(Given in 1388 by the Great Prince Witold)
by Asher ShomronyStrauss, Engineer
Its building and development until the time of Withold
Lithuania's third capitol was New Troki, to distinguish from Old Troki, which was located about four kilometers east, and which was known as Lithuania's second capitol after Kernavė (about 30 kilometers north of Vilna), its first center. In the 11th century (1045), Old Troki was founded by Prince Yaroslav I of Kiev, and conquered it for a time, until it was designated to be the territory of the united LithuanianRussian kingdom, and ruled over it. Neither the capitol nor the kingdom were real things in this early period, during which there existed Princes and independent tribes in the vast territory throughout the Baltics, which included Prussia, Latvia and Samogitia, modern Lithuania.
Only after the invasion of the German crusaders into the Lithuanian territories, in order to spread Christianity there, as it were, did it acquire threatening dimensions. After Prussia and Latvia were conquered and settled by them, the movement to unite Lithuania grew. Towards the end of the 13th century there already existed a united kingdom, which did not by itself did not Return war that aroused the Germans and stopped their eastward advance, however it was also powerful with the leadership of the Princes Mindaugas and Lutover attacking and invading Russian territories, conquering and annexing territories, and expanding its borders at the expense of the disunited Russian tribes. Lutover occupied the royal throne in 1282; after his death he bequeathed his throne to his eldest son Vitan [Vaišvilkas], and after him to his second son Gedimindis.
Old Troki the city of Gedimindis' settlement, was far from serving as a comfortable base for the war with the Crusaders. Situated on a plain, and lacking any natural means of defense, it was open to any attacks from the German side. On the other hand, this open city was not comfortable to serve as a base to launch an attack. The fortress that Gedimindis built within it was not useful, and after it became clear to him that he would not long be able to maintain a position in this place in the face of increasing German attacks, and to repel them, he decided to transfer his center to another, more comfortable, place. This place was located in the nearby area, on a peninsula, which was surrounded on three sides by a wide band of water, in the middle of lake Galvė. This lake, which was actually composed of 4 lakes: Galve, Skaistis, Brazola, and Troki, served as both a defensive belt and as a means of transportation, in its being connected by the river Brazola with Havilya, Haniman, and all the byways of Lithuania. On this peninsula Gedimindis built a new city, which he called New Troki, and in 1321 he moved his capital there.
After the death of Gedimindis in 1341, Algirdas and Kestutis were unable to come to an agreement in the matter of the right of the inheritance of the throne, as a result of which the country was divided between them, so that New Troki fell to the portion of Kestutis, who settled in it permanently.
As was stated, there did not exist between the brothers Algirdas and Kestutis. Each one's eye was focused on the portion of the other, and the wars were happening in the midst of everything else between each of the brothers and the German Crusaders, and amongst the brothers themselves…
In light of these changes that took place in the relationships between the various forces, the natural fortifications of Troki were not enough to defend against the enemy, and Kestutis tackled the job of strengthening his capital and increasing his ability to defend it with great initiative.
Kestutis built two impressive fortresses in Troki: one on the shore which served as the eastern fort, was called The Mountain Castle and was completed in 1348, and the other, the chief one, which was built in wonderful Gothic style, was erected on an island in the lake. The great quantities of building materials were brought on rafts from the shore, and the technical efforts in the construction of this great fortress were reasonably serious even for a strong and aggressive ruler like Kestutis. The erection of the fortress took upwards of 40 years, and it was completed only in 1382. However, after it was completed Troki changed into an impressive fortress; from it Kestutis and his heirs after him directed their attacks against the Crusaders.
In the shadow of these mighty fortresses the city was built and developed, yet the security and peace were far from it. The first test that was put to it was in the days of the internal war between Kestutis and Algirdas. The Crusaders, under the leadership of the Grand Master Conrad Zollner, wanted to exploit the conflict between the brothers and approached the city to capture it. However, Kestutis repelled the attack and save the city. This attacked served as a lesson to the brothers, who, when they saw that they would not succeed in repelling the Crusaders unless they were united, made peace between themselves, and in 1345 they even made a pact Algirdas was recognized as the chief leader, and Kestutis was obligated to obey his orders. The following years were years of peace and wellbeing. The capitol of Lithuania, however, was transferred to Vilna, the place where Algirdas resided, but Troki remined the regional capitol that was allocated to Kestutis. Kestutis continued to build and strengthen the fortress of his palaces, and because of them the city developed and prospered.
However, peace did not reign for long. The treaty that the brothers made came to an end in 1377 with the death of Algorad, and the ascension of his son Iogaila to power. As soon as the matter of the violation of the agreement became known to the Crusaders, a Crusader soldier immediately appeared, under the leadership of Marshall Gottfried Linden, and laid siege to the city. The crowning victory was when Linden reached the gates of Troki: Vilna, the residence of Iogaila that he had previously conquered, was destroyed and sent up in flames. After he completed his work in Vilna, he turned his forces towards Troki. Yet disappointment was found there for him.
Kestutis, who had entrenched himself in the castle, defended it at great personal risk, and all of Linden's efforts to breach the walls of the castle were in vain. Finally, Linden was forced to follow his steps back the way he came. Nevertheless, the city was not relieved, and it drank the cup of poison to its end. The Crusaders wreaked great destruction upon it, and in the end sent fire on it and burned it entirely down, without leaving any remnant whatsoever.
Kestutis and Iogaila did not multiply peace in Lithuania. The desire for control drove all their efforts, and in order to reach the goal, they did not reject any means of achieving it. It was not this alone, that the essence of their war opened their land to their shared enemy, the Crusaders, but that each of them, sometimes this one and sometimes that one, would make connections with the Crusaders to strike his fellow. The Crusaders, on the other hand, their sword was for hire, and whoever paid the highest price, whether friend or foe, could get it. Except sometimes, after they struck at the foe, the Crusaders would Return and strike at the friend, or if they had struck at a friend, they would Return and strike again. Nevertheless, as was mentioned, both Kestutis and Iogaila regarded their land as a private inheritance, and in order to hold on to the inheritance, there did not exist any means that was unacceptable in their eyes.
