Written by Yosef Rosin.

English Edited by Sarah and Mordechai Kopfstein.


Pilvishok - as it was called by the Jews - is situated in the south-western part of Lithuania, where the stream Pilve flows into the river Sesupe, and is near the St.Petersburg-Berlin railway line. In the 16th century a village with that name had already existed there. In 1792 the town was granted the Magdeburg rights.

Until 1795 Pilvishok was part of the Polish Lithuanian Kingdom, but after the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times - Russia, Prussia and Austria - Lithuania became partly Russian and partly Prussian. The part of the state on the left side of the Neman river (Nemunas), including Pilvishok, was handed over to Prussia, and this town, then called Pilwischken, was under Prussian rule from 1795 until 1807, during which it served as a county center. In 1797, its 67 houses were inhabited by 338 people.

After Napoleon defeated Prussia, and in accordance with the Tilzit agreement of July 1807, Polish territories occupied by Prussia were transferred to what became known as the "The Great Dukedom of Warsaw", established at that time. The King of Sachsonia, Friedrich August, was appointed Duke, and the Napoleonic code became the basis of the constitution of the Dukedom, according to which everybody was equal before the law, except for the Jews who were not granted any civil rights.

During the years 1807-1813, Pilvishok belonged to the "Great Dukedom of Warsaw", being part of the Bialystok district. During these years it was a poor town with 350 inhabitants. The Napoleonic code was then introduced in this region, remaining in effect even during the Lithuanian period.

In 1815, after the defeat of Napoleon, all of Lithuania was annexed to Russia. As a result, Pilvishok was included in the Augustowa Region (Gubernia), being part of the Suwalk Gubernia and a county center in 1866.

In 1827 the population of Pilvishok counted 888 persons. In 1862 the railway line from St.Petersburg to Berlin was constructed, as a result of which Pilvishok started to develop. A railway station was built near the town and this enabled the export of agricultural goods, horses and poultry, to Prussia.

Pilvishok suffered from big fires in 1887 and 1906. In February 1915, during WW1, the German army occupied the town. In May of the same year the Russian army bombed the town, causing big fires. German rule continued till 1918, after which the independent Lithuanian state was established.

During the period of independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Pilvishok was included in the Vilkovishk (Vilkaviskis) district as a county center, continuing to serve as such also during Soviet rule (1940-1941).

On the 23rd of June 1941 the German army entered Pilvishok and ruled there, with all its murders and atrocities, till July 1944, when the Red Army recaptured the town. As a result of the heavy fighting the center of the town was totally ruined.


Jewish Settlement till After World War I

Jews settled in Pilvishok during the second half of the 18th century. They peddled goods in neighboring villages and would return home only for Shabbath and holidays. Jewish artisans, such as tailors, a baker, candle makers etc. made a living there, and there were Jews owning shops and taverns, a brick factory, a wool combing workshop and a dyeing plant.

The railway station on the line of St.Petersburg-Berlin and the proximity to the Prussian border (about 30 km) enabled fair conditions for trade with Germany. The Jews dealt in exporting grain, flax, horses and poultry, mainly geese which were bought all over Russia and then loaded on to the train in Pilvishok and sent to Germany.

In 1865, 1,568 people lived in Pilvishok, of whom 976 were Jews (62%). Several Pilvishok Jews appear in a list of emigrants from 1869/70: Sarah Gotshtein, M.Skeshevsky, Bialoblotsky.

A few years before the war Jewish merchants began to import chemical fertilizer and agricultural machines for the nearby farmers, and several Jewish families were farmers themselves.

The great fire of 1887 caused about 300 Jewish families to become impoverished and miserable. The issue of "HaMeilitz" (The Hebrew newspaper published in St.Petersburg) dated 15th of August 1887 and signed by the local Rabbi Ya'akov-Meir Levin, published a moving call asking for help for victims of the fire.

In 1894 robbers attacked a Jewish house and murdered two families. In 1897 there were 2,335 inhabitants in town, of whom 1,242 were Jews.

Jewish children studied as usual in a "Cheder" and in a "Yeshivah Ketanah". The elder ones continued their studies at the Lithuanian "Yeshivoth", like Slobodka and others. In addition there was a group of intelligent people who received books from "The Society for Spreading Knowledge among Russian Jews" in Odessa, to whom Shemuel Levin sent thanks in 1881. In 1883 this group received books and periodicals, such as HaMeilitz" and "HaShakhar", from a similar society in St.Petersburg..

The Zionist idea influenced many houses in Pilvishok and the town's Zionists were very active. Several Zionist youth organizations were active in, such as "Degel Zion" (Flag of Zion), "Nearot Zion" (Girls of Zion), "Benoth Zion" (Daughters of Zion), whose membership was divided up according to their age. The Zionists initiated courses for Yiddish and Hebrew, established a library and organized shows on improvised stages in big barns.

The Synagogue

The town's delegate for the regional conference of Russia's Zionists, which took place in Vilna in 1900 with 168 delegates, was David Kopilovitz. A delegate from Pilvishok participated also in the congress of Zionist Societies, which took place in Suwalk in 1913. In the year 1901/02, 47 "Shekalim" were sold in town. (A Shekel-membership card of the Zionist organization gave the member the right to vote for Zionist congresses).


Beth HaMidrash

In addition to prayers, the activities of different societies studying Judaism took place in the Synagogue and the Beth-Midrash. These included the "Shas (Talmud) Society", the "Mishnah Society", the "Ein Ya'akov Society" and the "Tehilim Society" for common people, coachmen and peddlers. The rabbi of the Talmud Society was Zalman-Dov Rashigolsky, whose wife ran a small grocery to earn their living. Later on he emigrated to America, where he served as Rabbi. He published two books on "Halakha" and "Agadah".

Welfare during this period was dispensed by the "Gemiluth Chasadim" and "Somech Noflim" societies, who helped the needy with financial support and loans without interest. "Gemiluth Chasadim" was established in 1876 with a capital of 1,500 Rubel. It loaned 25 Rubel per year, repayable in monthly instalments. "Somech Noflim" gave loans of 15 Rubel per year.

Many names of Pilvishok Jews appear in a list of donors for Jewish victims of fires in 1895.


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