“Butrimonys” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania

54° 29' / 24°16'

Translation of the “Butrimonys” chapter
from Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Nechama Borochson-Kaufman and Josef Rosin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1996




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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Lita: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Lithuania,
Editor: Prof. Dov Levin, Assistant Editor: Josef Rosin, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.


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(Pages 163-166)

Butrimonys

Written by Nechama Borochson-Kaufman and Josef Rosin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

(Yiddish, Butrimants, Baltromants; Russian, Butrimantsi; Polish, Butrymance)

A county town in the Alytus district.

Year General
Population
Jews %
1760 .. 282 ..
1861 1,827 .. ..
1897 2,394 1,919 80
1923 1,631 943 58
1941 .. 750 ..

Butrimonys is located in southern Lithuania, about 20 km northeast of Alytus, the district's city. It is first mentioned as a village in 1699 and then as a town in 1720. The town, which encompassed a lot of agricultural land, was the property of the Tishkewitz aristocratic family until 1850 and after that to the Bogatki, Venorovski and the Moravski families. A few hundred Tatar families that worked in agriculture were settled on this land. Butrimonys later became a central town with 73 villages in its domain. Butrimonys was known as a center that had fairs; in addition, the inhabitants made their living from bagels and from processing leather. During the period of Russian rule (1795 – 1915) the town belonged to the Vilnius Gubernia (region) and to the Trakai district. The town was also the center of the subdistrict during the period of Independent Lithuania (1918 – 1940).

Until After World War I

The Butrimonys community was one of the first communities in Lithuania. Most of the Jews made their living from labor, commerce, peddling and agriculture. Many of them leased land and grew vegetables and fruit. One of the wealthiest persons in the community was Velvalle Shimches, who leased many estates. In 1869 a big fire broke out in the town and hundreds of Jewish inhabitants suffered losses and needed help from abroad. The association known as “Supporting the Needy in Russia and Poland” transferred 500 rubles to the impoverished in the town. As was customary, the Jewish children in the town received their education in a “Heder”. During the 1880's, the spirit of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) reached the town. A group of young Jews made a petition to the “Committee for Spreading the Haskalah” in Odessa and received books from them. At the end of the 1890's many educational and cultural activities flourished in the town. The association for “Spreading the Haskalah” from Petersburg sent 200 books to their library that was opened next to Dr. Schneider's private school. It had 50 pupils who studied in the Russian language.

Butrimonys had a Yeshiva. It was headed by the Rabbinical Judge of the town, Rabbi Yoseph Yankelvitz. Among the Rabbis who served in Butrimonys were: Rabbi Eliezer Shtrashun, author of the books “Pillar of Fire” (Warsaw, 5672 [1911]) and “The Fire of Religion”.

In 1885, the “Bikur Holim” association hired a doctor who stayed and lived in the town. The “Gemilut Hesed” (Charity) was established in 1886 with a capital of 500 rubles. It was donated by a local rich man by the name of Nahum Leibowitz. In 1894, the building of the big Beit Midrash was completed. It was built as a Beit Khoma structure.

Jews from Butrimonys emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael even before “Hibbat Zion” (Lovers of Zion) did. The Mount of Olives cemetery has at least two headstones of Jews from Butrimonys who passed away in the second half of the 19th century. The Zionist idea gained many Jewish supporters in the town during the period of “Hibbat Zion”. In 1898, a Zionist society was founded in the town. Its members were both Maskilim and ultra-orthodox and it was headed by Rabbi Eliezer Shtrashun, the town's local Rabbi. The society was linked to the regional center in Trakai and it sent representatives to all of the Zionist conventions in the area. The “Daughters of Zion” association in the town was involved, among other things, in studying the history of the Jewish people. Mrs. A. Cohen was the teacher. The lists of donators for settling Eretz-Yisrael that was published in the “Hamelitz” mention many Jews from Butrimonys. The 1903 list of donators for the fund for buying land in Erez-Yisrael also mention the names of Jews from Butrimonys. This list was also published in the “Hamelitz”.

The Period of Independent Lithuania

A few dozen Jews left the town during WWI, but apart from that the town did not change much. In 1919, the community received 7000 marks from the Jewish Aid Committee ("Yekopo") in Vilnius. A year later the aid grew to 67,000 marks.

