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Zagare, the place that we are from
Please note that this is a family web site and as such is a non commercial presentation. This family website is only for information that relates to our family and our families history. All articles have been researched from the Internet and the authors and sources where known have been cited accordingly.
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Page 1: Zagare
What remains in Zagare, photos of the town today, some stories and photographs and information on the Red and White Synagogues

in nearby Joniskis and other relevant information


Jewish events and history of Zagare              
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A SURVEY OF JEWISH ZAGARE
From a translation of the Lithuanian Green Book on Zagare (a series of books on all the cities and towns of Lithuania) sent to me by Len Yodaiken in Israel.shoshly@kfar-hanassi.org.il

I also have a new paper written in Vilnius on Zagare that was given to me by the researchers at the Jewish Museum in Vilnius. I will put that into this page as soon as possible.

Sarah Rabagliati has done a lot of work on the Translation of the Green Book on Zagare and there is at present some effort to bringing out an up to date and newer Green Book on Zagare and possibly other Lithuanian towns and cities. I was in Lithuania at the end of 2006 into 2007 and the Green Book on Zagare was out of print but the other books cost around £15.

There is a book by Dovid Katz, a resident lecturer and authority of Jewish Life in Lithuania called  Lithuanian Jewish Culture at this website: http://www.patogupirkti.lt/book/book.asp?isbn=9955-584-41-6  and while it is out of print they may have a copy. The book is huge and sells for 350Litas including post £90 or $130USD

 ZAGARÉ, (pronounced SHAGORY ) , one of the oldest settlements in Lithuania, near the border with Latvia, 70 km. from Siauliai, 27 km. from Joniskis, situated on the banks of the river Sventa.   In 1495 the town was granted a permit to hold markets for trading.   In 1590 approx. New Zagare was established, on the right bank of the river.  The town on the left bank became known as Old Zagare.  A church was built in the new town, together with houses and roads.   By the end of the 17th century there were some 100 houses.  New Zagare was bigger than the original settlement of Old Zagare, and was more modern with better living conditions.   The two towns had separate administrations.

The Narishkin family of landowners, who owned much of the district of Zagare, played a major role in the development of New Zagare from 1850, and in its economic growth.   By 1861 there were three small factories in the area, manufacturing buttons, belts, and similar articles, and employing 90 workers.   Other factories were established for processing agricultural produce.   The growth of Old Zagare, where the land was owned by a different family, was much slower.  In 1897 there were 27 shops in Old Zagare, 121 in the New town, 90 artisans compared to 640 in New Zagare.

Zagare residents endured many hardships, from both natural and man-made catastrophes:  the Russo-Swedish war of 1705; an outbreak of cholera in 1848;  the Polish Revolt of 1863;  the Great Famine of 1867;  the Fires of 1880, 1909 and 1911.   The Cossacks terrorized the town during the revolt of 1905, when Zagare was briefly proclaimed an autonomous republic.

From the end of the 19th century until the first World War, the two parts of Zagare were recognized as the Regional Center, and contained a number of state institutions.   Trade with Latvia flourished.   Buyers from as far afield as England and Germany came to the annual Zagare Fair.   In this period the population nearly tripled in size.

During the period of Lithuanian independence (1918-1940) economic activity in Zagare declined steeply, because  of the loss of Russian and Latvian markets.    The population dwindled to what it had been 60 years previously.   All this time Zagare was a Regional Center, and retained this status during the period of the Soviet occupation (1940-41) and during the Nazi occupation (1941-44).

                                                   Narishkin Palace beside Zagare

JEWISH SETTLEMENT IN ZAGARE UP TO WORLD WAR ONE

 

Zagare's Jewish community was one of the first to be established in Lithuania, and is said to date back to the 16th century.   At first the Jews engaged in leasing the privilege of tax and custom collection and trading in salt and metals imported from abroad.  Others imported honey, beeswax, and skins.   Also there were a number of craftsmen.  Over the years two separate Jewish communities developed in the two parts of Zagare, each with its own Rabbis, cantors, ritual slaughterers and even separate cemeteries.

 Old Zagare

OLD ZAGARE:   Sanitary conditions in the Jewish quarter of Old Zagare were very poor because of the overcrowding.   During the cholera outbreak 973 persons died.   Towards the end of the 19th century there were 1629 Jews, out of the general population of 2527 (i.e. more than two thirds).   Of the 210 family homes, 158 were owned by Jews.    Most of the breadwinners worked as artisans, mainly tailors and shoemakers, or on small holdings growing vegetables and cherries, or in retail trading (the wholesale markets had moved to New Zagare).    Most houses were wooden.  Among the few stone buildings were a synagogue, a school and a ritual bath.   Most Jewish children attended "heder" (chaider) classes, of which there were several in Old Zagare.   In 1893 there was a Jewish Girls' School, with two classes.

Despite the community's poor economic situation, the Jews of Zagare maintained a tradition of providing help to other Jewish communities in times of distress.   In 1884 for example a big fire broke out in the neighboring town of Laizuva and the Jews of Zagare, both old and new, donated 70 rubles.               
This building is still in use as a
school and was originally the
Jewish School in Zagare

 New Zagare

NEW ZAGARE;   As early as 1790 the central market place of New Zagare was run by Jewish traders.   Some 50 Jewish families maintained 30 shops and inns in the town and the surrounding area.  All the community facilities were provided, including cemeteries and synagogues.   Rabbi Berl Izaakson was responsible for collecting and paying rental on behalf of the Jews for their homes and businesses. In 1897 Jews comprised 60% of the population, residing in 329 out of the town's 450 homesteads.   Most of them earned a living as craftsmen, farmers, traders and small manufacturers.   In contrast to Old Zagare, the new town had a relatively large number of traders engaged in import-export business.   Relations between the Jews and the authorities improved as a result of the community's growing prosperity.   The Jews  were allowed to conduct the affairs of the community through a "Town Administration" set up in the year 1880.   In this period there were 4 Jewish schools in the town: a boys' school, which in 1897-98 had 30 pupils; a girls' school with 53 pupils;  a Talmud-Torah religious school housed in a magnificent building with 100 students; and the Russian school with 154 boys and 24 girl students.   In addition there were four yeshiva religious seminaries for older students.  
An old Jewish street in Zagare   

 
taken about 1924

In 1881 a fire in the town caused heavy damage to the community's property.  400 houses were burned to the
 ground, and many families were left homeless.   The local newspaper published appeals for help, and with contributions from various sources, the community rehabilitated itself. In the decade 1880-1890 there was a wave of emigration from Zagare to South Africa, and to America.  In 1887 a society of Zagare émigrés was established in Philadelphia, and another in Johannesburg in 1895.

