zionist congresses as shown:


Year Total
Total Votes Labor Party
Revisionists General Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrakhi
18 1933 86 16 1 56 13
19 1935 144 14 2 84 44

The Jewish youth belonged to Zionist youth organizations. Sport activities were run by the local Maccabi branch with its 50 members. A few young people joined the underground Communist party.

Religious life concentrated around the Beth Midrash. Among the rabbis who officiated in town were:

Benyamin Lifshitz (?-1871)
Benyamin Farber
Tsevi Ze'ev Shor (?-1929)
Ezra Altshuler (1858-1938), officiated in Vainute for 35 years, in 1936 he emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael, and died in 1938 in a road accident in Kefar Saba; he published several books on Judaism.
Yosef-Ya'akov Shor, born in Vainute and was appointed as Rabbi in 1936; the last Rabbi of this community, murdered by Lithuanians in1941.

The welfare societies Gemiluth Hesed and Bikur Holim had branches in the town.

Ya'akov Hodes (1886-1961), who was born in Vainute, emigrated with his family to England as a young boy, and began to write articles in the press (The Manchester Guardian and The Jewish World) from the age of seventeen. From 1945 he lived in Eretz-Yisrael where he edited publications for the Jewish Agency. He died in Jerusalem.


During World War II and after

In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Under new laws, the majority of Jewish factories and shops were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and Hebrew educational institutions were closed. Supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, was hit hard, and the standard of living gradually dropped. In 1940 about 55 Jewish families lived in the town.

The German army entered Vainute on the first day of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, June 22, 1941. On that morning a number of Jews harnessed their horses to their carts and fled to the nearby villages to seek shelter with peasant acquaintances. Others tried to escape to Russia but only a few Soviet activists managed to reach there. During that first week all the fugitives returned home because the peasants threw them off their farms. Coming home they found their Lithuanian neighbors had invaded their houses and taken over their property. Some of the Jews settled in the Beth Midrash and others at the houses of relatives or acquaintances. The Germans and Lithuanians confiscated their horses and cattle.

The Lithuanian police took control of the town and ordered the Jews to hand over their radios, money, valuables and guns. The order was accompanied with the threat that anyone who did not comply would be shot, together with his entire family. Nonetheless many hid their valuables in the ground. Others gave their valuables to the local priest for safekeeping until after the war.

On June 24, 1941 an order was issued that all males aged twelve years and older to register with the police. For the next four weeks the men were taken for different work projects, such as burying dead horses, repairing roads and culverts, cleaning the streets and serving the Germans and Lithuanians. At noon they were permitted to go home for lunch and afterward they returned to work. The Lithuanian police sometimes entered Jewish homes and demanded that the Jews ‘present’ them with various items.

One day, in about the third week of the war, when the Jews reported for work, the Lithuanian police led them to the church square. They had brought in the elderly Rabbi Yosef Shor and the Shamash Yosef Shtern. The S”S men who were present forced the shamash to cut off half of the rabbi's beard. The rabbi was then tied to a horse on which a S”S man sat and rode around the square. The rabbi was forced to run behind the horse while being whipped, and the Lithuanians at the square enjoyed the ‘show’.

After this torture the rabbi became very ill. Five other men detained on different pretexts were shot in different places in the vicinity.

One day in July the men were brought from the yard of the police station to the Beth Midrash. There they were forced to remove the Aron Kodesh, the Torah scrolls and the holy books from the Beth Midrash and to stack them all in a pile at the yard. The men were forced to fetch their holy books, Tefilin and Talitoth and throw them all on the pile. The Lithuanians brought in the ailing rabbi and ordered him to ignite the pile, over which the Germans had poured petrol. The rabbi vehemently refused and begged to be shot. Finally the Jewish tailor who lived near the Beth Midrash ignited the pile while the Lithuanians applauded as it all burned.

On July 19, 1941 all the men were brought to the Beth Midrash. They were forced to empty their pockets and were then marched through the town in the direction of Naishtot Tavrig (Zemaiciu Naumiestis). Three kilometers from the town they were halted in a field. Shortly afterwards an S”S man from Heydekrug arrived, who made a selection from among the men. Of the 120 men in the field 90 were loaded on a towing truck and were taken toward Naishtot. At the ravines of Siaudvyciai, three kilometers east of Vainute, they were murdered and buried. The remaining 30, young strong men, were transferred, with much abuse, to the Heydekrug camp. Jews from other towns, including Kaltinenai and Laukuva were also imprisoned there.

