Lazdey (Lazdijai)

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

Section 2: During the Period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940).

After the war the returning Lazdey Jews, who found their property stolen and most of the houses ruined, started to rebuild their lives anew. The conflict between Poland and the new Lithuanian state concerning the sovereignty of Lazdey caused riots against the Jews in town.

According to the autonomy law for minorities, issued by the new Lithuanian government, the minister for Jewish affairs Dr. Max Soloveitshik ordered elections to be held in the summer of 1919 for community committees in all towns of the state. In Lazdey a committee of nine members was elected: eight non political and one from the Tseirei Zion party. The committee, active till the end of 1925 when the autonomy was annulled, collected taxes as required by law and was in charge of all aspects of community life.

The market square 1937-38

During this period Lazdey Jews made their living from commerce, crafts, agriculture and fishing. According to the government survey of 1931 there were in Lazdey 72 businesses, including 64 owned by Jews (89%).

Details according to the type of business are given in the table below:

Type of business


Owned by Jews

Groceries 14 13
Grains 6 6
Butcher's shops and Cattle Trade 13 11
Restaurants and Taverns 7 7
Food Products 4 3
Beverages 1 1
Textile Products and Furs 9 9
Leather and Shoes 6 6
Medicine and Cosmetics 1 0
Sewing Machines and Electric Equipment 3 2
Tools and Steel Products 4 4
Timber and Furniture 1 1
Paper, Books and Writing Equipment 1 0
Miscellaneous 2 1

According to the same survey Lazdey had 17 factories, of which 16 were Jewish owned (94%): a power station, 3 flour mills, one shoe factory, one light drinks factory, a workshop for wool combing, 5 bakeries, 2 sewing workshops, 2 mechanical locksmith's workshops.

In 1937 there were 56 Jewish artisans in Lazdey: 9 tailors, 7 shoemakers, 8 butchers, 6 bakers, 6 blacksmiths, 4 barbers, 3 oven builders, 3 carpenters, 2 painters, 2 watchmakers, 1 tinsmith, 1 wool knitter, 1 saddler, 1 stitcher, 1 wood carver, 1 photographer. There were also several porters and carters in town, and about 20 families engaged in agriculture.

During these years the economic situation of Lazdey Jews began to deteriorate because of propaganda by the Lithuanian Merchants Association "Verslas" against buying in Jewish shops and the Lithuanians established cooperatives in order to compete with the Jewish shops. The severance of Lazdey from its natural hinterland after the Polish occupation of the Seiny region, the murder during a robbery of several Jewish farmers who lived in isolated farms in its surroundings, and the transfer in 1935 of the market around which the Jewish shops were located to another place in order 'to improve the look of the town', affected the economic situation of Lazdey's Jews. Most of Jewish youth who could not see their future there, left during these years and moved to Kovno or emigrated abroad.

The Jewish "Folksbank" played an important role in Lazdey's economic life. In 1927 it had 233 members, by 1929 ­ 262 and in 1933 ­ 250 members. There was also a branch of "The United Company for Credit to Jewish Agrarians".

In 1922 a big fire caused damage to many Jewish houses in Lazdey. The representative of the "Joint" Association visited Lazdey and approved a loan of half a million Mark, the currency then still valid, for the victims of the fire which was to be divided up by the "Folksbank".

Jewish children received their elementary education in the Hebrew religious "Yavneh" school, with about 200 pupils and 5 teachers. It also ran a library for children. In addition there was also a "Yeshiva" for scores of boys.

Parents who had the financial possibility sent their children to the Hebrew high school in Mariampol, but most of the Jewish youth studied in the local Lithuanian high-school "Ziburys" (Torch), where tuition was minimal. In 1935, for example, 80 Jewish pupils studied in this school.