Troki was the field upon which these battles took place, and as a result the city became impoverished and depleted. In this short period the city was passed from hand to hand no less than seven times, with all the storms of war, with all that that entailed robbery, murder and devastation. At first Kestutis encircled Vilna and conquered it. Iogaila was captured and imprisoned in Kriavas. However, Iogaila did not accept his fate. With the help of his allies he escaped from the prison and came to an agreement with the Crusaders against Kestutis. These allies went up against Troki with great force and blockaded the strongholds and the castle. Kestutis did not withstand this superior force; the strongholds were captured and Kestutis together with his son Withold were expelled from their land and Skirgaila, Iogaila's brother, was placed over the city, as ruler in the name of the great Prince Iogaila.
The banished princes were not quiet and did not rest, and since they had Iogaila's example before them, this time they united with the Crusaders (at a higher price, of course), and went up against Troki. Before they approached the city, however, Kestutis was killed by a traitor who was sent by Iogaila.
The Golden Age of Troki
The death of Kestutis did not soften the heart of his son Withold, who continued in the campaign and with the help of the Crusaders took the city from Skirgaila's hands (1383). However, he only held it for six weeks. Iogaila again came to his brother's aid and chased Withold from the city. Not only did the Crusaders not come to the aid of their ally Withold, they also captured his two sons and poisoned them. Out of anger over this treacherous deed, Withold decided to make peace with Iogaila and submit to him.
Iogaila Returned to Withold his father's estate and its capitol Troki. For his part, Withold attempted to help Iogaila to attain the Polish crown. However,
despite Witold's faithfulness, Iogaila, who held a grudge, paid his cousin evil for good; he expelled him from Troki and Returned Skirgaila once again to his place. Withold was forced once again to turn to the German Crusaders, and with their help encircled Iogaila and forced him once again to Return his estate. The final decision on the battlefield was unforeseen, and the cousins saw no exit except for a peace treaty.
Witold's estate was Returned to him, together with its capitol, Troki. Iogaila was recognized as the great Prince, and the local rulers, including Withold, were obligated to be subject to him. From then on, Troki lost its political importance. The capitol was Vilna, and Troki turned back into simply the head city of the district [Vojvodstvo]. When the personal union of Poland and Lithuania was established, in 1385 after Iogailo married Jadwiga, the Polish princess, and was crowned as Vladislav V, Withold was proclaimed the Grand Prince of Lithuania, and he, too, moved to the capitol, to Vilna. Nevertheless, because of her rare beauty, Withold was exceedingly fond of Troki, and continued to maintain his primary dwelling there, even while the governmental offices were in Vilna.
The period of Witold's rule was a time of prosperity and flourishing for the city. Withold was not satisfied with the title Grand Prince; he aspired to the Lithuanian crown, and to this end he attempted to enlist aid and allies. The magnificent celebrations that Withold used to organize in Troki, in honor of King Iogaillo, the Polish and Lithuanian aristocrats, and the representatives of foreign lands, which were out of hope that he would receive from them the Lithuanian crown, acquired a reputation throughout all the byways of Poland. Troki was transformed into a social and cultural center. The rate of the city's development especially increased after it was granted various rights, which turned it into a center of gravity for many different nationalities and races: Russians, Poles, Germans, Jews, Karaites, Tatars, who thronged to her and settled within her borders. A FrenchBelgian diplomat, who visited Troki in 1414, wrote in Troki there sojourn Lithuanians, Germans, and a great number of Jews, and each group uses its own language.
This period continued until the death of Withold in 1430, and that which bequeathed its special style to the city, which remained to it over the course of hundreds of the coming years, was the international nature of the city within the Lithuanian area.
Witold did not attain his quest the Lithuanian crown and the princes who ruled after him, Švitrigaila and Zygmunt Kestutovitz, did not continue in his ways, and did not even try to honor him. Švitrigaila, Witold's son, who was held captive for many years by the Crusaders and was finally freed, inherited from his father the throne of the Grand Prince, but his uncle, Zygmunt Kestutovitz, expelled him and proclaimed himself Grand Prince. This small civil war, meanwhile, distracted the attention of them both from the aspiration for the Lithuanian crown, and they were satisfied with that which they had acquired. These two princes ruled Vilna, where they lived; they abandoned Troki and forgot her.
The next ruler was a prince of lofty idealism, Kazimierz Jagiellończyk, (born 1421) and was appointed by the Lithuanians in 1440 as Grand Prince. His name is tied to the last attempt to establish the city anew; in it he established his castle and made it his regular dwellingplace. Indeed, under his influence the city recovered and inhaled a comforting breath.
This Kazimierz granted the Magdeburg Rights to the city, which included the right to administer the affairs of the city by means of an elected council, to choose judges, and to appoint unions for tradespeople and merchants. It is noteworthy that these rights, which in most of the cities in Europe were an obstacle for the Jews, which served as an effective weapon in the hands of the gentiles, (especially for the Germans who dwelt in the cities), for the ejection of the Jews from their positions, in Troki treated, as a unique event
in history, the Jews as having rights (although in the opinion of many Jewish historians, the meaning here is Karaites). Likewise the ruler and his entourage turned the city into a center for communal life, and in it existed a meetingplace for the country's aristocrats and their affairs.
However, this period did not last long. The contracted territory of the city, which was bounded by the waters of the lake, was nevertheless comfortable as a military stronghold, but from the time that national life and the ruler's castle were developed, it became transformed into an administrative center for advanced national life and a meetingplace for district rulers and nobles, with all that that entailed clerks, a legislative body, merchants, guest houses, etc. The limited area of Troki was no longer suitable for this development, and the fondness for it held by one ruler after the next did not help it to withstand the competition from Vilna, whose geographic situation was incomparably more comfortable. It was not, therefore, in Kazimierz's power to halt the progress of history. He was the last prince that dwelt regularly in Troki, and after he left, in 1441, on the occasion of being crowned by the Polish nobility [szlachta] as the King of Poland began the rapid descent of the city's capital. The rulers who came after his death had no relationship to the city, and not only did they copy their dwellings from it, they forgot it as a dead man from the heart, and no longer had any interest in it.