Cultural and intellectual life developed in New Zagare, along with Zionist and political movements.   For many years there was a library and a book shop in the town, with an emphasis on Yiddish and Hebrew literature. Zagare's Jews demonstrated strong solidarity with their Lithuanian neighbors.   When the Tsarist authorities banned the publication of Lithuanian language books, local Jews helped in smuggling the forbidden books out of the town.   A number of Jews were active in the 1905 revolt and some were arrested and put to death by the Russian authorities.

During World War I, most of the Jews of Zagare left the town and headed for the Russian interior, or emigrated to other destinations.

 


Some of this material has been translated from German from a book called Galut Nordost
It is a collection of research that a retired German professor, Paul Gerhard Aring,
initiated amongst young Lithuanians in order to demonstrate the Lithuanian-Jewish past. (Zagare today)

References: http://openlibrary.org/b/OL19528918M/Wenn_dich_deine_Kinder_fragen--

http://www.annaberger-annalen.de/jahrbuch/1997/Annaberg%20Nr.5%20Kap6.pdf (in German)

 

Titel "Wenn dich deine Kinder fragen ..."
Titelzusatz Impressionen zur Geschichte und Gegenwart jüdischen Lebens in Litauen; Paul Gerhard Aring
Verfasser Aring, Paul Gerhard
   
Schriftenreihe Galut Nordost
Schlagwörter LitauenJudenGeschichte
Erschienen Köln : Verl. Wiss. und Politik
Erscheinungsjahr 1998
Erscheinungsland DE
Umfang 147, XXIV S
ISBN 3804688500
Sprache ger
Standort Hamburg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Carl von Ossietzky / Universität Hamburg
Greifswald, Universitätsbibliothek
Lüneburg, Universitätsbibliothek

Aring, Paul Gerhard. Denk-Steine setzen in Litauen, in: Ansgar Koschel und Helker Pflug (Hrsg.) im Auftrag der Buber-Rosenzweig-Stiftung, Die vergessenen Juden in den baltischen Staaten [= Symposium vom 4. bis 7. Juli 1997 in Hannover, = Galut Nordost, Sonderheft 2], Köln: Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, 1998, 165-8.

Paul Gerhard Aring
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This article includes a meeting with Isaac Mendelsohn

Zagare Today

By Professor Paul Aring©

Friends from Joniskis, not far from Zagare, had agreed to accompany us on a visit to Zagare to look for traces of those Jewish communities.  We found the vast spaces of land which once were the cemeteries in utter neglect, a sign common to all Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania.  Recently someone tried to put these places into shape, poorly enough, an enormous number of stones disappeared, were stolen, or used for other purposes; with all this we were shocked to see in front of us Beit Olam, House of Eternity, a Beit HaKewarot, House of Graves.  Also Beit HaChaim, House of Life.  Even if we knew only very little of the history of this once rich Jewish community which one flourished in this town, we were filled with sorrow and doubt.

We visited the mother of our friend Kostas Vozbutas from Joniskis.  She lives in Zagare, on the upper floor of a stately wooden house on the high street.  This house once belonged to a Jewish family.  A member of this family managed to survive the German occupation and terror and lives today somewhere in Latvia.  The previous owner tried to file for restitution, as yet without any success.  He assures everybody that should the house be returned to him, he will not evict the present occupants.

Mother Vozbutiene told us about her experiences as a 15 year old girl: 

“All of a sudden the Jews were not allowed to live with us on the same street.  Overnight, they were forced to move into the Ghetto. The ghetto was surrounded with walls and barbed wire.   There was strict control at the single entrance.  Soon the German troops left, leaving behind two officers.  They had Hilfstruppen from Lithuania who were in charge and everybody had to obey.   Whatever was done to the Jews was done by these men.  They were the “assistants” to the Germans and Fascists.  Jews were forbidden to engage in any commerce, they were not allowed to sell or to buy and certainly not food.  At the beginning younger Jewish men were taken  and brought to this house,  there at the corner”.  She pointed with her finger at this big house.  “There they beaten and shot.

There had always been good relations between Jews and Lithuanians.  We visited each other and, when necessary, also offered help.  But, with the arrival of the Germans, fear took over, mostly of the Lithuanian men who had something against the Jews.  Of course, there were Lithuanians in the city who were jealous of the Jews.  Most of them were richer than many of us in Zagare at that time.  There were many well-to-do Jews and many poor Lithuanians.

Until  1943 not much was done to the Jews, except that they were confined to the Ghetto and were often mistreated.  But in October 1943 they were taken out of the Ghetto and brought to this great square.  On one of the balconies there stood a German officer.  He made a speech to the assembled Jews, promising them good work, provided they would obey orders.  I myself heard the speech.  I stood at one side of the square and observed from afar.  All around the Jews there were Lithuanian men who were in charge of the general order.  They held fire-arms in their hands.  As soon as the German officer finished speaking they opened fire on the masses.  Many died instantly.  All of us were terribly frightened and simply ran away.  Those of the Jews who were still alive had to stand up and were forced to take off their clothing.  The Lithuanians took their things.  These remaining Jews were force-marched out of the town.. Those who tried to escape were shot.  Many  corpses were lying at the roadsides.  Lorries took the Jews to the Schlosspark outside the town.. Three ditches were already prepared.  The Jews had to stand next to them and were shot.  Some were only injured , but still they were thrown into the ditch and covered, still alive.  There were not only Jews from Zagare but also from nearby villages in the vicinity.  They were all brought to the Shlosspark and murdered there.” 

