Duke Žygimantas Kęstutaitis gave Alanta as a present to the Astikas in 1436. During their reign a manor house was built in the bend of Virinta river. In 1581 King Steponas Batoras transferred the ownership of the manor to the commander of the Hungarian army in Lithuania Gabriel Bekeš. Later Kristupas Radvila bought it. In 1828 it was acquired by the offspring of the noblemen Pacas duke Tadeusz Pac-Pomarnacki.
In 1655 a group of Cossacks took the noblemen refugee camp in Alanta with 100 carts. The unit of the volunteer army, however, liberated the arrested noblemen. A pub that stands there even today was built in Alanta in the 18th century. In 1831 the platoon of the tsarist general J. Savoinis reached Alanta and attacked the units of the insurgents. 400 insurgents were killed or wounded and 82 were taken into captivity. Lithuanian army beat Bolsheviks on 31 May 1919 near Alanta. In 1920 the Jewish elementary school was set up and 51 pupil learned in it. The Rabi of the Jews of Alanta town was Zelmanas Dubčanskis. In June 1935 there was a festival of all Alanta volost elementary schools. On October 6 of the next year a regional agricultural exhibition was organized, there were nearly 1000 showpieces in it and around 3000 people visited it. At the beginning of World War II the Nazis exterminated all Jews of Alanta .
A Neo-Romanesque style Alanta church that was built according to the project of the architect of the Swedish origin Karlas Eduardas Strandmann, grew on the hill in the early 20th century. In the soviet period the lower agricultural school was in operation in the Alanta manor house, Alanta state farm-technical school. In 1992 it was already Alanta agricultural school and in 2002 – the school of technology and business.
Jews of the Moletai Region – Flourish, Calamity and Rescuers
The privilege of Vytautas the Great of the 14th century promoted the settling of Jews in Lithuania. Since the 17th century, however, there was a rule in Lithuania that a synagogue might not be similar to any Christian church and dominate in the ambience. Synagogues were never erected in the centers of towns wherein usually Catholic churches or Orthodox churches erected in the tsarist times predominated. (dr. Marija Rupeikienė) In late 19th century many Jews of the town emigrated to South Africa, some moved to Israel. In the Mount of Olives cemetery of Jerusalem there are tombstones of that period for the emigrants from Molėtai. Molėtian R. Gordon, who was one of the founding fathers of Chadera town, left for Israel in 1891. There were 2397 inhabitants in Molėtai in 1897 and 1948 of them were Jews. There were four synagogues there Rabi Meir-Šolom Curjon (died in 1839), Israel David Elpern, Icchok Arje Bilickij (since 1920, died in 1939), his son Noti-Choim Bilickij (down to 1941). He was killed together with other Jews of the town.
Ethnical otherness of Jews – different appearance, language, different national and religious traditions singled them out of the local population – autochthons. Mixed marriages were very rare. The witness of the pre-war period from Alanta an ambassador Vytautas Antanas Dambrava told the author of the given book that in their numerous family Jews were held in esteem – on Saturdays mother used to ask the kids not to make noise or run about since it was a holy day for the Jews – Sabbath. The Jewish community who lived at the side of Lithuanians for long centuries unfolded only in the independent Lithuania. In 1918-1940 Jews were the biggest national minority that possessed its cultural national autonomy, schools wherein the instruction language was Yiddish or Hebrew. According to the data of the first population census of Lithuania of 1923 Molėtai inhabites 1772 people 1343 of which were Jews. Even on the liquidation of the Jew autonomy in 1926 a well-operating education system was preserved. The state of Lithuania supported the newly established schools and was interested in the Jews learning the Lithuanian language as well – simply to break away from the influence of Russian and German. Jewish associations and charity institutions flourished. After the restoration of the state of Lithuania in 1918 the Jews that had been deported by the Russians started returning to Lithuania. They were rendered help by the Jewish charity, a Jewish bank was in operation, Jewish People’s banks were also in the process of being set up.
In early 20th century the greater majority of Lithuanians did business in the agricultural sector whereas Jews – in trade and handicraft. Interaction of those nations made no problems for some centuries. But having consolidated their statehood Lithuanians were urged to take care of the economic state of their nation and take over the trade into their hands. It was economic competition that was the reason of the tension between Lithuanians and Jews. When after the Polish occupation Lithuania lost Vilnius region, a demarcation line appeared, which radically decreased the possibilities for the Jews to engage in trade. The discord between the Jews and the Lithuanians was aggravated by the fact that the Jewish community was influenced by the ideas of the proletarian cult that arrived from the Bolshevik Russia. Young Lithuanian Jews, especially those from poorer strata of the society allied with the communist organization, which was outlawed in Lithuania. The historiographical sources point out that prior to World War II it was only Jews who belonged to the communist organizations in Molėtai. When the first soviet occupation commenced in summer of 1940 Jews could legalize themselves, take up high posts and repressive soviet structures also used their services.