The castles that were turned into residences for the Vojvodstvos disintegrated more and more from lack of attention and oversight, and Troki, which survived in the past from the assemblies and meetings of the nobility and the rulers, became an unimportant provincial city on the side of the main Kovno road, without visitors, without passing guests, or those seeking a place to spend the night. Efforts of the last kings to stir up the city by means of various privileges were futile, and even the directive that was given to merchants and passersby that they should make their way from Kovno to Vilna or the reverse, by way of Troki, did not stop the downfall of the city, and did not rejuvenate it.
The PolishLithuanian Union,
The year 1569 the year of the complete unification of Poland and Lithuania, symbolizes the end of the golden age of Troki. King Zygmunt August,
who from the year 1544 served as Grand Prince of Lithuania, was invited by the nobles to rule over Poland, but was in no hurry to accept the crown. He preferred to remain in Vilna as the Grand Prince, rather than to rule over Poland, in which the king's power was severely limited by the nobility. In the end it was appropriate to receive the crown (1548), however to establish his rule over Lithuania as well, in 1569 Zygmunt brought about the Lublin Union, according to which the Kingdoms of Poland and Lithuania were fully united. Vilna, which until that time had been the city of residence of the Grand Prince and whose illuminating brightness shone also on Troki, became the chief city of the dukedom, and Troki, with the absence of a prince even in Vilna, descended into utter oblivion.
With the solidification of the PolishLithuanian union, the history of the entire region was again determined by Poland. Events in Troki, an unimportant town, are unregistered in any written sources, and her fate did not differ much from the rest of the towns in the Vilna area; in their general characteristics, events in Vilna were much like events in Troki.
The national descent of Troki brought economic decline in its wake. The Jews who were concentrated in the village as a result of its being a national and administrative center began to leave it in pursuit of other sources of income. They dispersed and settled in settlements adjacent to the waterways that were the essential transport arteries of this period, and the Karaites were more focused on working their land.
The economic descent caused an undermining of the peace between the members of the different nationalities in the city. The Karaites again renewed their hard push towards their war to disinherit the Jews and expel them from the village. However, the Karaites also did not live peacefully with the Tatars. So, in any event, it becomes clear from the letters of the Trokian Voivode (1567) to his deputy on the matters of the complaints of the Karaites visavia the Tatars that they were not participating in maintaining the city and paving roads and bridges. The Voivode who was present in Lutsk informs his deputy in Troki about the complaint and orders the Tatars to fulfill their obligations.
The changes in policy thrust the entire region into a vortex of wars and conquests. After the city had not known a foreign conqueror for the course of about 250 years, from the time that Witold landed the final blow to the Crusaders (in 1410), through the hand of Grunwald, once again a long period of wars, rebellion and military expeditions began for the region. The country was transformed into a footpath for every conquering adventurer.
After the revolt of Bogdan Chmielnicki (in 1648), the Russian Czar Aleksey Mikhailovich went out against them, with the help of the Cossacks, on a giant conquest expedition. The Russians raided Lithuania, conquered and destroyed Polotsk, Minsk, Vitebsk etc., and when they reached Vilna (in 1654) the Voivode Prince Radziwill fled from there to the west, and with him most of the Jews of the area, who heard about the harm that the Cossacks inflicted on the Jews in the villages that they captured.
The Russian Conquest
The complete destruction of Kestutis' strongholds by the Russians is connected to this period. They ruled the region for about seven years, until they were expelled in 1661 by the Polish General Patz. However, it was not long before a new conqueror began his exploits: Karl VII, the King of Sweden, came up against Russia and left ruin and destruction in his wake. He arrived in the region of Vilna in 1702, conquered it,
and continued eastward. However, at the end of the matter Karl was defeated by Peter the Great (1720, in a battle near Poltava) who expelled him from the country and Returned the King of Poland, Friedrich August, to his throne.
The weakness of the Polish kingdom and the disintegration of its control from within heralded bad news for the Vilna region as well. And, if indeed in the first partition of Poland (in 1773) did not hurt or change the status of the region, it again became the purpose of its conquering by Yekaterina II, who in 1795 annexed it to her kingdom. The Lithuania gubernia was now comprised of the voyevodstavos of Vilna and Grodno, and Troki obtained status as the chief city of the region, with a population of about 20,000 residents. Troki's fate. Like the fate of the entire Vilna region, it was now dependent, therefore, on the happenings and events of the Russian Empire, in its ups and downs. The region itself lost all influence on its affairs, and was no longer anything but a passive instrument on the chess board of world leaders.
In that same period significant events were occurring in another part of the world, and it was impossible to imagine that their influence would be felt here as well, in the capital city that had been reduced to the rank of a provincial city, and in a kingdom that had been reduced to a province. These were the days of the French Revolution, and the war between Napoleon and Alexander I. And at last, even though he had entered the treaty between the European kings against Napoleon, and even though he absorbed blows, he succeeded in negotiating a peace treaty with Napoleon that was quite comfortable for Russia. In the treaty that they signed in the meeting of the two Kaisers at Hahnemann on Memel, Napoleon agreed to Russian expansion into eastern Europe, and even suggested to Alexander that he divide all of Europe between them. It seemed that this amity would prevent fear of war from the Lithuanian residents. However, the flirtation between Napoleon and the Poles raised in Alexander's heart the suspicion of the reestablishment of Poland by Napoleon. Relations grew worse and worse, and brought about the incursion of Napoleon into Russia in 1812, and to his speedy conquest of Vilna region by the French. The French conquest brought many troubles to the region. Napoleon's army was dependent for its provisioning on sources in the conquered land, which was poor by its very nature, and impoverished by the preceding wars. However, the westward retreat, after Napoleon's defeat in battle
near Berezina, did not bring good to the land: even an army defeated and frozen from the cold needs clothing, food, and transportation, which were taken forcibly from the residents.
