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Joniskis Area Jewry

By Jurgita Matuliene, February 2003




This article and the accompanying eyewitness material was collected and compiled over a period of time by Jurgita Matuliene, a teacher in Joniskis, who was interested in information about "Zydai Joniskio rajone" or the Jews in the Joniskis regional administrative division unit which included Zagare, Kriukai, and a number of other villages.

The article was found by Joe Mankowitz This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it in the Joniskis Library, but the name of the person who did the original translation from the Lithuanian is not known. This article was edited by Judi Langer-Surnamer Caplan and Davida Noyek Handler, with input from Galina Baranova, Anatolij Chayesh, Vitalija Gircyte, and Eric Page.

It was the time of a great test for Jews in our region. One of the first "new order" laws of the war commandant of the district was that the people of Jewish origin were outside of the law. Lists were made of the Jewish men. It was decided to use a firing squad to shoot the men who were on these lists. They were brought from the town, as it was said, and murdered in the forest.

By the end of the summer of 1941, the same fate befell other Jews. The Jewish families were told to gather for new work assignments in some other place. People of different ages - children, old people, and women - gathered, carrying their possessions in their hands. All of them, some in cars, some on carts were taken to Vilkiau-is to be shot by fusillade from a firing squad. During those days, 400 Jews were killed. Jews from the other villages who were taken to -agarė were imprisoned in the ghetto. Nobody resisted. It was impossible to escape. The guards were usually Lithuanians who also took part in the annihilation of the Jews. There were about 2000 people living in the ghetto.

All Jews had to wear a hexagonal, six-sided Jewish star on the back and front of their clothing with the letter "J" (Jude). It was prohibited for those who lived in the ghetto to go outside. Jews were always escorted by the police officers while going to the work and could walk only in the street, not on the sidewalks. The Jewish families lived for only a very short time in the ghetto, and while the more resolute people tried to escape the ghetto, only some of them were successful.

In the autumn of 1941 more of them were shot somewhere outside of the town, though some were shot right in the Market Square. In spite of these bad times, the town dwellers showed a lot of humanity and tenacity. The family of Terese and Edvardas Levinskiai risked and saved a Jewish woman in -agarė. On September 23, they were awarded the Cross of Savers of the Dieing. The award was given to their son, Leonas Levinskis.

The bloody nazi killing rampage finally came to an end. Today, the inscriptions on the stone monuments remind us about this great Jewish tragedy.


In the 17th - 18th century, the Jewish autonomy reached the highest level in the Great Kingdom of Lithuania (LGK) as well as in Poland.

In 1766, there were 157,000 Jews in the Lithuanian Kingdom.

The Jews spread widely, living not only in the biggest towns of Lithuania, but in smaller places as well, such as Joni-kis and -agarė. It is mentioned in the written sources that Jews settled in Joni-kis in the 18th century.

While there were no Jews in Joni-kis in the beginning of the 18th century, they did live and trade in the neighboring villages. Around 1712 the elected executive of Joni-kis, J. Pezenas, stated that the people did not go to the market because the Jews who settled in the villages had sinkus (taverns). That is why it was forbidden unofficially to trade in the villages.

The Polish historian, S. Koscialowskis, tells us that in the 18th century there were no Jews in Joni-kis and Radvili-kis, and M. Hry-kevičius affirms that Jews first settled in Joni-kis in the 18th century. A fire in 1753 that happened to one of the Jews shows that.{It is reported that in the fire of 1753, seven houses or farmsteads burned in Joniskis, although it is not recorded whose houses these were. The source is LVIA (Historical Archives) SA (Old Acts)-15350, pages 58,59. The fire began when one of Joniskis- Jews set on fire his neighbour’s house (source - Koscialkowski and Hryskiewic) - VG}.

From all over the towns in the districts of -iauliai and Alytus Jews came to settle in Joni-kis and Radvili-kis. By the end of the 18th century there were 88 Jews in Joni-kis. Fifty-two men in the town and five men in Kalnelis belonged to the Jewish kahal of Joni-kis.

