The Jewish Community of Kupiskis

By Ausra Jonusyte, Expert, Kupiskis Ethnographic Museum 
(Reprinted with Permission)

July 13, 2004

The Jews of Kupiskis played a big part in the process of Jewish settlement in the eastern part of Europe. It is thought that they came from Poland and settled in Lithuania in the XIV Century. During the time of Vytautas (1388-1389), privileges were given to the communities of Trakai, Brest and Gardin and they became dependent only on the Grand Duke. In 1507 and 1514, the Old Zygimantas ratified these privileges. In the XVIII Century, Jews played a big part in the society of Lithuanian cities and towns. They were trades people mostly.

It is not known exactly when Jews came to live in Kupiskis. It is thought that they settled in the middle of the XVII Century. In 1682, the Bishop Mikalojus Pacas allowed Jews to build the synagogue in Kupiskis which was mentioned in the sourcebook in 1722.

In 1765, after making the census of inhabitants, there were 53 houses of Jews. In addition to this, there were 413 Jews at that time in Kupiskis. After 1804, the number of them increased. "The Rulebook for Jews" made them move to bigger towns and cities.

There were 229 lots plotted in 1842-1843 in the Kupiskis town plan. There were 227 families in Kupiskis from which 101 were Jewish ones. Townspeople lived in the square and in nine streets. Mostly inhabited Jewish places were the square, Mills Street, Kings and Estate Streets.

At the end of the XIX Century there were three synagogues placed to the north from the market place. The shops and living houses separated them from the square. The group of three synagogues consisted of the big chapel of Kupiskis, a Chasidim chapel and the Kupiskis Jews synagogue.

According to 1919 Kupiskis Districtís minutes there were 2,228 Jews. During the election in 1924, Jews nominated one person. There were three shopkeepers, two merchants, one teacher, one cap maker and one civil servant in that list. The Jews had six voices among forty-eight.

During the first meeting of the City Council, Jews were elected to the sanitary, flat rebuilding, and economic commissions. In addition, Lipa Furmanovskis got a place on the Districtís Revisory Commission. S. Kaplanas was allowed to open six pubs and he had to pay 1,800 litas taxes. Jews dominated the ownership of pubs and inns.

In August, 1925, at the initiative of the local people of Kupiskis, the Volunteer Firefighters Association was established. The Vice-Chairman of the Association was Benjeminas Mejerovicius and Nochemas Smidtas was the treasurer. There were 178 members in the Association by September. There were quite a few Jews amongst them. In the Interwar Period in Kupiskis, there were about ten Jewish members of the Jewish branch of the Association.

In 1928, Lithuanian Jews established an association called Tiferet Bachurim (The Beauty of Youth). This association was religious one and had a goal to educate Jewish youngsters to be real Jews who followed the Torahís regulations and lived a Jewish life. The Chairman of the Association was Dovidas Slavinskis, the Secretary was Boruchas Levinsonas and Nadelis Peresas worked as a cashier. In 1940, the members increased to include: Abramas Glikas, Berelis Kacas, Joselis Kacas, Boruchas Levinsonas, Leiba Margolis, Abramas Nachmanavicius, Nodelis Peresas, Orelis Presas, Mendelis Resnikas, Abramas Resnikovas, Joselis Rubinas, Judelis Slavinskas, Mausas Slavinskas, Helmanas Sapiras, Cielis Tuberis, Iseris Vilkas, and others.

In 1933, a Kupiskis branch of the Jewish youth association Berit-Kanajim was registered. It emphasized the necessity to spread the Jewish national culture, to educate moral and useful citizens for Lithuania and the Jewish nation as well.

A Lithuanian Jewish Trade Association established a Kupiskis branch in December, 1937. At the beginning of 1938, this Association elected a Chairman B. Levinsonas, a clockmaker; a Vice-Chairman A. Menkinas, a bootleg maker; a Secretary Ch. Chajitas, an electrician; and the Treasurer, Orelis Presas, a clockmaker.

There was also a Jewish soldiersí branch of the Lithuanian Independence Deliverance Union. In 1939, the Unionís Kupiskis branch established a public library where art and literature books in Lithuanian and Hebrew languages were found.

In the town of Kupiskis, there was a power station which belonged to Nochemas Smidtas. After the contract was signed between Nochemas Smidtas and the District in 1931, the owner of the power station was liable to provide the Town of Kupiskis with electricity for a range of 3 kilometers. The electrical power was supplied from sunset until 1:00 A.M.

The miller of Kupiskis, Nochemas Smidtas was a well-educated and intelligent man. He gave a beautiful candelabra for the church as a gift. Lithuanian children often went to the mill before festivals as the miller used to give them lumps of sugar or pipe-sweets.

Kupiskis has a branch of the Jewish National Bank. Mausas Polianas had a hotel, the glasshouse belonged to Joselis Sapiro.

Most of the Kupiskis Jews owned shops. During the end of the third decade in the town there were fifty shops. The biggest of them were the Rabinovicius iron, dye and coal shop in the market place of the square. On the ground floor of the house was a shop and the family lived upstairs. The market place, where the Jewish shops were massed was called the Austreja. Mejerovicius and Glazeris also had shops in that area. In the same market place, next to the present public library, Asas Irsa had his large drapery shop. Irsiokas, as locals called Asas Irsa. In Sniegasís shop people could buy various kinds of food and fruit as well.

The goods sold in Joske Margolisís wholesale shop came from Germany. In the memories of old Kupiskis people, Joske Margolis, is mentioned as the only one who had a tractor.

From the year 1935, rich Jews of the town understood that the land would always be worthy because it could never be stolen nor burnt as wooden houses. So, they started buying lots near the town. They grew wheat, potatoes and vegetables.

The Jews who were reselling goods rented some of the Kupiskis market place. They would buy grain, apples, and calves from farmers and sell them more expensively.

There used to live the poor next to the rich. They usually worked as workers. After proving they didnít have any property, the poor were given some grant, and the district paid for their expenses in hospitals. They used to live in Zunte, Uzkapio Streets.

1936-1940, the elder of Kupiskis was Nochum Jachilevicius. During the Interwar Period in Kupiskis there was a Jewish primary school and from the fourth decade the Hebrew kindergarten as well as in 1934 in the secondary school there were 23 Jewish children (7 boys and 16 girls). Usually there were no conflicts between Lithuanian and Jewish children. They had been friends since their childhood.

In the beginning of the Second World War, townspeople could hear how invaders and local white-band troops shot people in the Jews and Freethinkers Cemetery. There were about 800 women, men, children and old people shot. The list of shot Jews in Kupiskis Ethnographical Museum testified to this. Even though there are no Jewish people left in Kupiskis and the cemetery is destroyed, however the signs of their existence remains in Kupiskis in the stories of old locals and existing old buildings as well.

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