Napoleon's retreat again signaled the end of the period, a period of storm and pressure, wars and conquests. A new period of quiet, security and peace began, although it was the peace and quiet of a great prison, in which the Lithuanian nation, together with many other nations, was imprisoned, without the right to determine its fate or influence its future. For upwards of a hundred years until the World War of 1914 this period of external quiet continued, without the appearance of any enemy or foreign conqueror on its borders.
The first Polish revolution of the year 1830, and the second of the year 1863, did not make a big impression on this region of the country, even though the spilled blood of these events carried on to later generations, and the village elders told stories of the Polish nobles who would hide themselves in the forests and sometimes the warehouses of the Jews, because of the Cossacks who were pursuing them.
The administrative changes that the Russian government introduced to the land influenced Troki and its position only a little, and this neither elevated nor brought down the Lithuanian Gubernia, which was founded in 1796, and which included the VilnaGrodno Vojvodstvo (and the Trokean, of course), divided in 1818 into two gubernias the Vilna Gubernia and the Grodno Gubernia.
Troki remained connected to Vilna in the next partition (1842), when the Vilna region was cut off for the purpose of establishing the Kovno Gubernia, and it Vilna resided the Governor General who ruled over all three of the gubernias: Kovno, Grodno and Vilna, which all together belonged to the Northwestern Region. The creation of the Northwestern Region struck a final blow to Troki's prestige as Lithuania's ancient capitol.
The region that was comprised of the lands of Lithuania and White Russia was created only in order to obliterate the name Lithuania, which was eliminated, from this point on, from all national and administrative use. No memory remained of it except for in the long list of titles of the Czar: The Great Prince of Lithuania.
It turns out that the reality and the life were stronger than all the national stratagems. The name was not forgotten in a hundred years of oppression and persecution that the Czarist government imposed on Lithuania. And, when the leash was released, and the oppressive government was brought down, in 1917, Lithuania again was awakened to renewed life and established national existence anew. However, the national revolutions that occurred in this region in the period between the two world wars, caused Troki to be excluded from the national boundaries of the Lithuania that sprang again into existence, and only the agreement that after World War II brought the historical circle to a close brought Troki to be included, together with Vilna, into the territory of the Lithuanian state.
by Zvi Hasdai
It is difficult to describe that the Jewish community of Troki is no more. They still stand before me as if alive, the pure and innocent men, their lives, their ways, and their habits. They were quiet and filled with faith and trust, for in their Troki, nothing bad happened to them… for to them and their village no foe or enemy would come. They had proof of this they were always saved from one murderer or another, and a pogrom God forbid! Never happened to them the way it happened in other places. They especially knew how to tell about an event in the first World War, when a gentile was speaking with his friends and they arranged to murder Jews and plunder their property, but when they came to the appointed time and the gentile went to gather to the barn his cow that was in the pasture, a beam struck him and killed him. It's understood that his friends took this as a sign from heaven that it was forbidden to kill Jews and they did not carry out their plot. The villagers too, and especially the Jews, saw this as a miracle.
More and more they knew in the village to tell about events that happened, and all served as a sign that there is a God in heaven and He will protect us.
And, maybe this faith was embedded in them, because of the nature of the place, and the special landscape of the village. The water surrounding the village created a security ring (Troki was surrounded on three sides by water) and the islands that were in the like were like a living symbol, how a body could exist when surrounded on all sides, not necessarily comrades, but out of faith and trust that the water would not flood it. Also the ruins and remains that stood for years and eons against the ravages of time, castles and fortresses of kings and noblemen, whose names were almost forgotten, spoke in the same language of eternal memory and eternal existence. And Jews, as members of the eternal people, perhaps saw an additional miracle in the appearance of the Karaites who fought for a full 400 years in order to chase the Jews out of Troki, and themselves became more and more impoverished, both in the sense of numbers, and in a physical sense, compared with the Jews who grew more numerous and spread out, as they were healthy in spirit and soul, maintaining a tight connection with the Jewish population, by means of both Zionism and other world movements.
All this, as mentioned, planted in the Jew a feeling that they were living on a safe and quiet island, and they did not pay attention to signs that warned of evil and death. And so, in their deep and perfect faith, the hand of the murderers killed and did not have compassion children, the aged and women, parents with their children, children with their parents, in their faith that this time too a miracle would occur, yet the miracle
did not happen, and the precious Jews of Troki, clinging to each other with the ties of fate, his death was a public death, and buried in a mass grave, so that there was not even a single individual to say kaddish. Not even a single orphan was left, but there no remaining bereaved at all. And, the kaddish that the Jewish nation would say for its six million massacred that the Holy One should bind up the souls of the Jews of Troki in the Eternal's memory forever.
by Rabbi Mr. Nahum Partzovitz
In my coming to write a memorial in the book for the people of our town, a trembling gripped me in my remembering that all of these who were precious to us were already in the hereafter, in a side that no creature could withstand in the exalted spheres of the holy and pure, who shine as the resplendence of the firmament and who am I that I will be able to relate and describe something from their images so that we will have a memory of them? Nevertheless, I will attempt to give a small description from the final period of our village before the second world war, and afterwards.
From the time that I was approached to describe a little the spiritual condition of our village, it seemed to me correct that it was to the credit of my father, my teacher, (may the memory of the righteous and holy be for a blessing), who served as the rabbi of the village from 1921 until the bitter end of the eve of Yom Kippur 194, that the condition of the religion was satisfying. For he so invested all his energies in the deepening of faith and inculcating it, and in the keeping of the mitzvot of our holy Torah among the Jews of the village. Thanks go to him especially for establishing there a religious school by the name of Choreb, and a number of the youths of the village afterwards became distinguished yeshiva students. I will mention a few of them by name as a memorial:
Rabbi Arieh Leib son of Rabbi Avraham Abba Meltz, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, may the Holy One avenge his blood, was the soninlaw of the respected exalted Rabbi Yitzchak Strauss, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, may the Holy One avenge his blood, of the distinguished ones of the yeshiva of Radom, who for a number of years was the rabbi of a number of different yeshivot in Poland.
Rabbi Tzvi Meltz, his brother, who settled down in the city of Skarazshisk in Poland and ran a yeshiva there, was an expert in the Mishnah and Torah like one of the greats.
