Home > History

Background
Jewish Occupation
Zionism
Rabbis
Well Known Personalities
Occupations
First World War
Independent Lithunania
Holocaust


Background

It was one of the most ancient settlements of Lithuania. By 1260 there was already a fortress there.[1] From 1572 until 1630s it was ruled by the aristocratic family of Katkewitz and the city was called Karolstadt after General Yohan Karol Katkevitz. He obtained the "Magdenburg rights" for Kretinga and supervised the planning of the city and the building of roads. In 1607 store houses were established for merchandise from Russia and Kretinga became a commercial centre of northern Lithuania. The rule of the city passed between different aristocratic families from Katkewitz to Sapiega, Masalski, Potozki, Count Zubov and Baron Tishkewitz. The latter still possessed a big holding in the city at the time of independent Lithuania. From 1795-1915 Kretinga was under Russian occupation and became the capital of the area.[2] Until 1914 it was the centre of the Import-Export trade for the whole region since it was only 3 miles from the German border.[3] It was firstly in the district of Vilna and from 1843 it was part of Kovno. During the period of independent Lithuania 1918-40 it was also the capital of the area.[4]

 

Jewish Occupation

It is thought that Jews were trading in Kretinga as early as the 14th century[5] but it was not until the beginning of the 17th Century that Jews began to settle in Kretinga.[6] In a census of 1662 there was mention of two Jewish men and one Jewish woman.[7] Only after receiving special privileges from the Kings of Poland in the middle of the 18th Century did many Jews settle there.[8] In 1723 a man called Behr Drucker came to Kretinga. He came from Danzig at a time of pogroms there and settled in Kretinga which was ideally suited for trade, being close to Germany and the town of Memel. At that time the language used in trade and commerce was German. Not until 1793?/5 when the Lithuanians became part of Russia did the Russian language infiltrate. Behr Drucker became referred to as der Mann Behr and his son became known by the surname Behrman. In Danzig Behr had been a printer but in Kretinga he started as a book seller and later became an exchange broker. His brother Moushe became known as der Danziger (from Danzig) and he traded in jewellery and silver. The two families, Behrmans and Danzigers lived next door to each other in Kretinga for approximately 216 years.[9] In the Russian occupation Wolf Behrman was the official representative of the Jews of Kretinga and the area, for the authorities.[10]

In 1765 Berek Yosetovitch was born in Kretinga.[11]

Kretinga was one of 19 kehillas in Lithuania which did not respond to the Government decree of 1852 that all Jews should leave the places which are less than 50 viorsts from the western frontier. Between 1828 and 1904 there were 119 "subscribers" in Rabbinical Seforim.[12]

In 1847 there were 1,738 Jews in Kretinga, in 1897 there were 1202 out of a population of 3418 (35%), in 1923 there were 904 out of 2532 (36%), in 1934 800 out of 4569 (17%) [13] and before the Holocaust about 700.[14]

In the years of hunger in Lithuania 1869-71, those with money in Kretinga donated to the Fund of the Kehilla of Memel for people who were hungry in Lithuania. The man who collected the money, Shapira , and the contributors were mentioned in Hamagid in 1871.[15]

In 1855 there was a fire and the shul was destroyed. In 1860 it was rebuilt. On Shavuot 1889 there was a big fire in the city and the shul, the Beth Hamedrash and the Kloiz were burnt down. Hamelitz published an appeal for help.[16] and a Kretinga Relief Fund was established in Sunderland.[17]

In 1908 another fire destroyed 150 houses, the Beth Hamedrah and the two Kloizes.[18]

In the 1870s-80s a large emigration began from Kretinga and the Memel area. Many from Kretinga settled in Sunderland. The first was B. Bernstein, an escapee from the Czarist army, who arrived there in about 1859. In a list of emigrants 1869/70 were the Kretingers, H Benion, Y. Ber, H Berstein, S. Gallewski, M.Shergei, DA Olswang, Israel Harris, Ch Gillis and Y Pearlman. Many of these immigrants were instrumental in forming the Relief Fund after the fire in Kretinga in 1889. The Relief Committee consisted of Israel Jacobs, B. Bernstein, Sol Gallewski, M Shergei, DA Olswang, Israel Harris, Charles Gillis and Joseph Pearlman.[19]