As the Jewish population grew they were permitted to build a synagogue and a cemetery. It is not known how many Jews there were at that time, but it is known that they made up quite a substantial part of the inhabitants.

In 1847, 1042 Jews belonged to the kahal. In 1848, about 300 Jews and 16 Christians died due to the epidemic of cholera.

The Jews of Joni-kis had their own community, a school, three synagogues, and a cemetery. The inhabitants who lived in Joni-kis:



Total Population











It is not exactly known when Jews first settled in -agarė. In many of our towns they settled or the number of them grew after the period of 1654 to 1667 or the wars of North, when the number of local inhabitants decreased. Therefore, it is possible that Jews settled in -agarė because of the decreasing numbers of inhabitants in -agarė and the prohibition against unofficial trading in villages. In case they could not settle in the New -agarė, it is possible they tried to enter Old -agarė because one of the landowners warned the priest about the "invasion" of Jews into the town. Some historians affirm that Jews started living in -agarė in the first quarter of the 18th century. The historian, M. Hry-kevičius, notes that 26 years after the plague, i.e. around 1737, a Jew who had a mead bar lived in -agarė.

Augustas III invited the Jews to live in Lithuania. He invited Jews, Greeks, and Armenians and granted them his permission to settle in the towns that were part of the ekonomija of -iauliai. {Ekonomija is a term meaning a domain or holding of land in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania belonging to the state, the income from which goes directly to the King for "working" also as the grand Duke of Lithuania. Usually it is a large domain with several estates and towns, like Siauliai ekononija, which was subdivided into small units, including Joniskis, Radviliskis, Siauliai, and Zagare. The kings used to lease these domains to noblemen, and after 1795 the Russian tsars gave these ekonomijas to various noblemen as private estates.- VG In the period of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, ekonomija (ekonomia) was the biggest administrative unit of the Lithuanian territory. This state domain income was carried to the King of Poland. There were the following ekonomias in the Lithuanian Grand Duchy: Alytus (Alytaus), Siauliai (Siauliu), Grodno (Gardino), Brest-Kobrin and Mogilev. Until 18th century the ekonomias were subdivided into units called "klucz" (kluch). Siauliu ekonomija (Siauliai ekonomia) included a large part of the Lithuanian territory -GB}

There were about 110 families, 25 of which were Jewish, in New -agarė by 1748. There were more inhabitants because of the Jews, and the number of them increased all the time. Circa 1754 - 1756, there were about 1110 to 1180 inhabitants in -agarė, 410 to 440 of them were Jews, and they comprised 38 or 40 % of all the inhabitants of -agarė. In 1755 - 1758, there were more Jews in -agarė because they had moved to Lithuania due to the oppression in Kur-as.{Kursas (Kurzeme) or Courland is the historical and ethnographical territory of Latvia from the Gulf of Riga. It includes the districts of Liepaja, Ventspils, Kuldyga, Taisai and a large part of the districts of Saldus, and Tukum.} One thousand one hundred fifty three Jews lived in -agarė in 1766. The Jews had their own kahals, houses of prayers, and cemeteries.

From 1801 to 1816, -agarė increased largely because of the Jewish traders. The growth was not always equal, and a major fire impeded it in 1805 during which 26 Jewish houses burned. According to the data of 1822, Jews had a school, a bathhouse, about 30 shops, two synagogues, and a house of prayer. In 1848, there was a great epidemic of cholera, which also touched -agarė. During the course of two months, 973 Jews and 6 Christians died there. {Possibly this was due to the density of living. The number of Jews in New Zagare before the epidemic is not exact - in 1847 it said there were 733-788 Jews or 1225. However, after the epidemic the proportion of Jews and Christians in the population changed: there were 185 Christian and 181 Jewish families whereas earlier in 1822 there had been 70 Christian and 157 Jewish families. -VG Zagare was the place where many Jews lived and the Jewish population could be more than other. -GB}

By the end of the 19th century there were 8129 inhabitants in -agarė, 5443 of whom were Jewish. There were two synagogues, eight houses of prayers, and two Jewish schools. In 1914, there were about 14,000 inhabitants in -agarė, 8,000 of whom were Jews. Later, however, most of them moved to Riga, because the commerce stopped in -agarė.

