Zidikai (Zhidik in Yiddish) is in the northwest part of Lithuania in the Zamut (Zemaitija) region, about 20 km. west of the district administrative center of Mazheik (Mazeikiai). Most of its houses were built on a hill. The Zidikai village and an estate granted by the king to the noble Hudkevitz are listed in legal documents dating back to the sixteenth century. In the middle of the nineteenth century Zhidik became a county administrative center.
Until 1795 Zhidik was part of 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 most of Lithuania, Zhidik became a part of the Russian Empire, first in the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia.
According to the all Russian census of 1897, there were 1,243 residents in town, 914 being Jews (73%). That year the town had three leather-processing shops and twenty stores and conducted regular market days and fairs.
After World War I the population of Zhidik dropped considerably. According to the first government census of 1923, there were 893 residents in town, 799 being Jewish (89%). They lived in 119 small wooden houses and 55 others lived on the nearby estate. During the period of independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Zhidik was a county administrative center.
Jewish settlement till after World War I
The first Jews are believed to have arrived in Zhidik at the end of the seventeenth century. In the ensuing years their numbers increased, and they made their living in the small trades. A few were peddlers who traded in the nearby Kurland villages.
In 1780 a wooden synagogue was built in town, and was known as the cold synagogue as it was not heated in winter. Later, a Beth Midrash was built where mostly less-educated people prayed. One of the oldest institutions was the Hevrah Kadisha where a record (Pinkas) was kept of all its activities. A sample of this Pinkas is preserved at the YIVO archives in New York.
Rabbis who served in Zhidik before World War I included Tsevi-Hirsh; Dov Dimand; Shelomoh-Mosheh Levenberg who worked in Zhidik for 38 years until his death at the age of 75 in 1896; Hayim Nathanzon (1838-1904), who served in Zhidik for seven years; and Avraham-Ze'ev HaLevi Heler (1886-1941), who was murdered in Mariampol in the summer of 1941.
Because of its geographic remoteness from larger towns and centers of education, the Zhidik community was very traditional, and every innovative idea evoked strong opposition. At the end of the nineteenth century a boy and a girl were punished because they walked alone in the nearby forest. They were tied up and led through the streets of the town while being spanked by the public.
A dispute erupted following the decision of the synagogue Gabai to replace the prayer stands (shtenders) with more comfortable benches for praying. It took years to defeat the conservatism but the decision was implemented after rabbis from the nearby communities of Yelok (Ylakiai), Siad (Seda) and Pikeln (Pikeliai) intervened.
|Prayer Stands (Shtenders)|
In 1888 Zhidik faced intense controversy following the initiative of the local rabbi Shelomoh-Mosheh Levenberg to bring a permanent doctor to the town. In order to finance his salary of six rubles per week, the majority decided to impose a tax on the sale of yeast. But the yeast sellers and their supporters strongly opposed this decision. Their arguments sometimes ended in loud discussions and even fights during Shabbath prayers; at times the intervention of the local police was needed. At the end of 1890 Rabbi Heler was detained when someone informed authorities that his two sons had left town to evade military service. Only after personal assurances from a few community noblemen, was the old rabbi was released and the informers left Zhidik.
The list of contributors for the victims of the great Persian famine of 1871-72, as published in the Hebrew newspaper HaMagid included the names of 43 Zhidik Jews (see Appendix 1).
Before World War I the Agudath Yisrael party was very active. The list contains the names of paying 78 members. The economic situation of Zhidik deteriorated in these years to such an extent that the estate owners had to donate flour and firewood to the needy people. Emigration to America and South Africa increased and almost every week a family departed to a new country.
During World War I, in the summer of 1915, the remaining Zhidik Jews were exiled to remote parts of Russia.
During independent Lithuania (1918-1940)
With the establishment of the independent Lithuanian state in 1918, some of the exiled Jews returned to Zhidik. The delineation of the border with Latvia severed ties with villages in Kurland in Latvia worsening an already bad economic situation. This in turn caused Jewish families to move from Zhidik to the larger towns in Lithuania. Only a few dozen Jewish families remained. Some worked in agriculture while others made their living in the six leather processing shops and in the flour mill, all of which belonged to Jews.
According to the government survey of 1931, seventeen stores operated in Zhidik at that time, thirteen of them (86%) belonging to Jews: eight textile shops, two food stores, two tools and iron stores, one haberdashery shop, one engaged in grain trade and one butcher shop.
According to the same survey Jews owned the power station, the flour mill, the wool combing shop, the millinery shop for men's hats and four leather processing factories.