The social life concentrated around the shuls, which were in the little "Shul" Street. The Beth Hamedrash held the Chevra Gemorrah and was open at any time. The Shul was open on Shabbat and Festivals. A Mishna Society operated n the old Kloiz and the Chevra Tehillim, mostly of tradespeople in the little Kloiz.[20]

The Jewish children learnt in cheders. In 1860 there was a Jewish School, where Jewish studies, maths, Russian and Gernman were taught. The teacher was Aryeh Leib Shapira. In 1902 there was a fixed cheder. In 1910 a private Jewish School was established for boys with two classes.[21]

 

Zionism

The thought of settling in Eretz Yisroel was established in Kretinga even before Chibat Zion. Yoel ben Eleazar Drubbin, born in Kretinga in 1857, was among the first Biluim. He finished high school and emigrated to Eretz Yisroel. He was an agricultural worker and then a farmer in Rishon le Zion. In 1911 he took part in a delegation to Baron de Rothschild in Paris to renew his commitment to the colonies, Rishon le Zion and Zichron Yaacov.

In the lists of donations for the settlement of Israel in 1896, many Jews from Kretinga were mentioned, including Michael Berman, Yisroel Glickman, Heshe Levy, Yehuda-Leib Hirshowitz and Chananiah Leib.[22] In advance of the fifth Zionist Congress of 1902, 200 shekels were sold in Kretinga.[23] In an old Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem there are the headstones of Hinda, daughter of Reb Zadok from Kretinga 5639, and Reb Dov, son of Avroham from Kretinga 5640[24]

A number of the Jews of Kretinga were members of Agudas Yisroel from the list of people who gave donations to the Aguda Fund. In 1913, 27 people from Kretinga were listed.[25]

 

Rabbis

Rabbis of Kretinga were Reb Menachem Mendel, who came from Prague in 1648;

Reb Aharon Kretinger, who died in 1842. He composed the book "Tosfos Aharon".

Reb Shlomo Zalamn Zacks, who died in 1876;

Reb Aryeh Leib Lipkin, nephew of Rav Salanter. He officiated 1878-1902. He composed "Divrei Yedidya", "Ohr Hayom" and others;

Reb Zvi Hirsch Shor, 1903;

Dayan Reb Shmuel Yitzchak Horwitz, known as the Rebelle. At the end of the 19th Century he emigrated to Sunderland.[26]

Rav Moshe Yitzchok, son of Rab Meshullam-Zalman Halevi Segal, born in 1812 in Rasiyan and Rabbi in Kretinga from about 1854. He wrote novellae on Berachos 5623. He died 1870.

Rav Aryeh Leib (R’Leibzik), grandfather of R’Elinka Kretingarer.

Rav Zvi-Zeev Shar from 1903. His son in law Rav Chaim Binyomin Perski, born 1882 in Ivenitz, murdered Tamuz 5701.

Reb Shemariah-Yitzchok ben Reb Shabsi-Moshe Bloch, born in Kretinga in 1863. Became Rabbi in Sunderland in 1894 and Birmingham in 1902.

Reb Mendel-Yitzchok ben Reb Moshe Avrohom Berman, born in Kretinga in 1904. He became Rabbi in Grimsby, England and in Middlesborough in 1907.[27]

 

Well known personalities

Berek Yoselevitch, born in Kretinga 1765. He was an agent for the magnate Masalski. He helped organise in 1794 in Warsaw the Jewish cavalry but fled abroad after its defeat.He returned in 1806 and became Lieutenant Colonel in the re-organised Polish army. He died in battle in 1809.

Yosef Berkovitz, son of Berek Yoselevitch, was in the Polish uprising of 1831. He became a captain in the cavalry. He died in England.

