It was one of the most ancient
settlements of Lithuania. By 1260 there was already a fortress there.
From 1572 until 1630s it was ruled by the aristocratic family of Katkewitz and
the city was called Karolstadt after General Yohan Karol Katkevitz. He obtained
the "Magdenburg rights" for Kretinga and supervised the planning of
the city and the building of roads. In 1607 store houses were established for
merchandise from Russia and Kretinga became a commercial centre of northern
Lithuania. The rule of the city passed between different aristocratic families
from Katkewitz to Sapiega, Masalski, Potozki, Count Zubov and Baron Tishkewitz.
The latter still possessed a big holding in the city at the time of independent
Lithuania. From 1795-1915 Kretinga was under Russian occupation and became the
capital of the area.
Until 1914 it was the centre of the Import-Export trade for the whole region
since it was only 3 miles from the German border.
It was firstly in the district of Vilna and from 1843 it was part of Kovno.
During the period of independent Lithuania 1918-40 it was also the capital of
It is thought that Jews were
trading in Kretinga as early as the 14th century
but it was not until the beginning of the 17th Century that Jews
began to settle in Kretinga.
In a census of 1662 there was mention of two Jewish men and one Jewish woman.
Only after receiving special privileges from the Kings of Poland in the middle
of the 18th Century did many Jews settle there.
In 1723 a man called Behr Drucker came to Kretinga. He came from Danzig at a
time of pogroms there and settled in Kretinga which was ideally suited for
trade, being close to Germany and the town of Memel. At that time the language
used in trade and commerce was German. Not until 1793?/5 when the Lithuanians
became part of Russia did the Russian language infiltrate. Behr Drucker became
referred to as der Mann Behr and his son became known by the surname Behrman.
In Danzig Behr had been a printer but in Kretinga he started as a book seller
and later became an exchange broker. His brother Moushe became known as der
Danziger (from Danzig) and he traded in jewellery and silver. The two families,
Behrmans and Danzigers lived next door to each other in Kretinga for
approximately 216 years.
In the Russian occupation Wolf Behrman was the official representative of the
Jews of Kretinga and the area, for the authorities.
In 1765 Berek Yosetovitch was born in Kretinga.
Kretinga was one of 19 kehillas in Lithuania which did not respond to the
Government decree of 1852 that all Jews should leave the places which are less
than 50 viorsts from the western frontier. Between 1828 and 1904 there were 119
"subscribers" in Rabbinical Seforim.
In 1847 there were 1,738 Jews in Kretinga, in 1897 there were 1202 out of a
population of 3418 (35%), in 1923 there were 904 out of 2532 (36%), in 1934 800
out of 4569 (17%)
 and before the Holocaust about 700.
In the years of hunger in Lithuania 1869-71, those with money in Kretinga
donated to the Fund of the Kehilla of Memel for people who were hungry in
Lithuania. The man who collected the money, Shapira , and the contributors were
mentioned in Hamagid in 1871.
In 1855 there was a fire and the shul was destroyed. In 1860 it was rebuilt. On
Shavuot 1889 there was a big fire in the city and the shul, the Beth Hamedrash
and the Kloiz were burnt down. Hamelitz published an appeal for help.
and a Kretinga Relief Fund was established in Sunderland.
In 1908 another fire destroyed 150 houses, the Beth Hamedrah and the two
In the 1870s-80s a large emigration began from Kretinga and the Memel area. Many
from Kretinga settled in Sunderland. The first was B. Bernstein, an escapee
from the Czarist army, who arrived there in about 1859. In a list of emigrants
1869/70 were the Kretingers, H Benion, Y. Ber, H Berstein, S. Gallewski,
M.Shergei, DA Olswang, Israel Harris, Ch Gillis and Y Pearlman. Many of these
immigrants were instrumental in forming the Relief Fund after the fire in
Kretinga in 1889. The Relief Committee consisted of Israel Jacobs, B.
Bernstein, Sol Gallewski, M Shergei, DA Olswang, Israel Harris, Charles Gillis
and Joseph Pearlman.
The social life concentrated around the shuls, which were in the little
"Shul" Street. The Beth Hamedrash held the Chevra Gemorrah and was
open at any time. The Shul was open on Shabbat and Festivals. A Mishna Society
operated n the old Kloiz and the Chevra Tehillim, mostly of tradespeople in the
The Jewish children learnt in cheders. In 1860 there was a Jewish School, where
Jewish studies, maths, Russian and Gernman were taught. The teacher was Aryeh
Leib Shapira. In 1902 there was a fixed cheder. In 1910 a private Jewish School
was established for boys with two classes.
The thought of settling in Eretz
Yisroel was established in Kretinga even before Chibat Zion. Yoel ben Eleazar
Drubbin, born in Kretinga in 1857, was among the first Biluim. He finished high
school and emigrated to Eretz Yisroel. He was an agricultural worker and then a
farmer in Rishon le Zion. In 1911 he took part in a delegation to Baron de
Rothschild in Paris to renew his commitment to the colonies, Rishon le Zion and
In the lists of donations for the settlement of Israel in 1896, many Jews from
Kretinga were mentioned, including Michael Berman, Yisroel Glickman, Heshe
Levy, Yehuda-Leib Hirshowitz and Chananiah Leib.
