56° 04'/ 24° 24'
Pasvalys was named after the Pasvolka River that winds its way from the heights where the town was built. Nearby towns and villages were Pumpenai (14 km), Vaskai (14 km), Salociai (20 km), Joniskelis (16 km), Birzai (29 km), Linkuva, Pakruojis, Vabalninkas, and Zeimilis. Prior to World War I there was a settlement of Jews in the village of Krincinas (9 km). A narrow gauge railway line connected Pasvalys to Siauliai and Birzai.
Pasvalys had 400 Jewish families before World War I. Among the Jewish population was a small number of Karaites. The town also had ancient ruins that were the remnants of an old Karaite settlement.
During World War I, on 28 April 1915, the Jews were given eight hours to prepare before being expelled from the town. For ten days they were enclosed in barred railway carriages and then sent into Russia. In 1920 half the town was burnt down. By 1921 the Jewish population had risen to 525, and by1939 to 700 (180 families).
The majority of the Jews made a living in commerce and a small number as craftsmen and farmers. Market days were on Mondays and Fridays. The Jewish National Bank had 150 depositors. Many of the Jews emigrated to South Africa and the USA. There was one Beit HaMidrash and one Cultural School of 150 pupils.
Its rabbis included: Rav Chaim Itzhak, son of Rav Chaim Zak; Rav Abraham Shlomo and his son Rav Avri, afterwards head of the Beit Din at Vilnius; Rav Abraham-Leib Mintz; Rav Eliahu Benjamin, son of Rav Dov Diamond, famous for changing the lives and incomes of the town's inhabitants and institutions and who was among those who resisted the “Etrogi Corfu” movement; Rav Mordechai Rabinowitz (1885 - 1898); Rav Moshe Rabinowitz, who took over from his father Rav Mordechai from 1899 until 1925; Rav Israel Sheinkin, who wrote the poem “The Glory of Israel” and was afterwards the Rav of Atlantic City; and the last rabbi, Rav Itzhak Agulnik, may his blood be avenged.
Well known personalities and rabbis born in the town included: Rav Chaim Itzhak Bialystotzki, known as “The Preacher of Posvol”, Rav Abraham Simon, son of Rav Chaim Itzhak and the shochet of Posvol, who wrote the book The First Generations about the great teachers of the Mishnaic Period, the Yerushalmi and the Bavli, who were known for their Talmudic teachings (volume I,1935, Keidan). The mathematician Prof. Benjamin Bronstein, the young Saul Bronstein, and the journalist and writer Ari Glassman came from Pasvalys.
At the beginning of World War II there were 700 Jews living in Pasvalys.
The Germans entered the town on 26 June 1941 and the next day arrested Sheina Kretzmer, Nehemiah Millin, Chanan Forman and David Shapira. On 4 July they began to round up others, some of whom were imprisoned in the local jail and others in the granary of Joel Farber. During the night two Germans and two Lithuanian policemen arrived and demanded the young girls. Only after they were bribed with sums of money did they leave.
After several days the Jews imprisoned in the two places in Pasvalys were transferred to Siauliai (Shavli). Some of the women were later freed and returned to Pasvalys, where later they perished with the remaining Jews there. Of those that remained in Siauliai, very few survived.
In mid-July the Jews remaining in Pasvalys were placed in a ghetto bordered by part of Biraz Street and Polivan Street. One day Maldotis, the Mayor of Pasvalys, appeared and declared that everyone handing in their money and gold possessions would be sent to a labor camp on the banks of the Musa River. Those who did so were immediately returned to the Ghetto.
The Pasvalys Ghetto did not last very long. All supplies were received and controlled by the Pasvalys Municipality. In the Ghetto the town Rabbi, Rav Itzhak Agulnik, attempted to open a store to distribute the supplies to the Jews. Because they were cut off from the rest of the country, the inhabitants of the Ghetto were unable to obtain information documenting the general wild rampages of the Lithuanians. A little of the fate of the Jews of Pasvalys was described in a letter of 23 August sent by Rav Agulnik to the head of the Siauliai ghetto, three days before all the Jews of Pasvalys were murdered: “We beg you to try your best to rescue us. There are no Germans among us and therefore the wild Lithuanians are uncontrolled. They have stolen everything from us. We are in great danger, any minute the worst could happen. Have pity on us, please try and persuade the German authorities to save us.”
