Tytuvėnai (Tsitevyan in Yiddish) is situated in central Lithuania, in the Zamut (Žemaitija) region, about 24 kilometers north of the district administrative center Rasein (Raseniai). The town is surrounded by forests and lakes and people visited it as a resort. The name of the town, Tytuvėnai, appears on a map of Europe that was published in the second half of the fifteenth century. In 1724 the town was granted a permit to hold a yearly fair.
Until 1795 Tsitevyan was included in the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom. According
to the third division of Poland in the same year by the three superpowers of
those times, Russia, Prussia and Austria, Lithuania was divided between Russia
and Prussia. As was the case with most other towns of Lithuania, Tsitevyan
became part of the Russian Empire, first within the province (Gubernia) of
Vilna and from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia. During this period and also
in the period of independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Tsitevyan was a county
administrative center in the Raseiniai district.
Jewish settlement until World War II
The first Jews probably settled in Tsitevyan in the nineteenth century. Before World War I about 60 Jewish families lived in the town and they made their living in agriculture and the small trades. Jews dealt also in the production of tar from timber.
One Tsitevyan donor for the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael was named in the Hebrew newspaper HaMelitz in 1898 (see Appendix 1).
During World War I, in 1915, Tsitevyan Jews were expelled from the town by the Russian rulers, but most returned home the same year. After the war many migrated to South Africa and a few migrated to Eretz-Yisrael.
After the war and the establishment of the Lithuanian state in 1918, the new Lithuanian government passed the Law of Autonomies for Minorities. 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 Tsitevyan a Va'ad (community committee) with five members was elected. The committee was active for several years in all fields of Jewish life.
Tsitevyan Jews took part in the elections for the first Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) in October 1922. From the three Jewish lists that participated, the Zionists received 23 votes, while Akhduth (Agudath Yisrael) and the Democrats received three votes each.
During this period most of the Tsitevyan Jews (70%) were farmers, the remainder were shopkeepers, peddlers and craftsmen. An important source of livelihood was the multitude of visitors who came each summer to vacation in the nearby forests.
The first government census in 1923 counted 1,164 residents in Tsitevyan, 221 being Jewish (19%).
According to the government survey of 1931 three textile shops and one heating fuel shop were in Jewish hands. The same survey showed that Tsitevyan Jews owned a wool combing workshop in the town and a flourmill and a sawmill in the county.
|Jewish girls in a field of Tsitevyan|
In 1937 thirteen Jewish artisans were employed in the town: four butchers, three potters, two bakers, one glazier, one tailor, one shoemaker and one other.
The Jewish People's Bank (Folksbank) had 49 members in 1920, but closed after a few years.
Jewish boys received their elementary education at the local Heder and continued their studies at the Yeshivoth in the nearby towns. The girls studied at the Hebrew Yavneh school. The town had a library with Hebrew and Yiddish books. An active Ezrah welfare society was run by the Jewish women.
Many Tsitevyan Jews were Zionists and included supporters of almost all the Zionist parties. From the 85 Zionists who voted for the nineteenth (1935) Zionist congress, 42 gave their votes for the Labor party, 4 voted for the General Zionist A, 12 voted for the General Zionist B, 8 voted for the Grosmanists and 19 voted for the Mizrahi party.
There were a synagogue and a Beth-Midrash in the town. One of these was built in the 1880s.
Among the rabbis who officiated in Tsitevyan were:
Tsevi-Ya'akov Openheim (1854-1926), served in Tsitevyan 1881-1882, published several books on the Talmud.
Avraham-Aharon Burshtein (1867-1926) at the age of twenty-four became the rabbi in Tsitevyan, where he served for a short time. From 1924 he lived in Eretz-Yisrael and was the head of the yeshivah Merkaz Harav in Jerusalem.
Yosef Zif until 1913
Ya'akov Kamenetzky, from 1926 in Tsitevyan, later head of the Yeshivah Torah veDa'ath in New York
Avraham-Azriel Medin, in Tsitevyan from 1938, murdered in 1941 together with his community.
Tsitevyan Jews were proud of the Gaon and Tsadik rabbi Leib Tsigler (Leib Hosid) from Vertyan who lived in their town and was also accepted by the secular Jews. He died at the age of 70 and it is believed that 12 rabbis and 4,000 people from the region attended his funeral.
Zerakh Barnet (1843-1935) was born and grew up in Tsitevyan. In 1872 he emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael and was one of the founders of Petakh Tikvah and the Neve Shalom quarter in Yaffo.
With the annexation of Lithuania to the Soviet Union in summer 1940, some Jewish shops and other businesses were nationalized. The Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded. The Hebrew schools were closed. At this time about 50 Jewish families lived in the town.
On June 22, 1941 the German army invaded the Soviet Union, and on the very next day they entered Tsitevyan. Local Lithuanian activists immediately began to abuse the Jews. They murdered several Jewish men and buried them in the nearby forest about two kilometers from the town; this was called the Shapiro Forest after the doctor Shapiro, who promoted this forest as a place for healing and recreation. After a few days the Lithuanians burned all the religious books from the Beth Midrash and also the private library of the local rabbi Avraham-Azriel Medin. They detained several Jewish men together with the rabbi and took them away to the prison in Rasein where they were murdered.
Until August 12, 1941, the Jews remained in their houses and were taken out for various work. A Lithuanian resident warned his Jewish acquaintances to leave everything and escape to the Shavl ghetto, because all local Jews were to be murdered, but nobody believed him. They thought that he wanted to steal their property.
One night, apparently on August 12, 1941 (19th of Av 5701) the Lithuanian auxiliary police arrived in the town. They forced all the Jews from their homes, crowded them into trucks and drove them to the Shapiro Forest where they were murdered and buried. A few managed to escape the massacre and made their way to the Shavl ghetto. Their fate was ultimately that of the other ghetto Jews.
According to Soviet-Lithuanian sources the bodies of 140 men, women and children were found in the mass grave.
After the war a monument was erected on the mass grave. In the early 1990s a new monument was built with the inscription in Yiddish, Hebrew and Lithuanian: In this place the Hitlerist murderers and their local helpers murdered 140 Jewish men, heroes, on June 25, 1941.
|The mass grave and the monument to the Tsitevyan men|
on the mass grave of the men
|The mass grave of the elders, women and children|
Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, M-1/E-1700/1568; M-9/15(6); Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, file 54
Di Yiddishe Shtime, Kovno, 22.8.1930
Yiddisher Lebn, Kovno-Telz, #162,3.6.1938
|SHEIN||Shlomo Yakov father
of Aba Heshil of Taurage
|Rabbi Gaon ABD||Tytuvėnai, Lith.||1898|
The above article is an excerpt from Protecting Our Litvak Heritage by Josef Rosin. The book contains this article along with many others, plus an extensive description of the Litvak Jewish community in Lithuania that provides an excellent context to understand the above article. Click here to see where to obtain the book.
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