During the Period of independent Lithuania (1918-1940)
Society and Economy
The Jewish community of Alite was one of the pioneer communities organizing its life according to the Autonomy Law regarding the minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government. Already in July 1919 a Community Committee of 11 members was elected in town. There were then 1,100 Jewish men in Alite, 425 among them had voting rights and 358 actually voted. 3 Orthodox, 3 Zionists, 3 Workers and 2 Mizrachi members were elected to the Committee. The first chairman was Hayim Kretchmer, a Z"S activist (in 1934 he immigrated to Eretz-Yisrael). The Committee was active in all fields of Jewish life until annulment of Autonomy at the end of 1925.
The Minister for Jewish Affairs in Lithuania Dr. Shimshon Rozenbaum (2) on a visit to Alite 1924. (1) Leib Gorfinkel, (3) Adv. Mendel Bokshitzky
According to the first government census of 1923 there were 6,322 people in Alite, and 1,715 among them were Jews (27%).
In the elections for the Municipality Council of 1931 four Jews were elected: Nachum Bernstein, Strelitz, Lifshitz, Nachum Beirach. In the elections of 1934, among 12 elected Council members only 3 were Jews: M. Bokshitzky, Sh. Beiral and N. Monosovsky.
In 1935 there were about 8,000 inhabitants in Alite, mostly Lithuanians. Many were employed by the District offices. That year there were 1,400 Jews in town, but during the period not one Jewish person was employed by the District or Municipality offices.
The Main Street (Vilnius) in Alite 2 where many Jewish owned houses stood
The Jews of Alite made their living from commerce, light industry, crafts and agriculture. According to the government survey of 1931 there were 94 businesses in Alite, 76 were owned by Jews (81%).
The distribution according to type of business is given in the table below:
Type of the business
Owned by Jews
Butcher's shops and Cattle Trade
Restaurants and Taverns
Textile Products and Furs
Leather and Shoes
Medicine and Cosmetics
Watches, Jewels and Optics
Tools and Steel Products
Building Materials and Timber
Stationary and Books
According to the same survey there were 51 factories in Alite and of them 24 were owned by Jewish (47%), as can be seen in the following table:
Type of the Factory
Metal Workshops, Tin, Power Plants
Chemical Industry: Spirits, Soaps
Textile: Wool, Flax, Knitting
Timber and Furniture
Paper Industry: Printing Press
Leather Industry: Production, Cobbling
Due to the Government's agrarian reform the lands of Jewish farm owners were taken away, and only a few continued to grow vegetables and tend orchards. Many Jews were suppliers for the army stationed in town. Fresh air, pine forests and the Neman River attracted holiday guests in summer which added to the income of many Jewish families in town.
In 1937 there were 61 Jewish artisans in Alite: 9 tailors, 8 bakers, 8 butchers, 6 hatters, 5 carpenters, 4 tinsmiths, 4 barbers, 2 blacksmiths, 2 shoemakers, 2 painters, 1 oven builder, 1 glazier, 1 bookbinder, 1 locksmith, 1 cord maker, 1 corset maker, 1 photographer, 1 watchmaker, 1 tailor, 1 laundry worker and 1 other worker.
The Jewish Folksbank had two branches in both parts of the town and played an important role in the towns economic life. In 1925 in Alite-1 the bank had 213 members and in Alite2 - 144 members. In 1927 the eastern branch (Alite1) had 161 members and the western branch - 364 members. There was a private bank as well owned by Yosef Marshak.
In the middle of the thirties the economic situation of Alite Jews started to decline due to the open propaganda of the Lithuanian Merchant Association-Verslas- propagating against buying at Jewish stores. To achieve their goal the Lithuanians established consumer cooperatives (Lietukis). As a result of this propaganda anti Jewish outburst began to occur in many places. In April 1932, 21 tombstones at the Jewish cemetery were desecrated in Alite.
According to the information of telephone book list of 1939, there were 130 telephone owners in Alite and among them 50 were Jews.
Education and Culture
The Jewish children of Alite had the opportunity to choose a suitable school among the several the town had to offer: Hebrew elementary school that was affiliated with the "Tarbuth" chain; Hebrew pro-gymnasium; a vocational school of the "ORT" chain; several "Chadarim" and a "Yeshivah". The town had a library with Hebrew and Yiddish books.
The Hebrew School 1937
Many of Alite, teenagers studied at the Hebrew High School (Hareali) in Kovno thanks to scholarships granted by a Jew, a native of Alite Azriel-Mordechai Tcheis who lived in the USA. He also donated funds to build this High School. Many Jewish boys and girls studied at the governmental High School in town where tuition fees were only token (150 Lit. per year=$25).
