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The Origins of the Galgut Family
The History of Luknik ( also known as Louke, Lukniki( Polish), Lukny, Lithuania)

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The Roots and origins of the Galgut Family
By Len Yodaiken

In the 14th century, Casimir the Great encouraged Jews to settle in Poland. Poland was an agrarian society to a very large extent based on two classes, tillers of the soil and the strata of landowners who ultimately became the nobility of Poland known collectively as the Shlachta. Casimir needed the Jews in order to create a commercial middle class of traders and businessmen. It is interesting to note that the earliest coins of Poland were inscribed in Hebrew. What is less well known is that he also invited into his country artisans from Germany, metal workers, saddle makers and so on.

The Jews came in large numbers from the overcrowded and unsanitary ghettos of Western and Central Europe and very soon, benefiting from the new friendly conditions, they settled over the countryside and almost immediately there was a population explosion, creating amongst other things, an overflow into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The German artisans moved with them to the towns of the Grand Duchy that were Vilna (the only one in modern Lithuania), Grodno, Brest-Litovsk, Minsk, Pinsk etc. The Grand Duchy in those days included Belarus (the main population centre), Lithuania, Livonia, Wallachia and many other lands. The Grand Dukes received the Jews in what was generally, a very positive manner and they were given a charter that was written into the Law of the Duchy. This charter, which was ratified by each successive Grand Duke, put the Jews into a class very close to the nobility. One of the most important clauses confirmed for the Jews was the right to have all litigation between Jew and Gentile heard at the Ducal court and not at the courts of bishops or others.

In 1569, the crowns of Poland and the Grand Duchy were united under one dynasty at the treaty of Lublin, but unfortunately, this died out within fifty years of its existence and as the Polish and Lithuanian nobility could not agree on the choice of a king from their own ranks, they decided to elect kings from the Royal houses of other countries – France, Sweden, Hungary as examples. At the end of the 17th century a king of Saxony became king of the Commonwealth of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. At that time Peter the Great was involved in the Great Northern War with Eric XII of Sweden and Sigismond II of Poland got involved in it, to the detriment of his new kingdom. At that time Sigismond appointed Saxon civil servants to run his affairs in Poland-Lithuania.

As the Jews had many crafts that overlapped with the German artisans, there arose a stiff competition between them, so that the Germans eventually organized themselves into Guilds from which the Jews were excluded. There was a continual bitter price war. The lesser nobility, who were constantly in debt to the Jews, exploited it by threatening the Jews that they would not repay their debts to them unless the Jews undercut the Germans. The Jews had, needless to say, become the money- lenders of the time, because the Church forbade the local Catholics from indulging in usury. The Jews, caught between the hammer and the anvil, had little choice but to agree and so the hatred between the two communities grew and festered.

Sigismond III succeeded his father, Sigismond II to the throne in 1734. After his coronation in Warsaw Cathedral, he returned to Saxony and did not set foot in the Commonwealth for the next twenty years. The Germans of the guilds knowing that the Saxon (German) civil servants would turn a blind eye, drove the Jews out of the cities. The Jews retreated into the hinterland of Belarus, but mostly into the province of Lithuania. And so we find that many of the refugees arrived at the existing Jewish settlements. These communities were reinforced and many new shtetls were formed between 1730 and 1750. In 1784 a census was taken of the Grand Duchy. This was the first document in which the ancestors of the Galguts appear, they were Eliash son of Meier, his wife Tzipa and daughter Chana. At that time there were 123 Jews living in Luknik and in Varniai there were only 57 Jews. It is not clear when members of the family arrived in Varniai but throughout the 19th century the Galgut name appeared in the town’s tax records. Unfortunately the 1795 census of the Grand Duchy for the area of Telshe in which Luknik and Varniai were situated cannot be found, as that document would have given the ages of those counted and more information that may have clarified the spread of the two branches of the family. 1795 was a critical date for Lithuania and its Jews, as in that year Catherine the Great annexed most of Poland and Lithuania into the Russian Empire and from then onwards the Jews had to suffer the not very friendly administration of the Tsar without having the privileges of the Lithuanian charter.

