Lazdey (Lazdijai)

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

Section 1: Early History until 1915

Lazdey is located in the South Western part of Lithuania, at the junction of roads leading to Mariampol (Marijampole) and Alite (Alytus), with several big lakes nearby. Lazdey was established by King Zigmunt II August in 1570, and was granted the Magdeburg Rights in 1579 as well as permission to maintain a weekly market and two yearly fairs.

Until 1795 LAZDEY was part of the Polish Lithuanian Kingdom, when the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times - Russia, Prussia and Austria ­ resulted in Lithuania becoming partly Russian and partly Prussian. The part of the state which lay on the left side of the Neman river (Nemunas), including LAZDEY, was handed over to Prussia which ruled there during the years 1795-1807. During these years Lazdey was a county center

After Napoleon defeated Prussia and according to the Tilzit agreement of July 1807, Polish territories occupied by Prussia were transferred to what became known as the "The Great Dukedom of Warsaw", which was established at that time. The King of Sachsonia, Friedrich August, was appointed Duke, and the Napoleonic code now became the constitution of the Dukedom, according to which everybody was equal before the law, except for the Jews who were not granted any civil rights.

During the years 1807-1813, LAZDEY belonged to the "Great Dukedom of Warsaw" and was part of the Bialystok district. The Napoleonic code was then introduced in this region, remaining in effect even during the Lithuanian period. In 1827 LAZDEY had a population of 1,988 people living in 272 houses.

In 1815, after the defeat of Napoleon, all of Lithuania was annexed to Russia, as a result of which LAZDEY was included in the Augustowa Region (Gubernia), and in 1866 it became a part of the Suwalk Gubernia as a county center.

During the years of its existence Lazdey suffered from many fires.

In 1915 the German army occupied the town, ruling there till 1918 at which time the independent Lithuanian state was established. In 1919 the Polish army took over in Lazdey, but was expelled after several days. Lazdey remained inside the border of Lithuania, but Seiny, the district center, was included in Poland. The district institutions, which were in what was called the Seiny district, were transferred to Lazdey, but the town remained a county center only for all the years of independent Lithuania (1918-1940). The invasion of the German army in June 1941 caused the demolition of almost all the town.

Jewish settlement until after World War I.

Jews had already settled in Lazdey by the end of the sixteenth century, but as an organized community they functioned from about 1689 in line with the permission of King Jan Sobiesky, and by the middle of the nineteenth century they had grown to 60% of the entire population. They built their houses around the market square and made their living from commerce. As a result of frequent fires many Jewish houses burnt down and their owners needed help from nearby Jewish communities and from former Lazdey emigrants in America. In the summer of 1879 about 200 houses were ravished by fire and their owners became homeless. An appeal for help published in the Hebrew newspaper "HaMelitz" of St.Petersburg on the 30th of July of that year brought much help in money and food. It is reported that the Russian district officer obtained a loan of 3,000 Rubles for them, but another version maintains that the Polish squire Mishinsky of the neighboring town Meteliai donated 3,000 Rubles for the Jewish as well as Christian victims of the fire. In 1886 another fire caused the destruction of about 250 Jewish houses as well as the death of an old man and a young woman, after which the authorities prohibited the construction of straw roofs in the center of town. Two years later, in 1888, about 70 houses, which had been left intact during the previous fire, burnt down. In this fire the old synagogue and the "Beth-Midrash" with all its books were destroyed, and a Jewish woman was also a victim. Another big fire occurred in 1910, all these events causing the deterioration of the economic situation of the town's Jews, which in 1887 amounted to about 1,500 souls.

Apart from the usual Jewish occupations, Lazdey was surrounded by Jewish farms and farmers till WW1. Many Jewish families also maintained an auxiliary farm behind their houses.

Nevertheless the community in Lazdey was well organized and in 1872, during a great famine in some parts of Lithuania, local Jews donated money for the starving, the collectors being Yehudah Glikman and Meir Simkha Zilberman.

Jewish children studied at "Khadarim" and "Talmud-Torah" and by 1887 there were 14 "Melamdim", 3 private teachers and 14 Judaica studying societies. Among the welfare societies it is worth mentioning "Lekhem Aniyim" who distributed money to poor families for a scanty subsistence, a "Khevrah Kadisha" etc.

There were youngsters longing for knowledge and the "Society for distributing knowledge among the Jews" of St.Petersburg sent them books in Russian and Hebrew. The "Khibath Zion" movement had many admirers in town. In 1881 Jews from Lazdey joined the "Yesud HaMa'alah" society, established in Suvalk by Eliezer Mordekhai Altshuler with the aim of settling in Eretz Yisrael. One of the members of the second delegation who went to Eretz Yisrael in order to buy land for the society was Mendel Burak from Lazdey, but for various reasons this idea was not carried out. In 1901, for example, there was intense Zionist activity in town, with people buying "Shekalim", a sort of membership card of the Zionist Organization, and donating money for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael

Individual Lazdey Jews left for Eretz Yisrael already sometime before the emergence of the "Khibath Zion" movement. In the old cemetery of Jerusalem there are three tombstones of Lazdey Jews: Gershon son of Moshe, died 1910; Reuven son of Yehudah Frid, died 1895; Khaya daughter of Rabbi Yudl Rosh HaGalil, died 1897.

Among the rabbis who served in Lazdey were: Avraham Tsvi ben Meir; Avraham ben Yekhezkel (--?--- 1798), father in law of Yehudah-Leib, son of the "Gaon" from Vilna; Khayim-Yehoshua HaCohen Blumental from 1853 for several years; Yosef-Moshe Aranzon (1805-1875), died in Chicago; Tsvi-Hirsh Kahana; Yehudah-Leib Ginsburg; Avraham-Eiver Yaffe (1823-1908), in Lazdey 1873-74; his son Yehudah-Leib (1842----?) from 1908 in Lazdey.

On the first of April 1915 Lazdey Jews were exiled into Russia by order of the retreating Russian army. After the war most of them returned home and found that their property had been stolen.

Copyright ©2000, Yosef Rosin

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