“Girkalnis” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Lithuania)

55° 19' / 23° 13'

Translation of the “Girkalnis” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by 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 191-192)

Girkalnis

In Yiddish, Girtegole; in Russian, Girtakol

Written by Josef Rosin

Translated by Shimon Joffe

A county town in the Raseiniai district.

Year General
Population
Jews %
1841 442 .. ..
1897 648 530 82
1923 .. 213 ..
1939 600 ~27
families
..

Girkalnis lies in the middle of Lithuania, approximately 10 km. south-west of the district town Raseiniai and some 2 km. south-west of the Kovno-Memel highway. Girkalnis is mentioned in ancient sources after the fifteenth century. After 1745, Girkalnis served as a county center, its land and the land of the county belonged to the Zhamut (Samogitia) bishops. During the period of Russian rule, it was included in the Vilna province and after 1843 it became part of the Kovno province. During the First World War, 1915-1918, the town was occupied by the Germans. During the period of Lithuanian independence (1918-1940) it served as a district center.

The Jewish community until the Second World War

At the end of the nineteenth century some 500 Jews lived in the town and constituted an overwhelming majority of the inhabitants. During the period of Lithuanian independence the number of Jews there kept falling, and before the Russo-German war, only some 27 Jewish families remained in the town.

With the declaration of Lithuanian independence and Jewish autonomy, elections took place in August 1919 to a community council. Out of 200 eligible electors, 72 voted. A council of 7 members was elected; 3-representing Akhdut (Agudat Yisrael), 1-General Zionist, 1-Young Zionists, 1- Young Yisrael, 1- independent. In the elections in 1921, a council of 5 was elected, all independents.

In the elections to the Lithuanian Seimas held in October 1922, Girkalnis Jewry Jews voted as follows; Zionists-92, Akhdut-6 and Democrats - 1.

The Girkalnis Jews occupied themselves chiefly with trade, and to a lesser extent with craftwork and farming. A survey conducted by the Lithuanian government in 1931 found 3 textile shops and one grocery owned by Jews, as well as two meat shops, one smith and two others. In 1939, there were 8 telephones in the town, only one belonging to a Jew.

The great majority of Girkalnis supported the Zionist cause and in the elections to the Zionist congresses, voted for most of the parties. The results to the elections are given below:

 

Congress
No
Year No. of
Shekels
Total
Votes
Labor
No
Revis-
ionist
General
Zionists
State
Party
Mizrachi
Z S Zts. A B
15 1927 3 3 - - 1 2 - - -
19 1935 .. 50 20 - 13 5 - 12
21 1939 29 27 3 - 20 - 4 -

Religious life revolved around the local study house. Among the rabbis who officiated in Girkalnis were; Rabbi Yehuda Leib Oppenheim, Rabbi Shmuel Naftaly Halevi Epstein, author of the book Imrei Shefer, (Wise Aphorisms), Rabbi Meir Stolevitz (from 1903), wrote the book 'From the House of Meir', (Warsaw -Jerusalem), emigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1933 and became the Rabbi of the Zikhron Moshe suburb in Jerusalem and died in Jerusalem. Rabbi Itskhak-Eizik Broide, later a rabbi in the USA, Rabbi Yakov -Moshe Lesin (from 1922), the last Rabbi in Girkalnis was Rabbi Haim-Itskhak Osovsky, who was murdered together with his flock by Lithuanian nationalists during the Shoah.

During the Second World War and afterwards

After the annexation of Lithuania to the Soviet Union and it becoming a Soviet republic in 1940, most of the Jewish-owned shops were nationalized and the Zionist parties were disbanded.

On the very first day of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the local Lithuanians took control of the town. They took out the holy books from the study house, trampled them underfoot and danced upon them. They pulled the rabbi into the street, maltreated him, pulled his beard together with the skin of his face and left him beaten and bloody. Groups of Lithuanians, with white ribbons on their sleeves, harassed the town Jews. They collected a number of men and five elderly women, led them out of town, and shot them.

A few days later they put all the local Jews, 120 men, women and children, into three houses which belonged to local Jewish families and kept them incarcerated for a week without food. On August 21, the tortured and feeble Jews were taken out and dragged to a distance of about half a kilometer from the village Kurpiskes. There they were forced to undress and then shot. Some peasants of the area surrounding Girkalnis hid a few Jews and were arrested for this deed.

According to Soviet sources, a mass grave was found after the war, near Kurpiskis, 10 km. south east of Raseiniai, containing 1600-1650 bodies. It may be assumed that the murdered Girkalnis Jews were among them. At the beginning of the nineties a memorial was erected at the site of the mass grave with an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian. At the same time, a memorial stone was placed at the site which used to be the cemetery of the Girkalnis Jewish community with the following inscriptions in Yiddish and Lithuanian 'Ancient Jewish Cemetery, holy is the memory of the deceased'.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, Koniukhovsky Collection 0-71, file 42.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
Di Yiddishe Shtime [The Jewish Voice] – (Kaunas), 2.9.1919.
Naujienos (Chicago), 19.8.1949.

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