The Russians realized, fairly quickly, that they had very little control over their new Jewish subjects especially in the area of taxation and the military draft. So in 1807 a law was introduced instructing the Jews to take family names. This was a process that carried on for about 25 years until almost all had names. It is also possible that some of the family in Varniai took a different name in 1807, as there was a family called Korklian that had a distinctly similar pattern to the Galguts in Luoke The Russians introduced their own form of census, called Revision Lists, because they revised and updated the 1795 census of Catherine the Great. The Russians continued to revise revision on revision until the All Russia census of 1897. In the Revision List of 1816 for Luknik we find that the Galgut family was listed under the name Gilind, no explanation has been found for this. The 1834 census for Luknik now called Luoke listed the family as Gamgut. This was obviously a clerical error as in comparing the List to the taxation lists of the same period we find the same personae with their name spelt correctly and again in a resident’s list of 1890 we find the name spelt, Galegut. In his monumental work, A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire Dr. Alexander Beider gives the source of the Galgut name as being from a village called Galguntsy in the Shavli area of Lithuania. Unfortunately this village does not appear on any map found so far.

1) Basic History of Luoke (quoted from the Encyclopedia Lithuania, Vol III (Boston 1973):

Louke, small town in western Lithuania, 21 kilometres south east of Telaiai; its population in1959 was 700 (1287 in 1923, approximately 1300 in 1940). The town lies in a hilly region: 2 kilometres south east of Louke is the legendary hill, Satrija, which served as a fortress Hill in the past. During the reign of Vytautas the great in the 14th to 15th centuries, Louke was one of the Samogitian district centres. One of the first churches in Samogitia was built in Louke in 1417. The town and the Manor were given to the diocese of Samogitia, and later came into a position of the Oginski family. After the middle of the 17th century, Louke became famous for trade fairs. In 1841 the town had 539 inhabitants, in 1897 the number had increased to 1,626. In independent Lithuania it served as the township seat, with local administrative offices; there were several small industries and several retail stores. Under Soviet rule it was the centre of rural community and a collective farm since 1950.

2) History of Luoke translated from a Lithuanian History Book (Muzy Lictura: vol. IV, Boston 1964).

The small town of Louke is not far from the river Vaidis (Veidys) a right hand tributary of the Virvyte river, 8.9 kilometres in length, 12 kilometres ESE of Telsai and 31 kilometres west of Shavli. It is in the uplands of Samogitia, by the old highway from Prussia to Liepoje.

The name Louke probably derives from the word lokys (meaning a bear). In old historical sources it is written Lukny; in Polish it is called Lukniki.

Louke is known to have existed from the end of the 14th century, and possibly even earlier. Bishop M Valencius writes that in the time of Vytautas it was an important place in Samogitia. When, at the time of conversion of the Samogitians, the Prince ordered the construction of eight Churches, Louke was among their number. The Manor and district of Louke belonged to the Bishop of Samogitia, who drew from it an annual revenue of 17,240 Zlotys (Gulden).

It is not known when Louke was granted commercial privileges. It is recorded in one document that in the year 1649 Kotryne Semetiene, wife of the Thane (Steward) of D. Dirvenai sold oats at Louke market. Louke therefore already had commercial privileges this time. These privileges were renewed in the year 1790. Louke even had its own unit of weight- Loukes Mastas ( in Polish Luknika Miara), which was applied for the calculation of tribute and sale of goods in the market. Markets and fairs were held regularly. At the beginning of the 17th century, a refuge was established, for the maintenance of which Krizostomas Volodkevicius, Starosta of Dirvenai, bequeathed in his will, a fixed sum of 50 Zlotys (Gulden = gold pieces) per annum.