During our talk with mother Vozbutiene, Kostas Vozbutas brought along another old lady who he had searched for and found.  She gladly accepted his invitation.  Her name is Mrs. Maryte Tiesnesine, Jewish, from Zagare.  In 1941/2 she converted to Catholicism and was an eye-witness to the following:

“In the summer of 1941 my family and I had to go to the Ghetto.  That was quite sudden and quick.  We were hardly able to take anything with us.  One evening I walked through the Ghetto.  Near the fence I saw a young man, a Lithuanian watchman.  I knew him from before, he had worked in a cinema showing films.  I had also once danced with him.  That had been very nice.  He suggested I should come again and said he would wait for me down there, near the brook.  I went there and found him although it was very dangerous for both of us.  We spoke to each other in Lithuanian which I had learned to speak.. He called me Maryte and whispered to me that he wanted us to escape together.  I should not look at him, but just follow him.  I had a feeling that nothing good would come of this and did not follow him, having heard from my brother what was done to Jews.  My brother had heard about many atrocities. Unlike other young men he was not killed.  I was aghast at what he told me.  How could he tell such things!   What really happened to these Jews,  I learned about only later when reading a scrap of paper which had been smuggled into the Ghetto.

            During the time I lived in the Ghetto with my parents and brother there was hardly any room!  No, at that time I was not married.  I was only 16 years of age.  The Ghetto was policed by a Jewish police force.  You had to be very much on your guard when meeting them!  The young man from the fence probably wanted to save me, to take me out of the Ghetto to stay alive and work somewhere outside.  Some Jews were allowed to work outside the Ghetto for the Germans.  I did not want to do this.  I did not dare to do it.  I was too frightened.

            Once, early in the morning, we had to report to the big square in front of the Ghetto.  There was great confusion and a lot of shouting.  We were surrounded by Lithuanian men with weapons in their hands.  I had an uncanny feeling.  We just stood there and waited, things became quieter.  A German officer arrived and made a speech.  He spoke with a loud voice and with both hands.  Suddenly  the Lithuanians opened fire on us, quite suddenly like lightening during a thunderstorm.  My mother fell to the ground. She was bleeding.  All around me there was a lot of blood, much blood, much blood, blood everywhere.  How did I survive all this? I do not know.  I do not want to talk about this, not even with you, who are such nice and young people.  As I was lying on the ground, the young man from the fence came to me to take me away.  In token of this my mother gave him her ring.  Someone took me to a Lithuanian family called Lutikas.  They accepted me.  Someone else must have observed this because I was denounced, but the Lutikas kept me in hiding. 

            When I last saw my mother she was still alive.  Today I know that she was taken on a lorry to the Schlosspark where she was shot dead.  My Lithuanian family kept me concealed.  They saved my life.  That’s why I am able to sit and talk with you today.  Who was it and what has saved my life?  I  shall never know.  Perhaps the young man from the fence was in love with me?  Later on he paid me a visit.  Sometime later on he was arrested by the Russians and disappeared for 10 years in some camp in Siberia.  Whatever happened to him afterwards I do not know.  I think at that time I was also in love with him, but I was afraid”

            Mother Vozbutiene added:  “At that time there was in Zagare a Lithuanian; everybody knew he was a murderer.  He was in love with a Jewish girl and he was unable to shoot her.  That was done for him by someone else.  This same Lithuanian today lives, under a different name, in the USA.  A few years ago he came back to visit Zagare.  He was welcomed like a Lithuanian People’s hero.  After all the Jews had gone, many Lithuanians became rich.  Today they are in possession of houses, businesses and properties”

            With great politeness and great reserve we asked:  “Is there anyone there today who feels guilty and responsible?”  But even here, during such an intensive type of conversation, our questions remained open. What can we do, since 1945 none of the, then inhabitants will ever talk openly.

            Mother Vozbutiene continued:  “As you visit these houses, you will find many things which once belonged to the Jews, silver, porcelain, furniture, pictures.  I know how much was sold then on the Black Market.  All of us were hungry and the Russians were very much in the picture.  We needed things to start again with new flats, new furniture, to start life again in a new time.  In Zagare, at those times one could buy everything on the Black Market.  In other places in Lithuania it was the same.

            During the years after the war only three Jewish families returned.  Where they came from I do not know.  They did not remain here for long.  Did they die or emigrate?  I do not know.”

            Meeting with passers-by on the streets we inquired whether there are any Jews to be found today.   That is how we met Mr. Isaak Mendelsohn.  One of our friends arranged a meeting.  At first Mr. Mendelsohn received us outside his front door, polite if rather reserved.  But later on he became friendlier.  He took us along, to show us places and houses which were of importance to the Jews.  Listening to him, as he spoke, sometimes in Lithuania and sometimes in Yiddish or German, we had the feeling as if all these walls, bricks, pavements, marketplaces, windows, gardens and doors stared to whisper  ...Ejzikas Mendelsonas (that is the way he writes his name in Lithuanian) is 75 years old and lives in Zagare.  He survived the destruction of Jewish Zagare because at that time he was an officer in the Russian army.  In a somewhat cautious way he told us about the past of this town with it’s two Jewish communities -  life in the Shtetl ,  the Yeshiwoth with their many pupils, the synagogues, the bath-house with its social activities, about the special bakery for mazzoth,  the lodgings inhabited by the rabbi, the big and small businesses and about the market.

            We stopped in front of the still remaining building of a one-time Jewish primary school.  During the summer of 1941, when the Germans entered Zagare, all the children, together with their woman teacher, were taken to the street.  The children were frightened and screamed.  All, including the teacher, were shot.

