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Benzi and Michal Kahana Trip to Mazeikiai in 2003 - click here for English



Benzi stand by the sign to the village of "TIRKSILAI"

Michal & Algimantus Muturas (director of the Mazeikiai Museum) in front of the local hospital, next to the museum.

Statue of Dr. Burba, in the courtyard of the hospital

The street sign, in honor of Dr. Burba

A wooden hut, dating to the beginning of the 19th century, very close to where the house of Blumeh Aronowitz stood. The hut reminded us of those in Kalman Aharoni's photographs.


Here stood Kalman Rachmel's tobacco shop  - LAISVES GATVE # 42  (at his time, the house number was 40).


The rear side of # 42  LAISVES GATVE


The modern house that replaced the former police station/prison on the corner of LAISVES GATVE #  42 and JABLONSKIO GATVE


The house that replaced Blumeh Aronowitz's house on LAISVES GATVE, next to the building which is today # 40.


The small structure next to # 40 LAISVES GATVE


A view from LAISVES GATVE looking towards the railway station


The railway station of Mazeikiai (then and now)


The original Zarnikowitz building on LAISVES GATVE


The Bank on LAISVES GATVE, dating to the 1930s




Old wooden houses which had belonged to Jewish families, near the railway station.


The former Jewish School building


Jewish Pupils 1930
Larger Photo


Two original wooden houses on #3 VYTAUTAS street


A new house, on # 5 VYTAUTAS Street, which replaced the former house of Eliyahu-Faivel and Rashe ITING


The old Jewish cemetery of Mazeikiai, and site of the mass murder in August 1941


Graves at the Jewish cemetery, Mazeikiai



The memorial to the Holocaust victims in Mazeikiai


The site of the mass killing at Mazeikiai


The old Jewish cemetery at Vekshne (VIEKSNIAI). Michal copying the inscription from the tombstone of Hannah Rachmel


View of the Old Jewish Cemetery at Vekshne (VIEKSNIAI)


Michal with Algimantus at the Old Jewish cemetery in Vekshne (VIEKSNIAI)

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Hand-drawn map of the centre of Mazheik


JUNE 20-21, 2003

(translated from Hebrew by Harry Arie Shamir , Plymouth Mass. Styled and edited by Leorah Kroyanker, Jerusalem  January 2004)

 Six kilometers before Mazeikiai we stop by a sign:  “Tirksliai”.  Here had lived (in December 1887), according to a listing in the All Lithuania Revision List Database the Aronowitz family: Keyla, daughter of Ziskind [Goldman] and her five children, including my grandfather Ben-Zion (then 16 years old), before moving to Mazeikiai a few years later.

(information received with thanks from Dr. Arnold Davidson, Florida)

             Of course we remember that in the Pshershkniai estate near Tirskliai, the Nazis had imprisoned the children and women of Mazeikiai and environs up to August 5, 1941, and on August 9, 1941all were murdered near Mazeikiai).

 Finally we arrive in Mazeikiai. 

According to the town Tax and Voters List from December 20, 1892, here had lived Keyla Aronowitz, my maternal great- grandmother, along with two other family members.  (On a subsequent Tax and Voters List, from September 23, 1904, it is noted that she is “well to do”, and has 3 members in her family). 

(information received with thanks from Dr. Arnold Davidson, Florida)

             Although we reached Mazeikiai late in the evening, there is still day-light; at this time of year night falls only at 11 pm. On the outskirts of town (of 46,000) are modern “Communist” style houses, totally unremarkable.  We drive to the town center, still  without a street-map, and reach its main street, Laisves Gatve  where we notice a  “Hotel” sign,  hanging beside a large and rather decrepit-looking building.   A nagging thought creeps in :" a ruin like this a hotel??" but we decide to  continue driving on the main street, and shortly come upon the T-Market building, and next to it see the new Viesbutis Hotel.   We enter, gesticulate with the concierge, and after some negotiations receive a beautiful room, large and modern, for only $34 (double occupancy). 