Louke had 539 inhabitants in 1744. By 1853 there were two schools in the town, a state school (with 41 pupils) and the parish school (with seven pupils). In the uprising of 1863 the parish at school was closed. Louke was affected by two uprisings. In the year 1831 there was a bloody battle in the vicinity of Louke between the Russians and the insurgents. Baron Horek, Colonel of the Russian General Staff, who later became governor of Gardinas, riding at the head of the whole Russian division, drove out those of the insurgent army who were left in Louke. In 1863, some of the inhabitants and clergy of the vicinity sympathised and collaborated with the insurgents. When the uprising was put down, the vicar, Fr. Kazimieras Chromapskis and curates, Frs. Vincas Lucasevincius, Justinas Siesickis and Dominicas Kozickis, were charged with supporting the insurgents and were exiled to Russia. The church land was confiscated and Russian colonists were settled on it, eight families in all. But they were not keen on working the land, and they rented the farms they had been given to the Jews and earned their own living as day labourers.

In the year 1866 Louke had a mill, 2 breweries producing the a cheaper kind of beer, a couple of workshops, several shoemakers and tailors, several taverns, and about 20 shops mostly/all owned by Jews. In 1900 the Jewish population was 798. However, Louke did not develop - it was not near a railway line. In 1897 Louke had 1626 inhabitants. In the days of Tsarist Russia it belonged to the Telsiai district.

By 1923 the population was 1287 and by 1940 it had risen to 1300.  It is situated in among some hills in western Lithuania near the Viadis tributary of the Virvyte river.  As there was no railway line nearby the village stagnated.  Louke suffered frequent conflagrations. Water supply was always a problem, and in 1911 the entire Western part of the town burned down.  Another fire in 1934 led to rebuilding the village including properly demarcated roads and the erection of street lights.  During military operations in 1944 the town was again destroyed and after 1950 it became the "New Life" collective farm with a secondary school, hospital, a post office, a mill, a sawmill etc. 

On the south east edge of the village is a hill (Satriga) that was once a fortress and is now the Christian cemetery.  It was such an important market town that it had its own unit of weight (the Loukes Mastras/ Luknika Miara) that was used in the market and to pay their tax contributions to the central government.  Louke was famed from the old days for its fairs, held four times a year, and its markets which were held every Thursday. People would gather not only from Louke, but also from more distant parts, for it was said that the best place to buy your cattle was in Louke.

In 1417 Vytautas, or someone else acting on his instructions, built the first Roman Catholic Church; a wooden one, with the name of "All Saints". When Bishop Dziergavicius visited Samogitia in for 1424 he found it already in existence. Vytautas bequeathed a handsome sum to it, consisting of the revenue from the village of Louke, the lands of Paskuvenai, Papile, Pinkelenai, Taurogenai, and a mill. Apart from this the managers of the estates of Dirvenai, Berzenai and Viesvenai were to contribute five oxen a year from the princely estate. At the end of the 15th century the records and documents had been lost, and Simonas Gevdinietis, the Vicar, asked Aleksandras to issue a new deed of gift. In 1493 Aleksandras confirmed its foundation, which was finally registered in the Telsiai District Court on September 30th, 1838. The parish of a Louke was one of the wealthiest in Samogitia and its vicars were mostly prelates of Varniai.

After the Samogitian uprising, Vytautes Hotiejus, the first Bishop of Samogitia moved his residence from Medininkai to Louke, which at that time was a less important than Medininkai. The upsurge of Protestantism engulfed Samogitia as a result of which the Louke parish lost its priest and the church was closed for a long time. The parish was reconstituted in the time of a bishop M. Giedraitis. When, in the year 1587, the diocese of Samogitia was divided into three deaneries, Louke was one of them. Later the centre of the Deanery was transferred to Varniai. From the earliest times the right to appoint the vicar was granted to the Grand Duke and a portion of Louke's parish revenues were allocated for the support of the chorister/clergy of Varniai Cathedral. When the revenues drastically fell after the plague of 1710, the choristers petitioned the Bishop in 1746 to award them a regular salary. A decision of the gentry court in a 1696 recorded a case of witchcraft in Dirvenai, indicating that some peasants in the Louke vicinity were suspected of witchcraft at that time, and in the year 1702 the wife of the canon of Varniai was suspected of being a witch, and was burned at the stake.