In August another selection was made and 50 to 60 men, mainly the elderly and ill, were separated from the others. They were told they were to be taken home, but on the way they were murdered. In October and November 1941 further selections were made and those chosen were told as before that they would be going home, but, as it was later discovered, they were murdered and buried at the ravines of Siaudvyciai.

At the end of July 1943 the men from the Heydekrug camp were transferred to Auschwitz. There about 100 were annihilated, including ten men from Vainute. After about two months the surviving men were transported to the Warsaw ghetto in order to vacate the ruins. Many died in a typhus epidemic, including the men from Vainute. In summer of 1944 the remaining men were transported to the Dachau concentration camp.

Only three Vainute men survived to be freed by the American army at the end of the war.

The mass grave and the monument at the ravines of Siaudvyciai

The women and children who remained in the town after the men were removed were expelled from their homes and crammed into a few houses around the Beth Midrash. Some women were forced to work on farms and the others at different cleaning tasks. The S”S men from Heydekrug and the local police would come into town, drag girls outside and rape them.

At the end of September 1941 the authorities announced that the women and the children would be taken to the place where their men were working. About 125 women and children were brought to the Gerainiai Forest, about four kilometers from Vainute, where they were all murdered and buried.

After the war monuments were erected on the mass graves.


Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, TR-10/568; 0-3/2580; Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, files 4, 16-19
YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Jewish Communities, file 1568
Kamzon Y.D., Yahaduth Lita, page 61
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem, page 50
HaMelitz, St. Petersburg, 18.6.1901

Survivors of Vainute at the mass grave


Appendix 1

List of 57 Vainute donors for the victims of the Persian famine as published in HaMagid, #28, 1872
JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania> HaMagid  by Jeffrey Maynard

Surname Given Name Comments
AVREMES Shmuel  
BARA”M Yechezkel  
BASHES Chaim  
BERILS Yisroel  
BR”D Mordechai  
DOVIDS Moshe  
EIZIKS Shaul  
GAWRER Fisil Tzvi  
HAWES Mordechai father of Zev Avraham
HAWES Zev Avraham ben Mordechai  
KA”TZ Eitze Micha  
KA”TZ Tuvia  
LEWENZOHN Yitzchok Meir  
LIPA Avraham  
LIPSHITZ Binyamin Rabbi Gaon
MAGID Shaul  
MOSHES Avraham  
ROZING Shraga  
SEGAL Menachem  
SHAPIRO Yehiyahu Dov  
SHU”B Moshe Leib  
SHU”B Yuda Meir  
TOIBES Shmuel  
TOIRAG Rachel woman
YAKES Eitze  
YAKOBZOHN Shimon Shaul ben Yitzchok Meir  
YAKOBZOHN Tzvi Ari father of Yitzhak Meir
YAKOBZOHN Yitzchok Meir ben Tzvi Ari  
ZWINGER Leizer  
  Aharon ben Kofman  
  Daniel ben G  
  Ete widow
  Kofman father of Aharon  
  Lv Leizer  
  Nachum Mordechai  
  Shlomo Yakov ben Y boy
  Shmuel ben Shalom  
  Todros Leib  
  Tzvi ben Shlomo Yakov boy
  Yakov Abba  
  Yakov Leizer ben Z  
  Yisroel Bentzion  
  Yisroel Leib ben R Chana  
  Yosef Leib  


Appendix 2

List of Vainute donors for the Settlement of Eretz-Yisrael as published in HaMelitz
JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania> HaMagid  by Jeffrey Maynard

Surname Given Name Comments Source Year
ABRAMOWITZ Yehuda Leib   #121 1900
ABRAMOWITZ Yehuda Leib   #56 1899
GROSMAN Zechariah   #121 1900
GROSMAN Zechariah   #56 1899
KLEIN Yitzchok   #121 1900
KLEIN Yitzchok   #56 1899
LEWINZOHN Yitzchok Meir   #56 1899
LEWINZON Yitzchok Meir   #121 1900
LEWITAN Shlomo Yitzchok   #140 1900
MARKOWITZ Yitzchok   #56 1899
MELAZRENAN Betzalel   #56 1899
MILOZDENAN Betzalel   #121 1900
RABINOWITZ Dov Tzvi   #121 1900
RABINOWITZ Tzvi Dov   #56 1899
ROZIN Tzvi Zelig   #121 1900
ROZIN Tzvi Zelig   #56 1899
YABETZ Yisroel   #121 1900
YAVETZ Eliahu ben Yisroel born 1887 #122 1900
YAVETZ Yisroel   #56 1899
YAVETZ Yisroel father of Eliahu b-i-l of Nochum Rozing of Taurage   #122 1900
  Yehuda Leib ben Shachna   #121 1900

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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