The major calamity of the Jews of Molėtai region commenced on 26 June 1941 after Nazis arrived in Molėtai. In one week after their invasion 60 Jewish young people were arrested and killed. Older Molėtians remember that only 6 Germans arrived in Molėtai. The Germans organized the units of local henchmen to watch the Jews in the ghetto established in the center of Molėtai between Vilnius and Kaunas streets as well as for their killing and parceling out of their property. The head and accountant of the mass annihilation of Jews in Lithuania was SS colonel standartenführer Karl Jäger, head of the 3rd operational unit. His reports of 1941 are peculiar account- books of the mass killings in Lithuania: ”I may state today that the 3rd operational unit reached its goal – to solve the problem of Jews in Lithuania. There are no more Jews in Lithuania…”
Reminiscences and photos of the personal album of Ruth Liberman (Israel), 2011
Dina married my uncle Moišė Šochot not long ago. When Jews were being collected from their homes, Moišė was in Utena. He must have been killed there. Dina was pregnant – she expected her first baby. She and her 15-year-old sister hid themselves in the storehouse of their neighbours. It turned out quite recently that that was the house of the grandfather of Donatas Ivanauskas – pharmacist Jeronimas Ivanauskas. The hid there for three months. They wanted to go and see who survived and what was left of their house. They put on big scarves took pails into their hands and left. Before long they were recognized and people from the commandant’s office were invited at once. That was how they lost their lives. In August 1941 all Molėtai Jews were marched for shooting. They were kept without food or water for three days. My grandfather spoke to the Rabbi: ”Rabbi, there are only six Germans, we could cope with them easily and run away into all directions – some people could save their lives”. To which the Rabbi replied: “If we lose our lives that will be by God’s will.” Chanting the Marseillaise the komsomols were the first to jump into the pit. Then all other were forced to jump. My grandfather was not able to come to terms with it – to die with no resistance at all. He lost his mind, tore the dress of my grandma and attacked one of the Germans prepared to bite through his throat but he was shot right away.
My three-year-old cousin Motalė crawled from the pit three times but he was again thrown back into it. The neighbours were standing around and watching how the Jews were being killed. An old and ailing doctor Albertas Jauniškis was forcefully brought to the pit to watch how his friends Jews die. Seeing the baby and its desire to live he begged the Germans to give it to him and promised to bring him up as a Lithuanian. But it was of no use. Next day the doctor died of broken heart.
He died in a different way. In a different place. He asked his neighbours Lithuanians to help him make a dug-out wherein he could hide his property. When he came to the forest people were lying in wait for him and killed him. In the photograph he is sitting. Nevertheless, in the process of collection of the material for the given book and in particular for the given part more and more people appeared who indicated not only the collaborators of the Nazis but those noble people of Molėtai region, who rescued the Jews irrespective of the impending mortal danger. The majority of them are not with us anymore, very few of the rescued survived, children or grandchildren of some of them have no proof about the rescue since any documents would be an incriminating material for the brown and red invaders alike. Nevertheless there is something that survived.
Klemensas Kaušinis took care of the rescue of Isac Judelevičius family throughout all the period of Nazi occupation, included his sisters who lived in Molėtai region into the given mission. When I. Judelevičius was taken to the peasants of Molėtai region Vitkauskas who resided in the Birutė island in Siesartis lake Rachelė Vitkauskienė lived there together with her grown-up sons Juozas and Povilas. In mid June 1944 after somebody informed that a stranger had been noticed on the island policemen led by a German office descended on them. Brothers Juozas and Povilas were badly beaten and imprisoned in Utena whereas I. Judelevičius was imprisoned in Molėtai and later – in Panevėžys prison and then was taken to the concentration camp in Germany. When the front approached Povilas and Juozas managed to escape from prison although after the beating they were ill for a long time. I. Judelevičius was liberated in Germany and he emigrated to Israel from there. Isac’s wife Raja and daughter Gita were given the permit to emigrate only in 1970. Judelevičius family met after 25 years of separation.
The above article is an excerpt from “Protecting Our Litvak Heritage” by Josef Rosin
Moletai (Maliat in Yiddish) is located in the eastern part of Lithuania, 28 km. southeast of the district administrative center Utyan (Utena) and 42 km. from the nearest railway station. At the southern edge of the town the Siesartis River flows, where summer vacationers came to relax.
Before 1795 Maliat belonged to the estate owned by the regional Catholic Bishop. Until 1795 Maliat was included in the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom. According to the third division of Poland in the same year by the three superpowers of those times Russia, Prussia and Austria, Lithuania was divided between Russia and Prussia. As most of Lithuania, Maliat became a part of the Russian empire, first in the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 in the Kovno Gubernia.
At that time the estate was handed over to private ownership, and the town began to develop. In the second half of the nineteenth century many merchants settled in, and markets and fairs were organized. From then on, continuing through to the period of independent Lithuania (1918-1940) Maliat was a county administrative center.
