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KRAZIAI, also known as Krozh

A small town in Raseiniai District, Western Lithuania

 

This article, adapted by Rochelle Kaplan,  is based on an article from the Jewish Communities Database of Beth Hatefutsoth - the Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, published courtesy of the museum. They invite you to visit their website at this link - Beth Hatefutsoth. Photos on this page contributed by Rochelle Kaplan.

History: Prior to Lithuaniaís  Christianization in the Tenth Century, people knew of Kraziai as a pagan center.   In the 15th Century, inhabitants built a church. In the 17th Century, they erected a second fortified church and a gymnasium. The Jesuit College, or gymnasium, functioned for two hundred years. Kraziai was an important regional administrative and trade center. A great fire in 1848 and new roads which bypassed the town led to Kraziaiís losing importance.

(Picture of Jesuit seminary about 1839.
Click on Image for larger version
.)

 

Jewish history: Jews settled in Kraziai in the 15th Century. They were part of the Kedainiai community. Prominent Jews were active in the Council of Lithuania, which was the central autonomous institution of the Polish and Lithuanian Jews. The council functioned from 1623 to 1764. Kraziai was the meeting place for neighboring communities.  Citizens elected the first rabbi of Kraziai, Yakov Eliahu Halevi Shor, at the end of the 17th Century. Purportedly, his family descends from Rabbi Yohanan Ha-Sandlar. Kraziai was  also a  Kabbala center.  There was a study house with two stiblech (study and prayer room).  In the mid-19th Century, Jews built the great synagogue, with a high-domed roof and an ornamented wooden ark. Kraziaiís Jewish community also had study groups and charitable organizations. Ambitious Jews who graduated from the local high school or gymnasium traveled to Russian or German towns to further their education. Some of the Jewish intelligentsia participated in the Russian Revolt of 1905.

 

Picture of Gymnasium circa 1929.

One thousand forty-eight Kraziai Jews paid a head tax in 1766. Kraziai counted 220 Jewish families in 1888, 32% of the population.   In the 1880s,  Dorshei Zion and  Hovevei Zion were active organizations in the town, collecting money for Petah Tikva, and remained potent for about twenty years.  The Jewish population declined at the turn of the century, due to emigration, and continued to drop between the wars.  However, Kraziai absorbed Jewish refugees from Vilna and elsewhere during World War 1. Zionist activity rose after World War I, with the town setting up branches of Zeirei Zion and Zeirei Israel. In 1921, Jews founded a Hebrew elementary school and in 1924, a library of Hebrew and Yiddish books. Hebrew newspapers and cultural events existed, connected with the Keren Kayemet (National Fund).  Branches of Zionist parties opened such as Hehalutz Hazair, Zionist Socialists and Betar; youth joined Hatzofim and Maccabi.  Jewish students joined their Lithuanian counterparts at the gymnasium in establishing a fire brigade.  In 1925, 650 Jews lived in Kraziai. The last officiating Kraziai Rabbi was Eliahu Kramerman. Zionist activity led several Kraziai citizens to move to Eretz Israel. Others emigrated overseas, to America and to South Africa. 

 

Kraziaiís Jews were traders and craftsmen. Monday was the weekly market day. At the end of the 19th century, Kraziai was home to 192 Jewish craftsmen in twenty-eight trades. Additionally, there were 129 traders, among them shopkeepers, innkeepers, wholesalers and retailers. There were also Jewish workmen, teachers, a physician and a male nurse.  Before a post office was built at the end of the 19th Century, two Jews with a cart handled the local mail. In 1932, the Jewish bank had 132 members.

 


Jewish School Children circa 1940
 

The Holocaust Period: The Soviets annexed Lithuania during the late summer of 1940. On June 22, 1941, the Germans attacked the Soviet Union. Two days later, Nazis entered Kraziai and nationalistic Lithuanians, sympathetic to the Germans, took over the town. They ordered Jews who had fled into neighboring villages to return to Kraziai. About 400 returned and were domiciled in store houses and stables. The authorities expelled Jews from their homes in neighboring villages and brought them to Kraziai. Nazis and their Lithuanian sympathizers took the Jews to the town square and robbed them of their valuables. They then took the Jews to a farm, one kilometer from the town, and placed them in a barn renamed the Jewish Camp. Here the Jews received food rations, were sent to work during the day and put under guard at night. On July 22, 1941, guards took seventeen young  men, ostensibly to work in Zagare. In fact, the guards forced the Jewish men to dig pits in the woods nine kilometers from Kraziai. Later that day, Nazi guards took 390 Jews, in groups, from the barn to the woods and murdered them, throwing them into the pits.  The Nazis left behind in the barn 64 children and five adults, including the rabbi.  Lithuanians brought food to the children and offered to take them into their homes, a move opposed by the rabbi. Children ten years or older were forced to work. On September 2, 1941, the German S.S. brought armed Lithuanians to the barn. The remaining Jews were marched to the nearby forest and murdered. A few children escaped but most were caught. Three boys did escape, became partisans, and after the war settled in Eretz Israel.

© BETH HATEFUTSOTH - FAMILY NAMES AND COMMUNITIES DATABASE

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 Compiled by Rochelle Kaplan
Copyright © 2007-2009 Rochelle Kaplan

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