Rabbi Yeshaya The Cohain son of Arieh Leib, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, may the Holy One avenge his blood, was one of the distinguished ones of the yeshiva in Mir, and was ordained in instruction; he settled in the city of Aniksht Lithuania with the outbreak of the war.
Mr. Eliyahu son of Mr. Hillel Moshvitski, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, may the Holy One avenge his blood, learned in the Yeshiva of Mir in Keidan, and afterwards in Krakow, and was renowned as an outstanding prodigy and a great Godfearer.
I consider it proper to remember them especially as the adornment of our village.
A few words about the Choreb school, mentioned above. The erection of the building began, it seems to me, in 1935 (5696), and since good things are brought about by good men, I should mention that a respected citizen of the city, Mr. Simon Kotch, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, may the Holy One avenge his blood, visited America in the winter of 1935 and upon his return brought with him a donation from those in America who had left our city as the foundation for the establishment of a building for the school. By means of this there also was awakened in my lord, my father, my teacher, my master, may the memory of the righteous martyr be for a blessing, to publicize it among the residents of the village itself, and they contributed their own funds generously and with joy,
in order to erect a building that would serve as a school for the children of the village.
I also remember the joy amongst the worshippers that was in the synagogue on the Sabbath night when it was made announced to them that on Friday, the eve of the holy Sabbath, the acquisition of that same school had been finalized. To my sorrow, I do not remember in detail the heads of those engaged in the project, but when the building was completed and dedicated, they joyfully organized a dedication of the school with the participation of all of the villagers (the ceremony was publicized in the newspaper Das Vort, the Word that came out in Vilna).
The school remained in existence until the conquest of the village by the Russians, who at that time took the building for their own. From the time the Russians transferred Vilna in entirety to Lithuania on Sunday, the 14th of Marcheshvan, 1939, our village was privileged, once again, for a short time, to serve as a meeting place for Torah. At that same time, all the great yeshivas that were in northeastern Poland moved to Lithuania (because of the religious oppression in Russia), among them the Yeshiva Tent of Torah from Baranovitch, under the administration of the Gaon Mr. Elchanan Wasserman may the memory of the righteous and holy be for a blessing, may his blood be avenged, with more than 200 students. Also wellremembered is the wonderful scene when the villagers welcomed these with open arms, arranged sleeping quarters for all of them, and arranged for their meals. In general it was pleasant to see the Beit HaMidrash, Study House, of our village when it was filled from end to end with yeshiva students who sat day and night, learning Torah.
Indeed, that same Lithuanian government harassed the yeshiva in Troki, in its desire to house the offices of the regional government in the building, except that Jewish intermediaries delayed the expulsion one day after another. However, from the time that the Russians conquered Lithuania, they publicized a decree of expulsion of the yeshiva over the course of a few days this was in the straits, it seems to me, after the new moon of Av, and the heads of the yeshiva and all its students were forced to move from their home to adjacent Semeliškės, with no other choice.
In my drawings of the images of the people of our town that are before me, I see them as people who are from a world of complete purity, faith, and fear of God. We were especially distinguished in qualities of giving, whatever touched on the relations between people;
there was not between then the slightest deceit or contention, and to this day when Trokians meet, one feels among them these same fine qualities. Their love of Zion, too, was of a unique kind, and all of them were steeped in the aspiration to go up to the land and settle in it. Indeed, many also went up to the land in the dawn before the start of the Holocaust, and it was not from nationalist considerations, as it is in our day, but rather from a pure Jewish feeling, that for them the land of Israel was a precious land, a land on which was the eyes of Adonai your God. The value of the memory of the people of our village will be in the continuation of their ways and their aspirations, which were saturated with faith and fear of God and the keeping of the commandments of the Torah of the soil of the Land [of Israel], and in this may we all be worthy of a complete redemption.
The connections between the village of Troki and the settlement in the land of Israel, which was called the Old Settlement, certainly resembled the relations of other villages in Lithuania. Rabbis and teachers from the Lithuanian cities and villages went up in old age to the Holy Land, and those living in the diaspora supported them by means of The Community of Vilna and Zamot. The son of Rabbi Zvi the rabbi in Troki, Rabbi Shmuel Salant, went up to the land of Israel in 1840, at the young age of 24. He was appointed at first as a judge in Jerusalem, and in 1848 went out as an emissary to the dispersed, the students of the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu, to Lithuania, Raysn, Zamot and Poland to collect funds for the community [original footnote 1: the document of its association with him is in the book by A. Yaari The Emissaries of the land of Israel, pp. 799790, Jerusalem 1940, published by the Rav Kook Foundation]. Rabbi Shmuel Salant was appointed in 1878 as Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi in Jerusalem, and served in this capacity until the day of his death in 1909.
In the period of Chibbat Zion [love of Zion], which began in the years 18811882, there were in Troki lovers of Zion, but there was not an organized association of Lovers of Zion. In Troki in the beginning of the 1880s there dwelt the enthusiastic Lover of Zion Pinchas Schokeon. He was invited to teach in the house of AharonKadish Klausner [see note 36]. One of his students was also the nephew of Aharon KadishKlausner, who was brought from Olkieniki to Troki for the sake of education and learning. The boy grew up and became a Hebrew scribe and an enthusiastic Zionist, none other than the Professor Joseph Klausner [original footnote 2: see in his book My Way Towards Renewal and Redemption, autobiography, Tel Aviv 1946, published by Masada; Chapter 2: Olkieniki and Troki, Education Old and New.]
A Zionist organization was founded in Troki in 1898, certainly under the influence of the young Rabbi Nachum Greenhaus, who was accepted near that time as a rabbi in Troki. This was a period of pride in the Zionist movement.
