Translation of article in Pinkas Hakehilot Lita (pages 633-635)
Rumshishok or Rumsiskes or Rumsiskiai (Rumshishok in Yiddish), a village in Kovno district.
Year Total population Jews
1833 368 ..
1897 1,180 ..
1913 .. 100 families
1923 1,010 ..
1938 1,192 * 50 families
* 120 families
Rumshishok is in Central Lithuania, 19 kilometers south-east from Kovno and near Zhezmer, on the rivers Nieman and Pravienas. The nearby railway station was in Pravenishok. The road from Kovno to Vilna passed through Rumshishok.
Rumshishok excelled by a fascinating forests landscape and the river Nieman streaming nearby added to its beauty. It is mentioned in historical sources for the first time already in the 14th century and since then it is mentioned under different names: Rumsinker, Runsisken, Romschisken etc.
The Jewish community until the Second World War
There is no much information about the life of the Jews in Rumshishok until the end of the 19th century, except for a list of local contributors for the sake of the hungry people in Lithuania in 1873. The fundraisers were: Michal Shraga Kadishin and Tuvia Segal. In two lists of contributors of 1899 for the Jewish community in Eretz Israel are mentioned names of Jews from Rumshishok as deputies: Zemach Feldstein, Nahum Eliyahu Yug, Rabbi Eliyahu Levin. At that time, there was a synagogue in Rumshishok.
On the eve of the First World War, over 100 Jewish families lived in Rumshishok.
At that time, there were in Rumshishok a school and two institutions of the kind of a “Heder”. In 1915, the Russian military government expelled the Rumshishok Jews into inner Russia. The Russian soldiers loaded the Jews into closed freight wagons and sent them into the inner districts of Russia.
During the period of independent Lithuania (1918-1940), the Jewish population of Rumshishok was of 50 families, out of a total population of 120 families in the village. In accordance with the Autonomy Law for the Jews, a Community Committee of seven members was elected. The Jews made their living by petty commerce (wood and agricultural produce) and labor. Jews owned a match factory, a lumber-mill, a flour-mill and a pharmacy. During the summer, summer vacationers came to Rumshishok, mainly heads of Yeshivot and students of the Yeshivot who wished to enjoy the air of its forests.
The Jewish children studied in the elementary Hebrew school of the “Tarbut” net, which was established there. Many continued their studies in the Hebrew secondary schools in Kovno. A few charity institutions existed in Rumshishok: The “Gmilus chesed” (benefaction) fund,
“Bikur Cholim” (health) , “Linat Tzedek” (free staying the night) and “Hachnasat Orchim” (hostel).
In 1922, the sport club of Maccabi was established in Rumshishok whose members used to organize contests with clubs and sport movements from other neighboring villages. In that year, visited Rumshishok Rabbi Movshovitz, the Keren Hayessod representative, and delivered an ardent Zionist speech. Following his visit, a temporary fund raising committee was established in Rumshishok and almost 80% of the present signed Keren Hayessod bills. In time, some Zionist youth movements acted in Rumshishok, among them “Bnei Akiva”. The results of the elections in Rumshishok towards the Zionist Congresses were as in the following table:
Congress Year Total Total Eretz Israel Labor Revisionists General Zionists statals Mizrachi
Number Shekalim Votes Z”S Z’Z A B
---------- ------ ---------- ------- ---------------------- --------------- ------------------- -------- ----------
17 1931 9 9 2 3 1 2 - - 1
18 1933 .. 61 26 20 3 - - 12
19 1935 .. 78 49 - - 2 - 27
According to a survey of the Lithuanian government in 1931, Jews owned in Rumshishok: three textile stores, two restaurants, two bakeries, one shoes store, dye-works and a flour-mill. In 1937, there were in Rumshishok 15 Jewish craftsmen: three tailors, two carpenters, two blacksmiths, one baker, one shoemaker, one butcher and five others.
In 1939, there were in Rumshishok nine telephones, one of them of a Jew (Hirsh Katz, owner of a store of iron products).
Until the Soviet occupation in 1940, the relations between the Lithuanian and Jewish inhabitants were of good neighborship. They were meeting not only in the market and street but also at cultural events and concerts. The young Lithuanian intelligentsia used to associate with the Jewish youngsters who studied in Kovno and were coming home for the summer vacation.
During the Soviet occupation the good neighborly relations have changed
and the Lithuanians began to show hatred towards the Jewish population of Rumshishok. The hate was especially noticeable when the Lithuanian police inspector was deposed and replaced by a new inspector – a Jew from Kovno, Weiss, who married a local girl. The policemen, the inhabitants of Rumshishok, who remained in their positions, did not want to reconcile themselves with the fact that a Jew replaced the Lithuanian inspector and was behaving like a “landlord” giving them orders. The Lithuanians considered the Russians as occupiers and the fact that the Jews became suddenly citizens with equal rights and involved in the social, economic and political life, contributed not a little to strengthen the hatred towards them. This hatred found its outlet when the Nazis occupied Rumshishok.
Among the Rabbis who held office in Rumshishok in that period were: Rabbi Eliyahu Hacohen Levin; Rabbi Aharon Bendet Hacohen Schmidt; Rabbi Israel Goldman; Rabbi Aharon Grozovsky, who was the last Rabbi of the community and held office until his death in the year 1937.
Among the Rumshishok public workers were: Mordechai Eliashberg; Israel Katz, who established the societies “Menorat hamaor” (the lighting lamp) and “Hachnasat Orchim” (hostel); and M.J. Lupiansky, who established the “Tiferet Bachurim” (youth glory).
