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Krozh (Kraziai) entry from Lithuanian Jewish Communities

by Nancy and Stuart Schoenburg, Jason Aronson, 1996, pages 155-162.

Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, N.J.

 Krozh (Kraziai) – Rasin District

Krozh is approximately 35 miles from the East Prussian border. Its primary commercial ties were with Kelme (11 miles) and Memel (50).  The nearest rail line was in Nemoksht.  The town was near a large pine forest.

Krozh was named for the River Krazhianta which flows past it.  The source of the river is the springs in Karklian (6 miles).  It flows by Krozh and Kelme to the Dubisa, a tributary of the Nieman River.

Krozh was known in the tenth century.  It was used for pagan sacrifices to the goddess of the forest, Medeine.  The cultic site is known as the “Mount of the Hunters.”  In recent times, it was used for hiking and recreation. Adjoining the town is a pine forest, a well-known summer resort and an important source of wood for heating and building.  The summer vacation spot was loved by Duchess Radziwill of Poland.

In 1257, the town was conquered by the Livonian Order of the Teutonic Knights.  It was later returned to Lithuania.  At the beginning of the fifteenth century, Vitovt, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, erected a Christian Church and a Benedictine monastery.  At the end of the century, a “temple for monks” was established in a large stone building.

In the seventeenth century, Jesuits, expelled from England, settled in Krozh.  They built a second large Christian Church, which was well-fortified.  They erected a gymnasium (a classical high school) for the children of the elite.  In 1846, it was transferred to Kovno under the name “Krozhian Gymnasia.”

In 1892, a Catholic rebellion against the politics of Russification of government occurred in the town.  The authorities transferred the second church to the Provo-Slavs of the area.  Cossacks were sent to the town.  The rebellion ended with mass arrests and with many injured.  Many were exiled to Siberia.

The Jewish community dates from the fifteenth century. In the following century, the community organized.  Dignitaries were active in the “Council of the Lands.”  At that time, the town was part of the Keidan northern circuit.  Krozh was a center for the surrounding communities.  Delegates from the northern circuit would assemble there.  At the end of the seventeenth century, the first rabbi was appointed.  The town became a center for learning Kabbalah in Lithuania.

Krozh Synagogue 1924 Photo by Bernard Abrahams

In 1766, there were 1048 Jews in Krozh.  In 1888, there were 220 Jewish families or 1125 people, 32% of the general population of 3375.  In 1925, 650 Jews (130 families) lived there, and in 1929 – 535 Jews (107 families). Before World War II, about 100 Jewish families lived there.  In 1941, 462 Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

In 1848, a large fire destroyed much of the Jewish community.  The town itself was partially rebuilt.  Prior to this time, Krozh extended for over a mile southward to the Village of Sovitishuk and 2 miles to the west, to Linkovza.  After the fire, the Jewish community waned.  From 1880, when the road to Prussia via Kelme and the Libau-Rumanian rail line were laid, Shavli and Kelme advanced and Krozh declined further.  A large emigration began to America, South Africa and Australia.

In the 1890’s, a post office was established.  Previously, two Jews went once or twice a week to the nearest branch of the post office to bring and receive mail.

The Jews of Krozh were mainly involved in crafts and trade.  Market day was Monday.  In 1880, there were 192 craftsmen, including 53 tailors, 25 shoemakers, 30 brush makers and 12 butchers.  There were 129 merchants, including 27 retail shopkeepers, 2 wholesalers, 12 brandy sellers, 18 horse-traders, 12 fruit-garden tenants, 5 vegetable-garden tenants and 3 innkeepers.  Of 79 laborers, there were 60 working in 2 workshops for processing bristles, 2 farmers, 4 laundrymen and 3 porters.  In addition, there was a rabbi, a cantor, 2 shochets, 3 shammases, a doctor, a medic, 12 melameds, 2 teachers and 29 beggars and widows.  In the cheders, 120 boys were enrolled.  In the last years before the Holocaust, there were 54 merchants and shopkeepers, 22 craftsmen, 4 laborers and 12 of the free professions.

In 1925, the Jewish Peoples Bank was founded.  It had 132 members in 1932.  In 1925, the first automobile was acquired for transportation and hauling to replace horses and wagons.  For the first time, the trip to Shavli and back did not take more than one day.  In 1926, electricity was installed.  In 1927, sidewalks were laid and trees were planted along their length.