A few weeks before the end of the Pasvalys Ghetto, Jews from the surrounding villages of Joneskelis, Pumpenai, Jashukai, Salociai and Vabalninkas arrived in the Pasvalys Ghetto and all of them perished with the Pasvalys Jews.
On 26 August 1941 an order was issued that all Jews from the ghetto were to assemble at the town's Court of Justice, with all their belongings, so they could be sent to labor camps. At the synagogue the men were separated from the women and children, and they were taken past the Lithuanian Elementary School on Vilnius Street. On the same day they were all force marched to the Zadeikiai Woods about four km from the town, where they were all cruelly murdered.
The first signs of the mass grave were found by the few survivors of Pasvalys in September 1944. They wrote on a wooden board in Hebrew: “Here are buried the Jews of Pasvalys.” Later the citizens of Pasvalys erected two tombstones stating in Russian and Lithuanian: “Here are buried 5,000 Soviet citizens from the towns and villages of Pasvalys, Vabalninkas, Joniskelis, Krincinas and Dainjenai”.
On 25 August 1963, two memorial stones were placed there and a Lithuanian woman testified on the fate of the Jews of Pasvalys: “When the Jews were led along the paths from the town to the woods, the sounds of shooting and screams of terror could already be heard. These Jews being so led immediately realized what was happening and started to throw anything heavy of their belongings at their captors and then attacked them with their hands, legs and teeth."
At this point the murderers started to go wild; they tore babies from their mothers and split their heads against the trees on the road. The leading Jews were beaten and slain with belts, rifle butts, and knives. The rest were then shoved with brute force to the ready and waiting pits, and shot. Many were thrown into the pits alive, having been shot in the legs and arms to immobilize them. Later in the darkness, the wounded crawled out of the graves and tried to escape, but the murderers organized and chased after them and virtually all perished.
Only one woman succeeded in escaping, a Mrs. Moroz. She hid herself and with the help of Lithuanian acquaintances she succeeded in getting to the Siauliai Ghetto and from there to the Kaunas Ghetto. Also on 26 August 1941, forty persons succeeded in jumping the Ghetto fence and escaped, but all except three were recaptured and murdered.
There was an internal debate in the Pasvalys municipal council on whether to keep the Jews in the Ghetto or to execute them. The matter was put to the vote, and by a large majority, it was decided to execute the Jews.
Mrs. Sheina Gertner, a survivor who was an eyewitness until the last hours of the massacre, gathered and hid the dust from the grave in the Zadeikiai Forest, and in 1973 this dust was preserved in the basement of Yad Vashem.
The lists of mass graves in the book The Popular Massacres of Lithuania include the following:
Place - Zadeikiai Forest. Date - 26 August, 1941. Number who perished - 1,349 men, women and children.
Esther Glass-Shavetz of Kibbutz Givat Brenner
Boris Forman of Tel-Aviv.
“The Fate of the Jews of Posvol and Surrounding Villages” by B. Reinus, Lite, Volume 1, Association of Lithuanian Jews, New York, 1951.
The Literary Collections of Lithuania, pp. 859 ff.
Yerushalmi, Eliezer. The Shauli Notebook. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1958. p. 212.
Letter from the Committee of Survivors of Posvol, 7 April 1975.
The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II. Vilnius, 1973.
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume III: Part A - Personalities. Part B - Places. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, established by Abraham Dov Abrams and Former Lithuanians in Philadelphia and Israel, 1967. p. 337.
Lithuanian Jewry, Volume IV: The Holocaust 1941-1945. Tel Aviv: Association of Former Lithuanians in Israel, 1984. p. 332.
Source - http://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/lithuania3/Lithuania3.html#TOC
Translated from the book Yahadut Lita by Joe Woolf