Gargzdai (Gorzd), Lithuania

Comparison of Aerial Photos with Diagram of 1939 Fire

Further information about the location of the religious buildings comes from a surprising source: a periodical entitled Die Feuerlösch Polizei [The Firefighting Police], published in Berlin on October 15, 1939.  The magazine was directed to members of the Firefighting Police throughout Germany and was under Nazi control; the Firefighting Police had become a branch of the Order Police (ORPO) in 1938. The issue contains an article about the Garsden (Gargzdai) fire of August 15, 1939: "Ein halbes Dorf vernichtet" (Half a village destroyed).  The article relates how firefighters from Memel crossed the border to help extinguish the disastrous fire, which had spread to the extent that it was beyond the capabilities of the local volunteer fire brigade.  The article contains a detailed map showing location of burned dwellings (filled in solid black) and burned commercial buildings (filled with diagonal lines.)  This map was evidently based on a pre-existing town map of local origin.  The visiting firefighters would not have had time to construct such a detailed diagram, which would likely be based on surveys or aerial photos.  There are some other clues on the map of alteration from an earlier source.  The somewhat distorted "G" on the "MINGE" River may show an overprint to change the Lithuanian name MINIJA. Also the different languages and lettering styles may indicate a map composed and completed at different times.  The word "Plentas" (Lithuanian for road or highway) is written in elegant script, which may be contrasted with the more crudely lettered "Teich"(German for pond).  The pond is discussed in the article: It was initially used as a water source in attempting to put out the fire, but when the pond proved inadequate, water was then pumped from the river.

fire map

Fire Map

Whatever its ultimate source, it is possible to achieve a good match between the fire diagram and aerial photo #157.  Lining up the photos and diagrams is a somewhat subjective process.  One possible match is shown below. The Jewish stars on two buildings mark the locations of the two synagogues, and support their location as derived from the new synagogue plans and aerial.  The longer building to the west of the old synagogue matches the size of the rabbi's residence and school shown in the plans (though farther to the west, and with an addition to make an L-shape from the originally designed rectangle). 

compare fire map plans and aerial

  Blended diagram showing Plans, Fire Map and Aerial #157

The diagram of the fire contains at least one error.  The destroyed buildings at the east end of Klaipedos Gatve which would be visible from the street are marked as residential.  The photographs of George Birman (here) and (here) show that the building visible at the end of the street was a pharmacy. Another discrepancy is that the diagram of the fire apparently does not show the Evangelical church (shown in maps here, here and here) as one of the destroyed buildings. The diagram of the fire does not indicate that any of the destroyed buildings was a church.  The maps appear to locate the church farther south than any of the buildings marked as destroyed on the diagram of the fire. (It is difficult to locate the church with precision on the maps.  Shown below is the fire diagram combined with the Russian map of 1910, which shows the cross marking the Evangelical church as further south than any of the burned buildings.  The Catholic church on the fire diagram matches almost exactly the symbol on the Russian map, although the synagogue symbols may not be as closely aligned.) Janina Valanciute, Gargzdu miesto ir parapijos istorija, Vilnius: Diemedzio Leidykla, 1998 (ISBN 9986-23-047-0), p. 505 indicates the Evangelical church was destroyed in the fire.

locate Evangelical church

locate church c

The article contains statistics about the town and fire.  It states Garsden had approximately 3000 inhabitants, with 328 dwellings and approximately 350 commercial buildings.  The fire destroyed 103 dwellings and 150 commercial buildings, and left 1200 people homeless.

Animated  comparisons between the fire diagram and aerials are shown below.  The .gif animations may not be visible in some browsers and operating systems.  The first animation is a comparison between the fire diagram, and a blended version of aerial # 157 and aerial #158.

