“Kriukai” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Lithuania
(Kriūkai, Lithuania)

55° 05' / 23° 25'

Translation of the “Kriukai (Sakiai)” 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 615-616)

Kriukai

In Yiddish, Krok or Kruk

Written by Dov Levin

Translated by Shimon Joffe

Kriukai lies in western Lithuania, on the left bank of the Neman River, opposite the town of Seredzius, approximately 10 km. north east of the district town Sakiai.

The community is mentioned in documents dating back to 1665, and later, as a mid-sized village. In the first part of the 19th century, it served as the administrative center of the county. Until the establishment of independent Lithuania, it was included in the Suwalkai district. Thanks to the dense pine forests, vacationers from Kaunas used to visit the area, coming on steam boats on the Neman River.

The small Jewish community in Kriukai had lived there from the beginning of the 19th century. By the end of the century, life was conducted comparatively as in the older and larger communities. As reported in the HaMelitz, there was no shortage of arguments and divisions. The majority of Jews lived off trade, craftwork and by shipping people and goods on the rivers. Almost everyone who lived on the river banks, owned a little boat and for a payment of two kopeks carried people across the river to Seredzius on the opposite bank and back. A few lived by providing services to the vacationers who came in the summer. In general though, the economic situation of most of the Jews was difficult. 'The usual picture is', as described by a local resident of the local situation in the town, in Ha'meliz of July 1894, “the picture is of an elderly man going up to the Eastern Wall (of the synagogue), being of high pedigree, with klumpes (wooden clogs) on his feet. At that time, Kriukai had a Beth Midrash, somewhat neglected, and three 'minyanim'. Most of the boys studied in the kheder. The positions of Shokhet and Cantor were only occasionally filled, because of the low salary offered, and as a result, the position of rabbi also remained open for many months. Consequently, the residents had to turn to the rabbi and religious institutions of Seredzius for their religious needs.

According to the survey conducted by the Lithuanian government in 1923, Kriukai had 184 Jews, and 40 non Jewish families. Their mutual relations were good. As before the War, the Jews continued to make a living off petty trade and craftwork. Until 1927, a school was open in town. After that, the Jewish children studied in the Seredzius school. Some studied in the high schools in Kaunas. After the War, the Beth Midrash was refurbished. The town had a library. The town rabbi was Rabbi Meir Verzhbelovski.

In 1937 the town had two Jewish artisans, a tailor and a tinsmith. In 1939 the town had 20 telephones, 2 owned by Jews; by boat owner Leibl Lafer and by merchant Leibl Shalansky. Due to the deteriorating economic situation many Jews left the town. This was to continue during the period of Soviet occupation (1940-1941). As a result the number of Jews in the town kept going down, and before the Second World War their number was reduced to some 80 souls. During the same period the relations between the Jews and their neighbors worsened.

On June 23 1941, one day after the German attack on the Soviet Union, German soldiers reached Kriukai and continued on towards Russia. Armed Lithuanian nationalists took control of the town. One of their first actions was to arrest four Jewish youths, sympathizers of the Soviet regime. The four were taken to the district town Sakiai and there killed. The Jews were robbed of their animals, sewing machines, radios and good furniture.

On July 2, 1941, the Lithuanians concentrated all the Jewish men, 41 in number, both young and old, and took them to Sakiai, on the pretext of giving them work. For three days they were kept in a silo, near the housing estate called the Jewish Pasture. On July 16, they were taken to the nearby forest and there, executed. A different account states that they were executed on July 9. The young girl, Khaya-Miriam Gertner, was killed with the men, as she had resisted the Lithuanian murderers who had come to take her father and brothers.

The Jewish women and their children were taken at the beginning of September, to the neighboring town Zapyskis. For some time they were kept in the Beth Midrash and then they were murdered on September 4, with the rest of the Jewish population near Vilkija. Apparently, there were no survivors. The murderers shared out the possessions among themselves.

Bibliography:

Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem, Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, fils 102, 146, 150.
Hamelitz [The Advocate] – (St. Petersburg), 17.7.1894.

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