During Independent Lithuania (1918-1940). Society and Economy.
On February 16, 1918, the establishment of the Lithuanian State was proclaimed. Consequently the German army withdrew from the area, and life in Telz gradually returned to normal. Telzs Jews, whose number at this period was only half of what it had been before the war, started to reconstruct their businesses and their spiritual life.
According to the first government census of 1923, there were then 4,691 people in Telz, including 1,545 Jews (33%).
Following the law of autonomies for minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government, the minister for Jewish affairs Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik ordered elections to community committees (Va'ad Kehilah) to be held in the summer of 1919. In Telz a "Va'ad Kehilah"
At left: Stamp of the Minister for Jewish affairs. At right: Stamp of the National Council of the Jews of Lithuania.
(Community Committee) of 11 members was elected in 1920, after the "Tseirei Zion" party managed to overcome the opposition of the local Rabbi for collecting taxes for public needs. The committee, active from June 1920 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.
In the elections for the municipality council of 1920 and 1931 four Jewish delegates were elected: Dr.Rafael Holtsberg-Etsyon, Moshe Blokh, Yisrael Kraim, Shalom Talpiyoth. In the elections of 1934 only three Jews were elected: Moshe Blokh, Adv. Broide and Mordekhai Levin.
Relations between Jews and Lithuanians were generally correct, but from time to time Jews were attacked as a result of libels. In June 1929 Lithuanian youngsters caused a disturbance and attacked Jews and in autumn 1935 rumors were spread that a Lithuanian girl had been raped, also that a Lithuanian child had been kidnapped by Jews. A frantic crowd attacked the Jews, six were injured, and many windows in Jewish houses were smashed. The police arrested the rioters, who were sentenced to jail. The situation became worse after the Nazis took over in neighboring Germany, and in particular after the annexation of the Memel district to Germany in 1939.
View of Telz - 1937
Telz Jews made their living from commerce, crafts and light industry. An additional source of income was the leasing of rooms and the supply of meals to the hundreds of "Yeshivah" students who came from all over Lithuania and from abroad. A few families dealt in agriculture, but the main source of income for shop owners and peddlers were the twice weekly market days.
The 1931 government survey showed that there were then 78 businesses in Telz, of which 63 were owned by Jews (81%). Their distribution according to type of business is given in the table below:
Type of the business
Owned by Jews
Butcher's shops and Cattle Trade
Restaurants and Taverns
Textile Products and Furs
Leather and Shoes
Haberdashery and Appliances
Medicine and Cosmetics
Watches, Jewels and Optics
Radio, Bicycles and Electric Equipment
Tools and Steel Products
Machinery and Transportation
Stationary and Books
According to the same survey there were 48 factories in Telz and of them 24 were Jewish owned (50%), as can be seen in the following table:
Type of the Factory
Metal Workshops, Tin, Power Plants
Chemical Industry: Spirits, Soaps, Oil
Textile: Wool, Flax, Knitting
Timber and Furniture
Paper Industry: Printing Press
Food, Flour mills
Barber Shops, Goldsmiths
In 1922 Jewish artisans re-established their society with 6 members. In 1937 103 Jewish artisans could be found in town, half of them belonging to their organization, including 14 tailors, 12 shoemakers, 11 butchers, 9 bakers, 6 watchmakers, 6 barbers, 5 stitchers, 5 painters, 4 photographers, 3 glaziers, 3 hatters, 3 corset makers, 3 tinsmiths, 3 dressmakers, 2 oven builders, 2 bookbinders, 2 locksmiths, 1 electrician , 1 blacksmith, 1 cloth dyer, 1 potter and 6 others. The economic situation of most of them was difficult, but the "Gemiluth Khesed" fund of the artisans, established with money from former Telz'ers in America, helped many of them by giving loans without interest. The artisans society signed an agreement with 3 doctors and a pharmacy to provide its members with medical help and medicines at cheaper prices. On "Khanuka" the society would organize a party, the proceeds of which were used for its activities. With the help of the "HIAS" society the artisans organization would support immigration of artisans abroad.
When Telz was connected to the railway line Shavl-Memel in 1927, the Jewish coachmen and porters lost their living. In 1925 there were 2 Jewish women dentists in town.
From the middle of the thirties the economic situation of most of Telz Jews deteriorated. The organization of Lithuanian merchants "Verslas", supported by the government, led an open propaganda campaign against buying in Jewish shops. Lithuanian merchants established cooperatives and big modern shops, competing with Jewish artisans and shop owners, slowly supplanting them.
The Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank), whose director for many years was Mordekhai Levin, played an important role in the economic life of Telzs Jews. In 1920 it had 120 members, by 1927 the number had increased to 250 and a year later it had 300 members. There was also a branch of "The United Society for Credit to Jewish Agriculture in Lithuania", which was centered in Kovno.
Telz had 168 phone subscribers in 1939, of them 41 Jewish, including 5 Jewish institutions.
Education and Culture.
