Plunge, Lithuania


Description and History

Plunge, a town or shtetl in western Lithuania, 26km southwest of Telsiai and 39km east of Kretinga. The 15th century tombstones in the old Jewish cemetery indicated that there was a Jewish settlement in Plunge at that time, substantiated with documents. In 1847 there were 2,197 Jews living in Plunge. The total population in 1972 was 16,200 and in 1923 it was 4,236. The Jewish population decreased to 1,815 in 1933 and in 1939 decreased to 1,700.

The town lies on the western fringe of the Samogitian Upland, and is divided by the Babrungas river, a tributary of the Minija. The major portion of the town lying on the left bank and the railroad district situated on the right. The railroad which connects Plunge with Telsiai and Kretinga, was completed in 1932. During the period of national independence, the town served as the center of Plunge township in the county of Telsiai.

The area comprising the town has been inhabited since pre-Christian times. On the banks of the Babrungas there are two fortress hills and a barrow grave cemetery in which remains of weapons and military gear dating from the 9th and 14th centuries have been found. The town began to develop around the fortress of Gandinga. Historical sources mention the estate and eldership of Plunge in the 16th century, as Gandinga gradually began losing in importance to Plunge.

In 1617 the church of St. John the Baptist, was built by King Vasa. In 1792 King Augustus granted Plunge rights of self government. Lying at the intersection of the roads leading to the harbors of Klaipeda also known as Memel at time under German rule and liepaja. Plunge became an active commercial center, with seasonal and semi weekly markets. Horse trading reached an important part of the economy.

The estate of the Oginski was in the possession of Zubov, a Russian general. In 1873 the estate was passed to Oginski (1849-1902) who built a mansion and created a park with rare trees and seveninterconnected ponds fed by the Babrungas river. The mansion still stands today as a mansion library was acquired by the University of Kaunas.

Lithuanian economy received a major boost with the restoration of independence in 1918. The largest textile factory of Kucinskas and Pabedinskas employed over 1000 workers in 1940 and had an annual sales of 6 million litas. Plunge had tile factory, tannery, slaughter house, two brickyards, two sawmills.

During the period of Lithuanian independence, Jewish commercial enterprises were repressed and a period of intensified emigration followed. The number of Jewish population decreased from 1933 to 1939.

Plunge in 1859 had 172 buildings and had 3,595 inhabitants.

There were six synagogues and a yeshivah with 50 pupils in the town from 1930 to 1939. There were a Tarbut and Yiddish school and a Hebrew secondary school. Plunge had two libraries and a Jewish bank. Political and communal organizations and relief institution. The office of Mayor was held by Boruch Goldwater. Boruch Goldwater received the jubilee medal by President Smetona. In 1937 he left Plunge for South Africa and lived there until his death in 1952.

Another Plungianer was Mordecal Plungian (Plungiansky) a Hebrew writer. He became learned in talmudic and rabbinical literature. Mordecai Plungian dissociated himself from the extremist Haskalah ideology as well as from Orthodoxy. His work angered the religious elements. Plungian backed down and destroyed the manuscript. He wrote for the journals Kerem Hemed and wrote poetry for Ha- Shahar. In 1868 he wrote a large work on the reading of the Torah. He was born 1814 and died 1883.

Another son of Plunge was Isaac Wolf Olschwanger born in 1825. He devoted himself to secular studies. In 1878 he was elected rabbi in St. Petersburg which he held until his death.

The Germans entered Plunge on June 25, 1941. They murdered a number of Jewish youths with the help of their Lithuanian cohorts. All of the Plunge Jews were killed by the Lithuanian Nazis and their helpers of the 2nd Battalion. There were 1800 Plunge Jews executed.

There are at the present about 8 Jewish families in Plunge. Yossel Bunks is now the remaining Jewish activist dedicated to the establishment of a Jewish Museum. He is the sculptor of the mass graves of the Jews in Lithuania. Yossel Bunks has erected in the woods of Kishon, just 2km out of Plunge. There the sculptors are made of trees depicting, mother and child with the inscription Born To Live.

Compiled By Tevia "Teddy" Sherr Of Plunge, Lithuania