Below is an exerpt from the original survey listing two Jewish leather factories of Zhidik.
In 1937 there were thirteen skilled Jewish workers: six tailors, four butchers, a baker, a shoemaker and one other tradesperson.
The Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank) had a considerable impact on the economy in Zhidik. In 1927 the bank had 96 registered members and in 1929 the membership dropped to 87.
During those years Rabbi Yits'hak Begon served in Zhidik. The last rabbi of the community was Eliyahu Lutsky who was murdered in the Holocaust.
|The Beth Midrash in Zhidik|
The conservative nature of the community had an impact on the education of the town's children. For a long time boys studied at the Heder-type institution, but when, at the beginning of the 1920s, a Hebrew school of the Tarbuth chain was formed, it brought about intense objections. More controversy was caused by the fact that the school was to be housed in the cold synagogue which was neglected and no longer used for prayer. In the end the school was opened, but the number of students decreased from year to year.
Among the famous personages born in Zhidik were rabbis Barukh Levenberg and Gershon Gutman; also David Levin, the activist for orthodox education and one of the leaders of Agudath Yisrael; and the writer Tsevi-Hirsh Shlez.
The reduction in numbers of Jews in Zhidik did not interrupt the activities of community institutions or their social and political groups. One can see the distribution of power among different Zionist parties according to the votes for the Zionist congresses at the table below:
|Total Votes||Labor Party
During World War II and afterwards
In June 1940, Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new regulations, light industry enterprises owned by Jews were nationalized. A number of Jewish shops were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. The supply of goods decreased and as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore the brunt and the standard of living dropped gradually. All the Zionist parties were disbanded and the Hebrew school was closed.
In that year approximately 40 Jewish families (150 people) lived in Zhidik. Upon the invasion of the German army into Lithuania on June 22, 1941 many Zhidik Jews tried to escape to the Soviet Union, but only a few succeeded. Most of them perished on the roads, while a few reached Kovno and ended up in the Kovno ghetto.
When the Germans entered Zhidik on June 25, 1941, the town was already controlled by local Lithuanian nationalists. They began to loot Jewish property and Jews were injured and killed, among them the storeowner J. N. Neiman. A Lithuanian competitor seized the opportunity to eliminate him. He forced Neiman to dig a pit, then grabbed the shovel and beat him to the ground with it. He then buried Neiman alive in the pit.
Several days after the Germans entered the town, an order was issued for the Jews to gather in the Beth Midrash. They were kept there for a week without food and water, in inhumane and unsanitary conditions. Meanwhile their Lithuanian neighbors looted their homes. After a week the Jews were taken away to Lastik, a few kilometers from the town. Many risked their lives trying to buy food at the neighboring Lithuanian farms in exchange for money or belongings.
After a week the men and women were separated. The men were transferred to Mazheik and locked in barns near the Jewish cemetery where Mazheik Jews were already imprisoned. For a short time they were forced to work at the neighboring Lithuanian farms. On August 3, 1941 (10th of Av 5701) they were murdered by Lithuanian executioners next to the Jewish cemetery. Six days later, women and children were murdered at the same place. Only two Jewish girls managed to escape the massacre. They hid for two years in farms before they were handed over to the German police. They were later handed over to Lithuanian auxiliary police and murdered.
|The monument at the entrance to 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.
|The mass murder site near the Jewish cemetery|
Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, testimony of Mikhael Tsipin M-1/Q-1455-297; testimony of Hone Raif M-1/E-1650-1555.1771/1631
Koniukhovsky Collection 0-71. File 21; testimony of Prof. Meir Bril, New Orleans 0-57
YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Jewish Communities, files 453-455
Levin, Dov; Zhidik, Pinkas HaKehiloth-Lita (Hebrew), Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 1996
Yakobi Y. Survivors from Lithuania Tell, Davar - Tel Aviv,18.9.1945
Di Yiddishe Shtime (Yiddish), Kovno, 22.6.1931
HaMelitz, St. Petersburg (Hebrew), 23.12.1890; 14.1.1891; 5.2.1891
Naujienos, Chicago (Lithuanian), 11.6.1949
List of 43 Zhidik Jewish donors for the victims of the great Persian famine as published in HaMagid 1872
(from JewishGen>Databases>Lithuania>Hamelitz by Jeffrey Maynard)
|TUCH||Gershon||father of Tzvi|
|TUCH||Tzvi ben Gershon|
|Moshe Shlomo||Rabbi ABD|
|Shalom ben Yisroel Shlomo|
|Yisroel Shlomo||father of Shlom|
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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