Description of Rokiskis from
Lite by Dr. Mendel Sudarsky, Uriah Katzenelenbogen, J. Kissin, and Berl Kagan

[Pages 1590-1592]

(Rakiskis, Lithuania)

55°58' / 25°35'

By Yudel Gapanovitch

Translated by Judie Ostroff Goldstein and Dr. Sonia Kovitz 

Our town Rakishok is located not far from the Latvian border, about 22 kilometers. We call Rakishok the Lithuanian Kamchatka [town in Siberia] because of its distance from our previous place of residence, Kovno. The population is over 5,000, of which 45% is Jewish.

Two hundred years ago Rakishok was located a half-kilometer away from present-day Rakishok, which began anew due to a sad incident. Rakishok belonged to a Count Titushevna. In the past the nobility had the right to punish their neighboring inhabitants. Count Titushevna had an administrator whose child was friendly with a local Jewish boy, a tailor's only son. And as it happens with children, the tailor's only son had a fight with the Christian boy and the Jewish boy was the victor. Then the administrator complained about the tailor and his son to the Count, who was an enemy of the Jews. The Count had the tailor come to see him and told the tailor of his decision. When the only son is about to be married, the tailor must let the Count know. If not, he will be punished.

The years went by and the young boy reached his thirteenth year. The father, afraid of punishment and not considering the evil intentions of the Count, told him the day and the hour of his only son's wedding. On that day, when the bride and groom were standing under the wedding canopy, the Count arrived with his people. He brought some dry willow branches, set fire to them, and burned the bride and groom in front of all the town residents.

The incident created many problems for the Jews and the town was under a ban. All the Jews had to leave. The more fortunate Jews left and the rest settled here, where the present day Rakishok exists, a half-kilometer from the place where the tragic event occurred. The site where the bride and groom were burned is the present Rakishok cemetery.

During the period of Lithuania's independence, our town was nicely built up. Before long our town was something to look at. The perpetual mud and the two deep ditches on each side of the street, towards which one had to run quickly in order to jump over them, have now disappeared. Finally even the back streets were paved, sidewalks were installed on both sides of the streets, and trees were planted. During the last ten years, dozens of new streets were laid from the railway station three kilometers from town. The railway station is one of the most beautiful in all of Lithuania. It was recently built and cost a half-million lita.

Rakishok is located in a low area and there are swamps nearby. Therefore plenty of people become sick with tuberculosis. There is no lake or river here, but there are two hot springs that are pleasant to visit. From the large marketplace, around which all the businesses are clustered, the Town Council took a large piece to turn into a boulevard, where they erected a memorial to Lithuanian independence. On one side of the memorial is a statue dedicated to the freedom of the Lithuanian people, and on the other a statue of Dr. Basanavicius. This boulevard and the smaller streets make a fine impression.

As far as culture is concerned in our town, there is one Lithuanian high school with eight grades, a Lithuanian grade school that was recently built, and a Lithuanian library. There is also a movie theater and one yavne [Mizrakhi Zionist school] where all the children study. There is a Jewish library that is somewhat forlorn, since no new books arrive for the Rakishker readers to enjoy. Thus the Jewish youngsters order books from Kovno.

In 1931 Rakishok called on A. Shapiro from Boston for assistance. He sent to the Rakishok Town Council 1200 pairs of shoes, boots, and galoshes for the Jewish and Christian poor. Immediately afterward a letter from Shapiro arrived at the Rakishok folksbank stating that he is giving $500 towards building the old age home. But due to evil machinations of one of the town's powerful men, it never came about.

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