If we examine the population in 1880, we will see the following:

Total population


In Joni-kis

In -agarė





The Jewish community in -agarė was bigger than in Joni-kis in the 19th - 20th centuries. The natural question to ask is Why?

The town of -agarė was on the border of Latvia, and, as a result, had a great importance in the commerce between Lithunania and Latvia. From olden times, Jews were known as very skilled traders. -agarė was also famous of its fairs. Many merchants from Russia, Latvia, Poland, England and Germany as well as from different places in Lithuania used to come to these fairs. The Merchants and the inhabitants of -agarė actively traded money and goods.

However, in the 19th century after a railway was built through Joni-kis to Riga, the trade in -agarė diminished, and, at the time of the Lithuanian Independence, commerce with Latvia came to a halt.

After the third division, Jakaterina II gave the ekonomija of -iauliai with -agarė to Count P. Zubovas as a present.


In Joniskis, the Jews traded, and were also active in handicraft as well as market - gardening. However, the Jews did not have the right to trade in Joni-kis in the second part of the 18th century. In 1771 and 1772 they were given the right to trade in the markets and fairs, but were forbidden to sell drinks.

In 1789, there were five "sinko" or tavern houses in Joni-kis, and, in the market, there were two "sinko" houses. All of them belonged to Jews.

In the 19th century, as there were more Jews, the trade also increases. Fairs and horses fairs took place in Joni-kis. Many merchants, even from Latvia, Germany, Russia, and Poland, used to come into Joni-kis. Some of the Jewish families used to have kitchen gardens at the end of the 19th century. Jews used to rent kitchen gardens from the townsmen, which were mostly on Mintaujos (Livonijos) street. Jews used to bring vegetables to sell in Riga or Mintauja {Jelgava}. Some of Jews were the carters.

In the 20th century, the main occupation of Jews still was trading. The Jewish shops occupied the main central part of the town. Shops, houses, and tearooms that belonged to Jews surrounded the square of the town. They used to sell clothes, shoes, haberdashery goods, foodstuff, and spices. These shops -- which were called "manufackturomis" -- were workshops orsmall factories where goods were still made mostly by hands. For example, there was a bicycle shop which belonged to Lisinas. Whoever did not have enough money to buy a bicycle could have it on credit.

At that time, the "Singer" sewing machines were very popular in Europe. Lithuania was not an exception. Narvičius owned a sewing machines shop in Joni-kis. He used to carry these machines in the villages as well. His wife taught the Lithuanian girls how to work with these machines and to do needlework.

Jews had a mill and a few bakeries, many trade workshops, and many different shops. The Jewish breads and rolls were considered among the tastiest in Joni-kis.

The Jewish community in -agarė also traded and was occupied with handicraft.

In the middle of the 18th century, four Jews had shops, four were occupied with a handicraft (three of them were tailors), and others did not have any occupation at all. As the Jewish community grew there were more traders as well. Bakers, glaziers, butchers, and brewers are mentioned.

In 1756, 19 Jews had shops, and the kahals had 11 contracts including four to sell salt, and one to have the mead bar, in -agarė. Besides this the kahals paid for the bathhouse and the cemeteries.