Among Rumshishok natives who became famous were: J. Katz (1863-1923); Prof. A. Perk, a scientist in the field of agriculture in Eretz Israel; Shimon Gens (born in 1907), who emigrated to Eretz Israel in 1935 and published articles on literature and theater.
During the Second World War and afterwards
When the Second World War broke out, there were in Rumshishok about 50 Jewish families. The suddenness of the war and the celerity of the village’s occupation by the Germans prevented the Jews of Rumshishok from flying to the Soviet Union. On the other side, there was a big increase in the number of Jewish refugees in Rumshishok as a result of the mass escape of the Jews of Kovno and its suburbs, Shanz and Petrashun. These refugees got stuck in Rumshishok when they were not permitted to return to their homes. When Rumshishok became occupied by the Germans, the government was transferred to the Lithuanian nationalists who hated the Communist regime and they were now permitted to act against the Jews as they wished. They were headed by police inspector Valest who held the office during independent Lithuania until its occupation by Soviet Russia.
Already on the first day of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, on June 22 1941, the Lithuanian nationalists arrested in Rumshishok the Jewish males qualified for work and took them to Pravenishok, five kilometers from Rumshishok, for coercion works in turf. There worked also Jews who were detained on the roads while trying to flee to Russia. The conditions were most difficult. The Jewish women made every effort to help their dear ones in their hardship and risked their lives by trying to insert for them stealthily some food in their pockets. In Rumshishok remained women and children, among them the widow of the last Rabbi of the village, the noble Rabbanit S.L. Grozovski, with her 4 children. Also remained in Rumshishok old and sick people and a few men who succeeded to go into hiding (among them Yaacov Eliyahu Bobrovsky, Zvi Schiffer, Yitzhak Openheim). They lived in constant fear to be caught.
The first victims in Rumshishok were the pharmacist of the village Yirmeyahu Rubinstein, a well known personality in the village and beloved by all, his wife and their three children. They were shot to death at the outset of the pogrom after hard torture. At the same time, were also shot and killed the carpenter Motl and his son; they were both active Communists in the days of the Soviet rule. Among the first victims were also Matz and a Jewish woman Zila Grinblat, who stood up heroically in front of the murderers after her husband was taken to Pravenishok , and she warned them that a day will come and hey will pay for their deeds. She was shot dead on the threshold of her house.
During the month following the German entry into Rumshishok, the famine grew in the village. Because of the grave lack of food, the Jews handed over many of their valuables and clothing to their Lithuanian neighbors in exchange of bread, eggs or milk. Jews who owned cows handed them over to farmers of adjacent hamlets. One could see in those days queues of Rumshishok Lithuanians and farmers from the surrounding hamlets plodding along Jewish houses. They came to receive from their Jewish “friends” their property and money as a temporary “lending” or a “loan”. There was not even one case that Jews refused to give: either out of fear or out of belief they would thus save their lives.
The Rumshishok Jews thus separated from all they acquired with such labor during years. There were also many cases of plunder, for instance the case of that Lithuanian police inspector who suddenly appeared at the house of Yanenson-Openheim and robbed her of her wonderful fur coat for his wife.
The Rumshishok Jews lived in fear and helplessness and their suffering grew even more in the second half of August 1941, after all of them were expelled from their homes and were imprisoned in two houses which belonged to the brothers Josef and Zemach Katz. The congestion in that place was terrible. A special decree forbade the Jews to come in any contact with the Lithuanian inhabitants of the village. But the Jews were kept in those two houses only a short time, until they were expelled from there, too, and transferred to the house of Yankl-Leib Langman, which was surrounded by a heavy guard. Here, too, they stayed only a few days: one Sunday all were forced, under threats of rifles and clubs, to board a truck.
With the Lithuanian Catholics coming out of the Church looking on, the Jews were taken to their last road – half a kilometer from Rumshishok, behind the red loam mountain by the road to Kovno. Here, the pit had been prepared for them. They were taken down from the truck, were shot by the pit and were thrown into the common grave.
According to the testimonies of the Lithuanian woman Rosta Abramaryte and other witnesses, all the inhabitants of the village, without any exception, witnessed the horrible deed. They related that before the murderers started shooting their victims by the pit, the woman Rachel Langman received birth pangs and gave birth to an infant. The murderers did not hesitate and dragged her together with the infant to the pit and murdered them. A child from the Katz family didn’t want to mount the death truck and with tears in his eyes pleaded: “Mother, I am afraid, I don’t want to die.” The murderers loaded him on the truck by force.
The Memorial Day (Yorzeit) for the victims of Rumshishok was fixed for the 10th day of Elul 5701 – 2.9.41.
According to non Jewish sources, 247 men and six women, all Jewish, were murdered in Pravenishok on 4.9.41.
During the battles in the summer of 1944 between the advancing Red Army and the withdrawing Germans, Rumshishok passed a couple of times from hand to hand. Rumshishok was liberated on July 20, 1944. When the soldiers of the Red Army entered Rumshishok, they found it almost completely burnt.
AYUSH M-33/969, M-35/80; Koniuchovsky collection 0-71, file 148.
AZM, files 55/1701, 55/1788, 13/15/131, Z-4/2548
YIVO, collection of Lithuanian communities, files 1203-1206, pages 56686-56687; Congregation’s Committee 1921-1923.
Di Iddishe Schtime (Kovno) 8.5.1922, 9.9.1930, 22.9.1937, 30.9.1937.
Brochure of the Union of Academics of Lithuanian origin, Tel-Aviv 1990
(edited by A. Tori), page 28