After the first Zionist Congresses, there were established in all the byways of Russia, especially in Lithuania, many Zionist organizations. Troki also participated in this movement. In the Regional Zionist Council, which was assembled in Vilna in the month of Av, 1899, before the Third Zionist Congress, Rabbi Greenhaus participated as the representative of the Troki Zionists [original footnote 3:The Appel Archive, in the Royanov Collection in the Central Zionist Archive in Jerusalem, folder #150.] There was apparently not yet, at that time, an organized Zionist Association in Troki; it was organized only after about a year, in the summer of 1899. The inaugural assembly of the association took place on the 5th of Av, 1899, however
Zionist activity took place already before this. In this way the Zionists of Troki distributed shares of the Jewish Colonial Trust in the month of Tammuz 1900. The participation of the Troki delegation in the Regional Council in Vilna shows that already in the year 1899 organization had begun.
In total, 80 people participated in the inaugural assembly of the Zionist Organization. An Executive Committee was chosen for a year, and they set policies for the association. To the Executive Committee were elected: Rabbi Nahum Greenhaus as Chairman, Shalom Goldberg as Treasurer, and ChaimShabtai Klausner as Secretary. Two other executive members joined the Executive Committee: Aleksander Tzemachzon and ShlomoLeib Rogov. Among the participants at the assembly was also Yehoshua Zablodovsky.
The policies that were enacted at the assembly were, according to what was recorded in the organization's registry by the Secretary:
In the ledger of the association that was recorded, [original footnote 4: the register of the Burial Society that was recorded was from the years 1878 1898. The protocols and the list of the union in the same ledger are from the years 1899 1900. The ledger was kept by the Secretary of the union, Yosef Klausner, and was turned over to the Central Zionist Archive in Jerusalem.] which became the ledger of the Zionist Union, there is preserved a list of dues payers in the year 1900. The list details 69 dues payers, that is to say, almost every head of household in Troki. It is worth giving here the list in its entirety, since it functions as a sort of census of the village:
1. Rabbi Nachum Greenhaus, 2. Yehoshua Zablodovsky, 3. (Shalom) Goldberg, 4. Shabtai Klausner, 5. Arieh Kotz, 6. R. Mileikovsky, 7. R. Lauter, 8. Moshe Gershovsky, 9. Avraham Yitzchak Rabinovitch, 10. AvrahamShmuel Gershovsky, 11. Arieh Lauter, 12. ChayaFrieda Lauter, wife of Arieh Lauter, 13. Simcha Hirschfeld, 14. Yosef Menken, 15. AharonKaddish Klausner, 16. A. Broida, 17. Tzvi Chazan, 18. Arieh Pitanov, 19. Zelig Yevitz, 20. Shevach Feinberg, 21. Abba Tekatz, [maybe a typo for Katz] 22. Shimon Halprin, 23. Tzemach Mileikovsky, 24. Pinchas Popkin, 25. Avraham Pruchanah, 26. Shabtai Leib Veinblatt, 27. Betzalel Aharonovitch, 28. Yitzchak son of Chaim Broder, 29. Eliezer Brengloz, 30. Shmuel Zvi, 31. Yaakov Videtski, 32. Yitzchak Dov Zilberman, 33. Todros Kwint, 34. Chaim Rabin, 35. Yekutiel Podotziyansky, 36. Feivush Rabin, 37. Naphtali
Tzimbalist, 38. Alexander Tzemachzon, 39. Yehoshua Chazak, 40. Chaim Arieh Gelborer, 41. Ch. Kostov, 42. Yisrael Yaakov Cohen, 43. Chaim Bonimovitz, 44. Z'ev Shtolayer, 45. Shmuel Meir, Zamitzensky, 46. Rappoport, 47. Avraham Schulman, 48. AvrahamYosef Golomb, 49. Shlomo Leib Rogov, 50. Yitzchak Ginzburg, 51. Moshe Bas, 52. Tzvi Chaim Goldberg, 53. Eliyahu Chaim Epshtein, 54. Moshe Kotz, 55. Aidel Buchman, 56. Yitzchak Broder, 57. Eliezer Zander, 58. Alter Katzansky, 59. Moshe Serel, 60. Yehudah Raskes, 61. Avraham Shub, 62. The Chazan Gisser. Besides these, the following paid dues: Tzvi Shubin, Karmar [Kramer?], Yitzchak Meir, Ze'ev Rabinovitch, Nisan Yaakov, Katriel Patashnick, and Arieh Krasner, but it is a question if they settled their accounts on time.
On the intermediate days of Sukkot 1900, at the end of Shabbat, a general meeting of the Zionist Union was called in Troki. Of all who were invited, only 20 men came, among them five members of the Executive Committee. The following came to the meeting: Rabbi Nachum Greenhaus, Shalom Goldberg, ChaimShabtai Klausner, Alexander Tzemachzon, ShlomoLeib Rogov, AharonKadish Klausner, Yehoshua Zablodovsky, Moshe Gershovsky, Shmuel Mintz, YitzchakYaakov Milner, Tzvi Shuvin, YitzchakMeir Gissen, Dov Branglaz, Alter Rabinovitch, Arieh Lauter, Shimon Heilpren, Tzvi Gisser, and one guest.
At the meetings, letters were read that came from the regional delegate, Rabbi ShmuelYaakov Rabinovitch from Sapotzkin. There was a dispute about the founding of a library, on the distribution of shares of The Jewish Colonial Trust, and about the education of the youth who had left the cheder, especially the youth who were studying art. It was decided to open the library immediately, after 30 members were registered, and to compile statistics on the youth who had graduated, as mentioned above. It was decided also to collect the payments for shares of The Treasury for Jewish Settlement, and to subscribe to the newspaper The World which was published at that time in Vilna. After the Chairperson, Rabbi Nachum Greenhaus, closed the meeting, the assembled sang some of the songs of Zion in a choir and afterward it gladdened their hearts, they went home happy and feeling good.
The continuation of the ledger of the Zionist Union in Troki does not remain in our hands, and therefore we are forced to be satisfied, from here on, with limited information about it. We must note the great influence of Rabbi Nachum Greenhaus on the awakening and action [of Zionism] in Troki. The Union was founded only when he came to Troki, and he was its spiritual leader.