In the 19th century, the town of -agarė became bigger as the number of Jewish traders and artisans increased. In 1822, Jews had about 30 shops. According to the data for 1826 to 1835 a few Jews may have been busy with "kontrabanda"(smuggling), they sold smuggled goods and were persecuted for that. Smuggling provided a profit for the local traders. The storehouses were arranged to hide these goods. {Kontrabanda or smuggling was a very popular occupation, especially for townspeople and those living at the border, near ports, or large towns. Certainly, not only the Jews were engaged in smuggling, but, as Jews comprised the majority of townspeople and tradesmen (who traveled in order to transport goods and also often were smugglers), a large part of the smugglers may also have been Jews.-VG Contraband was, is, and will be business for many people from the different countries, because that shows an easy profit. According to the archival documents many people (Jews and Christians) had this business. Not only Jews were involved in contraband. This business (contraband) was persecuted in the past as well in the present time, too. There are many documents in the archive involving contraband. If someone decides to study this question more carefully he can maintain a thesis: who, when, where, and how made contraband; show how contraband figures into the historical picture and what the result of persecution was for people.- GB}

About 25% of the Jewish population lived in comfortable circumstances, while a similar number were poor.

In the 19th century, Jews also had a candle factory and a mead factory in -agarė. At that time, the trade was much expanded. The merchants from Riga had their own agents in -agarė who used to buy up the products of Northern Lithuania: cattle, flax. In addition, they used to carry clothes, agricultural machinery, and ironwares to -agarė.

In the first part of the 20th century, Jews had a wide trade circle in -agarė. At that time, there were lots of iron, clothes, material shops, storehouses, and markets, which other, bigger towns did not have. There also were flour shops, 14 butcher-s shops, as well as slaughterhouses, bakeries, five mills, and flax storehouses. Brandė had the largest shop in which one could buy foodstuff or haberdashery goods. The people of -agarė liked this shop mostly because they could purchase their goods there on credit. The flax trade was also popular in -agarė. Jews used to buy flax from the farmers and bring it to Liepaja. One Jewish farmer kept cattle. Some Jews used to lend money to other inhabitants.

The Jews from -agarė had close relations with Riga which had a beneficial influence on the town. Merchants from -agarė used to improve their enterprises according to the Riga-s merchants.

The Jewish community in -agarė actively took part in the public and cultural life. In 1919, L. Rozenbergas was elected to the -agarė inspection commission dealing with economy and finances. His daughter, Rozenbergaitė, was a Lithuanian teacher in the basic Jewish school. In addition, she used to teach Jewish children Lithuanian. During the time of Lithuanian Independence there was a Jewish sport organization called "Makabi." The members of it used to play football, basketball, and table tennis. In addition, they used to organize sport competitions with the youth of -agarė.


There were two synagogues and a house of prayer in the town of Joni-kis at the end of the 19th century. Jewish buildings - shops, tearooms, and living houses - were built in the center of the town and on the main streets of Livonijos, Upytės, and -iauliai. During wartime many Jewish properties and businesses were destroyed.

The white and red synagogues formed the complex of synagogues. They were called the white and the red synagogues because of their colors. One, which is plastered in white, was built in 1823. Then, when the Jewish population rose in the town, they were allowed to build a second synagogue of red brick in 1865. This complex of the two synagogues and some additional buildings remind us of the Jewish community which lived in Joni-kis before the war.

The Jewish community in -agarė was bigger than in Joni-kis. Until 1939, there were two synagogues and six houses of prayers. The Jewish buildings that still exist nowadays were built for the whole town of -agarė.

The Jewish community had two cemeteries for according to the Jewish religious book, the Talmud, you could not cross the river when carrying the dead. Since -agarė is separated into two parts by the little river -vėtė that is why there are two Jewish cemeteries.

Some of the surnames of the Jews who lived in Joni-kis:

Ditke (A.)

Some of the surnames of the Jews who lived in -agarė:



Aizikas Mendelsonas lives in -agarė. He is married, and has two sons. He was born in -agarė. His mother and sisters were shot, victims of a firing squad.

During the time of the war, I served in the Lithuanian 16th division. After the war, I came back to -agarė.