            In front of the house of the rabbi, we stopped and Mendelsohn continued:  “Following the arrival of the Germans, they took the 80 year old  rabbbi out onto the street, they cut off his beard.  Then they fetched a horse-cart with eight men sitting on it.  They harnessed the rabbi instead of the horse and forced him  by the whip,  to their great amusement, to pull the cart.   Eventually he broke down and died on the street.” 

            In the middle of Zagare, on a big square, there stands today, the “Kulturpalast”.  Once, according to Mendelsohn, on this square there were houses which had belonged to Jews.  After the war the Russians leveled everything and designed a new square.  On those  narrow streets many Jews had been shot, mostly by Lithuanians, but also by the German troops.  With our friends, Isaak Mendelsohn accompanied us on our walk through the town.  He revived for us the Jewish history of Zagare, bringing it into the present.  All that had happened there, under the very eyes of a non-Jewish population, is so terrible that, when rationally and coolly reported upon, one can only be silent, whilst screaming and weeping within the heart.  One cannot talk about accusation.  Around and within us a feeling of mourning, silent mourning , mourning so quiet as that of the square in Zagare which we visited in the coldness of the early spring, mourning and the loss of speech of our time was the same.

Isaak Mendelsohn

“I’ve lived a good life.” At 78, Isaak Mendelsohn has lived longer than most of his generation. What makes Mendelsohn remarkable and a hero is how he has enjoyed the life he was handed.

Mendelsohn spent eight years in the Soviet military, five of them on the front lines during World War II. Three bullet wounds and his nose, which curves unnaturally to the left, attest to his service. He recalls upon returning to his native town, Zagare, Lithuania, “It was like day and night,” referring to how all the Jews, including his family, were murdered by their neighbours. In his simple words he continues, “But I only knew Zagare; where else was I to go?”

Mendelsohn now has two children and a Catholic wife. He looks to me, an American Jew, to understand there were no Jewish women left to marry. "In town, people greet me first when they enter a room; I am well respected.” From the way people acknowledge him, his words are true. From overseas, hundreds visit Mendelsohn because he is the only living link to a life that no longer exists.

When the worst of Mendelssohn's life seemed behind him, troubles still remained. Someone broke into his house, demanded gold and shot his wife. Like her husband, she managed to survive; the bullet grazed her head. Since then their lifestyle has changed only slightly; they lock the door.

A good life? What makes Mendelssohn's story worthy of being told is that he is a contented man. Serving in the trenches of World War II, living amongst the murderers of his family, surviving an assault in his own home and being content seem incongruous, but to Mendelsohn, they are all part of a good life. What greater hero can one find?

Submitted by:
David Abraham

http://www.yourtruehero.org/content/hero/view_hero.asp?18171
Copyright © 1999-2002 Your True Hero, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 


The third is an article translated from the Hebrew about those dreadful days in Zagare. The book is called Yahadut Lita (Lithuanian Jewry) and is from the fourth volume which deals with the Holocaust in Lithuania. (Jewish Zagare)
 

LITHUANIAN INDEPENDENCE.

After World War I, the newly drawn border between Lithuania and Latvia left Zagare in an isolated backwater.   Many of the town's Jewish inhabitants did not return from their exile in Russia.   Many of those who came back soon emigrated to the United States, South Africa or Palestine.   Another factor which added to the region's economic depression was that the railway station nearest to Zagare was 28 km. distant.   The main road to Zagare was impassable in rainy weather.  All commercial activity was centered on the weekly markets, which took place on Tuesdays and Fridays.  A 1931 survey shows that 51 out of 59 Zagare businesses were Jewish owned.   But competition with Lithuanian businessmen was increasing.    The economic depression and the town's isolation led many traders and young people to leave for other towns, in particular the nearby town of Joniskis.   

But despite the declining Jewish population the community maintained its institutions.   In 1921 there were 7 synagogues, an old-age home, a hospital, two bath-houses, two libraries (one Hebrew, one Yiddish) and two schools, one with 135 pupils.  There were Jewish evening classes, Jewish sports clubs, Jewish youth movements, and even a Jewish fire brigade.

The gulf between New Zagare and Old Zagare continued to divide the two populations.  The rift was finally healed by the good offices of Rabbi Israel Reif, Rabbi of New Zagare and his son Rabbi Yitzhak Zondel Reif, who led the congregation of Old Zagare.

 

WORLD WAR II AND LATER YEARS

During the Soviet annexation of Lithuania (1940-41) all Jewish institutions and organizations were disbanded. The Yiddish library was one of the few organizations that continued to function in these years.   Shortly before the German army invaded the Soviet Union, on 4th June 1941, a number of Jewish men from Zagare were sent to Siberia, among them the teacher and Bible scholar Meir Kantarovich. On 25th June, Zagare was taken by the German army.   Within the town the Germans were actively helped by armed Lithuanians, who called themselves "Anti-Soviet National Partisan Fighters".   With the co-operation of the municipal authorities the Lithuanians imprisoned hundreds of Jewish men inside the synagogue, and beat them up badly.    The elderly Rabbi Israel Reif, a tall man, was forced under a rain of blows and curses to harness himself to a cart, together with another Jew of very small stature, and to pull the cart through the streets of the town, accompanied by the cheers of the non-Jewish population.   Dozens of Jews were shot to death in the New Zagare Jewish cemetery, and in nearby woods.

At the beginning of July, all the Jews of Zagare were brought together in one place, destined to become the town ghetto.   Jews from other towns were also brought here, a total of 7000 men, women and children.  Every day the local Lithuanians would take most of the Jews out to work, accompanied by blows and abuse.   Before leaving for work, the Jews were made to spit at Rabbi Reif.   Anyone who disobeyed was shot and killed. To prevent the shootings, Rabbi Reif ordered his congregants to obey the orders. 

Inside the ghetto the Jews had to endure malnutrition, overcrowding, lack of sanitary conditions and medical facilities.   In addition, they suffered from by the Lithuanians and Latvians who would enter the ghetto to rob, rape and

abuse the Jewish ghetto inhabitants. On the day after Yom Kippur, 2nd October 1941, all the Jews of Zagare were summoned to the Market place.  Here they were addressed by the German commander of the region, who told them they were being sent to a new work place.  Here they would have better conditions he said.   At this point he gave a signal, and from all sides armed Lithuanians burst into the market place and fired on the Jews with automatic weapons. 

