“Daugai” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania

54° 22' / 24° 20'

Translation of the “Daugai” chapter
from Pinkas Hakehillot Lita

Written by Dov Levin

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 202- 204)

Daugai

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shaul Yannai

(Yiddish, Doig; Russian, Daugi)

A county town in the Alytus district.

YearGeneral
Population
JewsPercentage
173030
families
....
1847..389..
1880833....
18971,288511
families
40
1914..110
families
60
19231,15336331
19361,200396 (95
families)
33
19591,2873
families
0.2

Daugai is located on the peninsula of Lake Daugai in southeast Lithuania, about 70 km southeast of Vilnius. The first time the settlement is mentioned in historical sources was in the 14th century. During the following centuries, Daugai became known as a hunting site of the princes of Lithuania. Subsequently, Daugai developed as a town, but it was completely destroyed during the wars and from the severe hunger that struck the area during 1708-1710. The settlement was rehabilitated during the coming decades and in 1784 it already had 2 streets, 55 houses, 2 inns, a market and a church. In 1792, Daugai received the Magdeburg Rights. During the second half of the 19th century, two flourmills, a sawmill and a few workshops were established in the town. Many of the town's residents made their living from fishing in the lake of Daugai. During the 1890's, the construction of a railway line and a road near the town, boosted its economic development. During the period of Russian Rule (1915-1918), Daugai was administratively within the region of Vilnius and was the center of the sub district. During WWI, from 1915-1918, the town was under German rule. During the period of Independent Lithuania and later, Daugai also served as the center of the sub district.

The Jewish Settlements Until World War II

Apparently, the first Jews to settle in Daugai were peddlers and artisans who came to the town at the end of the 16th century. The Jewish community in the town was established at the end of the 18th century. Religious and social life concentrated mostly around the Bet Midrash. The Jews of Daugai maintained strong ties with the religious and cultural community institutions in Vilnius. One of Daugai's renowned Rabbis, who served in its rabbinate for 40 years until his death in 1900 (5661), was Rabbi Avraham-Tzvi HaCohen Katz, the son of the head of the Ramailes Yeshiva in Vilnius, Rabbi Shemuel-Isar HaCohen Katz. Ben-Zion (1875-1958), one of the sons of Rabbi Avraham-Tzvi HaCohen Katz, became famous as a great Talmudic scholar, author and journalist. He lived and worked in Eretz-Yisrael from 1931. Daugai's last Rabbi was Rabbi Nakhum Sher.

Most of the Jews made their livelihood by working on the farms in the villages in the surrounding areas and from fishing in nearby lakes. Jews who owned wagons used to transport the fish to Vilnius. Perhaps that is the reason why the Jews of Daugai were nicknamed the “Doiger Shtinkes” (the small fish of Doig).

In 1905, a big fire destroyed all of Daugai's houses, except two. The two Batei Midrash, including its 8 Torah books, also burned down.

Many of those who were born in Daugai emigrated to the United States and to other countries. After they established themselves economically in their new countries, they used to send money to support their families that remained in Daugai. The number of Jews who made their livelihood from fruit orchards increased during the last years before WWI.

The Zionist movement had many supporters in Daugai. 60 Jews from Daugai are mentioned in 1914 as donors for settling Eretz-Yisrael. Their delegate was D. Illgovski.

The German army conquered the town in WWI and many refugees, especially from Vilnius, found refuge in Daugai. The Jews of the town welcomed them warmly. The Jewish “YekoPa” association (the Vilnius council for helping Jews who were hurt in the war) provided much help to absorb the refugees. The aid continued also during the first years of Independent Lithuania's rule. During the first half of the 1920's, the aid amounted to 59,000 marks and was allocated as follows: 9,000 for food; 1,000 for feeding children; 14,000 for cultural activities; 3,800 for medical aid; 18,000 for establishing a savings system; 2,800 for encouraging work; 6,000 for matzas for Passover; 2,900 for the homeless. Non-Jews also contributed to the town's public life and took part in helping the refugees who settled in Daugai. At that time, a library was opened in the town, a soup kitchen for a reduced fee, a school and more. The Hebrew teacher in the school was the poet Yisrael Ma-Yafit, the son of Rabbi Efraim-Nisan Ma-Yafit, the town's Rabbi.

A community committee, which was elected by a secret ballot, was active in Daugai during the early 1920's. In 1925, half of the town burned down. Most of the Jews who were hurt economically by the fire were rehabilitated through aid from the Joint.

According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census Jews owned in the town: 3 cloth shops, a crops store, a store for iron goods and work tools, and a pharmacy. In addition to the above, Jews also owned: 3 inns, a few sewing stores, and a shoe store.

According to the same census, Jews also owned in Daugai: 5 shoe factories, 2 wool carders, 2 bakeries, a paint shop and a flourmill. According to the Jewish National Banks census from 1937, the following artisans were active in the town: 8 shoemakers, 5 tailors, 4 blacksmiths, 4 sewers, 3 butchers, 2 leather workers, a baker, a carpenter, a barber, a painter and one other. In addition to those, the town had: 2 women seamstresses, an oven builder and chimney cleaner, a hat maker and others. One family (the Levinson family) owned a farm and engaged in agriculture. 7 other families used to lease fruit gardens. In addition to all of the above, there were Jews who worked in other fields: 3 fishermen, 4 peddlers who peddled in the villages and one who had a truck.

