During the Period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940) (All pictures of this section were supplied by Peninah Binyaminovitz-Levitan)
According to the autonomy law for minorities, issued by the new Lithuanian government Dr. Max Soloveitshik, the minister for Jewish affairs, ordered elections to be held in the summer of 1919 for community committees in all towns of the state. In Pren a committee of eleven members was elected. 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 through sub-committees.
According to the first census carried out in independent Lithuania in 1923 there were 3,260 people in Pren, 954 of them Jews.
In the 1931 elections to the local municipality council, three Jews were elected:Y.Yonenzon, A.Ginzburg, Sh. Bruk. In the elections of 1934 three Jews were elected again out of nine council members: Rabbi Rubinov, Yonenzon, Ginzburg.
Most of Pren's Jews dealt in commerce, crafts and industry, and 5 families made their living from agriculture.
According to the 1931 survey of the Lithuanian government, Pren had 36 shops, 32 of them in Jewish hands (89%).
Their distribution according to the type of business is given in the table below:
Type of the business
Butcher's shops and Cattle Trade
Restaurants and Taverns
Textile Products and Furs
Leather and Shoes
Medicine and Cosmetics
Radio, Bicycles and Electrical Appliances
Watches, Jewels and Optics
Timber and Furniture
According to the same survey there were 18 factories, 13 being owned by Jews (72%), as can be seen in the following table:
Type of the Factory
Oil production, Turpentine, Lime
In 1934 there were already 3 sawmills and 2 iron and tool shops owned by Jews.
By 1937 there were 52 Jewish artisans: 11 tailors, 8 butchers, 7 bakers, 6 shoemakers, 4 barbers, 4 stitchers, 2 hatters, 2 glaziers, 2 carpenters, 1 blacksmith, 1 painter, 1 photographer, 1 saddler, 1 watchmaker, 1 dressmaker, also 3 coachmen, 3 porters and 2 drivers.
An important role in Pren's Jews economic life was played the Volksbank, which had 219 members in 1927.
During these years the economic situation of the small shop owners and artisans deteriorated due to competition by associations of Lithuanian merchants and artisans, who agitated against buying from Jews. Many families in town needed to be subsidized by relatives in the USA, and most of the youth left the town and emigrated abroad or found work in Kovno. In 1939 there were 100 telephones in Pren, 28 of them were owned by Jews.
During this period a Hebrew school of the "Tarbuth" organization was inaugurated, with about 130 pupils, and next to the school there was a library with about 3,500 books.
Many Jewish children continued their studies at the Lithuanian high school in town.
The first class of the Lithuanian high school of Pren 1932
Sitting in the first line below, from right: fourth-Yisrael Goldband, fifth-Bustanai Rudnik
Third line from right: second-Dorka Gendler, third-Pola (Penina) Binyaminovitz-Levitan, third from left-Khyene Fugler-Flaxman
Fourth line standing: first from right-Yosef Tsvaig, first from left-Yisrael Tsines third-Mendel Milshtein
Jewish pupils from different grades of the high school with the teacher Mr. Kagan who taught them Bible and religion 1934-35
First line below, from right: Cohen--------------------
Second line from right: Dushchansky, Ushpitz, Teacher Kagan, Tsviyah Milshtein, Khayah'le---, standing Abelson
Third line from right: Dorka Gendler, Penina Binyaminovitz, Khyene Fugler, Goldah'le, Eta Cohen .
Fourth line from right: Mendel Milshtein, Yisrael Goldband, Roza Katz, Berta Kovensky, ------, Elka Smolensky, Nekhamah Abelson, Mordekhai Kovensky
There was also a Yiddish school, and in 1927 a Kindergarten was established, with Zagarnik as teacher. A private library by Ofenshtein, with books in Hebrew and Yiddish, was also inaugurated. For a short time a "Yeshivah Ketanah" was active, directed by fourth class students of the "Telsh Yeshivah", and during the Autonomy there existed a very active "Cultural Youth Society". The local branch of the "Tarbuth" society organized evening courses, with 45 people participating in 1922.
All Zionist parties had their supporters. The table below shows how Pren Zionists voted for the different parties at six Zionist Congresses:
Total Shkalim Total Voters
Labor Party Z"S.......Z"Z
A .... B
-- ......... --
-- ... --
2 ... --
9 ... --
17 . --
--- 266 174 66
11 . --
--- 238 182 --
*Elections took place at the house of the community committee
The Zionist Youth Organizations active in Pren were: "Gordonia" with about 50 members (activist M.Ainshtein), "Z"S Youth" about 100 members, "Hakhalutz HaTsair" 35 members, and "Betar" (activists Shilansky and Shtukarevitz families).
The oath of the "Oleh" Gurevitz to Eretz-Yisrael in front of the local branch of Betar
March, 26, 1935
Standing in front: Gershon Raibshtein, Avraham Shtukarevitz,from right: Shmuel Rudnik, Rubinov Dorka Gendler, Leah Palenbaum, Yosef Tsvaig, Munia Shtukarevitz
Second line: Mendel Milshtein, Yisrael Tsines
In 1933 a branch of "HeChalutz" was established with nearly 60 members. For some time a small cooperative factory produced candies in order to support the "Chalutzim" (pioneers). Sports activities took place at the "Maccabi" branch with its 103 members. Jewish artisans were organized within "The Society of Artisans".
A group of Betar members with the "Olim" to Eretz-Yisrael
First line sitting from right: Shmuel Rudnik*,Yisrael Gurevitz*, Asnath Smolensky*, Avraham Shtukarevitz.
Second line: third from right-Mina Finkelshtein, sixth- Palenbaum Leah*.
(*) "Olim" meaning those about to immigrate to Palestine
Pren youth on a visit in Birshtan From right: Shmuel Rudnik, ---, Vartovsky, Gita Fugler, her brother, ---, ---. Pren youth at the bridge on the Neman From right: Yisrael Gurevitz, Elka Smolensky, Asnath Smolensky, Nekhamah Abelson, Mendel Milshtein
The old wooden synagogue, the Beth Midrash, which had been rebuilt in 1903, was used for lessons on behalf of "The Society for studying Torah", and the "Klois" also served people during this period. The Rabbi and the Shochet (slaughterer) made their living mainly from the "Shechitah" fees, this being in addition to the small salary they received. The butchers and the poor objected more then once to the high Shechitah fees, and finally in 1934 a Shechitah strike broke out.
For a partial list of the Rabbis who served in Pren during the years see Appendix II.
The welfare institutions in Pren during this period included "Lekhem Aniyim",
"Bikur Cholim", "Hachnasat Kalah", "Hachnasat Orchim", "Tsedakah Gedolah", "Linat Tsedek" and "Chevrah Kadisha".
Among the personalities born in Pren were:
Mordekhai Rudnik (1893-1941), member of the Z"S (Zionist Socialist) center in Lithuania, director of the Hebrew high school in Shavli, murdered in Ghetto Shavli;
Yosef Gotfarshtein (1903-1980), lived in Paris, writer, journalist and translator, published articles on theater and art in the Jewish press in Kovno and Paris, and also wrote the extensive article "The Folklore of Lithuanian Jews" in "Yahaduth Lita" vol.1, translated into French stories by Y.L.Peretz and others.
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