During the massacre Alter Zagorsky cried out to those who were still alive: "Jews, run, and save your lives",   He himself drew a knife and stabbed to death one of the Lithuanian murderers.   In the confusion, many Jews managed to escape.  Another band of armed Lithuanians was summoned to the scene and managed to overcome the remaining Jews, including those who had run away.  They were brought to Narishkin Park where they were shot and killed, and their bodies piled into prepared pits.    Infants and children had their heads smashed against trees.  Many were pushed into the pits still alive.  Clothes and possessions of the victims were stolen, either by their neighbors or by the murderers and the local authorities.  Only a few Jews escaped the slaughter.   A small number of those who had left for the Soviet Union before the outbreak of war remained alive.

At the beginning of 1990 three plaques were placed on a monument at the entrance to Narishkin park, inscribed in Lithuanian, Yiddish and Hebrew with the words:  "At this place on 2.10.41 the Hitlerite murderers and their local accomplices killed 3000 of the Jews of Siauliai province, men women and children."

In 1999 one Jew, Isaac Mendelsohn, was still living in Zagare.


Note for citation: First translated from Lithuanian from a book which I call the Green Book of Zagare, ( Zagare Book) that had been brought out on the occasion of the 800 anniversary of the founding of the town. It gives some idea how the Lithuanians at their politest, see the Jewish presence in the town.

ZAGARE BOOK

The Promised Land

Chapter on the Jews of Zagare

 

 The first Jews reached Zagare probably at the beginning of the 18th century, even though Grand Duke Gediminas had invited artisans and traders before.   It is possible that by this time Jews were already living there,  because the Lithuanian Polish King August III had permitted them to live in Joniskis in 1737.

 The Jews brought with  them their traditions and culture and their Yiddish language.  They did not mix with Lithuanians and other Christians, and they retained their ethnic character.   The first privileges for Jews had been granted in the 14th century.  These were included in the Lithuanian Charter, and were later extended.

 The Jewish community was organized in the framework of a kahal (community), which had its synagogue, cemetery, school, court of law and its own elective authority.   It was headed by the rabbi, who had responsibility for religious matters.     The second in importance was the director of the yeshiva (rabbinical seminary).  Next came the cantor, the mohel (ritual slaughterer) and so on.

 Jews were not allowed to lodge appeals to the Christian court.  Jews were not serfs, and there were no slaves because the kahal redeemed them.   Jews were regarded as belonging only to God.  Punishment for killing a Jew was the same as the punishment for killing a nobleman.   The Jews lent money to the nobility, and in return they enjoyed exemption from custom duties and taxes on bridges, roads, inns and so on.

 From the 18th century Jews lived in special city quarters called ghettos.  From the 18th century Jews who converted to Christianity were recognized as nobility.  Jews earned their livelihood by money lending, also they established the first banks.  At this time Jews began to live on the estates of the landed gentry.  Here they changed from artisans to traders.  Jews did not like Bishop Valancius who preached against alcohol, and exhorted his flock to learn professions.   Jewish professions were quite separate from the rest of the population they were generally goldsmiths, metalworkers, brewers, bakers, bookbinders, tailors, barbers, doctors, bathhouse attendants, musicians, and traders.  Each nobleman had his  own Jewish factor (an agent for selling and buying).    Yossef Osherovich, a customs official in Zagare, complained that Aancik Latvis did not pay taxes for trading.

 The Jewish community increased during the Russian annexation, because of the government’s policy and the abandonment of pogroms.   Despite the privileged status of the Jews, there is no record of serious conflict between Jews and local people.    The Jewish population in cities and towns increased during the years 1654-67, and following the Great Northern War when the native population decreased.    The same thing happened in Zagare as a result of the plague at the beginning of the 18th century.   Jews lived in Old Zagare, because they were not allowed to live in the New Town.  Already in 1787, there was a Jewish innkeeper.  At this period, Jews, Greeks and Armenians were introduced into the economy of  Siauliai district, and  Jews developed trading in the region. The nobleman Jakubas

Sobieskis tried to evict Jews from the area, but local people asked him to let them stay, and supported their demand by quoting the example of Jews living in Zagare.

 From 1742 the peasants were not allowed to manufacture vodka and beer, and it was licensed out to the Jews.  In these years there were 26 beer parlors and 19 vodka parlors in New Zagare.   Jews were licensed to rent inns and to farm the market taxes.   In an agreement with Ber Mayerovich it was written that he will pay for three shops, and he will get armed townsmen to help collect taxes in the market, in the year 1747.  Government and property owners got big incomes from Jews, but a large part of this money was returned to the Jews for their services.

 In 1748 a synagogue was already functioning, and there was a cemetery in Livonia Street.    (Today the sign no longer exists.)     At this time 110 families lived in Zagare, 25 were Jewish families, 6 of them owned houses.  In 1754, 42 families lived in Old Zagare, 38 were Jewish.   There is a record of Jewish artisans: 2 glassmakers, 3 bakers, some brewers, butchers and tailors.  Jews rented shops and engaged in customs farming.  In 1756 of 43 families living in Old Zagare, 35 were Jewish.  Approximately 38-40% of the population of Old and New Zagare were Jews.