In 1744 Jonas Lopacinskis, Bishop of Samogitia built another, probably the third, wooden church at Louke. A stone (?brick) wall was built around the churchyard. In 1819 a new chapel was built in the cemetery. In 1841 Louke parish was served by four priests; the parish had seven "valakai", and 27 "margai" of land, 15 surfs and there were 7668 parishioners.(1 valaku =16.8 hectactres, & 1 margai = 5800sq.metres). There was also an altarage (a fund to support the Altar, or more correctly the House of there Curate who looked after the altar). In 1938 Louke belonged to the deanery of Varniai and there were 5150 Catholics in the parish. The church survived the Second World War unscathed.

In the second half of the 19th century Louke became well-known throughout the Samogitia due to the celebrated "social-leveller", Tadeusz Blinde. At first this man was an honest peasant, and he was even elected headman of Louke. He was a good official and always stood up for the weak against the landowners and the authorities. On one occasion Oginskis ordered his functionaries to flog a couple of peasants who had committed some crime. Blinda did not allow it and Oginkis threatened him with the whip, but Blinda wrenched it out of the landowner’s hands and struck Oginiski in the face with it. After this incident he had no other option but to flee to the forest. Blinda was born in the village of Kincuiliai (six kilometres north of Louke) and he chose the Bivainiai Forest, which he knew well and which began close to Kincuiliai village, as his abode. Some villagers supported him and went off with him. Blinda and his band plundered the prosperous landowners and clergy. His associates lived well on stolen property. On several occasions he helped out the poor and oppressed the gentry. This was why he was given the title of "The World Leveller" among the people, since he was taking from the rich and giving to the poor. The whole of the district knew many stories about Blinda, but even though these events are still fairly recent, it is difficult to distinguish truth from legend. Songs were composed to him, and C. Zemkalnis even wrote a play about him. The words of a surviving song go as follows: -

"There was a robber, Blinda, well known in three Shires;
He gathered a large band round him and beat up some people,
He robbed the affluent world, he plundered them and thrashed them to death."

We do not know exactly how long Blinda continued his "levelling". In the year 1878 he arrived at St George's fair. People recognised him and he was betrayed to the faithful hirelings of Oginskis who caught him and lynched him on the spot in the market square: -

"And the bandits and neck was broken,
Stones were hurled, his head and jaws were crushed
The police came running up,
When they were already thrashing him."

It is clear from the song that Blinda had some sort of understanding with the Tsarist police and exchanged favours with them. His murderers were arrested and imprisoned and jailed in Siauliai, but they were released on the orders of Oginskis. Blinda's corpse was buried at Louke in the graves "beyond the river bed". Someone even set up a small memorial stone to him, which is now dilapidated, with the inscription which can still be read: "Eternal resting place.....Tadeusz...... in memory".

In 1887 a large fire occurred in which 70 Jewish houses were burnt.  After the fire Khaim Tzvi Galgut, a rich merchant from Siberia came back to Luknik (proving unequivocally that the Galgut family derives from this village (as recorded in the Pinkas Hakehillot)). 

He was the product of a phenomenon at that time of taking male children from their families for service in the Russian army.  However, many of these boys were actually taken from their homes and families to "re-educate" them into being good Russians with the hope that they would lose their Jewish identity.  The plan of Tzar Nicholas I (+/- 1826) was to “civilise” the Jews in 3 ways: by educating them in Russian schools, obliging them to do military service, and then forcing them to serve 25 years of military service, after which they would become fully fledged Russians.  They were taken at a very young age for pre-military training so that hopefully their Jewish culture would be forgotten.  There were many ways in which families avoided having their sons sent off for this purpose such as cutting off one of their fingers (enabling them to claim that the son was lame), re-registering their sons with other families that did not have sons (as the firstborn son was exempt) or simply paying the Khapurim ( in English "Khappers", literally meaning the grabbers) not to take their sons.  As a result of re-registering sons with families that only had daughters or who were childless, many brothers had adopted different surnames because they were living ostensibly as the children of their adoptive families.

