Back To Journal

Glimpses of History: Jewish Organizations in Kelme

Biciulis, December 16, 1992. Translation by LitvakSIG. Copyright 1999
By Vaclovas Rimkus, November 1999

During the years of Lithuania’s independence, the Jewish Societies in Kelme were quite rich in the number of members. In 1939, out of the 3705 residents of this small town, about two thousand (2000) were Jewish, which came to almost 54% of all the inhabitants of the town. The Jewish people in Kelme showed themselves as active participants in industrial, commercial and cultural activities. There was a Yeshiva (Jewish Theological Seminary) that offered training courses for rabbis, a four-grade Jewish elementary school, two synagogues, a few organizations, and other societies.

One of the oldest societies, with the largest number of members, was the "Bet Talmud," the Kelme Jewish volunteer society, established in 1928. Its purpose was to propagate the teachings of the Talmud (Holy Scripture) to support those members of the community who were seeking higher education to become rabbis, and to provide financial aid to Talmudists from low income families. With this purpose in mind, the Jewish community established a Talmud Torah (headmaster N. C. Finkel), founded a seminary for rabbis and other Jewish religious functionaries, and established a religious Talmud library with a reading room. The library books at the Rabbinical seminary were valued at five thousand (5000) litas. The activities of the Kelme Jewish community "Bet Talmud" extended as far as the Raseiniai and Siauliai districts. In 1939, the board of the community included the following members:

Chairman: Daniel Movshovich, born 1882 (the Director of the Kelme Rabbinic Seminary)
Vice-Chairman: Gershon Miadnik, born 1882 (Administrator of the Kelme Rabbinic Seminary)
Treasurer: Motel Levitan, born 1876 (merchant)
and members: Sh. Piank and M. L. Kaff.

By January 1, 1939, the society had 165 members. After the Red Army occupied Lithuania, the society was liquidated on August 7, 1940, and all of its members were shot by the Nazis in June 1941.

On October 26, 1939, the Kelme Jewish Hovsh (Hovso) Society was established. Its purpose was to propagate and spread around the Jewish and Yiddish languages, their culture and literature. The statute of this society was signed by the members in Kelme:

Lazer Danin Nochum-Gesel Sadovski
Judel Mer Moshe Efraim
Moshe Gold Berel Volpert
Girsh Kagan Judel Movshovich
Mendel Preid Judel Shakchtin
Michel Elkon and Zalman Schochet

The board consisted of:

Chairman: Moshe Efraim, Teacher
Secretary: Fruma Volper, Saleswoman
Treasurer: Girsh Kagan, Dental technician

The Society owned a public library, including a fund of 500 litas, and the premises for the bookstore. By January 1, 1939, the organization had 20 members. After the U.S.S.R.’s invasion of Lithuania, the regulation issued August 20, 1940 decided the fate of the Kelme Jewish Hovsh society. It was liquidated as, it said, "under the given circumstances, the existence of the society was incompatible with matters of security of the state."

The Kelme branch of the Lithuanian Jewish handicraftsmen society functioned under very complicated conditions. The branch was established in July 1937. At the beginning, its governing body consisted of:

Chairman: Iser Schliom Efraim, brewer
Assistant to the Chairman: Yakov Schneider, tailor
Secretary: Aaron Galibrodski, barber
Treasurer: Kushel Kajack, upholsterer
and a member: Chaim Javno, baker.

The board of this branch was renewed in September 1938.

Abraham Leibovich, (tailor) became assistant to the chairman.
Yankel Danilevich, (tailor) was appointed treasurer, and
David Yudelivich, (hatter) became a member.

However, on November 14, 1938, the State Security Department received a secret service report where Iser Schliom Efraim was characterized as a person of communist determination, closely related to those who were friendly toward communists. Aaron Galibrodski and David Yudelivich had been members of the banned Lithuanian communist party since 1928. Therefore, in his official letter of November 19, 1938, the department head of the Press and Societies association, J. Kompaitis, informed the chief of the Raseiniai district that the Kelme branch of the Lithuanian Jewish Handicrafters Society cannot be officially registered among other societies, as three of the members of the governing body, i.e., I. S. Efraim, A. Galibrodski, and D. Yudelevich were not acceptable to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Thus, a new governing body for the Kelme branch was elected at the beginning of 1939:

Chairman: Ruvel Kuf, tailor
Assistant to the Chairman: Mendel Schames, tailor
Secretary: Jautel Movschovich, electro-technician
Members: Srol Nochmovich and Abraham Leibovich, tailors

Under these circumstances, on July 15, 1939 was the Kelme branch of the Jewish Handicrafters Society included into the general list of societies.

Another Jewish organization, "Tiferet-Bachurim," was active in Kelme for a very short period as well. It was established February 17, 1938. The governing board consisted of the following members:

Chairman: Ichik Levin, teacher
Assistant to the Chairman: Mendel Preid
Secretary: David Beniash
Treasurer: Refor Osher Milner

On February 25 of 1938, this organization was registered at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. However, under unknown circumstances, its activities were interrupted on March 31.

It should be mentioned, in addition, that the Jewish religious community organization "Sha’are Israel" ("Zydu jaunimas") that functioned in Lithuania during 1918-1919 was the owner of the Kelme Jewish elementary school. The organization also supported the Jewish religious school (cheder) in Tytuvenai.

Another Lithuanian Jewish organization worthy to be mentioned is the "Maccabi," the football team which used to have games with teams of young Lithuanians (jaunalietuviai) from Kelme, Kraziai, and Saukeniai.

Vaclovas Rimkus
"Biciulis," December 16, 1992
Copyright LitvakSIG 1999

The Eye Witness Series Project seeks to document first person accounts of the Massacre of Lithuanian Jewry during the Shoah, the Holocaust period.

about the author
Vaclovas Rimkus