 In the fire of 1775, 22 Jewish houses, 7 Christian houses, 3 brewers, 2 inns etc. were burned in Old Zagare.   Also the rabbi’s library was burned.   In New Zagare, 50 houses, 12 shops, 9 breweries were burned.   16 farmsteads, 10 of them belonging to Jews, were destroyed in Davaro Street alone.   Outbreaks of fire were recorded in Vokieciu and Buzynska Streets.   Here is a list of damages in Buzynska Street:

1. Idel Simonovich                         brewery, 5368 zlot.

2. Moshe Gabrilovich        shop 2652 zlot

3. Leib Izakovich                goods and bookshop (library) 4244 zlot

4. Yankel Moizeshovich    tailor, damage for 432 zlot

5. Lipka Gliashevich          inn and property 1103 zlot

6. Yankel Moizeshovich    inn and property 6478 zlot (he rented the inn)

7. Judl Salamonovich       2000zlot

8. Ovsei Abramovich          gold and silver 680 zlot

9. Mejer Simonovich and his brother Zusman    rented property and their own property for 1600                         

10.  Isaac Abramovich       goods and store 400

11. Hirshe Berovich           goods and store 2978 zlot

12. Abram Davidovich       goods and 2 stores 2236 zlot

13. Leib Vulfovich              furrier, property 320 zlot

14. Hirsh Izakovic               goods 872 zlot

15. Abram Zelikovich         goods and store 4700 zlot

16. Simon Zelkanovich     owner of new store, goods 1200 zlot

17. Moshe Itzkovich           goats meat 322 zlot

18. Shmuel Itzkovich         goods for 400 zlot

19. Zorah Rubinovich        newly built store and goods for 1040 zlot

 

Burned goods =85,148,153 zlot

Property of 17 non-Jews  ....80.160 zlot

 

 A large part of government income was from taxes from Jews.  Jews were not landowners, so they lost everything in the fire.   The city owner, or the city manager, or supervisor, or the kahal itself, invited an assessor (commissar) to assess the damages and give tax relief to the victims for some years, until their property was restored.

 So in 1777, 427 Jews were exempted from the pillow tax.  After the fire of 1785 in Old Zagare, the remaining 27 Jews could not pay taxes.  For this reason, the nobleman M. Butler paid for them, but the Jews could not repay their debt.

 In New Zagare, in 1777, of the 116 plots that were mortgaged, 34 belonged to Jews.  Out of 115 families in 1778-9, 25-26 were Jewish, in 1778-9.   Most of them lived in Buzynska or Livonia streets.  In 1708 of the 19 listed brewers, only 2 were non-Jews.  Out of 35 houses, 31 were owned by Jews.  The Kahal and synagogue building were burned.   17 business places were in the market, all of them belonging to Jews.  Of the 34 buildings  in Livonia Street, 20 belonged to Jews.

 In 1790, 50 Jewish families were listed.  At this period Jews had a kahal building, synagogue, school, mikve, and 30 shops.  They paid 300 auxinas (guilders) for land.   A new synagogue and library/bookshop were established in 1802.   Of 139 houses in Zagare  in the year 1801-1, 62 belonged to Jews, 55 to peasants, 20 to landowners, 2 to free Germans.     Average number of persons in a family peasants 6.6, Jews 7.9, landowners 5, German 11+ (?).

 In 1815-16 the synagogue and brewery were near the market in New Zagare, and there were also 55 shops in the market place.   Out of 33 buildings around the market place, 32 belonged to Jews.  Out of 979 Jews, 973 died in the cholera epidemic of 1848.  In the 1897 population census, 8129 residents are listed, 5443 of them were Jews.  In 1898 there were even two Jewish schools, one of them a two-grade school for girls.  According to the teacher Belozorchik, in 1898 there were 100 yeshiva students (studying religion and other things) in Siauliai street.   Gertzberg opened a bookshop and library in Dvaro Street.   Books could be borrowed for a fee.  A private trade school existed until the First World War.  There were only two schools of this kind in Lithuania, in Kovno and Zagare.    At the B Rabinovich and H. Davidson school there were 30 schoolboys and 53 schoolgirls.

 The new religious movement was strong among Lithuanian Jews, developing in the yeshivot, both old and news.   Also outside cultural influences were beginning to be felt, as cultural societies began activities in Vilnius, Kaunas and other smaller cities.  According to the journal Lietuvos Zydu Keliu (On the Lithuanian Jews Road), many educated Jews and rabbis who worked in Lithuania, Russia and other countries  came from Lithuania.> Zagare was an important cultural center.  Many Jews from Zagare had emigrated to South Africa, and were supporting their relatives.  New ideas came from Prussia (Konigsberg) and the Kursho area.   Many educated people  lived in the town, giving rise to the saying the sages of Zagare.   Jews who were Zagare patriots, said that Zagare is a center of torah, sciences, education and literature, and that ideas of education (haskala) passed from Zagare to Vilna and even Russia..    Maybe it is not true, but anyway the desire to study, intention to education here was strong.  For this reason, many educated Jewish people and rabbis, came from Zagare.

 The Mandelstam brothers were the first famous Jews from Zagare.  Benjamin Mandelstam was born in Zagare, died in Simferopol in 1866.    He was a writer and a leading reformist.   He organized Jews to resist the Russian oppressors.  His brother, Leib Mandelstam, born in Zagare in 1809, died in Petrograd in 1899.  He was the first Jew from Zagare to study in Moscow University.  He was a rabbi, and an enthusiast for Jewish education.   He also compiled a Russian-Hebrew dictionary, and translated the Bible.  His grandson was Osip Mandelstam, the Russian poet 1891-1945.   Benjamin Mandelstam wrote a book about the Jews of Zagare, and his travels to Moscow.  This book is lost.  The title of the book - Chazon le Moed.    The next brother, Leon Mandelstam, was the first Jew to complete university studies in Russia.  In 1864 Leon became the supervisor of Jewish schools in Russia, where he instituted reforms.  His children were Emmanuel and Yosef Mandelstam, Emmanuel an optician, and Yosef, a famous philosopher.

 Kolonimus Zeev Wissotsky, born in Zagare 1824, died 1904, established the Wissotsky Tea company in Zagare, which exists to this day in Israel.   The tea smugglers route was from Prussia to Riga, through Zagare, and therefore there were secret storage places. Head of the Kaunas Yeshiva, afterwards head of the Ramail Yeshiva in Vilnius, Rabbi Israel Lipkin was born in Zagare in 1810 to a religious family.  He died in 1883 in Konigsberg (Karaliaucius).  In 1883 he published a newspaper in Klaipeda (Mamel).