Khaim Tzvi Galgut (referred to above) was taken to the Russian army at an age of 14, 30 years previously to become one of the Kantonists (Jewish boys "grabbed" for the Russian army to enter pre-military camps for "re-education".  A Kanton was a pre-military camp.).  He was therefore raised as a Christian in a Christian family setting.  He never forgot his roots and he found his father and mother and members of his family when he returned.  He had sent money to support them and he also supported other members of the community who lost their dwellings in the fire (approximately 170 families).

In 1888, just before Passover there was a blood libel (pogrom) and riots.  Some Jews survived by a miracle.  For all those reasons (fire, pogroms, etc,) many of the remaining residents of Luknik (and many other villages) emigrated to South Africa, the USA, and Israel reducing the Jewish population by half.

It is recorded that there was 1 Jew involved in agriculture (this was highly unusual because most of the Christian community were farmers and most of the Jewish community were merchants).  In 1885 it is recorded that there were 2 doctors and 1 dentist.  In 1931-37 it is recorded that there were 2 Jewish shops for food, 2 for fabric, 1 for sewing machines, 1 pharmacy, 1 egg shop, and others.  There was also a little sweet factory, 6 taylors, 2 shoemakers, 1 milliner (hats) and 1 barber.

The Lithuanian national revival began in the area of Louke at the end of the 19th century. At that time, the illegal press, dominated by Bubinas, Petravicius and other wealthy publishers, and suppressed by the Russians, reached Louke. Fr. Zimbiles, a curate, Blaivybes, founded a Temperance Society and organised a small secret Lithuanian library. For that he was fined and banished from Louke by the Russians. In 1925 the parish priest of Louke was fined 70 roubles by the Russian authorities, after consecrating an Iron Cross in a certain village chapel.

At the end of the 19th century the parish priest, Fr J Danius, rationalised begging by issuing beggars with leather tokens with their name, surname, certificate of place of origin, and time when they became poverty-stricken. The beggars were to wear these tokens on their foreheads. Malingerers were not issued with such tokens, and begging was effectively reduced. On September 17th, 1909 the first cattle show was held. In 1909 there were 80 pupils attending the school. During the First World War the inhabitants of Louke suffered from German excesses.

With the rise of independent Lithuania, a district committee was formed but soon the Reds (ie Russians) established themselves in Louke again. However, in February 1919, the 8th Regiment of the Samogitian Communists took up position in Louke. It was composed of two battalions. The first Battalion, the larger and better organised of the two, consolidated its position in Louke. The second was still on its way. The commander of the regiment was an officer called Baltrusis-Zemaitis, who was at Louke during the fighting. On February 26th, the Red (ie Russian) scouts had already made contact with the Germans. On February 27th, especially chosen German troops led by Major Schlenter attacked Louke, carrying out a pincer movement. The 8th Samogitian regiment suffered a crushing defeat. The entire heavy machine gun section, mostly composed of Russians, which had taken up position in a stone (?brick) cattle shed belonging to the vicarage, fell into German hands. The Germans shot several of their prisoners, quite a number of Bolsheviks perished in the fighting. The 8th Infantry Regiment was forced to retreat to Kursenai. On March the 2nd the Germans took Nevarenai. Soon afterwards the 8th Samigitian Communist Regiment was completely routed; its remnants were attached to purely Russian units.

In the years of independence Louke was a local centre and belonged to the Telsiai district. Louke, rebuilt in the post-war years, once again suffered a great conflagration in 1934, when the town centre and houses in some other streets went up in flames. After the fire, Louke was replanned and rebuilt, with new houses, including some stone (?brick) built two-storey houses.

Street lighting was introduced, sidewalks were laid, an elementary school and similar buildings were put up. Louke had the local district administration, an elementary school, a post office, forestry, the police station,"Satridjos" bookshop, a section of the central library, a fire brigade, a steam dairy, a water mill with saw-mill, a tannery, a brickworks, an electric power station, a wool combing works, numerous craftsman's workshops, shops, a co-operative, a small loan society, etc. A whole series of cultural, social, religious and youth organisations were established. An Independence monument was erected.