In advance of the fifth Zionist Congress of 1902, 200 shekels were sold in
In an old Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem there are the headstones of Hinda,
daughter of Reb Zadok from Kretinga 5639, and Reb Dov, son of Avroham from
A number of the Jews of Kretinga were members of Agudas Yisroel from the list of
people who gave donations to the Aguda Fund. In 1913, 27 people from Kretinga
Rabbis of Kretinga were Reb Menachem
Mendel, who came from Prague in 1648;
Reb Aharon Kretinger, who died in 1842. He composed the book "Tosfos
Reb Shlomo Zalamn Zacks, who died in 1876;
Reb Aryeh Leib Lipkin, nephew of Rav Salanter. He officiated 1878-1902. He
composed "Divrei Yedidya", "Ohr Hayom" and others;
Reb Zvi Hirsch Shor, 1903;
Dayan Reb Shmuel Yitzchak Horwitz, known as the Rebelle. At the end of the 19th
Century he emigrated to Sunderland.
Rav Moshe Yitzchok, son of Rab Meshullam-Zalman Halevi Segal, born in 1812 in
Rasiyan and Rabbi in Kretinga from about 1854. He wrote novellae on Berachos
5623. He died 1870.
Rav Aryeh Leib (R’Leibzik), grandfather of R’Elinka Kretingarer.
Rav Zvi-Zeev Shar from 1903. His son in law Rav Chaim Binyomin Perski, born 1882
in Ivenitz, murdered Tamuz 5701.
Reb Shemariah-Yitzchok ben Reb Shabsi-Moshe Bloch, born in Kretinga in 1863.
Became Rabbi in Sunderland in 1894 and Birmingham in 1902.
Reb Mendel-Yitzchok ben Reb Moshe Avrohom Berman, born in Kretinga in 1904. He
became Rabbi in Grimsby, England and in Middlesborough in 1907.
Well known personalities
born in Kretinga 1765. He was an agent for the magnate Masalski. He helped
organise in 1794 in Warsaw the Jewish cavalry but fled abroad after its
defeat.He returned in 1806 and became Lieutenant Colonel in the re-organised
Polish army. He died in battle in 1809.
Yosef Berkovitz, son of Berek Yoselevitch, was in the Polish uprising of
1831. He became a captain in the cavalry. He died in England.
Reb Eliyahu-Ber (Reb Elinka) Levinson, born in Kretinga (1822-88). He was
a pupil of Rav Yisroel Salanter and a follower of the Mussar Movement. He was a
famous banker and was very charitable and very humble.
Reb Chatze, born in Kretinga 1843. Author of Yalkut Yechezkel. Emigrated
to Sunderland 1888 and died there in 1926.
Reb Yisroel-Zalman Teplitz, born in Kretinga in 1848. Emigrated to USA in
Shmuel Yosef, born Kretinga 1881, emigrated to America. Professor of
Sociology in Columbia University, New York.
Elazar Shulman, born Kretinga 1837. A writer. He died in 1904 in Kiev.
Arnold Levy, born Kretinga 1886. Emigrated to England. Author of
"The History of the Sunderland Jewish Community".
Eleazar-Lipman Silverman, born 1819 Koenigsberg. Lived 1823-1838 in
Kretinga with his mother’s family. He set up the first Hebrew newspaper,
Hamagid. He died 1882.
Avraham Aryeh Leib, son of Rav Yisroel Shapiro. Wrote articles.
Jews mostly worked in business,
trading on both sides of the border. They were shop owners and tradesmen. Some
processed amber and sold the product in Russia and other countries.They
also benefitted from their proximity to the resort town of Polangen, especially
during the summer. Jewish arts and crafts factories made amber jewellery for
sale to the tourists.
In 1925 there was a doctor and 3 dentists. According to the survey of the
Lithuanian government in 1939, there were 77 shops in Kretinga of which 64 were
First World War
At the beginning of the first
world war the Germans burnt the centre of the city. During the German
occupation up to 1918, the city was a crossing point for hundreds of trains,
caravans and lorries which passed through it on the way to the Russian front.
The big storehouses of different materials and food products gave sustenance to
the people of the city. Hundreds of merchants from different places in
Lithuania used to come to Kretinga to buy merchandise, hard to find in other
occupied areas. When the war ended a committee of Lithuanians and Jews formed
to govern Kretinga after the German army left.
The kehilla was one of
the first to organise itself for the administration of Jewish matters. Later
according to the autonomy rule for Jews a committee of 15 was appointed
comprising 6 general Zionists, 3 young Zionists, 3 workers and 3 unaffiliated.
This committee was active in most of the Jewish life of the city. It also sold
travel documents to the French occupiers of Memel for large sums of money. This
was abolished when independent Lithuanian rule was organised in 1925.
5 Jews were elected to the city council of Kretinga out of 15 in 1924, amongst
them the deputy mayor and the treasurer. The committee members of the city
auditors were also Jewish. In subsequent elections there were 5 Jews elected
out of 13, in 1931 one Jew out of 9 and in 1934 two Jews out of 8. The one Jew
elected in 1931 was the Deputy Head.