Picture supplied by Ruth Ben David A group of Jewish girls on the shore of the Neman Sitting from right: Eva Alperin (died during escape to Russia), Sheine Halperin (murdered in the Holocaust), Dvorah Katzovitz (in Israel), Standing from right: Hayah Katzovitz (in Israel), Mere Berlinsky (not known)
There was a drama circle performing Yiddish plays in town from time to time. Jewish theaters from Kovno would also visit Alite occasionally. In 1927 "The Jewish Theater Studio" performed the well-known play of Shalom-Aleichem "The Great Win". At this period there were two cinema theaters in town, both Jewish owned and contributing to cultural life.
Picture supplied by Ruth Ben-David Jewish youth rowing on the Neman River
In 1935 22 families of Alite subscribed to the "Jewish Encyclopedia" which began to be published in Paris in Yiddish. Among the subscribers there were several mixed families in which the husband was Christian and the wife Jewish (Dr.Stepanov, Petrov etc.) and also a German family (Kesting) which converted to Judaism.
A group of youth in the thirties The third from right: Sheine Helperin, the fourth: Chaya Katsovitz A group of youth Below: Sheine Helperin, over her:Chaya Katsovitz From right:Benjamin Latskovitz, Kliatchko Aba Zachupinsky
Zionist and other Activities
All Zionist parties had their supporters in Alite. The Z"S (Zionist Socialist) party was very active. The party members managed to acquire seats in the directorate of "The United Professional Society" which united workers and petty clerks. This could be attributed to the Zionist Socialist's success to interest the Jewish workers in professional activity.
Fundraising for KKL (Keren Kayemeth LeYisrael - The Jewish National Fund) was organized from time to time. Donations for KKL were also made on occasion by the "Olim LaTorah" in the synagogue.
There was also a branch of WIZO (Women's International Zionist Organization), headed by Mrs Dr. Kovarsky. WIZO would arrange lectures on different subjects in the afternoon hours in the Hebrew pro gymnasium; the topics ranged from Zionism, the Arab question etc.
In the table below we can see how Alite Zionists voted for the different parties at six Zionist Congresses:
Labor Party Z"S......Z"Z
A ... B
18 .... --
30 ... --
4 .. ..75
The Zionist youth organizations active in Alite were "Gordonia" with 30-40 members, "HaShomer HaTzair" and "Betar". Sports activities were organized by the local branch of "Maccabi" with its 74 members. There was a "Kibbutz Hachshara" (Training Kibbutz) affiliated with the "HeChalutz" and a training center of "Brith HaKanaim"-the youth organization of the Grosmanists. Many of the trainees of these organizations immigrated to Eretz-Yisrael.
A Group of "Hashomer-HaTsair" 1933 Picture supplied by Ruth Ben David "HeChalutz" Branch of Alite 1934 Sitting in the first line from right: Aba Zachopinsky, Sarah-Gita Finkelstein, (----- ?). Second line from right: (third) the dentist, (fifth) Chayim Kretchmer, (seventh) Virshov. Third line from right: (third) Osherovsky, (fourth) Chayah Katsovitz. Fourth line from right: (first) Leib Veisenberg from Kibbutz Amir
There was a "Volunteer Fire Brigade"in Alite with Jews and Lithuanians working as volunteers headed by Adv. Mendel Bokshitzky who was also the initiator of the group.
Picture supplied by Sa'adya Bahat Adv. M. Bokshitzky as the commander of the Volunteer Fire Brigade 1931-1932
Religion and Welfare
Although according to its administrative status Alite was one town, the Jews of Alite maintained two different communities. Each community had its own synagogue and its own Rabbi. Several welfare institutions, such as "Gemiluth Chesed", were separated in both parts of the town.
The "Beth-Midrash" building of Alite 2 still exists and is presently used as a storehouse for salt. (see picture below).
Picture taken by Sa'adya Bahat (Bokshitzky) in 1997 The "Beth-Midrash" Here was the "Beth-Midrash" in Yiddish and Lithuanian
The Rabbis who served during the last years of the community's existence were Aharon Milevsky, Nachman Koloditzky (in Alite2), Yehudah Yablonsky (in Alite1), and Bezalel Levin. The last two were murdered together with their communities in 1941.
Go to Part 3
- Compiled by Joseph Rosin
- Created on January 28, 2000
- Updated by JA April 5, 2000
- Copyright © 2000 Joseph Rosin