The second world war had a distressing effect upon Louke which lost many men. The Germans liquidated the Jewish community; the Bolsheviks imprisoned banished and tortured many Lithuanians. During the military operations of 1944, the town was destroyed. In the post war years it is the centre of the Uzventis Region and the "New Life" collective farm. It has a secondary school, a hospital, a House of Bolshevik propaganda, a dairy, a post office, and mill, a saw mill, etc. In 1959 it had 700 inhabitants.

3) Destruction of the Luknick Community in the Second World War

(Excerpt translated from Yiddish volume published by the Jewish Lithuanian Cultural Society "Lite" Inc. 485 Ocean Ave., Brooklyn 26 NY USA New York 1951)

These notes are extracts from a book which was written by Dr Freedman and Yerushalim about the tragedy of the destruction of lovely communities in Lithuania. As is known, and Nazis invaded Lithuania in June 1941. They immediately arranged two ghettos - 1 in Telz and 1 in Shavel.

In 1942, already from the 270,000 Jews - men and women - in Lithuania, only 42,753 remained. It is difficult to describe the terrible atrocities and murderous attacks that befell our Lithuanian brethren.

In the ghetto in Telz, the atrocities were done, not so much by the Germans, but by the Lithuanian so-called intelligent people. The Jewish people from Telz were put in a kind of stable with no water, no heating, no sanitary arrangements. In that barrack were 60,000 Jewish people. In January of that year 1942, they started this wicked murdering by Lithuanian peasants, which was called "Sheydim Tanz" - "The Devil's Dance". All men were forced in the severe cold weather to come to the market place and where all types of exercises were performed. The exercises were extremely severe, especially for the elderly people and especially for all who had no food, heat, or sleep, for the preceding few months. Many of the men could not continue with this exercise, which included running about, falling, getting up - so those who could not get up died on the spot! They especially attacked and tortured the rabbi of Memel. They forced him to burn the Sefri Torah ( scrolls of the law) and other holy books. They tortured him so much that before his soul departed, this old Great Rabbi shouted "Dear Children, remember that we can eat even pork - but you must make a blessing on it". So the tortures continued from one little town to the other. At one time the Lithuanian peasants tortured the well-known Dr Sachs from the small town called Ritve. His young wife, with a child of two years in her arms, shouted to them "You murderers, you nobodies, you will get your punishment in time. We have done nothing to you, and my husband has helped you with all his skill - you murderers!" she shouted at the top of her voice. The murderers did not spare her - she managed to strangle her own child and then they killed her. She was killed together with 4000 Jewish people.

And in another little town called Renia, another 6000 men were killed that same night. This is well known. Rosh Yeshiva - Rav Yossef Leib Bloc was tortured and killed. At the same time they killed the Rav of Telz- Ravichock Bloch; then murdered him by using sticks with severe iron nails in them, he shouted before he died: "You murderers, today you are shedding our innocent blood - but the day will come when your own blood will be poured out on the streets - running in the gutters like dogs". And so we can only speak about it with tears in the eyes and an ache in the heart. From the small towns they gathered, naked, without shoes, food, and with great weakness, and they were all driven to the ghetto of Telz. And so the Jewish community in Lithuania were destroyed, murdered and tortured, so that a handful were left over who were also driven to the other ghetto which was Shavel. In this ghetto partly in Telz, and partly in Shavel the following small townspeople were driven, and the men and women were put in stables. From this ghetto there were people from Luknik, and Plungya, from Alsad, from Ritve, Volne and Tver. It is impossible to relate the atrocities and the terrible torture that our brethren suffered. The organiser who performed all this terrible torture was not a German himself, but a Lithuanian tailor who knew some German and he was the main murderer of all of our dear ones.

There were one or two Lithuanians who tried to save some of the Jewish people, but only a few were saved. In many of the small Lithuanian towns like Luknik the Jews lived in peace with the peasants before the Germans came, but as soon as they arrived the Lithuanians showed their real skin. They showed that they were like wild animals and went out to murder and torture and destroy all those communities.