Our family was not very rich. I lost my father very early, so I went to work for one of the other Jews. One of my duties was to bring a hen to a slaughterhouse to the shochetwho had to kill the bird. According to the Jewish laws of Kashrus a Jew could not do this himself, only a skilled shochet could perform the ritual slaughter. He did this work according to some stringent rules as well. He had to try to give as little pain to the animal as he could, and watch that all blood ran out very quickly. The meat was soaked in cold water and salted, so that no blood would be left. The food made of such meat was called kosher.

Saturday was the most important day for Jews. It was called Shabbes and was a sacred day. One could not do any work; not even making up the fire on the Sabbath day. Everybody used to have a rest from his or her daily labor on that day. It was forbidden to go on trips or to ride horses on that day as well. On Shabbes the Jews rested from all ordinary activities, and recovered spiritually.

The funeral ceremonies for even the richest Jewish families were very simple and took place a very short time later, usually within twenty-four hours after death. They used to wrap the deceased in a white sheet and put the body into a grave. They used to put earthenware pot fragments on the face so that the deceased could not see any wealth. The relatives of the deceased mourned intensely one more week after the funerals at home. This time is called Shiva, or seven days. During that time the relatives sat on the very low, little chairs or even on the floor.

The Jews lived very close-knit lives, helping to each other, and feeding the poor.

The relations between the Jews and the Lithuanians were also good. The Lithuanians used to come to the Jewish shops because they never left empty handed. They could also purchase goods on credit. A Jew always lent money because he trusted Lithuanians.

We lived friendly lives for we were used to helping one another.

At present {circa 2001} only two Jews - A. Mendelsonas and Tiesnesienė - live in -agarė.



Mirijana -neiderytė - Tiesnesienė was born in 1924. She lived in -agarė. On 7 October, 2001, she celebrated her 77th birthday, but even though she was a strong woman she doubted for a long time if a younger generation should know what happened at that time. Finally, she decided to tell everything.

It was the summer of 1941 when a few Jewish families, -naideriai among them, were transferred to -agarė from Pa-vitinis. They were told that they would work there. They lived in Pakalnės street 4. However there was little space in this house. At night, they had to sleep on the floor. In the morning, they went to work. They had two stars, one on the back and front of their bodies. They could not go anywhere without supervision, even to buy milk or bread. M. Tiesnesienė remembered that it was autumn. At the farmers, they dug up potatoes. They got some potatoes as a payment, but they did not taste them. In -agarė, the guards were strengthened. Some Germans came to -agarė. Everybody guessed about what would happen. It was said that Jews would be brought to do the compulsory work. In the morning, the Jews were driven together in a square. Mirijana, then a young girl, did not pay attention to these rumors. Then the shooting began. The mass of Jews fell down in the place they stood. Some of them were only wounded, some of them already dead. Near Miriana lay a little boy. His eyes were wide opened, but he did not move. Probably he was dead. Her mother moaned from the other side; the shooters had wounded her in the leg. Miriana tied her leg with a scarf. Beleckas, from Pa-vitinis, whom she knew and used to dance with came and rescued her.

"My mother lay together with the other Jews in the pit. I do not know exactly where she lies. The grave of all my fellow citizens was my mother-s grave-" M.Tiesnesienė sadly related.

Liutikai who lived in -agarė took the young girl to their place. Mirijana helped her master in the household. However, there were some complaints that Mirijana was a real Jew. She was put into the guardroom to clarify her origin.

At night Mirijana used to be in the ward, and in the daytime she was allowed into the empty classroom. One day she stood near the window and saw Kazys Kavaliauskas coming to teach children religion. The Children outside shouted "A Jew! A Jew!" A priest asked the guard to let him to speak with the girl. She told him everything. The priest advised her to confess first if something bad happened. In the evening, the priest visited her again. Miriana told that she had some acquaintances in Pa-vitinis. She even knew a priest, Jonas Tei-erskis.

A new life for Mirijana began but it was one in which she had to pretend to change her nationality and surname. There was a very good woman, Navickienė, who had three children. She was not afraid to stand up in the court. She testified that Mirijana, then called Marytė, is her fourth daughter. One more woman - Beleckienė - came to the court in -iauliai as well. She stated that Marytė was Navickienė-s daughter. As Marijana-s skin was of a different color, the woman persuaded all the judges by telling that she had some relations with another man. In this way, Marijana became Marytė Navickaitė, the fourth child in the family.