Picture taken by Ruth ben David (from the Pilitovsky family) 1994

The Lithuanian "Ziburys" High School

Picture supplied by Ruth ben David (from the Pilitovsky family)

Jewish girls pupils of the "Ziburys" high school 1933

From left: Frida (Shulamith) Pilitovsky, -----------, -----------, Olga Gurvitz


Picture supplied by Ruth ben David (from the Pilitovsky family)

Jewish girls pupils of the "Ziburys" high school 1930

Standing from left: Rukhama Idovitz, Frida Pilitovsky

Sitting from left: Henia Mikhnovsky, Miriam Gail


Photo supplied by Sarah Dushnitsky-Shner
Sitting from left: Nakhum Paulan,------, Sarah Zavatsky, Luba Dushnitsky, ------, Esther Ozhekhov, Rukhama Idovitz ------, Stasis Jucevicius (the savior of Mikhnovsky family)
Second line standing from left: Batya Okunevitz, Sarah Gilari
Third line from left: Khaya Prusak

The sixth grade of the "Ziburys" high school
Sitting in the third line from above from left: Mina Matskovitsky, Sonia Dushnitsky

Lazdey had a public library with about 2,000 books in Hebrew and Yiddish. The Jewish theater from Kovno would come to Lazdey approximately once a year with a Yiddish show. From time to time lectures on different themes, political and literary, were given in town, but this stopped during the latter years. Only the Zionist movement continued its activities, and all Zionist parties had representatives in Lazdey, as can be seen from the results of elections to Zionist Congresses in the table below:

Congress Nr.


Total Shkalim

Total Voters Labor Party
 Z"S  Z"Z


 A  B



 14  1925  80  --   --   --   --   --   --   --   --
 15  1927  39  34  19  10  3  2  --  --  --
 16  1929  126  82  42  4  32  3  --  --  1
 17  1931  67  60  32  6  15  6  --  --  1
 18  1933  --  203  121  62  19  --  1  --
 19  1935  ---  490  297  --  33  115   11  34

Among the Zionist Youth Organizations "HaShomer HaTsair" and "Betar" were active, and for some time there were also two "Kibbutsei Hakhsharah" (Training Kibbutzim), one of "HeKhalutz" and the other of the General Zionists.

Sport activities were performed at "Maccabi" (58 members) with its strong football team, "HaPoel" and for some time also "HaKoakh" who had a string instrument band.

Picture supplied by Ruth ben David (from the Pilitovsky family)

The string orchestra of "HaKoakh" 1930

Back row standing from right: Rukhama Idovitz, Shlomo Idovitz, Sonia (Sarah) Dushnitsky, Shulamith (Frida) Pilitovsky

Middle row sitting from right: Asher Borovsky, Batia Prusak, Zorakh Idovitz, Olga Gurvitz, Khaia Hofman, Avraham Gordon

Front row sitting from right: Yitskhak Upnitsky, Binjamin Staropolsky

The Jewish volunteer fire brigade which possessed modern fire extinguishing equipment according to the concepts of those days, had its own building with a hall for shows and also maintained a wind instrument orchestra. The nationalist Lithuanian "Sauliai" society established its own fire brigade and orchestra, threatening to confiscate the Jewish equipment.

Jewish religious life concentrated around the synagogue, the "Beth-Midrash" (The Shul), several praying rooms called "Klois", and the "Yeshivah". There were groups for studying in the "Talmud ­Shas Society", "Mishnah Society" and "Ein Ya'akov", and religious youth was organised within the framework of "Tifereth Bakhurim". The Rabbi during these years was Ya'akov Aryeh HaCohen Gershtein who served in Lazdey for more than 20 years. He was murdered in 1941 by the Lithuanians.

Picture taken by Ruth ben David (from the Pilitovsky family)

The Synagogue and the Yeshivah rebuilt as a youth club 1994

The welfare institutions included "Lekhem Aniyim" (bread for the poor), "Ezrath Kholim" (help for the ill), "Gemiluth Khessed" (loans without interest) which was affiliated to the "Folksbank", and "Maoth Khitim" (help for the needy for Pesakh).

Picture taken by Ruth ben David ( from the Pilitovsky family)

The bath house 1994

In 1939 there were 123 phone owners in Lazdey, of which 58 were Jews.

Copyright ©2000, Yosef Rosin

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