Krozh had an old beit midrash in which there were 2 shtiblach for prayer and Torah.  In the mid-nineteenth century, a large synagogue was built for Shabbat and Holidays.  It had one of the woodcarved holy arks that were renowned in Lithuania.  Similar holy arks were also located in Kelme, Shukian and Yurburg.

Long-standing societies for Torah and charity were active.  In the nineteenth century, there was Gemara, Mishnayot, Chayai-Adam, Ein-Yakov, Midrash, Tehillim, Menorat-Hamaor, Chafetz Haim (for study of his books), 2 Bible study societies, Chevra Kadisha (burial society), Netaai Shashuim (for the acquisition of books for the beit midrash), Tikun Sfarim (school book repairs), Perchei Shoshanim (for buying wood to heat the beit midrash), Biker Holim, Hachnasat Orchim, Talmud Torah (for the support of teachers in a special cheder); a loan society (to give loans to members, who initially deposited 5 rubles and paid a monthly sum of 2 rubles. “Needy people” at the end of the century received loans

Ark in Krozh Synagogue Abrams Photo 1925

from the “honorable wealthy man”, Chaim-Neta Zacks. The “loan society” later became the Gemach Fund, which also gave loans to the poor).  In the 1880’s, there was a “Dorshei Zion” Society, an organization of “Hovevei Zion,” which sent money to Rabbi Pines for Petach Tikvah.  During Independent Lithuania, some of the societies terminated.  But added were Tiferet Bachurim (unmarried, religious men who prayed and studied together in a special minyan) and Linat Hazedek (providing medical assistance and overnight care at the home of sick).

Hovevei-Zion and preachers of Zionism appeared at the beginning of this century.  Two young men came from outside the country to organize Zionist organizations.  Eidelman founded the Young Zionist Party and Yitzhak Biber founded “Young Israel” (a party of religious Zionists).  Both organized meeting centers and Hebrew lessons.  When they left, the community had been organized and a committee elected.

In 1922, a student library was organized.  In 1924, an ethnic public library was created with books in Yiddish and Hebrew.  The same year Tzofim (Scouts) and Maccabi were organized and activities began for Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael and Keren Hayesod.  In 1925, the town had 61 Keren Kayemet boxes.  Later, Hechalutz (Pioneers), Young Pioneers, Socialist Democrats and Betar were founded.  Abba Bonimovitz was a leading Zionist figure.

Jewish pupils studied at the Lithuanian gymnasium (classical high school) and some relationships were formed between the Jewish and Lithuanian youth.  There was a Jewish representative in the municipality.  However, the tendency toward “Lithuanianization” persisted.  An early example was a law requiring Sunday closing.  The Verslaninki cooperatives undercut Jewish merchants.  Lacking opportunities for the future, Jewish youth moved to the larger cities, especially Memel.  Some emigrated to Eretz Yisrael, while others went to other countries.

