The Blood of Our Brothers Cries Out from the Mass Grave Poligon
The town of Svintsyan existed for close to 500 years in the area of Vilna, among Lithuanian and White Russian settlements. The population in the Lithuanian part of that area was, like the soil, poor, in impoverished Lithuanian villages scattered over great distances. The White Russian part of the Svintsyan area had better soil. It was flat and had been planted with various grains, like rye, barley, buckwheat and especially flax. This is also how the Jewish area of Svintsyan looked from the beginning to the end. The people weren't blessed with great wealth, and they earned their bread by the sweat of their brow. Quietly and modestly, the Jews built a world of their own here. It was a quiet and unpretentious life but a thoroughly Jewish one. As early as the year 1778, the founder of Chabad Khassidus, the author of the Tanya, had three Khassidic minyans.
In the year 1863, after the Petersburg-Warsaw-Berlin train line was built, there began a slow rise in the economic and cultural levels of the local inhabitants. In the year 1898, when the Lithuanian area extending to Ponyevitch and the White Russian area extending to Gluboke were connected by the small train, new yeshivas arose, as well as new towns and villages which enriched the Svintsyan area. The Jews of Svintsyan and of the new surrounding towns began a more intensive building up of their economies, which were based on trade and business. The Jews were the bond between the towns and the villages. The Jews of Svintsyan and Haydutsishok developed the flax trade, which in time became quite widespread. The Jews erected factories which made felt boots sold throughout all of Poland.
The towns like New Svintsyan, Ingaline, Kaltinian, Lingmian, Lintup, and Podbrodz, which lay near the big and small trains, developed a large wood export business. The wood was sawed and cut in the nearby sawmills and from there was shipped out all over the world to places like Germany, England, etc.
Up to the time of the First World War, New Svintsyan was one of the biggest collection and export points for goods bound for Germany. Shellfish, geese, mushrooms, and eggs. The Jewish fishermen from Lingmian, Palush and Gaviken developed quite an extensive fishing trade on the local lakes.
The Jewish butchers of Svintsyan, New Svintsyan, Ingaline, Duksht and Podbrodz had, up to the time of the First World War, developed quite a large meat trade, which extended past the border of Lithuania to reach as far as Warsaw and Petersburg.
Together with economic development, there also developed an indigenous spiritual life.
THE WORLD OF JUDAISM
Spiritually and emotionally, a Jew there felt that this was his natural place to be. The Jews used the local language to a very small degree. The style of life, the rhythm of life was Jewish through and through, whether in the home or on the street, during holy times or during ordinary days. At the end of a day, laborers and common folk would shake the dust of the day off themselves, off their souls, and go to the synagogue or to the study house, where their main pleasure was learning a page of Gemara, a chapter of Mishna, a section of Eyn Yankev, or simply saying the psalms. During these hours Jews were renewed and refreshed. Their hearts were revived, the quietly beating, sensitive hearts of the Jews in the area of Svintsyan.
Every Sabbath Eve in the towns of the area around Svintsyan, there were moments when the whole surrounding world was quiet and with great anticipation awaited the start of the Sabbath. The moment when our mothers lit the Sabbath candles was among the holiest moments in the Jewish town.
On the Sabbath and on holidays, the street of the towns and villages rested, pervaded by a sacred awe. All of the houses were permeated by the spirit of the Jewish soul.
Being located close to Vilna, the area was influenced by the social and national strivings of that time and gave rise to people in the Jewish world who had spirit and initiative. The area of Svintsyan produced well-known doctors and artists, engineers, and community leaders.
In all areas, the struggle for Jewish nationalism around Svintsyan was carried on with tremendous self-sacrifice. The poor, economically ruined province supported, with great self-sacrifice, the Jewish elementary and secondary schools in Svintsyan. At that time, Svintsyan was the only city in the area other than Vilna to have a Jewish high school in which studies were conducted in the Yiddish language.
In those days, there was a lively social life in all circles of the Jewish population. The lecture halls were filled with people every night. They attended various readings and lectures, gatherings and discussions, literary evenings, and theatrical performances. These cultural and social activities were conducted with great stubbornness in spite of all the difficulties of that time, including being labeled low class and degenerate. The Polish government announced new decrees every day. Angry winds were beginning to blow from Hitler's Germany, winds which found fertile ground in Poland.
In the year 1939, when Poland was broken and enslaved, controlled by Hitler's soldiers, the whole area of Svintsyan fell to the Russians. This continued until the year 1941, when the Nazi hordes took the area. After the Soviet army left our area, the Lithuanians became the bosses and immediately began to persecute the Jews.
With the help of the S.S., the Lithuanians began to track down their Jewish neighbors with ferocity, the same neighbors with whom they had lived together for so many hundreds of years. There were immediate victims in all of the villages. All of the Jews of Lingmian were killed right away. Jews were attacked and robbed in all of the villages. Jewish lives and Jewish fortunes were up for grabs. In Svintsyan, in the month of August in the year 1941, one hundred and four Jews were arrested and were shot by the Lithuanians in the Baranover Woods. Right after that on the same day, forty-three Jews were killed in New Svintsyan. The murderers didn't even make an effort to bury their victims; and right after they left, the wolves of the Baranover Woods threw themselves at the corpses.
On the 27th of September, Tishrey, the Sabbath of Repentance 1941, all of the Jews of Svintsyan and New Svintsyan were gathered together, from Ignaline and Dugelishok, from Podbrodz, Haydutsishok, Lintup, Stoyotsishok, Tseykin, Meligan and those who still remained in Kaltinian, and were taken away to the barracks of Poligon in the Baranover Woods near the town of New Svintsyan. They were told that they were being taken to work; and after being kept there a short time under terrible conditions, all of them were killed and buried in one mass grave.
The Jews of Duksht, Kimelishok, Bistrits and those who yet remained alive in Podbrodz were murdered separately in similar fashion.
The mass grave of 104 Jews from Svintsyan who were
shot in the Baranover Woods in August 1941
1. Commentaries on the legal explanations of the Torah contained in the Mishna. Trans. Back
2. Gemara simplified. Trans. Back
3. This is the name of the Hebrew month. Trans. Back
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