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Historical Notes on Kraziai

Kraziai is a small farm town in western Lithuania, a region known as  Samogitia. The town, on the Krazante River, lies between Varniai and Raseiniai. Its population in 1959 was 998, down from about 2000 in 1939 and 16,113 in 1923.  Under the Republic of Lithuania, Kraziai was the township seat of Raseiniai County. After World War II, the Soviets assigned it to the administrative district of Kelme.

Kraziai is one of the oldest settlements in Samogitia, with many barrow graves and fortress hills. To the north is Medziokalnis Hill, which according to legend, was the home of the forest goddess Medeine. A royal document from 1257 assigned to the Teutonic Order a part of Samogitia and mentioned the town. Later, Vytautas Magnus ceded Samogitia to the Teutonic Order. After the Battle of Tannenberg in 1410, Samogitia regained its freedom and Kraziai became the district center.

In the 16th century, the magnate family of Kesgaila ruled Kraziai, which became the seat of the elder of Samogitia.  Samogitian nobles assembled for inspection in Kraziai before going to war.  With the death of the last Kesgaila family member in 1556, Kraziai reverted to the state.  In 1559, King Sigismund Augustus sold it to Catherine of Suffolk and her husband Richard Berth for 3,676 Dutch thalers.  When the pair  returned to England five years later, Nicholas Radvilas (Radziwill), Palatine of Vilnius, reimbursed them the purchase price and took over Kraziai's administration.  Early in the 19th century, part of Kraziai was assigned to General J. Judicki.  In 1865, the town numbered 1,450.  By 1897, it had 1,761 inhabitants.

Kraziai was a religious and cultural center, with an ornate parish church dating from 1416, a Jesuit church  and a church belonging to the Benedictine Sisters.  Jesuit priests from Vilnius established in Kraziai a mission in 1608, a college in 1616 and a church in 1621.  The  church altar was decorated with a copy of Da Vinci's Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Jesuit church ceased operating in 1821.  The Benedictine Sisters built in Kraziai a wooden church and convent in 1641 and a brick church in 1763.  In 1893,  the Russians shut down monasteries and forced the Benedictine Sisters to Kaunas. Locals defended the church in what subsequently became known as the Massacre of Kraziai. The old parish church, destroyed many times by fire and each time rebuilt, exists today only in historical records.  The church today dates from the early 19th century

Kraziai was an educational hub for almost two centuries. The Jesuit college operated from 1614 to 1773, when the pope disbanded the Jesuit Order.  The Carmelites of the Kolainiai Friary administered  the college from1797 to 1817. The school contained 500 students, a library of 3000 volumes and a physics laboratory. In 1817, the Carmelites returned the school to the Educational Commission, which owned it beginning in 1773. The college, now a district school, was supervised by the University of Vilnius and later Kaunas.  In 1823,  the school had 16 teachers, 450 students and a library of 5,000 volumes.  Prominent graduates include  S. Stanevicius, D. Poska, L. Jucevicius (Jucewicz), Antanas and Jonas Juska and A. Fromas-Guzutis.

As new roads and railroads bypassed Kraziai, it declined. Its population grew during the brief period of Lithuanian independence but after World War II decreased to one thousand. Today it is a small farming village. The college is being rebuilt and will house a museum.

Notable Events in The  History of Kraziai

1257 - Livonian Order of Teutonic Knights conquered Kraziai.

15 Century - The Grand Duke of Lithuania erected a Church and Monastery
                    Jewish Community recorded for the first time.

16 Century - Jewish Community organized.

17 Century - England expelled Jesuits, some of whom settled in Krozh. First Rabbi appointed.

1848 - A large fire destroyed much of the Jewish Community. Rebuilding occurred; however, from this point on, the community waned.

1880 - The road to Prussia via Kelme and the Libau-Rumanian Railway were completed. These hastened Krozh's decline.

1892 - A Catholic Rebellion against the politics of Russification of the Government occurred. The government sent Cossacks to the Town to quell the revolt. There were mass arrests; many were exiled to Siberia.

1926 - Town electrified.

1941 - Nazis killed 462 Jews.

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 Compiled by Rochelle Kaplan
Copyright 2007-2009 Rochelle Kaplan

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