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[Page 334]

Troškūnai (Trashkun)

55°36' 24°51'


Troškūnai (Trashkun in Yiddish) is located on the Juosta River in central Lithuania, about 35 kilometers southeast of the Ponevez (Panevezys) district administrative center. The town was two kilometers from the nearest railway station.

Trashkun is first mentioned in historical documents dating back to 1512. The town began to develop quickly after the king granted permission to hold weekly markets in 1748, which encouraged settlement of merchants and craftsmen. In 1869 there were fifty houses in Trashkun.

Until 1795 Trashkun was included in the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom. According to the third division of Poland in that year by the three superpowers of those times, Russia, Prussia and Austria, Lithuania was divided between Russia and Prussia. As with most other towns of Lithuania, Trashkun became part of the Russian Empire, first under the auspices of the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 under the Kovno Gubernia in the Vilkomir district. At that time and during the period of independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Trashkun was a county administrative center.

In 1904 a fire destroyed almost all the homes in Troshkun.



Jewish settlement until after World War I

The Jewish community in Trashkun began to form at the end of the eighteenth century. Two synagogues were opened; one adhered to the Mithnagdim tradition and the other to the Hasidic tradition. Between 1883 and 1890 Rabbi Benyamin Gitelzon (1851-1932) served the congregation. He published several books. One was printed in New York in 1898 and another in Jerusalem in 1904; both dealt with religious issues.

In 1885 Hayim Yosefovitz from Trashkun praised the Polish Nobleman Komar in the Hebrew newspaper HaMelitz for his donation of a large quantity of wheat to bake Matsoth for Pesakh.

At the end of the nineteenth century Jews made up the majority of the town's population. The all-Russian census of 1897 counted 1,221 people in Trashkun, 779 of them Jewish (64%). Their economic situation was tough, and the community institutions faced difficulties as well. In the 1890s the rabbi's pay was reduced from four Rubles per week to two Rubles. To improve his low wages he was offered a position as an Official Rabbi. This resulted into great communal controversy that created disagreement among the authorities. The story was published in HaMelitz at that time.

Before World War I there were forty-four Jewish tradesmen in the town: twelve shoemakers, seven builders, six tailors, six butchers, three carters, two carpenters, two tile workers, one milliner, one binder, one watchmaker, one blacksmith, one barber and one tinsmith. Three Jews practiced liberal professions.

During World War I, on July 13, 1915, Cossacks from the Russian army instigated a pogrom against Trashkun Jews and exiled them deep into Russia; their properties were looted and twenty-eight homes were totally destroyed.



During Independent Lithuania (1918-1940)

After the war and the establishment of an independent Lithuanian state in 1918, most of the exiles returned home and the Jewish community in Trashkun was rebuilt, but their numbers had decreased and so did the their percentage of the total population. According to the first government census of 1923, 877 people lived in the town, 424 of them being Jewish (48%).

Following passage of the Law of Autonomies for Minorities by the new Lithuanian government, the Minister for Jewish Affairs, Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections to community committees (Va'adei Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In 1921 a Va'ad (community committee) with seven members was elected in Trashkun. The committee worked in all fields of Jewish life until March 17, 1926 with the support of the Ministry of Jewish Affairs in Kovno. The chairman of the committee was Shelomoh Kovnovitz and its members were Rabbi Y. M. Shmukler, G. Shalomon, N. Haimovitz, Ts. Shefshelevitz and Y. Vinik.

According to the government survey of 1931 a total of seven shops and other businesses belonged to Jews at that time, including two heating fuel shops, one grocery, one leather shop, a wool combing workshop, a flour mill and an alcohol factory. Commercial activities were organized on Tuesdays, which was the weekly market day of Troshkun.

Seventeen people received financial support from the committee and twelve families received aid from their relatives abroad.

In the 1920s thirty Jews made their living in trade and twenty-eight (representing twelve families) were engaged in skilled work: five shoemakers, five tailors, five builders, four tile workers, two carpenters, two carters, two butchers, one watchmaker, one binder and one tinsmith. Some Jews were farmers.

According to the 1937 survey of the Association of Jewish Craftsmen there were forty-two skilled workers in Trashkun: thirteen shoemakers, six oven builders, three butchers, three carpenters, two tailors, two knitters, two barbers, two tinsmiths, one felt-boot maker, one watchmaker, one needle trade worker, one wood etcher, one milliner and four others. There was also a practicing Jewish doctor, Guta Zalk.


