Pren (Prienai), Lithuania Written by Joseph Rosin English edited by Sarah and Max Kopfstein
Pren (as the town was called in Yiddish) is located in the southern part of Lithuania on the shores of the Neman (Nemunas) river about 30 km (20 miles) south of Kovno and about 100 km (62 miles) away from its estuary into the Kurish Gulf (Kursiu Marios), the bay of the Baltic Sea.
The town was built on both sides of the river, the main part of the town being on the left hand side of the river, with a bridge linking both parts. Pren was mentioned for the first time in 1502, when the Great Duke Alexander handed the town over to Mikhail Gilinsky.
In 1609 Pren received the so called ‘Magdeburg’ rights of a town, which King Stanislav August ratified in 1791. By 1766 about 1,000 people lived there.
Until 1795 Pren was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom, when the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times - Russia, Prussia and Austria - caused Lithuania to become partly Russian and partly Prussian. The part of the state which lay on the left side of the Neman river (Nemunas) was handed over to Prussia while the other part became Russian. Prussia ruled there during the years 1795-1807. At the end of the eighteenth century Pren became a county center and started to develop. During that time a glass factory and a paper mill, the largest in Lithuania, were established near the town.
After Napoleon defeated Prussia and according to the Tilzit agreement of July1807, Polish territories occupied by Prussia were transferred to what became known as the "The Great Dukedom of Warsaw", which was then established. The king of Sachsonia, Friedrich-August, was appointed Duke, and the Napoleonic code now became the constitution of the dukedom, according to which everybody was equal before the law, except for the Jews who were not granted any civil rights.
During the years 1807-1813, Pren belonged to the "Great Dukedom of Warsaw". The Napoleonic Codex was then introduced in this region, remaining in effect even during the Lithuanian period.
In 1815, after the defeat of Napoleon in Russia, all of Lithuania was annexed to Russia including Pren, which became part of the Suvalk Gubernia, and the town's development was encouraged. In 1868 a beer brewery was established there, which became famous throughout Lithuania because of the quality of its products. Market days and fairs took place. In 1827 there were 1,972 people in Pren and by 1856 - 2,304, among them 1,479 Jews.
During World War I Pren was under German occupation (1915-1918). During the years of Lithuania's independence (1918-1940) Pren was included in the Marijampole district, continuing to develop and its population increasing. Many light industries and workshops were established. In 1923, according to the first census of the new government, the population had risen to 3,260 people, among them 650 Jews.
Pren in Winter 1936-37
At the end of 1939, according to the treaty between Lithuania and the USSR, a Soviet military base was established in Pren. In June 1941, with the invasion of Lithuania by the German army, the retreating Red Army blew up the concrete bridge over the Neman, but the town itself was not damaged.
From then on until the autumn of 1944 Pren was under German rule, with all its terror and atrocities.
The Jewish Settlement till After World War I.
Jewish settlement in Pren began in the seventeenth century. The"Pinkas haKehilah" (Notebook of the Community) mentions that the community belonged to the Horodna (Grodno) district of "Va'ad Medinath Lita" (1623-1764) and the district Rabbi was accustomed to visit and arrange the religious issues there. In 1766 there were 597 Jews in town.
During this period Jews made their living mainly from commerce. Most of them had auxiliary farms next to their dwellings, and several Jews rented land from estate owners, selling agricultural commodities, mainly milk products.
During the years of famine 1869/71 many Jews left and settled abroad. In a list of immigrants of 1869/70 the names of Pren Jews appear as follows: S.Gelchevsky, Frume Heinson, A.Zavrev, M.Levin, M.Marlutsky, J.Serstver, E.Serstver, S.Katz.
The welfare institutions acting in Pren were: "Lekhem Aniyim" (bread for the poor), who among others collected funds by means of a lottery (1881) operated by Tsvi Haskel and A.Y.Rudaminsky, and "Gemiluth Chesed" , operated for many years by Aharon Rozengard, who financed its activity through donations. Pren Jews also collected money for communities which had suffered from pogroms or fires. In the summer of 1881 Avraham Yosef Rudmansky and Yitskhak Gorfinkel collected 90 Rubel, a considerable sum in those days, from Pren Jews, sending 40 Rubel to the Rabbi of Augustowa whose town had suffered from a fire, and 50 Rubel, through the editorial board of "HaMeilitz", to help victims of pogroms. For a list of donors as published in "HaMeilitz" see Appendix I.
Pren community itself suffered from a pogrom carried out by Polish youngsters on the fifteenth of August 1882. During the pogrom 20 people were wounded defending themselves, amongst them the Catholic priest who went to defend the Jews and was wounded in his head. The rioters robbed Jewish shops and houses and many of them were left very poor. On the October 17, 1882 a call for help was published in "HaMeilitz" (Nr.38) signed by Aharon Rosengard, Ya'akov Finkelshtein, Eliezer Goldberg and Efraim Shereshevsky. A fund raising action took place all over Russia and about 1,500 Rubel were collected. Among the main donors were Baron David Ginzburg who donated 400 Rubel, the St.Petersburg Committee 600 Rubel, the Gubernator of Kovno together with Herman Kahan persuaded the Kovno committee to send 150 Rubel, Shaul Hirsh Hurvitz 30 Rubel through the Rabbi of Kovno, Rabbi Dr.Rilf, Lurie and Vitenberg from Memel sent 150 Rubel through the Rabbi of Kovno Elkhanan Spektor, Poliakov from Moscow - 50 Rubel, Yehoshua Tseitlin - 25 Rubel through the editorial board of "HaMeilitz" etc.
Eighty rioters were put on trial, which lasted for about two years. It took place in April 1884 at the district court in Marijampole and 48 of the accused received light punishments, 26 of them being released thanks to the amnesty granted by the Tzar. The prosecutor was Khlebnikov, who described the victims' sufferings impressively, and from the Jewish side there were Adv. Kaminsky from Warsaw and Adv. Frank from Kovno, assisted by Dr. Tsvi Cohen.
The Pren synagogue was built in the eighteenth century and the old Beth-Midrash was rebuilt in 1903. There were two more praying houses (Klois), one of Goldberg and the other of Abelson.
In April 1915, during World War I, the
Russian military authorities expelled Pren Jews from the
town. Some settled in Vilna, but after the German army
occupied Pren, they returned home, finding their houses,
their praying houses, the ritual bath and the cemetery
ruined and robbed. Thirty families needed to be supported by
Pren Beit Safer (Jewish School)