 Quickly we prepare to explore the town, aided by a drawing which Joshua Trigor, a former town-resident now living in New York,  had prepared for us; (Trigor is currently writing reminiscences about his youth in Mazeikiai). We also have with us notes from other former residents of Mazeikiai, now in Israel, and also some dated photographs.  

 After a short walk we identify the railway station, which is the set point for our bearings.  The station looks deserted.  We seek Blumeh Aronowitz’s house, and the store that had belonged to Kalman Rachmel. We see two new stone buildings that we think were built in place of Blumeh’s house, but the next day it turns out that our identifications were wrong. We go to sleep, anticipating the morrow’s discoveries.

 Saturday, [June 21] 10 am:  we get into the car and make a right-turn onto Dr. Burba Street, reaching the town museum in about two minutes. There we meet Mr. Algimantus Muturas, the Museum Director.  He is very pleased to meet us, friendly and anxious, eager to help.

 We take a quick tour of the Museum that displays local handcrafts – made of textile, straw, and also some wood statuettes.  (Michal discovers among the statuettes a “Moses”, the work of Jacob-Joseph Bunke, whom we had visited just a day before in Plonge-Plongian). There are also some historical photographs, medical instruments that had belonged to the physician Dr. Burba, and a board displaying the work of the town’s photographer.

 We enter the Director’s room. Communication is difficult - a few words in English and Russian, and some drawings and sketchs to try and explain… A woman who works in the museum is also trying to assist. Soon, the situation improves:  the Director extracts a file, and looking over it I find correspondence with Ilan Ganot of Israel.  The director had written to Ilan that a large part of the Museum was destroyed during World War II; subsequently, there was a fire.  Moreover, the Soviet regime had forbidden any Jewish-related activity.  Nevertheless, we continue examining the file and in it find some photos and a census list of Jewish merchants from 1931.  To our delight Blumeh Aronowitz's name appears on it twice, as well as that of Kalman Rachmel – and indeed all of their enterprises were in Laisves Gatve (Blume, at numbers 36 and 38;  Kalman, at 5 and 40).

 Suddenly the Director shows us three large sheets, with rubbings of tombstone inscriptions from the Viekshniai (Veckshna-in Yiddish-the adjacent town) cemetery.  To our amazement, the very first rubbing is of a Rachmel (lacking a first name), daughter of Moshe Avigdor (my maternal great- grandfather!).  Not everything on the rubbing is legible, but there is no doubting the exciting find.  Another perusal of the paperwork and I discover an accurate drawing of the locations of all the dozens of gravestones in Viekshniai. Apparently, the Director is researching Jewish topics and writes articles for the local newspaper about the schools, the Synagogues, the gravestones, etc.

 The Director gives me a list of pupils from Joshua Trigor’s class (to pass on to Trigor) with details of the grades each pupil received. He also gives me a photo of the local gymnasium [High School].   (Trigor was delighted to receive these items though he didn't recognize the building; apparently, Trigor and the Museum Director had had an exchange of letters ). Then he shows me pieces of parchment – part of a Torah scroll – and asks whether I can read it …

 When we finish looking at the various documents, we set out to tour the town. The Museum is on Dr. Burba Street, so named because the original hospital was located nearby. Across from the Museum  is the sports grounds, and nearby, a forest (I recall that Ne’hama Fried told me that there used to be a kindergarten there and that every time she went there she would remember the unsuccessful surgery Dr. Burba had performed on her mother).

 We walk to the hospital.  In the garden we are excited to see a statue of Dr. Burba – who is "familiar" to us in light of his letters to Kalman Aharoni (my mother's cousin).  The Director tells us that Dr. Burba's only son, now living in North America, had visited Mazeikiai a few years ago.  Probably this is the same son who had disappeared during the war, and whose fate Dr. Burba had sought in his letter to Kalman Aharoni, in 1945.