Reb Eliyahu-Ber (Reb Elinka) Levinson, born in Kretinga (1822-88). He was a pupil of Rav Yisroel Salanter and a follower of the Mussar Movement. He was a famous banker and was very charitable and very humble.

Reb Chatze, born in Kretinga 1843. Author of Yalkut Yechezkel. Emigrated to Sunderland 1888 and died there in 1926.

Reb Yisroel-Zalman Teplitz, born in Kretinga in 1848. Emigrated to USA in 1905.

Shmuel Yosef, born Kretinga 1881, emigrated to America. Professor of Sociology in Columbia University, New York.

Elazar Shulman, born Kretinga 1837. A writer. He died in 1904 in Kiev.

Arnold Levy, born Kretinga 1886. Emigrated to England. Author of "The History of the Sunderland Jewish Community".

Eleazar-Lipman Silverman, born 1819 Koenigsberg. Lived 1823-1838 in Kretinga with his mother’s family. He set up the first Hebrew newspaper, Hamagid. He died 1882.

Avraham Aryeh Leib, son of Rav Yisroel Shapiro. Wrote articles.[28]

 

Occupations

Jews mostly worked in business, trading on both sides of the border. They were shop owners and tradesmen. Some processed amber and sold the product in Russia and other countries.[29]They also benefitted from their proximity to the resort town of Polangen, especially during the summer. Jewish arts and crafts factories made amber jewellery for sale to the tourists.[30] In 1925 there was a doctor and 3 dentists. According to the survey of the Lithuanian government in 1939, there were 77 shops in Kretinga of which 64 were Jewish (83%).

 

First World War

At the beginning of the first world war the Germans burnt the centre of the city. During the German occupation up to 1918, the city was a crossing point for hundreds of trains, caravans and lorries which passed through it on the way to the Russian front. The big storehouses of different materials and food products gave sustenance to the people of the city. Hundreds of merchants from different places in Lithuania used to come to Kretinga to buy merchandise, hard to find in other occupied areas. When the war ended a committee of Lithuanians and Jews formed to govern Kretinga after the German army left.[31]

 

Independent Lithuania

The kehilla was one of the first to organise itself for the administration of Jewish matters. Later according to the autonomy rule for Jews a committee of 15 was appointed comprising 6 general Zionists, 3 young Zionists, 3 workers and 3 unaffiliated. This committee was active in most of the Jewish life of the city. It also sold travel documents to the French occupiers of Memel for large sums of money. This was abolished when independent Lithuanian rule was organised in 1925.

5 Jews were elected to the city council of Kretinga out of 15 in 1924, amongst them the deputy mayor and the treasurer. The committee members of the city auditors were also Jewish. In subsequent elections there were 5 Jews elected out of 13, in 1931 one Jew out of 9 and in 1934 two Jews out of 8. The one Jew elected in 1931 was the Deputy Head.[32]

The popular Jewish bank (Folksbank) was established in 1920. In 1927 it had 293 members and in 1928 it purchased a building, which it shared with a primary school, a kindergarten, a Maccabi Hall, Wizo and a library. This building became the central cultural and economic centre for the Jews of Kretinga. In the 1930s there were 240 members of the bank of which 25% were tradesmen, 30% were merchants and owners of shops and the rest were clerks and workers. From the middle of the 1930s the number of Jews did not grow in the city. The economic depression that Lithuania suffered and the propaganda of the Lithuanian organisation of merchants (Verslas) against buying from Jews, led many to look elsewhere for their future. In 1935 the bank was forced to sell the building. In 1939 there were 106 people with a telephone amongst whom 26 were Jewish.[33]

The relationship with the Lithuanians deteriorated with the rise of Lithuanian nationalism. In the winter of 1928 tar was smeared on Hebrew and Yiddish shop signs.. In 1936 there was a blood libel.. The situation deteriorated further after the Nazis annexed Memel to Germany in 1939. In July 1939 the Jews were accused of killing a Christian girl. The entrance of the nunnery displayed the sign, "Entrance to strangers and particularly to Jews is forbidden".