Raphael Nathan Rabinovich (born Zagare 1855, died Kiev 1888) was the author of a 16-volume work on the Babylon Talmud, the 1342 manuscript of which was in the Royal Library of Munich, Bavaria.   Incidentally, a Talmud published in Vilnius, in the 19th century, is still a standard edition.

Shniur, born in Zagare, published a Hebrew language newspaper in Berlin, in 1851.   He became a famous as a specialist of medieval Hebrew literature and the poetry of the Jews of Spain.

Yaakov Dinezon (born Zagare 1856 died Warsaw 1914) was an early writer of sentimental Jewish novels.  He wrote in both Hebrew and Yiddish, and in his books he described the life of the Jews of Lithuania.    For his book, The Sins of Parents, he received payment of two rubles per page.   Other books he wrote  were: Black Youth, Obstacle, Hershele, and Yossele.  Together with the writer Peretzman he wrote, in Poland, The Jewish Library.  Isaac Kikoyen  (Kushelevich) born 1909 in Zagare, was one of the most famous of Soviet physicists, known for the Kikoyin-Noskov effect.

 Faif Levitatz (born Zagare 1913, died St. Petersburg 1952) participated in the revolutionary movement.  He was imprisoned five times in the years 1934-7.  During the Second World War he served in the 16th Lithuanian Division.  Afterwards he worked in the University and Pedagogical Institute of Vilnius, where he taught German.

 For many years in Zagare Jews and Lithuanians shared a common life in the same town.  In 1881 two rows of shops belonged to the Jews.  At this time Lithuanians owned only 5 shops.   The Jews of Zagare used to go to Riga or Jelgava for trading.   They sold and bought horses, and in autumn geese.  The Jews bought the geese, fed them and then sold them in Riga before Christmas and New Year.   Mentioned are storeowners, Brande, the Lanas family, and Belskus, who had a house near the cemetery.

 In 1905 a meeting of communists took place.  There were banners in three languages  Lithuanian, Latvian and Yiddish.  Jews were supervisors, factory owners, owners of printing houses.   M Zaks and V. Trubik were members of the Siauliai Duma. In 1914 mention is made of Dr D Lipman and Dr. Ch. Yankelevich.   Many Jews reached high levels of education.  At least three generations of patients were treated by Dr. Ilya Skliutauskas.   In Zagare he wrote his first book, Poetry and Medicine..   From 1947 he taught in the University of Vilnius.  His son Yakobus Skliutauskas grew up in Zagare.  He is a famous writer and also a doctor.

Mrs. Yodeikin was a midwife.   Older generations still remember Doctor Fridman’s family.   From 1936 to 1940 Moshe Schneider worked in Zagare.   After the war he was a professor of radiology in the Republica Department of Oncology.

The newspaper, Voice of Zagare (Zagares Balsas) wrote in 1931 that  seven Jews (Abram Braude, Mendel Malamed, Nochum B. Tankelis, Reuven Vulfson, Abram Lemchen, Dovid Fridman, Hirsh Peretzman) were proposed as candidates for the City Council.  A. Braude, N.B.Tankelis, A. Lemchen and D. Fridman were elected.  Friedman and the wife of Tankelis sponsored the newspaper, the Voice of Zagare.  The Lisas  brothers distributed flyers advertising the newspaper on their bicycles.  Trupikas was elected to the council of the Boy Scouts.   In the Ausros Library reading room at 33 Turgaus Street, it was possible to read Yiddish language newspapers as well as Lithuanian, Russian, and Latvian.    Newspapers reported in a humorous way about criminal activities:  A Kantor and D.Zlot, both of them Jewish, care about the horse-trader Zigmas Zadeika, who steals horses.  Braude’s son disturbed public order on the football field.

Jews studied in Zagare’s secondary school after learning in the Jewish primary school.  
A list of pupils who finished secondary school in 1926 includes the following:  Rachel Rozenberg, Riva Gulak, Hanna Yodeikin, Bassa Michalovich, Cecilia Glick, Sora Yodeikin, Bella Lustgarten, Yankel Yodeikin, Leizer Yodeikin, Isaac Lis, Abel Tankel, Hanna Kolonaite, Sora Bleiman, Haya Guzaiate, Sora Masha Gulak, Sara Yodeikin, Hoda Kolon, Elka Rappaport, Ite Shpitz, Leizer Kantor, Simcha Yeverovich, Sara Levin, Leah Tremberg, Zelda Kantor, Ida Lions, Eglona Stein.   There were more school children. Rappaport’s daughter learned to play the piano.  Yoffe or Shalom the barber played the violin very well.   Rachel Rozenberg, teacher of Lithuanian language, married the eldest Mendelson, who followed the tradition of playing goalkeeper in the Maccabee football team and was a driver by occupation.   At this time the shops of Braude, Mandelstam and Kremer were popular.  Kremer was in competition with the largest shoe manufacturer in the town, P. Rimavich.  Itzik Kann made shoes together with Lithuanian colleagues.  Old David converted to Christianity.  He lived in the Old People’s Home.   The Strul brothers had an electricity generating plant and a mill.  Kviciu’s wife owned a well-known hotel.     The Zagare Lithuanian football team played against the local Maccabee team.    The head of the Tarbutzin  family was a member of the fire brigade.   During the Jewish holidays the Jews would get matza and other Jewish food.  Shabbat and religious customs aroused curiosity among the town people.

February 2009: Recent note from Allan Newstadt to Craig Coussins: My mother's mother was Sylvia Huda Kolon Lock, from Zagare,
and I found a picture labeled "Hoda Kolon" her youngest half sister, that my mother had stored away. 
I've attached the picture along with the back of the picture as it still has original Yiddish on it.