The popular Jewish bank (Folksbank) was established in 1920. In 1927 it had 293
members and in 1928 it purchased a building, which it shared with a primary
school, a kindergarten, a Maccabi Hall, Wizo and a library. This building
became the central cultural and economic centre for the Jews of Kretinga. In
the 1930s there were 240 members of the bank of which 25% were tradesmen, 30%
were merchants and owners of shops and the rest were clerks and workers. From
the middle of the 1930s the number of Jews did not grow in the city. The
economic depression that Lithuania suffered and the propaganda of the
Lithuanian organisation of merchants (Verslas) against buying from Jews, led
many to look elsewhere for their future. In 1935 the bank was forced to sell
the building. In 1939 there were 106 people with a telephone amongst whom 26
The relationship with the Lithuanians deteriorated with the rise of Lithuanian
nationalism. In the winter of 1928 tar was smeared on Hebrew and Yiddish shop
signs.. In 1936 there was a blood libel.. The situation deteriorated further
after the Nazis annexed Memel to Germany in 1939. In July 1939 the Jews were
accused of killing a Christian girl. The entrance of the nunnery displayed the
sign, "Entrance to strangers and particularly to Jews is forbidden".
In the 1920s there existed a school, where the language was Yiddish and a pro
Gymnasia ‘Yavneh’ from 1923. They closed after several years. The Hebrew
Primary School of the "Tarbut" network operated until Lithuania
became part of USSR in 1940. There was also a library with books in Hebrew and
All the Zionist parties were represented in the town and many Jews belonged to
them There were all sorts of fund raising activities for the National Fund.
There were various Zionist Youth movements such as Hashomer Hatzair, Hachalut
Betar and Bnei Akiva and sporting activities took place in Maccabi. Some youth
belonged to the communist underground. A military court marshal in 1935 tried
Ber Persky, son of the Rabbi, Leib Gillis and Miss Share.
The rebuilt shul, Beth Hamedrash and Kloiz were the centre of religious life in
the city. Rabbi Binyomim Persky was the last Rabbi of the Kehilla before being
murdered in the Holocaust. In the city there was a group of "Tiferet
Bachurim" and a children’s group "Pirchei Shoshanim. Its members used
to collect book for shuls. Relief agencies in Kretinga included "Gemilus
Chesed" and "Bikur Cholim". In March 1939 after Memel was
annexed to Germany, the Jewish community of Kretinga helped and absorbed
refugees from that town.
In 1940 Lithuania was annexed to
Russia and the factories and shops, most of which were Jewish owned, were
nationalised. All the parties and Zionist youth movements were scattered and
the Hebrew educational establishments were closed. The supply of goods became
small and prices went up. Some of the Jewish youth welcomed Russian rule and
were active in its establishment. At least 7 Jews were exiled in June 1941 to
On the first day of war between Germany and Russia, 22 June 1941, Germany
entered Kretinga, along with groups of the security service and police. All the
men in the town had to gather in the market square, where the Jews were
separated into a corner. The Jews were humiliated and beaten and then put in
the synagogue. On 26 June they (120 men) and 20 more men found in the houses,
were taken in lorries to a farm on the estate of Prismantai, on the way to
Plungyan, where they were shot at the edge of anti tank trenches. More than 200
Jews were murdered on that day together with 20 Lithuanians. On the same day
the women and children were taken to the estate of Prismanti and that night the
shul was burnt down. The fire also burnt down houses. On 28 June another 63
people were killed in Prismanti. People continued to be shot. Between 11-18
July another 120 men were shot in the Jewish cemetery.
At a meeting at the beginning of August, the Gestapo urged the Lithuanians to
murder the Jewish women and children, who were a drain on the food. This
happened at the beginning of September. The women and children were gathered in
a barn, ordered to undress and were beaten to death or shot as they emerged by
the Lithuanian assistant police. Part of these proceedings were filmed by the
Gestapo. The names of the murderers are held at Yad Vashen.After the war two
mass graves were found. One in the Jewish cemetery with 356 bodies and one in
the forest of Kveciai with 700 bodies.
After the war the number of Jews in Kretinga was small. In 1970 there were 7
Jews, in 1979, 5 and in 1989 there were 3.
Report from Stapo Tilsit,1 July 1941, on the killing of the Jews in Garsden, Krottingen and Polangen. Courtesy of John Jaffer. - http://www.kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Gargzdai/report.html
Berl Kagan, 'Yidishe Shtet, Shtetlach un Dorfishe Yishuvim in Lite' (New York
Dov Levin, editor, 'Pinkas Hakehilot:Lite', (Jerusalem 1996),
published by Yad Vashem, www.yad-vashem.org.il
Arnold Levy "The Behr Tree" (Private publication 1949)
Arnold Levy "The History of the Sunderland Jewish Community" (London, 1956)
Nancy and Stuart Schoenburg "Lithuanian Jewish Communities", (New York 1997).
reprinted by permission of the publisher Jason Aronson, Inc. , Northvale,