In accordance with the law of autonomy for the Jews that was legislated by the government of Independent Lithuania, a ruling committee of 7 members was voted for in Butrimonys. The committee was active in most areas of Jewish life in the town for a number of years. A. Zofnat and P. Olitzki were among the active members in the committee. In 1924, 26 members were elected to the town's council: 5 of them were Jews. They joined the Lithuanian People's Party and together constituted a majority in the council.

The Jews of Butrimonys made their living through commerce, crafts and light industry. According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census there were 25 businesses in Butrimonys, 24 of them (96%) were owned by Jews. The division into business branches is shown in the table below:

Branch or Type of Business Total Owned
by
Jews
Groceries 5 5
Butcher shops and cattle trade 2 2
Restaurants and taverns 1 1
Beverages 1 1
Clothing, furs and textiles 2 2
Haberdashery and house utensils 5 5
Medicine and cosmetics 3 2
Radios, bicycles and sewing machines 1 1
Tools and iron products 4 4
Miscellaneous 1 1

According to the same census, Jews owned 7 industrial factories: 2 wool carding factories, a shoe factory, a soda water factory, a flourmill, a bakery and a power station.

In 1937, Butrimonys had 47 Jewish artisans: 11 shoemakers, 7 blacksmiths, 7 butchers, 5 tailors, 4 bakers, 2 glaziers, 2 barbers, 2 stitchers, an oven maker, a hat maker, a seamstress, a knitter, a leather worker, a watchmaker and 2 others. The town had a Jewish dentist already in 1925. The "Folksbank" had 320 members in the town and it played an important role in the economic life of the Jews of Butrimonys. The “Gemilut Hesed” (Charity) association was also active in the town and many relied on its services. The “Volunteer Firefighters Association”, whose members were mostly Jews, was also active, among other things, in providing mutual aid.

In 1939, there were 26 telephones in Butrimonys, 13 of them belonged to Jews. The Hebrew school that was part of the “Tarbut” network was founded in the town in May 1920. This was made possible through the initiative of the local “Tzeirei-Zion” party, funding provided by the community members, donations from the United States and the local community council. Due to a political dispute within the community council, teachers from the “Yavne” network managed the school during its second academic year. In 1923, the school returned to the “Tarbut” network, and it was managed by D. Vinitzki. 170 pupils studied in the school in 1940. The traditional “Heder”, managed by the local branch of “Agudat Yisrael”, continued its activities alongside this school. The town had a library with 700 books in Hebrew and Yiddish. It was managed by the local branch of the Z”S Labor Party.

Butrimonys had 2 Batei Midrash where the worshippers could pray. It also had a public bath and a society for hosting quests. The Rabbi during this period was Rabbi Avraham-Moshe Vitkind, author of the book "Toafot Re'em” (Kaunas, 1923). Rabbi Vitkind was the community's last Rabbi.

Many of the Jews of Butrimonys belonged to the Zionist camp. Most Zionist parties had supporters in the town. The division of votes to the Zionist Congresses in the 1920's and 1930's in Butrimonys was as shown in the table below (in 1931 the elections were held in the synagogue):

Congress
Nr.
Year Total
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
Revisionists General
Zionists
Grosmanists Mizrachi
Z”S Z”Z A B
14 1925 40                
15 1927 75 66 1 31 20 4     1
16 1929 157 84 11 47 10 8     8
17 1931 180 156 59 59 49 5     6
18 1933 .. 253 142 55 12   36 8
19 1935 .. 206 152   1 4   49

The Zionist Youth Organizations that were active in Butrimonys were: “Gordonia” with 70-80 members and “Betar” with 60 members. Sport activities were held by the “Maccabi” branch, which had 30 members.

“Agudat Yisrael” and “The Folksparty” were also active in the town. Furthermore, it was known that the town had an underground communist cell and many of its members were Jews.

Among those who were born in Butrimonys were: Rabbi Meir Simkha Hacohen (died in 1926), who served as a Rabbi in Dvinsk and was the author of “Meshech Khochma” and “Or Sameach”; the author Henry Horovitz (1886 – 1961), who published many books in English; the teacher, author and translator Kadish-Yehuda Silman, one of the founders of the Hebrew Gymnasia in Jerusalem and one of the founders of the “Beit Kerem” suburb there. He published over 20 books on national Hebrew songs, on children's literature and he translated Yiddish plays into Hebrew; Dr. Aharon Peretz (Perzikovitz, born in 1910), was a professor in the medical school next to the Institute of Technology in Haifa, Head of the Gynecological department in the Rambam Hospital in Haifa, and published two books on his experiences in the Holocaust and “Ha'apala” (illegal immigration to Israel toward the end of the British Mandate period).