Almost the entire education system in Telz was in the hands of the orthodox
In 1920 a Kindergarten connected to the "Yavneh" chain was established, and from the middle thirties a Kindergarten belonging to the "WIZO" (Women's International Zionist Organization) was also active. By 1921 there was an elementary school for girls where, in addition to general studies, also prayers, Bible with Rashi commentary, Jewish laws etc. were taught, and where 120 girls studied in 1935. In 1920 an "Educational Institute for Boys" opened, where "Gemara" (Talmud) was taught to such an extent that after 4 years of learning the students could be accepted at the "Mekhinah" (Prepartory class) of the Yeshivah. Girls continued their studies at the Hebrew "Yavneh" High School which had been established in 1921, and was famous all over Lithuania because of its strong religious education and the high standard of its general studies taught there. Rabbis and orthodox Jews of the Zemaitija region sent their daughters to this high school, whose first headmaster was Dr. Levi, followed by Shemuel Tsukerman. For the next 10 years (1923-1933) the headmaster was Dr. Yitskhak Rafael Holtsberg-Etsyon, later the inspector of the government religious education chain in Israel, who died in 1982. Other headmasters were Mrs. Dr. Levitan-Shereshevsky, Dr. Zaltsberg, Shalom Shokhat, Shelomo Trakhtenberg and Y.Shnaider, the last two murdered in the Holocaust, together with 7 of the 14 teachers who taught at this high school (See Appendix 6). During its existence 12 classes graduated from this school, which was disbanded in 1940 when Lithuania became a Soviet republic.
There were bi-annual courses for women teachers as from 1923, and from 1928 also an annual pedagogic institution for women teachers granting a matriculation certificate. At this time, a teachers seminary - women and men separately - recognized by the Education Ministry, trained teaching personnel for all the schools of the "Yavneh" chain in Lithuania, pupils studying for 4 years, and altogether 10 classes graduated. Its spiritual director was Avraham Mordekhai Vesler (1892-1941), who was murdered in July 1941.
The Hebrew High School "Yavneh" The second graduation class of the "Yavneh" High School for girls 1927
All these educational institutions were connected to the "Yavneh" chain and were supervised by the towns Rabbi and head of the "Yeshivah" Yosef-Leib Blokh, and after his death in 1930, by his son Avraham-Yitschak Blokh (1890-1941), who inherited his position.
For a partial list of the Rabbis who served in Telz during these years see Appendix 1.
For a partial list of the educational staff of the "Yeshivah" see Appendix 4.
In the years 1920-1927 there was a vocational "ORT" school, where dressmaking was taught, but attempts to establish a school of the popular Zionist "Tarbuth" chain in Telz during all these years failed.
The second graduation class of the annual teachers seminar "Yavneh" 1931 On top of the picture the headmaster Dr. Rafael Holtsberg-Etsyon
The fourth grade of the elementary "Yavneh" school 1938-39 with the headmaster Mentchovsky and teachers Fogelman and Mrs. Golomb
The last picture of the "Yavneh" teacher's seminar in 1940 before it was closed by the Soviets
Sitting from right: Avraham Pozeritz, Nakhum Levin, headmaster Pinkhas Shnaider, Nakhum Sandler, Ya'akov Levin
Standing from right: Yisrael Ardman, Nathan Shkliar, Yavetz, Shpital, Yankelevitz,Tuviyah Ba'al-Shem
The secular cultural center was the library, housing Hebrew and Yiddish books and where there was also a reading room with newspapers. The "Yeshivah" students would enter the library "sneaking in" order to glance at the books. In the beginning the directorate of the "Yeshivah" were against the reading of secular books, but in time they came to terms with it.
From time to time members of "HeKhalutz", of "The Artisans Organization" and others would promote shows in order to collect money for various public organizations.
Zionist and other public activities.
Despite the fact that the anti-Zionist religious "Agudath-Yisrael" organization was dominant in Telz, there were many who belonged to the Zionist movement. Almost all Zionist parties were represented in town, including a branch of "WIZO". In the table below we can see how Telz Zionists voted for the different parties during the six Zionist Congresses:
Labor Party Z"S....Z"Z
General Zionists A .... B
-- .... --
1 .... 44
7 .... --
3 .... 35
7 .... --
12 ... --
28 ... --
5 .... 86
"HaShomer-HaTsair" branch in Telz 1932 with Berl Cohen (First from right), Moshe Vareyes, Khanah Leibovitz, Khayah Leibovitz, Mikhal Noik and brothers Levin.
........ Labor party members at the "Keren HaYesod" committee 1934-35 Z.S (Labor) party members
Standing from right: Sason, Eivin, Adv. Sh.Broide, V.Funk, Broide, Grinker, M.Noik
Sitting from right: Leah Kopl, Glaz, Abramovitz, Shepselboim, Borokhovitz
Collections for the National Funds (Keren Kayemeth, Keren HaYesod) were carried out by the local committees of these funds and by members of the Zionist youth organizations: "Tseirei Zion"; "HaShomer HaTsair-N.Ts.Kh. (Noar Tsofi Khalutsi)". The founders were Khanah Sason, Mikhal Noik, Pikele Borokhovitz, Khayah Leibovitz and Khanah Leibovitz; "Betar", founded in 1929 by Leib Tabatshnik, Iske-Yitskhak Blokh, Esther Blokh, Eliezer Natanovitz, Noik, Leib Blokh, Meir Yoselevitz; and "Gordonia".