The Jews of the town began leaving Daugai after the Lithuanians started to pressure the Jewish merchants, artisans and farmers. They moved either to bigger cities in Lithuania or abroad, including to Eretz-Yisrael. Some of the younger people returned to Daugai and later perished in the Holocaust. Those who remained continued to struggle for their livelihood. Some of them received financial credit from the Jewish National Bank in the town, which had 148 members in 1927. Several families continued to receive aid from their families in America. Most of the Jewish children attended the Hebrew school that was established by the “Tarbut” network. The town also had a drama club which used to stage Jewish plays.

The “Volunteer Firefighters Association” was established in Daugai at that time. Most of its members were Jews. Most of the players in the town's soccer team were Jews.

The Zionist organizations played an important role in the social life of Daugai, as they did in other towns in Lithuania. Among the Zionist Youth Organizations in the town were “HeKhalutz”, “Beitar” and “Benei Akiva”. Fundraising campaigns for the Keren Kayement LeYisrael and Keren HaYesod also took place in the town. The results of the elections to the two Zionist Congresses are shown in the table below:

Congress
Nr.
YearTotal
Shekalim
Total
Voters
Labor
Part
Revisi-
onsists
General
Zionists
Grosm-
anists
Mizrachi
Z”SZ”ZAB
181933..492613--73
191935..17793-32132811

Among those who were born in Daugai were the members of the Illgovski family, whose descendants were in the construction business in Lithuania and who became known for their wealth. One of them, David Ben Reuven-Zelig, who was one of the founders of the “Yiddishe Shtime”, emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael and became a leader in growing citrus orchards, industry and construction; another, Avraham Aharoni (1908-1991), was one of the pioneers in tourism who exploited the Dead Sea for healing purposes and was the developer of the Hamei Zohar site.

During World War II and Afterwards

During the period of Soviet rule (1940-1941), all Zionist activities were forbidden in the town as in the rest of Lithuania, and the economic activities went through far-reaching changes. Several families were expelled to Siberia.

The owners of orchards also found it difficult to find work in a nationalized economy.

German soldiers already entered Daugai on the first day of the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. Under the patronage of the Germans, groups of local armed Lithuanians started harassing their Jewish neighbors. A report from July 6, 1941, by the local commander of the police, states that 42 people, 30 of whom were Jews, were arrested after being accused of belonging to or sympathizing with the communist camp. All of them, and many of their family members, were shot to death. The Lithuanians stole Jewish property and some of them also harassed Jewish women.

About a week later, a number of young Jews were arrested on the pretext that they were being taken to clean the market square. But all of a sudden they were surrounded by a large group of armed Lithuanians who led them towards Alytus. The mothers of the young Jews quickly prepared for them food and clothing, but as they approached the place where the young Jews were assembled they heard an extremely loud noise. It was the noise of a tractor working at full throttle in order to drown the sound of the shooting as the young Jews were being murdered.

At the end of August, 1941, they started to expel the remaining Jews in the town. In order to prevent panic and resistance, the Jews were promised that they will not be harmed and that they were being transferred to Alytus, where they will live and work. But in spite of those calming words, there were Jews, such as Efraim Gozhanski, who physically resisted the murderers. Yokheved Shkliarski hurled at them harsh words and shouted, among others things: “You will see, our blood will be avenged!” On the way to Alytus, in the Vidzgiris Forest, the Jews were forced to undress, were pushed into deep ditches that were prepared in advance, and were shot to death. Many thousands of other Jews from the surrounding areas and from other places met their death in the same place and in the same way.

After the war, a memorial was erected on the mass grave and on it an inscription in Lithuanian: “Passerby, stop and think! Here lie 60,000 men, women and children, innocent people who were shot by Fascists.” In the summer of 1993, a memorial for the Jewish victims, shaped as a Magen David, was erected in the murder location.

Only a few of Daugai's Jews managed to escape their bitter fate. Two women, Miriam Halpern-Bautner and Dina Levinson, hid around Daugai. They were helped by a Lithuanian teacher and an estate owner. Dina Levinson later joined the anti-Nazi partisan unit. Khaya Kaplan-Mirvis hid in the Pamushe estate and survived. According to a Lithuanian source, 3 of Daugai's Jews hid in the village of Dushkunai, helped by residents of that village. According to the same source, the Germans arrested a resident of the village of Davarchianiai after being accused of hiding 5 Jews from the Basitskas family. The names of the Lithuanian savers are kept in the Yad Vashem archives.

In 1970, 2 Jews still lived in Daugai. Subsequent censuses indicated that not a single Jew lived in the town.

In 1991/92, a large monument was erected in the former cemetery of the Jewish community of Daugai and on it an inscription in Hebrew, Yiddish and Lithuanian: “The cemetery in Daugai until 1941. Let the sacred be remembered for all eternity.”

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, file 119.
Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548.
YIVO - Lithuanian Communities' Collection: file 30691.
Aharoni, Avraham, Homeless, 1991.
Yakapa Report, 1920.
Katz, Ben-Zion, Of Newspapers and People, Tel Aviv 1983, pp. 6-19.
Sobol-Aharon, Sara, Memoirs (manuscript), 1984.
Sobol, Sara, Thoughts, Sayings and Poems, 1992.
Shenkar, Yitzkhak, Daugai Memories (Manuscript) (a list of all the Jewish names in the town during the period of Lithuania).
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 1.6.1885, 26.1.1901.
Falksblat (Kaunas), 21.6.1937, 20.8.1940.
Mishel, William W., Kaddish for Kovno, Chicago 1988, pp. 29-31.
Naujienos (Chicago), 11.6.1949.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murders in Lithuania), Vol 2, pp. 81-83.

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