Later, when the times were better, she had some problems because of this surname. However, she had a birth certificate written in 1953. Not long ago she visited Pa-vitinis, put some flowers on the grave of her second mother Navickienė, had a talk with her sister Stasė Navickaitė - Motiejūnienė, and visited a few of her friends.

Fortune was not very good to Mirijana. Her mother is buried in the same grave with the other Jews, her brother was shot and buried somewhere in -agarė. Nobody believed that he was a foundling, that the Jews raised him. It was said that he was shot naked. Nobody knew where his body was buried. Marijuana-s father had escaped from the ghetto but he died near Vilnius and is buried in the Paneriai forest.

However, Mirijana has her own family: four children, six grandsons, and two granddaughters. Her husband is dead and now she has nightmares about the blood puddles, guns, and yellow stars.


Ausma Milinskienė was born in 1923. As an orphan she moved to live in Kriukai to her aunt, Rozalija Misevičienė. Now she lives in Audruvės street 44 in Joni-kis. She told about the Jews living in Kriukai.

Before the occupation, there were many Jewish people. Most of them were traders.

Brudnas who lived in a two-stored house in Darius and Girėnas street had a large material shop. If a man did not have money and he needed some goods, he could take them on credit. There was a pharmacy as well. Bikas owned it. His daughter, Rochala, attended a Lithuanian school in Kriukai. Jews usually sold foodstuffs and household goods such as herring, sugar, salt, matches, kerosene, etc. There were some farmers as well.

Shabbas was a sacred day. It was on Saturday. You could not work on this day

Matzas were baked in the Spring around Easter. That is a flat cake made of flour. For several days, usually eight, it was forbidden to use bread and other dishes made of flour. Everything for this holiday of Passover was made of Matza. They used to grind them and used the matza meal to make other dishes. They also used to share Matza with the poor or their Lithuanian neighbors. Matza is in memory of Jews who were left their land so quickly their bread did not have the time to rise before baking.

They did not eat pork. They ate chicken and beef. Plates were kept separate so there were meat dishes and milk dishes. Sacred plates were for only sacred things. Their eating practices related to medicine. After they ate the meat dishes they used to wait a few hours and only then could they eat other dishes made with dairy. They did not eat what could harm their health.

There was a separate Jewish bathhouse. The building still stands but now it is a house that someone lives in.

There were separate cemeteries for the Jews with large polished stones near the graves.

After the Germans came to their country, they began to persecute the Jews. The Germans ordered the Jews to put a yellow star on the front and back of their bodies. Jews who lived in better houses near the street were moved to lesser houses. Jews had no right to walk on the sidewalks, but rather had to walk in the street and show themselves in the public very often. The synagogue in Kriukai was thrown down.

Rabin was married and had his own family. Jankelis was an orphan, and the Leizarovičiai family who also was Jewish and had their own shop brought him up. When the Germans moved Jews to -agarė for "living" (devastation) he hid himself together with Leiskis Kadisas. Jankelis worked at the farmer Stankevičius- house during the time of the nazi occupation. The police officers used to have parties at Stankevičius-. They never suspected that a Jew was hidden there. He used to dress as a woman and help to feed the animals. When there were guests at that house he used to hide in the boxes of flour.

When the Russian army came, they showed themselves in the town. Jankelis lived in for a time in -iauliai, and then he went abroad. He still has relations with Augustauskienė who lives in Kriukai.



Juzefa Krasnickaitė - Savickienė was born on 20 November 1915 in Joni-kis. All the time she lived in the house of her parents, Jonas and Salomėja, at Audruvės street 50 in Joni-kis. J. Savickienė told that she had to go to serve the farmers very early, because her parents were landless. Her father, Jonas Krasnickas, worked at Kimelis- house until 1930. Kimelis had two sons. They were friendly, and good to their workers. Kimelis was occupied with the trade of flax, grain, and domestic birds. Latter Jonas Krasnickas worked for Freidusas in the smithy.