The activists of the Z"S (Zionist -Socialist) party were: Nisan Sason, Are Grinker, Yosl Ba'al Shem, Shepslboim, Khayim Hurvitz, Sheindl Rabinovitz and her husband, Vigodsky and Reuven Katsin.
There were "Kibutzei Hakhsharah" (Training Kibutzim) of "HeKhalutz" and of the General Zionists. The "Khalutzim" who succeeded in getting a "Certificate" (Aliyah Permission) and immigrated to Eretz-Yisrael, joined Kibutzim Dafna, Givath Brener, Yagur and others. In 1933 the "HeKhalutz HaDati" (Religious Khalutz) organization was founded in Telz which established several "Kibutsei Hakhsharah" in Lithuania.
Sport activities were maintained at the "Maccabi" sports organization, which had about 70 members.
Athletes of "Maccbi" Telz 1926
A great part of the orthodox population was organized in the "Agudath Yisrael" party and in the "Tseirei Agudath Yisrael" youth organization. These organizations published the monthly "HaNe'eman" (The Trustee) in Hebrew, whose editor was Y.Shemuelovitz from 1925, and the weekly "Der Yiddisher Lebn" (The Jewish Life), in Yiddish. Both were edited in Telz and printed in Kovno.
The periodical "Yiddisher Lebn" (Jewish Life)
Rabbi Kotz from Telz was the chairman of the executive of "Tseirei Agudath Yisrael" in Lithuania. This organization established three "Kibutzei Hakhsharah" in Lithuania and encouraged its members to learn Hebrew and immigrate to Eretz-Yisrael. At their ceremonies they used the blue-white flag.
In 1927 the religious "Tifereth Bakhurim" youth organization was established, the founding committee including: Moshe Litvak, Yitskhak Shmulevitz, Yosef Pogramansky and Moshe Helfan. In 1929 the organization had 50 members, its spiritual leaders being Rabbi Elkhanan Viner and Rabbi Zalman Dubtsansky. The first members and activists were: Yisrael Chetz, Pesach Cohen, Mikhael Cohen, the brothers Laikh, Elkhanan Klotz, Mendl Tsvik, Berl Vain.
Until 1920, when it was banned by the government, a branch of the anti-Zionist workers organization "Bund" was active in Telz. The activists were Rivkah Jafe, Motl Maler and others, who also activated a Yiddish elementary school for a short time.
There was a volunteer fire brigade headed by Moshe Blokh, who was also the founder of the Revisionist party in Telz.
Religion and Welfare.
The four synagogues continued to serve as the center of religious life just as before the war, the same being true of all the societies learning "Torah". The great "Beth Midrash" served not only for praying, but also for sermons and speeches of rabbis and public workers, local and outside activists of the Zionist parties. The local rabbi would deliver a sermon to the public twice a year, on "Shabbath Shuvah" (before Yom Kippur) and on "Shabbath HaGadol" (before Pesakh).
In 1921 the "Kolel Rabanim" (quasi university for rabbis) was established, where students participated in advanced studies in Judaism and Torah, from where important Rabbis in Lithuania and the Diaspora graduated. In 1927 a special building for this institution was erected, and in 1937 a handsome building for the "Mekhinah" (preparatory classes) of the "Yeshivah" was built. The headmasters and teachers of the "Mekhinah" were Avner Okliansky; Pinkhas Helfan, born in Telz in 1898; Mordekhai Katz, later partner in establishing the Telz Yeshivah in Cleveland.
In this "Yeshivah", which became bigger and stronger in this period and famous all over the Jewish world, discipline was severe, as a result of which many students left. Fanaticism among the orthodox was so strong that in autumn 1938, for example, two respected Rabbis beat a Jewish barber for working on Shabbath, for which they were sentenced in court to four days house arrest.
In 1937, apart from Lithuanian students, the "Yeshivah" had 30 students from Germany, 5 from Hungary, 4 from America, 5 from England, 5 from Latvia, 1 from Africa, 2 from Switzerland, 2 from Belgium, 1 from the Netherlands and 1 from France.
Telz welfare institutions included the hospital with its 16 beds, headed by Dr. Menukhin, "Bikur Kholim", "Linath Ha Tsedek", "Khevrah Kadisha", "Gemiluth Khesed" (Loan fund -managed all the years voluntarily by Ya'akov David Maizel), "Gemiluth Khesed" of the artisans "Ezrath Poalim", "Gemiluth Khesed" of the Artisans Organization", a popular kitchen and a "Women Society" for supporting the poor and the ill. The "Oze" organization ran a clinic and a summer camp for children from needy families under the direction of Mrs.Rachel Blokh and Mrs.Sonia Rostovsky. In 1939 a building for this camp was inaugurated in a village near Telz, which was named after Dr. Menukhin, who worked voluntarily at "OZE".
In 1939 there were about 2,800 Jews in Telz, about 27% of the total population.
The ending party of the "Gemara Society" at the "Khevrah Kadisha" klois, 1930
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