Before World War I, a significant number of Jewish children went to Russian schools (public school and high school-trade school).
Jewish community of Mazeikiai established Hebrew schools - the 'Tarbut' elementary
school -for information on the 'Tarbut' network see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarbut-
and a high school ('Progymnasium'), and finally also a Hebrew kindergarten .
The following, concerning the school system in Mazheik, has been compiled by Ilan Ganot. It is based on the book “The Litvak who survived, rescued, went to Eretz-Israel”, [chapters 6-7 with omissions], by Yehoshua Trigor, with author’s permission)
The 'Tarbut' chain of schools operated a four-class elementary school in Mazheik, and a six-class expanded Pro-Gymnasium (parallel to Junior high school of present times). Those who wanted to graduate from a Hebrew high school had to go as far as Kovna, Shavli, Mariampol, Poniwez or Wilkomir in order to attend the two last years of their studies.
The founders of the 'Tarbut' elementary school and Pro-Gymnasium in Mazheik, who also served as the managing committee of the school, were Yaakov Leib Trigobov, Chaim Lichtenstein, Dov Levitt and others. (Webmasters' note: from sub-rubric 3a Mazheik Jewish School it appears that Yitzchok Rubinstein, a resident of nearby Akmene, was also involved in founding the school and its running, as chairman of the Teachers' Committee.)
The teaching language in the school was Hebrew. Lithuanian and German were taught as part of the curriculum. Except for a few “Yiddishists,” and children of “Agudath Yisroel” minority fraction, most Jewish children in Mazheik obtained their education at the 'Tarbut' School. The atmosphere at the school was in the spirit of Eretz-Israel, and with close ties to the Zionist youth movements.
The first school headmaster was Mr. Yoffe. Dr. Goldstiker replaced him in about 1938, followed by Dr. Arie Hesselson, who taught Hebrew, as well as geography. Soon after their invasion of Lithuania in 1941, Dr. Hesselson was arrested by the Soviets and was deported to Siberia, like other Zionist teachers. After years of suffering in Siberia, he was released, and made Aliyah.
The last school headmaster was, most probably, Mr. Kalibanski. (Webmasters' note: from sub-rubric 3a Mazheik Jewish School it appears that YIVO doc. 24253 bears the signature of Yitzchok Rubinstein next to the Principal's rubber stamp, darted in 1922.)
According to the Lithuanian law, studies were compulsory and free of charge. However most of the parents made varied payments, according to their economic ability and their bargaining talents.
Below is the translation of a request, by the Gymnasium, for financial aid, followed by the original in Hebrew:
Translation of YIVO docs. No. 24464-5
The Hebrew Gymnasium of Mazheik
18 September 1923
To the Jewish Community council of Mazheik,
We cordially ask the honored Community Council to provide us – according to the resolution of its recent meeting concerning financial aid for poor pupils of the Hebrew Gymnasium –with the sum of 150 Lit.
Attached herein is list of pupils of the Hebrew Gymnasium who need aid.
School headmaster: ( --- )
Secretary: ( --- )
List of pupils of the Hebrew Gymnasium who need aid
Marin 1 pupil
Total: 20 pupils from different classes.
Mazheik, 18 September 1923
The 'Tarbut' School was situated in a two storey wooden building about one-and-a-half km from the town center.
The level of education, as well as the discipline of the school children was good, mainly due to the devotion of the teachers and the education that the children obtained at home.
130 children attended the 'Tarbut' school in1930, 106 of them appear in the photograph below. Since then the number of school children gradually declined, mainly due to Aliyah, emigration to South-Africa and elsewhere.
At the end of each school year, all fourth-year graduates had to pass entrance exams to the Gymnasium. Those who passed the exam with grades of “10” or “9” were allowed to leap a grade and begin their studies in the 2nd year of the Gymnasium.
A few years after its establishment, the Hebrew Pro-Gymnasium was closed due to the 1930’s economic crisis, and due to reduced numbers of Jewish youth both in Mazheik and surrounding Shtetlach, following increased emigration to the USA, South-Africa and (then-) Palestine.
The governmental gymnasium of Mazheik (Mazeikiu Valstybine Gimnazija) was founded in 1923 as a private high school. A few years later, after the independent Lithuanian government became established, the high school obtained the status of a governmental gymnasium.
Jewish boys and girls made great efforts in order to get accepted to the governmental gymnasium since its graduates were able to get accepted to certain faculties of higher education (at universities) without considerable difficulties.
During the 1930’s, approximately 500 students attended the eight grades of the governmental gymnasium. About 50 out of them were Jewish, and their numbers increased in proportion to the gradual closing of the Hebrew pro-gymnasium.
The author notes that although being neither Lithuanian nor Catholic (the religion of most Lithuanians), Jewish students, as well as those of other minorities (Pravoslavs and Protestants), were properly and equally treated. Opposed to the behavior of the local Lithuanians during the course of the Holocaust, the professional educational approach of the teachers contributed to a calm and congenial atmosphere at the school. (End of Ilan Ganot's compilation based on Yehoshua Trigor.)