As Juzefa Savickienė remembered it the Jewish buildings, living houses, shops, manufactures surrounded the center square. You could see, buy, and hear there. J.Savickienė said that only some shops were Lithuanian: the pharmacy was owned by -imkevičius, there was a shop owned by the brothers Marcinkučiai and Ripskis, and all the other traders were Jews. Lisas had a bicycles and pram shop, Grosmanas owned the shoe shop, Reznikovičius had a shop of clocks and jewelry. Flaxas had a leather goods shop. Malvickiai had a clothes store. Mavsonas owned bakeries. The relations with Jews were also good. Lithuanians preferred shopping in Jewish shops because they could buy on credit.

The woman remembered then the Jews of -agarė were shot by a firing squad, and then inhabitants of Joni-kis looted and made off with the Jewish property. The executioners shared some part of it, and some of the victims- things and clothing were sold in public in the center of Joni-kis. Some of the executioners came from -iauliai. These executioners demonstrated they had golden teeth in their pockets. They frightened the inhabitants of Joni-kis by telling that they had taken the crowns not from the corpses but from the still living people.

The older inhabitants of Joni-kis could not forget the slaughter of innocent people in -agarė and Vilkiau-is. The shed blood of innocent people - children, women, and grandparents - disturbs the conscience of every person. The women hoped and prayed that would never happen again.


Malvina Vainauskaitė, Lithuanian, was born on 10 January, 1922 in Joni-kis. All the time she lived in her parents- house in Upytės street 46.

Her family was poor and had no land, so her parents and her siblings had to serve others. Malvina Vainauskaitė-s mother served at the house of Kaimas, and her brother Vainauskas Bolius (born in 1917, he has passed away) worked in the mill of Narunskis in 1937. People preferred working for Jews rather than Lithuanians because they got better salaries and had better working conditions.

M.Vainauskaitė worked at the house of Pinskis. He was a trader. He had his own house and a shop. Pinskis had many relatives in Joni-kis. He was married and had two children: a three-year-old son and a little daughter, Hamela, whom Malvina Vainauskaitė looked after. The woman told that her employers were very good, friendly, and that they trusted and loved her. She got a picture of the Pinskiai family as a present. Pinskienė-s sister wanted her relatives to leave Lithuania and go to Russia but they refused. In August of 1941 they were all taken to Vilkavi-kis and shot by a firing squad.

The Jewish families were always strong and big, and some had up to 16 children. Divorces were a very rare phenomenon. It was forbidden to contract mixed marriages, or change the faith of your parents. However, Jews sometimes had to accept Christianity in order to make a career. There were religious symbols and the main religious books in every house. Jews strictly followed the customs of the celebration of all the festivals. Jews were very attached to their place of residence; their community kahal showed that. It used to found the cemeteries, as well as acquire the common Torah. The religious leader of the community was called a Rabbi and he was elected from amongst all the most educated and influential in their community.


Bronė Barta-ienė is Lithuanian. She was born in 1921. She lives in Upytės street 57.  B. Barta-ienė brought up four sons.

Her parents were landless, and lived in poverty. For this reason very early Bronė started to serve the farmers, and any Jew who could afford to hire her.

She remembers that a few Jewish families had kitchens and gardens. They rented the kitchen gardens from the townsmen in Joni-kis; most of them lived on Mintaujos (Livonijos) and Upytės streets. Jews used to sell the vegetables in Riga and Mintauja {Jelgava}.

The shops and the homes that belonged to Jews surrounded the whole town square. They were engaged in the commerce of clothes, shoes, haberdashery goods, and foodstuff.

The Jew, Narunskis, had a mill in Joni-kis. There were a few Jewish bakeries. The bread and rolls made by Jews were the tastiest in all Joni-kis.