It is related here that Dr Chvaiden, who looked often many peasants around Shaivel and around a little time called Tzitevyun..... and the murderers, the wild animals, who were supposed be intelligent people, insisted that this doctor should give them all the money that he had so that they would leave him alive. This was also demanded by most of the peasants in the village who were his patients. Also his wife was the only dentist in the town. They hoped that by giving away all their money and possessions they would be saved. The murderers came and killed her with her child, and when the husband, who was looking after a very ailing peasant, came back and found what the murderers had done, he said "Now can you kill me as well". So the atrocities and murders continued all the time during this terrible occupation of the Nazis.

It is really impossible to continue to describe the terrible, terrible atrocities and murderous acts that not only the Germans but the Lithuanian Goyim have meted out to our dear Lithuanian brethren.

In this book Yerishalem tries to explain why there was no Jewish resistance, and he comes to the conclusion that the attacks on the Jewish population were so quick and with so much ferocity that it was impossible to organise and obtain weapons to defend themselves. So the ghettos in Telz and Shavel were completely destroyed, and no Jews were left in the four small towns around these two ghettos.

This narrative is only a partial description of one area of Lithuania and there is much more written about Kovno and the ghetto there, and also about the destruction of Ponevez - the Jewish community that was there. We can only utter the words of King David "We pray that all your enemies should be lost and destroyed".

4) A Journey to Lithuania, October 2009 by Peter and Keith Galgut

The information below is a summary of our own experiences in visiting these places, plus information given to us by our guide, who derived most of his information from a publication called:-

Pinkas Hakehillot: The Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities from their Foundation to the Holocaust: Lithuania: edited by Dov Levin, and assistant editor Josef Rosin, published by Yad Vashem in 1996.

Vilnius (Vilna)

Vilnius is a sophisticated cosmopolitan city. It is the centre of government so it has numerous impressive governmental buildings together with the Presidents Palace. It has a university and large commercial areas around the original old city (some of which were exclusively Jewish areas before the Second World War for those successful and wealthy Jews who had moved out of the ghetto). There is very little to see there because most of the Jewish history has been wiped out. There is the sight of where the Goan’s house once was, and where the Great synagogue once was. Nothing there but memories! If you know where to look you can find the area where the ghetto used to be (the Main Street was Goan Street which still exists). Walking up Goan street leads into the ghetto which is now populated by boutique hotels, tavernas, coffee shops etc completely obliterated in the horrific past of people who once lived there. A short car drive away there is an impressive synagogue with a struggling small Jewish community (who, like everywhere else are desperately short of money), and there were 3 Jewish cemeteries, 2 of which were torn up (the old one is now a sports centre including an Olympic sized swimming pool dug into the ground, obliterating the cemetery and its contents completely) with the headstones being used for masonry in new buildings by the Soviets after the Second World War. The 2nd cemetery has only a memorial to what was once there and which now has a community centre on the site

In the administrative centre in Vilnius Entering the old Jewish ghetto

L: In the administrative centre in Vilnius.
R: Entering the old Jewish ghetto.

The New Commercial District

The New Commercial District (once a Jewish suburb that is now obliterated)

Shialus (Shavli)

This is a nearby large town and industrial centre. Shavli means an archer, and there is a huge pillar with a gilded archer on top erected by the Russians in the middle of a large green space. Adjacent to this park leading up the hill to the main street is the old Jewish ghetto. Nothing remains of this as it was destroyed during the war and Russian type concrete blocks of flats have been erected in its place.

As you enter the town there is a small synagogue (now the Jesuit prayer house). Immediately next to that is a large industrial building which was the Tannery of Chaim Frankle whose large and ostentatious villa is adjacent to the old Tannery building. He was very wealthy, having won the contract to supply leather products to the Russians and particularly the Russian army, so he was able to keep many Jews in employment and under his protection. The Russians needed his goods, and consequently he managed to preserve the lives of many Jews during the Soviet era when many of those Jewish communities that survived the Holocaust Were being destroyed. Further into the town and to the right and behind the tannery, probably the equivalent of two London blocks distance was the old Jewish Ghetto and behind that was the park with the archer.