In the 1920s there existed a school, where the language was Yiddish and a pro Gymnasia ‘Yavneh’ from 1923. They closed after several years. The Hebrew Primary School of the "Tarbut" network operated until Lithuania became part of USSR in 1940. There was also a library with books in Hebrew and Yiddish.

All the Zionist parties were represented in the town and many Jews belonged to them There were all sorts of fund raising activities for the National Fund. There were various Zionist Youth movements such as Hashomer Hatzair, Hachalut Betar and Bnei Akiva and sporting activities took place in Maccabi. Some youth belonged to the communist underground. A military court marshal in 1935 tried Ber Persky, son of the Rabbi, Leib Gillis and Miss Share.

The rebuilt shul, Beth Hamedrash and Kloiz were the centre of religious life in the city. Rabbi Binyomim Persky was the last Rabbi of the Kehilla before being murdered in the Holocaust. In the city there was a group of "Tiferet Bachurim" and a children’s group "Pirchei Shoshanim. Its members used to collect book for shuls. Relief agencies in Kretinga included "Gemilus Chesed" and "Bikur Cholim". In March 1939 after Memel was annexed to Germany, the Jewish community of Kretinga helped and absorbed refugees from that town.[34]

 

Holocaust

In 1940 Lithuania was annexed to Russia and the factories and shops, most of which were Jewish owned, were nationalised. All the parties and Zionist youth movements were scattered and the Hebrew educational establishments were closed. The supply of goods became small and prices went up. Some of the Jewish youth welcomed Russian rule and were active in its establishment. At least 7 Jews were exiled in June 1941 to Siberia.

On the first day of war between Germany and Russia, 22 June 1941, Germany entered Kretinga, along with groups of the security service and police. All the men in the town had to gather in the market square, where the Jews were separated into a corner. The Jews were humiliated and beaten and then put in the synagogue. On 26 June they (120 men) and 20 more men found in the houses, were taken in lorries to a farm on the estate of Prismantai, on the way to Plungyan, where they were shot at the edge of anti tank trenches. More than 200 Jews were murdered on that day together with 20 Lithuanians. On the same day the women and children were taken to the estate of Prismanti and that night the shul was burnt down. The fire also burnt down houses. On 28 June another 63 people were killed in Prismanti. People continued to be shot. Between 11-18 July another 120 men were shot in the Jewish cemetery.

At a meeting at the beginning of August, the Gestapo urged the Lithuanians to murder the Jewish women and children, who were a drain on the food. This happened at the beginning of September. The women and children were gathered in a barn, ordered to undress and were beaten to death or shot as they emerged by the Lithuanian assistant police. Part of these proceedings were filmed by the Gestapo. The names of the murderers are held at Yad Vashen.After the war two mass graves were found. One in the Jewish cemetery with 356 bodies and one in the forest of Kveciai with 700 bodies.

After the war the number of Jews in Kretinga was small. In 1970 there were 7 Jews, in 1979, 5 and in 1989 there were 3.[35]

Report from Stapo Tilsit,1 July 1941, on the killing of the Jews in Garsden, Krottingen and Polangen. Courtesy of John Jaffer. - http://www.shtetlinks.jewishgen.org/Gargzdai/report.html

Sources

Berl Kagan, 'Yidishe Shtet, Shtetlach un Dorfishe Yishuvim in Lite' (New York 1991)
Dov Levin, editor, 'Pinkas Hakehilot:Lite', (Jerusalem 1996), published by Yad Vashem, www.yad-vashem.org.il
Arnold Levy "The Behr Tree" (Private publication 1949)
Arnold Levy "The History of the Sunderland Jewish Community" (London, 1956)
Nancy and Stuart Schoenburg "Lithuanian Jewish Communities", (New York 1997). reprinted by permission of the publisher Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, N.J.