From the rabbinate: R. Yakov bar Eliahu Halevy Shur (beginning of the eighteenth century; related to R. Yehezkel Katzenelbogen, the Gaon of Hamburg.  According to the introduction of a response by the “Rema,” R. Moshe Isserles, published in Amsterdam, the lineage (“yichus”) of R. Yakov extends to the Rema, to Rashi and to the Tanna R. Yochanan HaSandler, who was the fourth generation to R. Gamaliel the Elder of the royal family of David.  From his descendants – R. Yehezkel Halevy Landau who was the third Beit Din chairman in Vilna and sat on the bench of the Gaon Rabbi Ably of Posvol); R. Yehuda-Leib bar Ezriel Ziv (mid-eighteenth century rabbi); R. Moshe Halevy Horwitz (taken to Vilna to be a teacher of the children of the Vilna Gaon.  Later, he was a maggid mesharim (preacher) in Vilna until 1811.  He was a religious court judge until his death in 5581/1821.). R. Abraham bar Shlomo Zalman (brother of the Vilna Gaon); R. Uri (end of the eighteenth century; related by marriage to R. Eliahu); R. Yom-Tov Lipman (end of eighteenth century); R. Avraham “Hasid” (mentioned in “Zichoron Avraham); R. Mordechai Rabinovitz (beginning of nineteenth century); R. Yeshaya bar Eliahu (rabbinical court judge in Krozh and rabbi in Salant); R. Bendt (son-in-law of R. Eliahu); R. Yakov bar Menahem (son-in-law of R. Eliahu. Served 40 years as a rabbi in Krozh.  Died in Jerusalem). Simcha Halevy Horwitz (1830-1895; at age 18 he became a rabbi. He lived in Krozh, Shaduva and Liakhovitz.  Descended from Rabbi Yeshaya Hurvitz, the Sh’la.  He was in Hovevei Zion and a relief society.  Some of his letters were published.  An obituary was printed in “Luach Achiasaf” in 5656/1896). R. Zevullan-Leib bar Yom-Tov Lipman (President of the rabbinical court of Darshunishuk, Gudleva, Filipova, Krozh and Plungian, in the mid-nineteenth century.  He was a great-grandson of the “Rit” from the eighteenth century. R. Yitzhak Lipkin (son of R. Yisrael Salanter.  He served later in Yanova and Ponevezh);  R. Zeev-Wolf bar Aaron Yehoshua Torbovitz (1846-1921); R. Abraham-Baer Hamburg (rabbinical court judge in Krozh in the 1890’s); R. Yosef-Avigdor bar Yom-Tov Lipman Koshel-Kessler (born in 1885; related through marriage to Rabbi Zeev Torbovitz, mentioned above.  Served in the rabbinate of Verzhon and later filled the place of his father-in-law with added notes under the name “Yad-Yosef.”  In 1941 “Tiferet Yosef”-part 1, was published and in it a response and negotiation in Halacha with contemporary rabbis.  He was a member of the council of rabbis in the U. S. and an enthusiastic religious figure); R. Kalman bar Eliezer Maggid (1874-1941); R. Eliahu-Mordechai bar Zvi-Yechiel Halevy Velkovsky; and the last rabbi, R. Eliahu Kremerman (previously head of the Kelme Yeshiva.)

Rabbis who came from Krozh and served in other communities: R. David (rabbi of Meretsh); R. Shmuel (died at age 30); R. Mashhal Mainhes (died at age 40 in Vilna); R. Yekutiel-Leib bar Yakov Elyon (a rabbi in Zhezmir; he wrote a book “Mishneh Yekutiel” or “Gelion Maharil” (Warsaw, 1893); R. Yakov Yosef (“Yankele Charif”); R. Moshe Zebulun Margaliot (replaced R. Yakov-Yosef in New York.).

Notables: Eliahu bar Meir (a scholar and wealthy man at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  His sister was the second wife of the Vilna Gaon, who honored R. Eliahu by officiating at his wedding.  He had 4 sons.  Yehezkel was a rabbi in Shavli.  Yeshaya, mentioned above, was the youngest son of R. Eliahu, born to him at age 90. R. Uri was related to him by marriage; R. Yakov and R. Bendt, mentioned above, were his sons-in-law. R. Yitzhak (Itzhala Krezer), a great and righteous rabbi, in Shas (Six Orders of the Mishnah) and posim; in 1855, he founded a special cheder in Vaigova.  The second son, R. Yehoshua-Heshel Eliashsohn, was a rabbi in the communities of Shaki, Yanova, Zhezmir, Vilki, Sventzion and Sieni.  He was called “Head of Iron.” Lilienblum mentions him by this nickname in his writing.  In his time he opposed the forming of the “Musar House” of Israel Salanter out of fear of establishing a new sect of Jews. He died in 1870.  His daughter was Sarah Tzirel (1810-1878) and her husband R. Izik was one of the Torah greats of Vilna.  He was invited there to help at the time of the decree of Nicholas I and to make Vilna a spiritual center.  He returned to Krozh, and after his daughter was burned in a large fire, he devoted himself to farming near Krozh.  Shayna Elka was the daughter of Sarah Tzirel; her grandsons included: the writers and agronomists Yitzhak, Meir and Mordechai Vilkansky, the writer Eliezer-Eliahu Friedman and Dr. Moshe Krieger.  Eliezer Shulman (1837-1904, a writer); Yehoshua Davidovitch (1865-1897, a poet. Ahad Ha’am eulogized him in “Hashaloach,” vol. 1, p. 211); Naftali Friedman (1863-1921, attorney, a delegate from Kovno Gubernia to the Third and Fourth Duma in Russia, and was the final Lithuanian delegate).


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 Compiled by Rochelle Kaplan
Copyright © 2007-2009 Rochelle Kaplan

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