 We continue with our walking tour. First, we go to see the location of Blumeh Aronowitz' and Kalman Rachmel's houses.  We see (and photograph) a wooden structure similar to the one which appears in Kalman’s album (now given to the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem).  It turns out that Blumeh’s house is not where we had seen the two large stone houses yesterday, and which we had photographed.  In place of her house (which was destroyed, per Dr. Burba’s letters) a stone building had been erected.  The new building is standing somewhat recessed from the street, adjacent to building #42, which is the corner building.  Its location is indeed precisely as in Trigor’s drawing. 

 Blumeh (B. Aronavicene) had two registered enterprises:  one as Koloniali Prekyba  - a wholesaler of imported foodstuffs, such as rice and spices; this  was located in building #36  on Laisves Gatve(#19 in the Census List).  The second enterprise  - Ivairi Prekyba  - was in the building #38  on the same street (#69 in the Census List).

 Kalman Rachmel's (Kalmonas Rachmelis) tobacco shop had been in the corner house #40 on Laisves Gatve. Today instead there is a wooden structure ( not original) bearing the number 42.  Indeed, in the list (#25 on the Census List) it is written that in house #40 was Kalman Rachmel's "Koloniali Prekyba " and at #5 on the same street (#107 on the Census List), was the tobacco shop; however, we know from witnesses that the tobacconery had been at #40.

 Across Jablonskio Gatve, the street perpendicular to Laisves Gatve, and right across from Rachmel’s house, stands a modern building. It is located on the lot where the former police station cum prison used to be, and which, according to Trigor – had belonged to Blumeh (or to Kalman Rachmel) and had been leased to the municipality. Hence, this whole section of the main street of Mazeikiai had belonged to family members.

 To complete the picture:  Kalman Rachmel's second business establishment was, as said, located on Laisves Gatve #5. That, to our great astonishment is the exact location of the abandoned hotel that we had seen the previous evening, upon entering the town.

 Continuing with our tour we see where other buildings of significance were:  the former cinema, which used to be at the end of February 16th Street (the street which leads from the train station to Laisves Gatve) has been pulled down. Instead is a modern building housing the Post Office.   From it one can see the train station which still looks the way it was. The rest of the town, as seen in the old photos, is no more.  The Synagogue is gone, and in its stead is an empty lot.  The Gymnasium (High School ) building, where Trigor had gone to school is no more;  it was replaced by a Sports hall and a modern High School. The only house still standing is the one that used to belong to the Zarkinowitz family: it is a large and unattractive three story multifamily building.

 We leave Laisves Gatve and continue the tour in the side streets, such as Respublika Street, where Jews used to live.  The original buildings are still extant, and now are nicely painted.  At the corner of Jablonskio Gatve, Mr. Muturas,  the Museum Director,  points to a wooden house,  painted green which he says used to be the Jewish school.

 We reach the train station and enter the building that is in a sorry state.  It is quite deserted, except for a father and his young son. We take a picture of the posted train schedule: there are three lines  - including the Mazeikiai – Vilna one. On this very line, which had existed in 1900, my grandfather Ben Zion Aronowitz had traveled prior to his marriage with Sara Lifschitz from Antopol, before they moved to live in Vilna.

 We ask the director to show us the old Iting family house – this is the home of Ilan Ganot's father.  Their house had been on #5 Vytautas Gatve, (not far from the intersection between the train tracks and Laisves Gatve). The house does not exist any more, and instead there is a new building.  However, there are still two very old wooden houses at #3, and we photograph these.  When Moshe Iting, Ilan's father saw the pictures he was very moved – they aroused profound memories.

 Some kilometers from the center of Mazeikiai, after passing several large housing neighborhoods, is a forest, the locale of the Jewish cemetery.  We see some graves, but according to the Director, these are the graves of party functionaries and no Jewish graves are left.