  

Note from Craig:  How wonderful and indeed astonishing that we can actually connect
                                 a face to the name

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The teacher Alexander Zalys recalls “Two sons of Girsha (Gershon?) studied in the same school with me.  Isaac was in my class.  He and I sat together.  He was small.  Samuel was one or two years older.  Both of them were quiet, well-behaved and were diligent students.  They had curly hair, freckled faces.  They played like all of us, they did not participate in scuffles.  I studied together with Peiski, seen in a class picture.  Shuke was one or two years older than me.  He studied in the higher level of the secondary school.  He was red-haired, he had a hooked nose, he was active and energetic.  So much for the school children.   What about the adults?  I did not have many contacts with them.  Ackerman of Old Zagare sat on the floor among his wares, during market days.  There was a saying like Ackerman.  He was fat, round-faced, badly dressed, without a beard.   Many Jews lived in Vilnius Street.   In the one narrow street leading to the Svete river only Jews lived .   Some of them lived around the market:  Yoffe, Braude, barber Sholem, the Melamed family.  Levin and Kadar’s houses were in the end of Dariaus-Gereno street.  Mendelson and Fridman lived in Vaitkaus Street.   Grain dealer Izikas lived on the corner from Bruzas side.  The Yodeikin family house and the Rabbi’s house were at the beginning of Kestucio Street.  In Slezo’s house lived a Jew, a mute, a shoe-maker by occupation.  There were two schools around the market place, like in Old Zagare..   During market day we could see Kadar’s balaga.  Another Jew sold beigele cakes.  My mother bought material, seeds, coffee and tea from Nochum’s wife (Mrs. Nochum). Gordon, Peretzman and other Jewish shops were near the market place.   Braude was the richest Jew.  His goods were of high quality, but he never agreed to lower his prices.  I studied with one of his sons.  He was younger than me, a student in a lower class. But he was naughty.  He gave the music teacher Lapienis the nickname “Bemolis,  we all hated him.”

“ The barber Shlomo worked in an old wooden building.  Now there is a grocery store there.  The walls were covered with painted scenes of battle.  There were pictures as though made by children, but large.   How could you not come to this place!   The barber spoke with his clients about international politics and news.   Germany had already attacked some European countries. I think that the barber Yoffe played the clarinet.  He was tall, had curly black hair, a hooked nose.   Zaleman’s house and shop were on the corner on the way to the post office.  In the shop was a big selection of iron work.  Strulis had a mill, plank work, a workshop for carding and fulling cloth, and painting work.   Between the wars Zagare had electricity supplied only until midnight..     The mill burned down in the winter of 1948 or 1949. The Melamed brothers were rich.  They bought Miezi’s  mill near Versis road.   They were serious competitors of Strulis.  But there was enough work for both mills.  Leichena had a carding workshop in Vilnius Street, and the Zagorski brothers had a woolshop. Leib Baitler was a supporter of the new communist government in the years 1940-1.  He was an associate of the School principal Macernis.  Yankel and Leizer Yodeikin, Sara Yodeikin , Sara Levit, Leizer Kanto, Elka Rapoport, Ita Spitz, Sore Bleiman, and others worked as teachers.           

 The Russian occupation was followed by the German occupation.  After the first repression in  June 1941, on October 2nd 1941 the genocide of the Jews was carried out.   The Jewish Ghetto occupied a large area on both sides of the river Svete.   2439 Jews from Jonisikis, Pakruojo, Pasvitinio, Kriuku, Zeimelio, Gruzdziu, Sakynos, Papiles and Kurseinu were killed .   Only those Jews who had escaped with the Bolsheviks survived. The family of T. and E. Livinskas in Zagare saved a Jewish woman. The Lisai brothers and 16 year old Itke hid themselves in a store and afterwards tried to escape in the direction of Versiai.   It was winter, almost the New Year. but they were not able to celebrate.

 Although most of the people of Zagare did not despise the Rabbis, or the unhappy Rachel, or the beautiful Lana, although they did not hear the complaining of old David and Yodeikin’s wife, the Jews still reproach (the people of Zagare) about how hopeless was the resistance of the Zagorski brothers.

 A.Zalys writes: “the teachers were sad that for some days there were no lessons.   At home my father asked me what was new.   I said “The Jews have been killed. “  My father answered, “The Germans are doing bad things.  God will not help.”   We went on studying at school without the Jews. The school principal Zienkavich mentioned the people killed by the Germans.  He did not mention any Jews, the teacher Kazys Macernis, the Rabbi, the Braude family and others.   The teachers could not , or they did not want (to speak about them).  They could not it is for sure  (A. Zalys).

 The years have passed.   Sometimes Yokubas Skliutauskas comes to Zagare searching for childhood memories.  We hear about the graphic artist Ada Skliutauskaite.  Sometimes it is possible to meet the teacher Baitler.  Isaac Mendelson’s family has already grandchildren.   The children of the Tiesnes family have grown up.  This spring Abromovich’s grandchild came to visit the grave of her aunt Nechama Nokumiene.    She also visited the synagogue, the cemetery, the Jewish school, and the killing place.    A monument to the physicist Kikoyin has been promised.  Lemchen’s Russian-Lithuanian dictionary is still used.  Perhaps someone will remember the last name of the writer Razumn..

 We are proud of the prize that was awarded to Mindaugas Kulbis in Stockholm for his photographs from Chechenya  in 1995,  as the best photo-reporter of the year.  He took these photos for Associated Press.  He started to work for this agency in 1991 when he sent pictures of Russian tanks in the streets of Vilnius.  It is impossible to express the horrors of war by pictures said M. Kulbis:  “I have a great desire to show it, or maybe there was an internal voice saying the horror repeats itself.”

 There were Jewish cemeteries in both parts of Zagare.  The old graves were still on the hill near Kruppin road.  On Smelio street one can still see the site of the graves.  The Jewish cemetery in New Zagare, is not used today.  There are just two stones in the end of Raktuve Street, and in the painful place of the park.

 In September 1997, Teresa and Edward Levinskai received an award for saving Jews.  The prize was given to their son Leonas Levinskai.

click map for a bigger picture

Please note that Kovno forms part of what we know as the Kaunis region.
  Zagare is in the border between Courland and the Livonian State

 Zagare part 1

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