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A street in Trashkun


The Jewish People's Bank (Folksbank) played an important role in the economy of Trashkun Jews. In 1929 it counted 96 members. For many years it was chaired by the local rabbi Mosheh-Ya'akov Shmukler. Later he moved to the Kovno suburb of Shantz (Sanciai) and during Nazi rule he was a member of the Judenrat in the Kovno ghetto until his death. He was replaced by Eliezer Sheinkman as rabbi of Troshkun. The United Jewish Agrarian Credit Society ran a branch in the town as well.

In 1939 there were sixteen telephones listed: four of them belonged to Jewish trades people, and one was in the home of doctor Shtukarevitz.

The cultural life of Trashkun Jews centered around the Hebrew Tarbuth School and the library.

Cultural activities among the youth were run by the Youth Society, the Yiddishists Circle, the Z. S. (Zionists Socialists), by Hashomer HaTsair, Hehalutz and others. One famous personage born in Trashkun was Avraham Kotliarek (1857-1943) who migrated to America in 1888. He was the pioneer of Hebrew parody and satire in America.

Many Trashkun Jews were Zionists. Almost all Zionist parties had their supporters in the town. The table shows how the local Zionists voted in elections for the Zionist congresses:


Congress No. Year Total Shkalim Total Votes Labor Party
Z”S Z”Z
Revisionists General Zionists
A B
Grosmanists Mizrakhi
17 1931 28 22 18 2 2
18 1933 51 48 2 1
19 1935 116 95 1 20
21 1939 24 23 N.B. 1




During World War II and afterwards

In June 1940, Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new regulations, light industry enterprises owned by Jews were nationalized. The supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore the brunt and the standard of living dropped gradually. All the Zionist parties were disbanded and the Hebrew school was closed. A Jew named Shemuel Kovanovitz served as secretary of the local Communist party.

In 1940 about 900 Jewish families resided in Trashkun.

Following the German invasion into Lithuania on June 22, 1941 many Trashkun Jews tried to escape to the Soviet Union, but only a few succeeded.

After a few days control of town was taken over by local armed Lithuanian nationalists. They began to rob and murder their Jewish neighbors. Jewish youngsters were taken to the Jewish cemetery and ordered to dig pits. Immediately after they had finished, they were shot and buried in these pits. Several Jews, Asher Shmidt, Perl and Hayim Shumakher, Feige and Menahem Krasovsky, tried to resist their murderers and were killed. In July the Jews were ordered to leave their homes and move into the small homes near the bathhouse where the poorest people had lived.

On August 21 or 22, 1941 all Trashkun Jews were led by heavily armed Lithuanian guards to the Pajuoste Forest, not far from Ponevezh. In this forest was the murder site of all Jews from the surrounding areas; the mass murder took place on August 23, 1941 (30th of Av 5701).

Only a few Jews survived. Some managed to escape to the Soviet Union in the first days of the war and joined the Red Army.

After the war a monument to the Jews murdered in summer of 1941 was built. In the early 1990s a new monument was erected with the inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “In this place in 1941, the Hitler murderers with their local helpers murdered Trashkun Jews, men, women and children.” Below, an inscription in Lithuanian follows: “Let their memory be sacred.” At the old Jewish cemetery in Trashkun a monument was built with the inscriptions in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “The old Jewish cemetery. Let the memory of the deceased be sacred.”


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The monument at the Jewish cemetery


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The Jewish cemetery in Trashkun


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The monument in Pajuoste


Sources:

Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, files 145,147
Oral History Division of the Contemporary Jewry Institution, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Interview #12/104
YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Jewish Communities, files 466-472
Levin, Dov, Trashkun, Pinkas Hakehiloth-Lita; Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 1996
HaMelitz, St. Petersburg; 18.3.1885; 11.11.1885; 16.12.1886
Dos Vort, Kovno; 26.12.1934
Folksblat, Kovno;18.4.1939;19.11.1940


The above article is an excerpt from “Protecting Our Litvak Heritage” by Josef Rosin. The book contains this article along with many others, plus an extensive description of the Litvak Jewish community in Lithuania that provides an excellent context to understand the above article. Click here to see where to obtain the book.

http://yurburgfriends.com/Rosin/Heritage.html


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