Cultural and Community Institutions/Organizations
Within the Jewish community of Mazheik there was great demand for Jewish culture in general and Jewish literature in particular, both in Hebrew and Yiddish.
The Jewish library was founded by the Zionist Organization of Mazheik in the early 1920’s in order to meet the demand.
Two documents from the YIVO collection deal with the Jewish library, the first asks for funding for the repair of worn-out books, while the second deals with the scandal of the theft of books. They have been translated (below) by co-Webmaster Ilan Ganot.
The following letter, YIVO document no. 24456, deals with request by the library committee to fund the repair of worn-out books:
To the Community Council of Mazheik:
In the past year, we have begun to organize the library – an institute for which there was much demand from various segments of the Jewish population. A committee was established in order to take this important task upon itself.
Within the last half-year, the committee succeeded in developing the library, bringing it up to a respectable level, so that it was able to fulfill the needs of the readers.
Our library presently includes close to 500 Hebrew and Yiddish books (compared to just about 100 books until not very long ago), of highly important and diverse subjects; among them are books from the [famous] publishing houses of Warsaw and Berlin.
The number of members of the library has reached 70 (compared to about 20 previously), and is increasing from day to day.
These figures demonstrate the large interest of the local public in this very important institution.
The funds for purchasing these books, whose total value is presently estimated at about 2500 Lit, have been raised at balls, through lotteries, etc.
The present change in the economic situation doesn’t allow us to maintain the library by coincidental and temporary funding; on the other hand we presently have an urgent need for a considerable sum for re-binding about 200 books, which have been worn-out during very intensive use. According to a contract made with a binding house in Kovna, this will cost about 400 Lit.
This comes in addition to the large demand by members for the purchase new books, dealing with the most important issues in our Jewish world.
Taking into consideration that the Community Council of Mazheik is an organization whose duty it is to fulfill all the basic requirements of the community, we appeal to the respected Community Council, asking to take a budgetary share of 200 Lit in favor of the library, which is the only cultural institute in our community.
We consider our requirement as an urgent one, which can not suffer any delay.
We are confident that the respected Community Council will consider our request with serious attention and will approve the required sum.
With great respect,
Members of the Library Committee of the Zionist Organization of Mazheik
30 Sivan, 5683 (=14 June, 1923)
Note: Copy of the original Hebrew letter has not been appended due to its poor legibility – IG (translator)
Mazheik was a normal Jewish Shtetl, comprising workers, artisans, merchants, scholars, teachers and … thieves.
One of the documents found at the Mazheik files at YIVO archives (document no. 24243) provides a “Scandal Story” about the theft of books from the library of the Jewish community.
The document is a letter, written in 1922 by the committee of teachers of the Hebrew elementary school.
Following is a summary of the letter:
To the local Community Council of Mazheik
The Committee of Teachers of the Hebrew Elementary School in Mazheik, together with the Committee of Parents and Representative of the Community Council, has performed an investigation into the theft of reading books from the school library. The thorough investigation has led the instigators to finding the thieves. The investigation is close to its conclusion, including a detailed report…
We shouldn’t close our eyes and ignore the incident, since this may encourage the group of thieves to continue with their bad deeds… Understanding that the Community Council will be undoubtedly aware of it, we appeal to you to call a meeting, together with the committees of teachers and parents, in order to conclude the investigation with participation of all the youngsters: the suspects, instigators and witnesses. We shall issue our resolution (recommendations) in order to deter occurrence of such events in the future.
Awaiting your response in writing…
The Committee of Teachers of the Hebrew Elementary School
(Signed by the school chairman and secretary)
This interesting incident tells us about how the local Jewish authorities acted, to the extent possible, as a local “intra-community” police and court substitute, trying to resolve such petty crimes within the bounds of the local community, with an educational approach, rather than applying to the Lithuanian authorities.
The letter doesn’t disclose the identities of the young Yiddishe criminals nor their motivation for the theft, or the verdict and the punishment.
Miscellaneous Community Organizations
'Tarbut' evening courses were held in Mazheik.
Various cultural (-religious and/or -political) organizations existed, e.g.: “Kultur Liege” (leftist-Yiddishist), “Froyen Farayen” (women’s welfare organization), municipal fire brigades (whose all members were Jewish), He’Chalutz (Zionist pioneering organization), WIZO (Zionist women organization), “Aguda Zionit” (Zionist organization), “Agudas Yisroel” (ultra orthodox organization) and some others.
Letter from the Ministry of Jewish Affairs to the Maheik Jewish Community Council, concerning a debt to be paid (below).
Jews of Mazeikiai were pluralistic, representative of most, if not all the Jewish
political parties: Laborites, Revisionists, Progressive Zionists, Mizrahi and
The youth were largely affiliated to Zionist and sports organizations. Many were in Betar, Maccabi, Bnei-Akiva and Ha’Shomer Ha’Tzair.
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|Compiled by Raymond Ravinsky
Updated: March, 2009
Copyright © 2009 Raymond Ravinsky
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