 In the center is a memorial, two meters high, made of  black marble, and on it, inscribed in white are inscriptions in Yiddish and Lithuanian.  On the ground are marked several rectangles – the mass graves of 4000 Jews from Mazeikiai and neighboring villages who were slaughtered here.  We remember the description of the mass murder, and we shudder recalling how Kalman Rachmel had cried out, seconds before being shot dead: “Our blood will not remain silent!  Vengeance will come!”  (this testimony is recorded (in Hebrew) in "Lithuanian Jewry", Volume IV (the Holocaust), page 308).  We are overwhelmed with emotions – having visited over the past few days similar murder–sites in in Belarus and in Lithuania; here, however, as in Stolpze and in Antopol (in Belarus) – there is a more personal connection.

 From the Mazeikiai cemetery we drive some 13 kilometers to Viekshniai, a town of 6000 people. Only because of a handwritten note by Masha, my late aunt, that we even know that that Moshe Avigdor and his wife Keyle (born Goldman), my maternal great-grandparents were both buried here, as was Sara Goldman, Keyle’s mother (and my great-great-grandmother), who had passed away at the age of 110. 

 The Aronowitz family arrived in Viekshniai (Veckshna in Yiddish) after Itzik (Isaac) Zeev Aronowitz, (my maternal great-great-grandfather) who had been the Rabbi of the town of Aizpute (Hasenpoth) in Latvia, had died in 1876.  Reference to Vieksniai was also found in a listing in HaMelitz newspaper of 1898 (listed #68), where it was written that Ben Zion Aronowitz from Mazeikiai was “visiting Vieksniai”.

 We arrive at the Viekshniai cemetery:  it is a huge hill, overgrown with grass and vegetation.  In one corner is a commemorative stone that this is a cemetery.  The entire cemetery area is fenced in, right up to the well-maintained Christian cemetery nearby, which is still in use.  Several tombstones are still erect, others have fallen, and are on the ground. We begin looking at the stones with adrenalin flowing in our blood...  We make our way among the bushes (and get a bit scratched) and find that some inscriptions on the stones are still very clear, some have become completely illegible and others are partly legible.  Sometimes I need to pour water over a stone, in order to attempt reading an inscription. All the inscriptions are in Hebrew.  Finally we find the Rachmel tombstone, which happens to be the best preserved one in the cemetery.  We correct the text of the inscription that we had as a rubbing on paper, from the Mazheikiai Museum.  It turns out that on the stone itself the name of the deceased is quite clear – it is Hanna Rachmel, my mother's aunt, and Avino'oam Rachmel's grandmother. The inscription (in translation) reads:

 Oh our Mother!

Dearest to our hearts

Plucked in the prime of life

A voice we will be to her womb’s fruit


Daughter of R’ Moshe Avigdor

Year "Tarpah" [5688]

19            3/5            28

 (* the initial word in lines 2,3,4 forms the Hebrew acrostic of the name Hanna). 

 We are very excited about this find, but also saddened that we have not found any of the other tombstones of family members who had been buried in Viekshniai.

 From the cemetery we continue to tour the town of Viekshniai.  We see former Jewish houses (but the local library, in which there is relevant material, is closed), and the former Jewish School building (it is perpendicular to Mazeikiai Street).  The Synagogue of Viekshniai was destroyed, and in its place was built a new but now rather decrepit –looking warehouse.

 We did not go to visit Tirksliai -  the Museum Director, our guide, told us that nothing was left there of the Synagogue, and we had no links to search for in the Jewish cemetery.

 After our tour we return to Mazeikiai and invite the Museum Director for lunch at a local Fish Restaurant. We give him,  as a souvenir of our visit,  a piece of ceramic ware, hand crafted by Michal, as well as a tip. Then we set out on our way, to cross the border to nearby Latvia –  and to visit Aizpute, some 80 km from Mazeikiai.  There we are searching for traces of Itzik (Isaac) Zeev Aronowitz, my maternal great-great grandfather, who had come from Kovna over 150 years ago, to serve as the Rabbi of the town of Hasenpoth (Aizpute) 


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