During World War II and Afterwards

In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union. The new regime nationalized most of the shops and factories that belonged to the Jews. The Zionist parties and the youth organizations were disbanded. Hebrew education was also eliminated. The middle class, composed mostly of Jews, suffered a severe setback.

Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. A few days later the Germans entered Butrimonys. The Germans left only a small unit in the town and it was immediately joined by local Lithuanians and defectors from the Red Army. They started torturing the Jews – beatings, rapes, stealing and forced labor. The first Jewish victim was Yitzhak Shimelevitz. He was wounded while attempting to escape. The Lithuanian who shot him prevented others from helping him and kept guarding him until it was clear that the wounded man was dead.

In addition to the imposed forced labor that was intended to humiliate the Jews, armed local Lithuanians, who called themselves “Partisans” forced the Jews of the town and their Rabbi, Rabbi Vitkind, to smash the windows of the Beit Midrash, to tear the Holy Scriptures and to burn them.

In the middle of July, 1941, an order was given that the Jews must go to work in the peasants' farms in the area. They had to do so without any compensation. But a few days after the Germans left the town, the Lithuanian “Partisans” ordered the Jews to return to their homes. On August 12, 1941, all of the Jews who were above 15 years old were called to the town's square. 83 men and 17 young women were taken from this group and were sent to Alytus where they were exterminated. During the night between the 21st and the 22nd of August, another 115 young Jews were sent to Alytus in the same manner. On the 29th of August, the Jews of the nearby town of Punia were brought to Butrimonys and on the very same day all of the Jews were assembled into a sort of Ghetto within two streets – the Tataric street and the Klidziai street. On the 7th of September, Jews from Stakliskes and from Birstonas arrived in Butrimonys. On Tuesday, September 9, 1941 (17 Elul, 5702), all the Jews were assembled at the end of Klidziai street, right next to the village of Klidzioniai, where 2 large pits were prepared for them. 40 armed Lithuanians shot and killed, in a matter of a few hours, 1,400 Jews from Butrimonys and from the surrounding area.

The Yad Vashem Archives has a farewell letter that was written by a local Jew by the name of Khane Boiarski and his son Avraham. The archives received it through Rebecca Bogomolova Luzanska, who was born in Butrimonys and moved to Vilnius after the war. The letter was given to one of the farmers in a village next to Butrimonys so that he may preserve it. The two writers themselves wandered through the villages in the area until the summer of 1943 and then were murdered by Lithuanians. The letter, written in Yiddish, describes in detail what happened to him and his family from the day the war broke out until the Jews of Butrimonys were exterminated. It is a severe accusation against the Nazi occupiers and the Lithuanian neighbors, their collaborators. The letter also includes a list of 29 towns in the area without any Jews in them by the time the letter was written, on October 2, 1941. The letter also includes a list of the names of 183 Jewish families that lived in Butrimonys. Rebecca Luzanska writes in her letter that the Lithuanian who was responsible for killing of the Jews of Butrimonys (his name is kept in the Yad Vashem Archives) escaped to Canada and lives there without having to stand to trial.

A few of the Jews who were born in Butrimonys and visited the town after the war found the field of slaughter being used as a pasture for cows. The group of survivors received a permit and built 2 memorials on the two mass graves. A few years later, when they once again visited the place, they discovered that the memorials were destroyed; they restored and reinstated them. In 1992, a marble tablet was added to the memorials with an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “The blood of 965 Jewish men and women was spilled here; they were brutally murdered by the Nazis and their helpers in the months of July – September 1941”.

Bibliography

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, 1537, 0-33/1503; 1405/178, M-1/Q-1341/145.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1788, 55/1701, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: file 1510.
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 2.3.1882, 19.11.1883, 24.4.1898, 24.10.1899, 8.5.1900, 2.7.1900.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] – (Kovno), 29.10.1924.
Folksblatt [The People's Newspaper] – (Kovno), 16.4.1939.
In the Paths of Education (Kovno), May 1940.
Hazofe (Tel Aviv), 1.10.1944.
Raz, Vladimir & Shekhter, Yakov, Yesli zabudu – Dokumentalnaya povest oggibeli yevreiskovo mestetshka.
Butrimonisa v Litve,
Jerusalem, 5745 (1985)

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