Rabbi Nachum Greenhaus was a lover of Zion from his youth. Already in the year 1890 an article by the name Recompense for the Controversy of Zion, in which he defended the idea of the love of Zion and on the society Lovers of Zion, which was centered in Odessa, against charges by extremist Haredi groups. Rabbi Greenhaus was influenced by the perspective of the first to Zion, such as Rabbi Zvi Kalischer and Rabbi Eliyahu from Gorodetz, and he understood it as they did, that one must take action for the sake of settlement of the land of Israel, and that redemption would come naturally. Rabbi Greenhaus sought shared efforts for settlement of the land with those engaged in the enlightenment, especially with the young pioneers. These pioneers were the bearers of the banner of a lofty and elevated ideal at great personal risk and in the spirit of the good of their people in this world and the next. Rabbi Greenhaus expressed his hope that these young people, who returned to the land of Israel, would repent and return to the mitzvot.
In the year 1899, Rabbi Greenhaus went out to defend the Zionist movement against the period of the Black Bureau that was centered in Kovno. Extremist Charedim, who opposed Zionism, at that time published a book called A Light for the Righteous, among them opinion papers of a few famous rabbis against Zionism. Rabbi Greenhaus, who was the soninlaw of the Venerable Vilna Rabbi Reb Shlomoleh the Cohain, published in The Melitz (Edition 65) an announcement in his fatherinlaw's name and in his own again the book.
At the same time Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Rabinovitz from Sapotzkin began to collect opinion papers from the rabbis who were Zionist supporters on the matter of their support of the movement. Rabbi Nachum Greenhaus joined them. On one communication, which was surely sent by the Rabbi of Sapotzkin, and was disseminated among the masses and the Charedim, were the signatures of Y.Y. Reines, Rabbi Ephraim Duber Lapp of Viarezhbolovna, Rabbi Greenhaus, and Rabbi Pinchas Rosovsky from Svencionys. (Original footnote 7: The response is in the Central Zionist Archive in Jerusalem.) The rabbi from Troki was, therefore, one of the first defenders of the Zionist movement in Russia.
Rabbi Greenhaus, one of the activists in religious Zionism, was also one of the founders of the Mizrachi [see note 89] and attained the leadership of this movement next to Rabbi Y.Y. Reines [Original footnote 8: see in The Book of the Mizrachi mentioned above, in the article written by Rabbi Maimon (Fishman), p. 63]. He participated in the founding council of the Mizrachi. In the First World Conference of the Mizrachi in Pressburg in 1904, he lectured on the work of settlement in the land of Israel. In his lecture he said, among other things: We need to excite the hearts of our young people, and to instill in them the desire to go up [to the land of Israel] and conquer it with work [original footnote 9: ibid., pp. 147148.] Rabbi Greenhaus was elected to The World Center of the Mizrachi, whose seat was in Lida [Belarus].
Rabbi Nachum Greenhaus participated in the Sixth Zionist Congress (in 1903), and was one of the ones who said yes when the voting took place for the Uganda plan [Original footnote 10: Protocol of the Sixth Zionist Congress, pp. 223 228]. At the time of the elections for the Russian Duma (the elected assembly) in 1907,
Rabbi Nachum Greenhaus was one of six zionists who were elected to be electors (the elections took place in two steps) [Original footnote 11: A letter from the Central Zionist Council in Russia to the President of the council, D. Wolfson, from September 29, 1907, The files of the Zionist Office in Cologne, in the Central Zionist Archive 22/4 B1].
Rabbi Greenhaus without a doubt occupied an important place in the Religious Zionist movement, and therefore Rabbi Reines thought that the young Rabbi Greenhaus would fill his place and continue the work, but this rabbi, tender in years and great in Torah died an untimely death in 1914.
As mentioned, little knowledge is preserved about the Zionist Union in Troki. It is known that in 1907 in total the sum of 5 rubles was sent from Troki for memberships [Original note 12: in an edition of Dos Idishe Fol?, Volume 18, from the year 1908]. Contrasting this, in the year 1909 there was collected in Troki the amount of 31.50 rubles for the Jewish National Fund [Original footnote 13: A report that was submitted by the JNF delegate in Russia, Dr. Y. Tzalnuv (booklet), Petersburg 1910]. If we compare this amount to the amount that the great city of Vilna donated in that same year, a total of 529 rubles, we see that Troki donated a substantial amount. After the Russian authorities' persecutions against the Zionists began, many of the Zionist activities in the towns and villages quieted down. The Regional Council in Grodno under the leadership of Leib Yaffe aroused the Lithuanian movement to action. In 1912 the Regional Council sent 10 letters to Troki, one after another, but they did not receive any answer. The Regional Council considered the council, as such, inactive [Original footnote 14: Archive of the Regional Council in Grodno, in the archive of Leib Yaffe in the Central Zionist Archive, file #6. On the Zionist movement in Lithuania, see the articles in the anthology Lithuania, which was published by the Association of Lithuanians in Israel]. It may be assumed that the Union in Troki became inactive after the death of Rabbi Greenhaus.
If the Zionist Union ceased to be active, the Zionists in Troki did not cease to be interested in the movement, and to take important action in the field of education. This type of action was the foundation of the Hebrew schooling in Troki, under the administration of modern teachers. The founder of the school was Mr. ChaimShabtai Klausner, mentioned above, and the first teachers Mr. Jacob Freund (currently in America), and Mr. Philvinsky (afterwards the administrator of the Hebrew gymnasium in Lithuania, murdered by the Lithuanians, may the Holy One avenge his blood). This school educated a generation that was imbued with the spirit of Zionism and Hebrew. A part of these youth went up to the land in the Third Aliyah, and drew after them their parents and relatives. Many of the Jews of Troki went up to the land, and were saved from the destruction thanks to the Zionist spirit that prevailed in the village.
by Shimshon Kahan
Translated by Dr. Liati MaykHai and Yocheved Klausner
The cucumbers grow by the shine of the moon…
(A Trakai belief)
When the willow blooms
The melody is spreading, thinner than thin,
Hananya is sitting in the garden,
Moishe Mendes also goes out in the garden,
Both of them lift their faces
The gypsy comes crawling, looking for some hay to steal,
Quickly he mounts his gray horse
by Avraham Kotz
A house made of wood, one story, at first sight a house like all the houses that lead to the famous city park, but for the Jewish residents of Troki, who enjoyed time in the park in the time between the two world wars, it was not just a house, but an idea. This house had a special meaning of its kind, one can say it was a symbol of a monument for the city.