There was a shop owned by Narvičius in which you could buy "Singer" sewing machines. He carried sewing machines to different villages as well. His wife taught Lithuanian girls needlework and sewing.

Some Jews used to lend money to the inhabitants of Joni-kis.


This epilogue by Joe Mankowitz, recounting his and his daughter-s visit to Pa-vitinys/Poshvitin in September 2002, adds significantly and evocatively to the story of the rescue of Mirijana -neiderytė - Tiesnesienė


We were now headed for Pa-vitinys/Poshvitin for an experience that the mischievous Chaim had been teasing us with almost since the time we had left Kaunas.It was an experience that would help Alex and me to crystallize our thoughts on prioritizing how we should give charity in Lithuania - to the Past or to the Present. It was to become the most moving experience of our trip; and it would be a wake-up call to the truly important things in Life. We drove down a street, stopped at a small wooden house, went round the back and knocked on the door. A lady in a nylon housecoat opened the door. She was 70-ish, lean, with lively darting eyes, and her face was lined in the way that gives some older women a look of grace and kindness. She disappeared to change into her best clothes before sitting down to talk. This is the story told us by Stanislava:

Sixty years ago, a gunman in one of the Lithuanian squads recognized a young girl, Miriam Schneider, amongst the Jews rounded up to be shot. To his credit, he wanted to save her life. He told his captain that he knew this girl, and that she was not Jewish, but had been given to a Jewish family for upbringing because her own family was too poor. However, the efficient Nazi system required proof, and Miriam-s friends set about to find it: A Catholic priest signed a statement to confirm the story, a midwife was found to swear that she had delivered the baby to a Gentile woman. Most importantly, they found a Gentile woman and her daughters who would swear that Miriam was their daughter and sister, and would take her in to live with them. The woman we were visiting, Stanislava, is the -sister- of Miriam (now Maritė), who is also still alive and living in -agarė

Stanislava is dirt poor, but she has riches beyond measure. She proudly showed us her two medals and citations from the President of Lithuania, as well as the medallion and certificate she received from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Sadly, she had only received this recognition but a few years ago. Chaim Bargman, our guide, had discovered her some time back, but all these claims have to be thoroughly investigated before Yad Vashem will give recognition. Here are some extracts from the Certificate of Honour presented to Stanislava Navickaitė Motiejūnienė (and posthumously to her mother):

--.who, during the Holocaust period in Europe, risked their lives to save persecuted Jews. ------accorded the medal of the Righteous among the Nations. Their name shall forever be engraved on the honour wall in the garden of the righteous at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.

-Remembrance is the secret of Redemption-

-He who has saved one life has saved the world-

I asked her, -Weren-t you scared out of your wits at the time?-

-No, we just did what we had to do.-

We felt enriched and humbled by this lady, and I was happy to accept Alex-s suggestion that any charity we give in this country should go to people like her rather than to memorials to the past. It was perhaps a lot of money to her, maybe too much with hindsight, but that wasn-t what moved her. What did move her was our long visit and our interest and our hugs, and perhaps the chocolate bar from the Chocolate Society in London.

Stasė accompanied us on a quick visit to the local Jewish cemetery in Pa-vitinys/Poshvitin. I knew that some of my family had lived here, although we saw no Mankowitz graves. We did see something odd, though - some of the graves were back to front, facing in opposite directions to the rest, like Churchill-s grave in Bladon churchyard. Also, two of the headstones have been restored in an unusual way: they have been painted a matt gloss spruce green, with the lettering picked out in high white gloss. I have since had a chance email correspondence with the American who-d commissioned this paint job - and he is delighted to know that his assignment has been carried out to the letter.

Photo of the funeral of Micha Mankowitz in Joniskis in 1922

Left to right:
Menachem Mendel
Sotze Herman
Beila Isaacson (partly
Glicka Mankowitz (widow)
Beila Levitas
Raicha (Wife of Avraham)
Berel Herr




about the author
Jurgita Matuliene