Luknik (Louke) (In Kovno Gaberna, in the Saiuliai (Shavli) district)

(In addition to the book Pinkas Hakehillot from which much of this information is derived, additional information in this section was sourced from the Siauliai District Research Group publication.) A street map of Luknik can actually be downloaded from Google maps (Lithuania, Luoke). Please see above for historical information about Luoke.

Outside the town there are 2 forests demarcated as areas of mass killings.

As with most villages in Lithuania there is absolutely no memorial to the Jews who were killed by the Lithuanians, Nazis, and subsequently the Soviets, all of whom have large amounts of blood on their hands! Even on the central square, where the "Dance of Death” took place (see above for details and see photograph below). There is no evidence whatsoever of any Jewish presence ever having been there or a memorial to those who were slaughtered. However there is a large and prominent cross in the middle of the square which seems to me to be a war memorial.

On the edge of the town in a valley on the far side of the farm one of the 2 Jewish cemeteries is to be found (the 2nd cemetery is to the west of the town). The first one is not well kept, although I have obtained a list of all of the graves in it. The problem is that surnames were not used until the early 20th century, and consequently all graves are listed as "X the son/daughter of Y". It is therefore not possible to identify which are family graves and which are not unless one can work with the actual family interrelationships on the family tree. We did not visit the 2nd cemetery which is reputed to be better kept.

Entrance to Luknik, new houses in the foreground, the old village on the hilltop behind. The Jewish cemetery is in the valley in betwee Luoke An original unrestored Jewish house

L: Entrance to Luknik, new houses in the foreground, the old village on the hilltop behind. The Jewish cemetery is in the valley in between( not visible).
R: An original unrestored Jewish house. Note the well in the foreground (behind the tree). Most village dwellings in rural Lithuania even today do not have indoor facilities or running water and many houses still use their own well for water.

The village market square on the left and rebuilt Jewish houses around the Market Square Jewish houses around the Market Square

L: The village market square on the left and rebuilt Jewish houses around the Market Square. Note the pink house at the end has 3 windows. The central window was probably a door originally as Jewish houses always had 2 doors: one for the business and one for the family.

Rebuilt Jewish houses off the main square The approach to the eastern Jewish cemetery

L: Rebuilt Jewish houses off the main square (a house on the left has had an extension built into the roof which would not have originally been there).
R: The approach to the eastern Jewish cemetery.

The cemetery in Luknik A typical means of transport, even today

L: The cemetery in Luknik (typical of so many Jewish cemeteries)
R: A typical means of transport, even today!

Telse (Telsai)

Telse is the local large town, and is the centre of a part of Lithuania inhabited by a different tribe, the Samorginians, (ie from Samogilia). They speak a different dialect to the rest of Lithuania so they are somewhat disparagingly not considered true Lithuanians.

Because Telsai was a large industrial centre and railway junction it suffered severe damage during the war so that very little is left of the original city, including the Jewish sector/ghetto. The old synagogue still stands and is currently being converted into luxury flats. The famous yeshiva can be found across the town in a badly degrading state. There is a small brass head embedded in the wall which, legend has it, has become a ‘destination’ icon for certain religious Jews who make a special effort to visit the head in order to touch it for spiritual revival. Nearby is the old Jewish cemetery which is in a reasonably good state.

The old synagogue, now being converted into flats The old yeshiva building falling into disrepair

L: The old synagogue, now being converted into flats.
R: The old yeshiva building falling into disrepair.

Below is one of the last remaining original wooden synagogues in the town of Ziezmariai in the whole of central Europe, in desperate need of restoration and repair.

one of the last remaining original wooden synagogues in the town of Ziezmariai in the whole of central Europe, in desperate need of restoration and repair

5) Maps - click on them to see full size.

Map of Lithuania