Taragin (Tauragnai)
Written by Joseph Rosin.
English edited by Sarah and Mordechai Kopfstein.

Taragin is situated in the north eastern part of Lithuania on the shore of Lake Tauragnas, about 15 km south east of the district center Utian (Utena). Historical sources dating from the end of the 16th century mention Taragin as a village and an estate bearing the same name. The estate later belonged to a noble family named Poslovsky. In 1792 regular market days took place there, and several taverns and a workshop for producing alcohol were established.

Until 1795 Taragin was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom, when the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times - Russia, Prussia and Austria - caused Lithuania to become partly Russian and partly Prussian. The part of Lithuania which included Taragin fell under Czarist Russian rule, firstly as part of the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 as part of the Kovno province. Taragin was then a county center in the Novo-Alexandrovsk (Zarasai) district and in 1859 had 263 inhabitants. Despite this Taragin was an under developed town with only 2 public wells, and water had to be carried from the lake in barrels. Even during Lithuanian rule (1918-1940) most of its streets were unpaved and till the second half of the thirties there was no electricity, but it had a natural beauty which attracted vacationers.

Jews settled in Taragin in the 18th century, establishing community institutions, such as the Beth Midrash and the Kloiz in the course of time. They made their living mainly in peddling, commerce, crafts and agriculture. The fire of 1893 ruined 50 Jewish houses, but despite increasing emigration abroad, 120 Jewish families were still left in Taragin before WW1. Taragin Jews appear in lists of donors for buying land in Eretz Yisrael, the collector being Yitzchak Shakhatovitz. Taragin's population was 1,070 citizens in 1897, of them 596 were Jews (56%). On February 16, 1918, the establishment of the Lithuanian State was proclaimed. Consequently the German army withdrew from the area, and life in Taragin gradually returned to normal.

Following the law of autonomy for minorities, issued by the new Lithuanian government, the minister for Jewish affairs Dr. Menakhem (Max) Soloveitshik ordered elections for community committees (Va'ad Kehilah), to be held in the summer of 1919. The elections in Taragin took place in 1922 and a committee of 5 members was elected headed by Yitzchak Rapaport. The committee, active till the end of 1925 when the autonomy was annulled, was in charge of all aspects of community life. According to the first census conducted in 1923 by the Lithuanian government, the population of Taragin totaled 999 people and of them 477 (48%) were Jewish. The economic situation of Taragin's Jews was bad, their main means of income being small commerce and crafts, similar to the period before WW1. According to the government shops survey of 1931, there were 7 Jewish owned shops: 3 textile, 1 restaurant, 1 wool combing workshop and 2 weaving workshops. Of the 5 telephones in 1939, only one of them belonged to the Jewish doctor Leib Romanov. 23 Jewish artisans made their living in the town in 1937: 5 tailors, 4 oven builders, 3 knitters, 2 butchers, 2 glaziers, 2 blacksmiths, 1 baker, 1 painter, 1 carpenter and 2 others. The main economic activity took place on "Market Day" every Tuesday. Relations between the Jews and their Christian neighbors were good compared to other towns.

Jewish children studied at the elementary school of the religious "Yavneh" chain, about 55 children on average. There was also a "Kheder" with about 25 boys. There was very little cultural activity, the library which had been established by a group of go-ahead men did not last long, neither did political activity. Elections for the Zionist Congresses took place in Taragin only in 1935, when all 28 voters voted for the Labor party. During the years 1940-1941, when Lithuania was a Soviet Republic, most of the Jewish institutions and organizations were dissolved and several of the Jewish shops were nationalized. At this time, several Jews joined government institutions and integrated into the economy.

The rabbis who served in Taragin were:
Shemuel Albin (1798-1862).
Yosef-Yehoshua Utianer (----1874).
Eliezer-Tsvi Pines, in Taragin from 1875 till 1937, died at the age of 94.
Ya'akov Pines, son of Eliezer. The last Rabbi of Taragin, murdered in 1941.
A wellknown person was Rachel Menishevitz, a benefactress for charities, the poet Y.L.Gordon wrote a poem about her.

When the war between Germany and the Soviet Union began, a large unit of the Red Army concentrated in Taragin and held the position for several days, after almost all of Lithuania had already been captured by the Germans. After the remainder of this unit retreated, armed Lithuanian nationalists took over the rule of the town. During the fighting the local church was hit, a fact which increased the aggravation of the population, who reacted by attacking and robbing the local Jews as well as those who happened to be in Taragin trying to escape to Russia. One night most of the Jewish population was expelled from their homes, concentrated into two groups, with more than a hundred people in each group. One group was brought to the nearby village Taurapilis and the other group to Lataliai. There they were accommodated in cowsheds and stables and were sent to work on nearby farms, but for food they had to manage for themselves. Three days later, the men were sent to dig pits on the pretext that many dead horses lay in the fields and had to be buried. For two nights these men armed with spades dug the pits and in the mornings they returned. On the third night they were brought to the pits, this time without the spades, forced to undress, pushed into the pits and shot. The same happened to the other groups. The dead and the wounded were buried together. There were cases of shocked people jumping into the pit before they were hit. Several days after the murder a post was erected on the graves. No survivors are known. The mass graves of Taragin Jews are included on the site of the big mass graves of Utian and so is the memorial monument.

The tablet of the monument with the inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: In this place the Hitler murderers and their local helpers at July-August 1941 murdered about 8,000 Jews-men, women, children

At the beginning of the nineties a memorial tablet was fixed at the old Jewish cemetery of Taragin with the inscription in Lithuanian and Yiddish: "The old Jewish cemetery, blessed be the memory of the deceased".

Central Zionist Archives: 55/1701; 55/1788; 13/15/131; Z-4/2548.
Yivo NY, Lithuanian Communities Collection, Files 459-460
The small Lithuanian Encyclopedia (Lithuanian), Vilnius 1966-1971.
The Lithuanian Encyclopedia (Lithuanian)-Boston 1953-1965.
Yahaduth Lita (Hebrew), Tel-Aviv, volumes 3-4.
Folksblat (daily) (Yiddish)-Kovno, 23.7.1935
Y.D.Kamzon, Yahaduth Lita (Hebrew), Rav Kook Institution. Jerusalem 1959
Cohen Berl, Shtet, Shtetlach un dorfishe Yishuvim in Lite biz 1918 (Towns, small towns and rural Settlements in Lithuania till 1918) (Yiddish), New-York 1992.
Pinkas haKehiloth. Lita (Encyclopedia of the Jewish Settlements in Lithuania) (Hebrew), Editor: Dov Levin, Assistant editor: Joseph Rosin, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 1996.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murder in Lithuania) (Lithuanian), 1941-1944, vol. 1 & 2, Vilnius.
The Book of Sorrow (Lithuanian, Hebrew, Yiddish, English), Vilnius 1997