157 aand 158 and firemap


The second animation enlarges the market area, and compares the fire diagram with a portion of aerial #157.

compare fire diagram 157 market

A blended version of the above animation is shown below:

blended fire map and photo - market

A 1940 version of 1:25,000 map #0294 Laugallen, shown at Deutsche Fotothek, has a very detailed view of Gorschdy. The Russian side of the border on this map is stated to based on an 1895 Russian map, scaled at 1:42,000. The map has the symbol for a wooden synagogue within Gorschdy. Comparison (.gif alternating at 6 second intervals) shows a very close alignment with the southwestern of the two buildings marked with a Jewish star on the firemap. The base of the circle component of the synagogue symbol aligns with the location of the wooden synagogue as shown on the aerial photograph:

compare firemap laugallen
Gorschdy from Map #0294 at SLUB/ Deutsche Fotothek; original at Sächsische Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden (SLUB)

synagogue legend wood
Above: Legend from Map #0294 - "Wooden Synagogue"

legend stone synagogue
Above: Legend from Map #0294 - "Stone or Brick Synagogue"

Note: This alignment raises the question of how the placement of the symbol for a synagogue or church relates to the location of the building. US topographic maps follow the rule: "Center of symbol represents center of feature." Some examples from German maps of Berlin at David Rumsey map collection show these maps appear to follow the same rule - the location of a church is shown by the center of the circle component of the symbol, and not by the edge of the circle or the cross component. However maps do not always follow this rule precisely. For further information, see Location of Synagogue on Historical Maps.

Fires in Gargzdai

Note - the 1939 fire was one of a series of tragic fires over the centuries:

Destruction includes:
J. Valanciute, Gargzdu miesto ir parapijos istorija, Vilnius:
 Diemedzio Leidykla, 1998 (ISBN 9986-23-047-0), p. 500

Klaipedos Apskrities [history of fire department in Gargzdai, formerly online at]

Most buildings on Basanaviciaus St and Catholic church. Following fire, town location shifted northward, closer to the Estate.

"severely hit by big fire"
August 25, 1895

A. Chayesh, Box-Tax Paperwork Records as a Source of Information,
Litvaksig Online Journal (addendum 1)

damages of 3009 rubles
Valanciute, p. 503

Pinkas Hakehillot Lita (Gorzd)

Assif-Mendelson and Matalon-Mendelson,  Gorzd Memorial Book, p. 69 (English section)

Y. Glick, Gorzd Memorial Book. p. 287 (Hebrew/Yiddish section)

Dr. H. Meyer, Gorzd Memorial Book, p. 63 (Hebrew/Yiddish section)
most buildings in market place

communal ledger burned in fire in WWI (contained "details about the beginnings of the community")

Stoch family home burned down in WWI

house burned out in WWI

city "damaged by a bomb" [fire not specifically mentioned]
August 15, 1939
Pinkas Hakehillot Lita (Gorzd)

Birman picture

Valanciute, p. 505

Die Feuerlösch Polizei [The Firefighting Police], Berlin, Oct. 15, 1939

A. Orensteyn, Gorzd Memorial Book, p. 78 (Hebrew/Yiddish section)

Klaipedos Apskrities

industrial accident
150 houses, half of the Jewish homes

photo shows destroyed pharmacy

2/3 of town; Evangelical church, municipal building

103 dwellings and 150 commercial buildings, 1200 people left homeless

150 houses, 150 families left homeless

253 buildings, 250 families left homeless
June 22, 1941
Dr. H. Meyer, Gorzd Memorial Book, p. 38 (English section)

Valanciute pp. 507; 420 (photo)

Gorzd Memorial Book, p. 76 (English section) (Ulm proceedings)

Klaipedos Apskrities
war - set by Nazis

Germans set fire because one soldier shot

"fire broke out" between 10 and 11 AM

almost entire town, including synagogue and Catholic church

"many houses were razed to the ground"

164 houses and 18th century church. As of Dec. 1941, 363 persons from 138 families still homeless

Gargzdai main page

Identification of Features on Aerial Photo  |  Aerial Photo of Gargzdai

This page updated 3/17/20

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