Troki was never exceptionally wealthy, and in its economic structure it generally resembled other towns and villages in the area. The small Jewish settlement was mostly engaged in commerce and labor, and the specific unique occupation in which a few Jewish families were engaged was in the fishing industry, from which generations were supported, and which was passed down through inheritance from generation to generation. A second economic industry was the growing of vegetables, especially cucumbers, by a small part of the Jewish residents, similarly to most of the local Karaite community.
After the first world war, and after the local wars between Lithuania and Poland, and between Poland and the Soviet Union (in the year 1920), when the borders were finally fixed, the residents of Troki suddenly found themselves cut off from the northwestern side, their natural living space, all of the area that before the war had belonged administratively to Troki, and dependent on it from an economic perspective, was appended to the Lithuanian state.
The separation was complete and comprehensive, so that there were no diplomatic relations between Poland and Lithuania until the year 1938, and therefore there was also no economicstate or social cultural contact between the two states and also between those on both sides of the borders. At times the situation reached a state of absurdity: a traveler from outside of the country who would sometimes come to Troki and wanted to cross to Lithuania, a distance of 1520 kilometers across the border, had to first travel to eastern Prussia or Latvia, a distance of hundreds of kilometers, and from there back to a point that was next to the border, an area that was possible to reach directly in two or three hours on foot.
Due to this, the separation mentioned above left its mark on the economy. Sources of income slowly diminished, the youth stopped finding a substantial foothold in the place, resulting in their needing to seek their future outside of the borders of Troki.
Some of the youth, also some of the families, moved to Lithuania before the borders were finally fixed. After a time, others also began to leave the village, one by one, two by two, this one to America, that one to the Soviet Union. In 1923 ascent to the land of Israel began, which continued without a pause, and brought to her shores quite a few Trokians, a number directly relative to the general number of villagers. On the other hand, a tiny number continued to migrate to the United States, and also to a number of other countries.
It is understood that those who left Troki who were overseas attempted all the time to bring over to them their brothers, sisters and parents. Therefore, in the last years, the center of gravity of the population of Troki moved overseas. The connection between Troki and her children was now an exchange of letters, a paper bridge, and it is no wonder that the post office in Troki became the bridgehead for all in the wide world who had left Troki.
Over the course of time the dependence of the residents on family connections and material support from outside grew. The situation continued to develop in this direction, such that on many days most of the Jewish population in Troki saw letters and money orders that arrived at the village as a unique spring of hope for their existence. Therefore, the great interest in the mail that arrived in the village each day was natural.
Each morning the sack of mail was brought from the train station in Landverova, brought by an appointed official, at first in the mailwagon and afterwards by carriage, and finally, by bus, and when the mailcarrier would pass by in the street with the cargo at the appointed time, the young men and women would drop everything and begin streaming towards the post office in order to hurry and find out whether or not there was a letter.
Time made the habit regular, and if you wanted to find someone in the hour before noon, 11:00 12:00, you could be almost certain that they would be found at the post office, in the center of town.
What is interesting about the matter is that you could see among the visitors even those who had never received a letter, but were drawn into the stream…
The weather did not interfere. On both sweltering summer days and days of wintry cold rain the young people would gather in the waiting area of the post office in order to fulfill the obligation to approach the clerk and ask if there was something in the mail.
It is understood that many did this mainly to diminish the boredom. Here was an opportunity to meet, or at the very least to rejoice with others, and such was the custom every day, every week, until on one bright day there reached a message for someone that they should prepare for the journey, that they had won the chance to go out into the world and begin a new life…
(from the book Lithuania that was published in the United States,
a section from the impressions of Yaakov Saperstein of Wysoki Dwór)
In these days (in the latter part of Elul, 1951), all the elders of the villages in the area were called to Troki for a gathering, led by the German regional administrator of Vilna, Wolf. At this meeting the fate of the Jews of Troki was decreed: the heads of the villages signed on the binding and destruction of the local Jews and the environs.
For ten days the Jews of Wysoki Dwór, Hanoshishuk, Troki, Olkieniki, Radzishke, Leiponi, and Landwerów were held in Troki about 2500 Jews. In the first days they gave them permission to gather and dig potatoes in the adjacent fields. At that time this was their only food, however afterwards they forbade them even this, and from Friday until Tuesday, Yom Kippur eve, they were given nothing to eat, and they were also not allowed to buy food. Eyewitnesses reported that during that time many died of starvation.
On Tuesday, Yom Kippur eve, 30 drunk Lithuanians arrived, gathered all the men and brought them to the pits that they had dug. Afterwards they brought the second group women, and at the end the third group children. Their final path is difficult to describe, they stood them all up next to the pits, and read before them the murderous and barbaric order of Hitler all the Jews were sentenced to death by shooting. One of the unfortunate ones was given permission to say his final word. Asher Miller from Wysoki Dwór spoke [see note 236]. He condemned the terrible and awful act of murder that they were carrying out against the Jews, who had done nothing wrong, and called out loudly: We are guiltless, and you murderers will pay dearly for our innocent blood; there will yet be found someone who will avenge our blood. After this, he requested that they shoot him first.
The drunken murderers then set upon the unfortunate ones, beat them, and shot everyone that came to hand.
With the commission of this act of murder their blood boiled even more, and they threw the dead and wounded together into the pits, tore apart the children, and smashed their heads with hammers. Finally, they covered the pits with earth. From the depths of the earth there was still, for a long time, heard the groaning of the buried. For kilometers in all directions were heard the voices and the wailing of the tortured of Troki in the middle of Yom Kippur eve.
The horrifying event will be inscribed in the History of the Days, that within the village of Troki, and from her 530 years before, the Jews had received an invitation to come to Lithuania and help with the development of the land, and in this very city the Jews were tortured to death in such a terrifying way.
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