Jewish settlement till World War II
Jews began to settle in Maliat in the eighteenth century. In 1765 there were 170 taxpayers. In 1847, 1,006 Jews had already settled in Maliat. According to the 1897 all-Russian census, the population of Maliat numbered 2,397 residents, of whom 1,948 were Jewish (81%). Most made their living in small trade and crafts. Jewish girls knitted socks for small shops in Vilna. Next to most homes, small auxiliary farms were maintained.
All the Jewish shops were located along the only street in town, extending one kilometer from the estate to the church.
In 1860 a large fire broke out in Maliat, and 130 houses burned down, including the prayer house with its ten Torah scrolls. Another fire in 1888 destroyed almost all the homes in the town. Only 40 of them were insured. After the fire of 1906 destroyed the majority of Maliat homes, the town was rebuilt over several years.
In the 1880s many Maliat Jews emigrated abroad, mostly to South Africa. At the cemetery on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem at least five tombstones belong to Maliat Jews who emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael to live out their last days and be buried there.
In 1910 a Jewish elementary school was established, and there was also a Talmud Torah.
At the end of July 1915, in just four hours, Maliat Jews were exiled in sealed wagons to Penza in Russia. The retreating Russian army waged a pogrom against Maliat Jews: units of Cossacks robbed, murdered and raped.
Before World War I, in 1914 about 500 Jewish families (about 2,000 people) lived in the town. During the German occupation (1915-1918) the town’s people were made to suffer through forced labor and confiscations instigated by the German army. Many families moved to Vilna at that time.
After the war, only two-thirds of the exiled people returned to Maliat. Helped by relatives from the United States and South Africa and by different institutions, they managed to restore their houses and businesses. In the years 1919-1920 the community received help from YEKOPO (The Jewish committee formed to help the victims of the war).
Following the passage of Law of Autonomies for Minorities by the new Lithuanian government, the Minister for Jewish Affairs, Dr. Menachem (Max) Soloveitshik, ordered elections to community committees Va’adei Kehilah to be held in the summer of 1919. In Maliat a community committee of eleven members was elected: three from the ranks of General Zionists, four workers, and four independents. This committee functioned only until about the end of 1925 when the autonomy was annulled by the new Lithuanian government. For several years the committee was active in all aspects of the Maliat Jewish life. According to the first census performed by the government in 1923 there were 1,772 residents in Maliat, of whom 1,343 (76%) were Jewish.
At that time Maliat Jews made their living in trade, peddling, crafts and light industry. Fishing in the surrounding lakes and selling their catch in Utyan, Kovno and other towns, augmented their income. Important factors in the lives of Maliat Jews were the weekly markets and the two annual town fairs.
According to the government survey of 1931 the town had 21 shops, 19 of them owned by Jews (90%). Their distribution according to the type of business is given in the table below:
|Type of business||Total||Owned by Jews|
|Grain and flax||2||2|
|Butcher’s shops and cattle trade||1||1|
|Restaurants and taverns||5||4|
|Textile products and furs||5||5|
|Leather and shoes||2||2|
|Medicine and cosmetics||1||1|
|Timber and heating material||1||0|
According to the same survey 17 light industries were in town all Jewish owned.
|Type of factory||Owned by Jews|
|Textile: Wool, Flax, Knitting||6|
|Flour mills, Bakeries, Food Production||3|
|Leather Industry: Production, Cobbling||3|
|Barber Shops, Bristle Processing, Photographers||4|
An important role in the economic life of Maliat Jews was played by the Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank) that had a branch in Alunta, 15 km. away, where 24 Jewish families lived. In 1927, the bank had 318 members, in 1929 the number increased to 322 members. In 1937, 80 Jewish trades people worked in Maliat : fourteen knitters, twelve tailors, ten bakers, nine butchers, four shoemakers, four tinsmiths, three carpenters, three leatherworkers, two felt boot makers, two milliners, two blacksmiths, two barbers, two potters, two watchmakers, two needle traders, one glazier, one etcher, one electrician, one book binder, one corset maker, one textile painter and one other.
In 1939, the town had 22 telephone subscribers; 7 of them were Jewish.
The closure of the border with Vilna and its region which previously provided significant trade with Maliat, and the open propaganda of the Lithuanian Merchants Association (Verslas) urging people not to buy in Jewish shops, caused hardship to the town’s Jews. The decision of the local authorities to foreclose 22 Jewish shops on the market square under the pretext that they were too old, aggravated the already pitiful situation. Following the destruction of 14 shops and three private homes in 1931 many Maliat Jews chose to emigrate to America, to Uruguay and in large numbers to South Africa, where an Association of Former Maliaters (Landsmanshaft) was active for many years.
The Jewish children of Maliat acquired their elementary education at the Yiddish school (established in 1910) and at the Heder (with 30 boys). During independent Lithuania the Yiddish school joined the Kultur Lige chain, and a Hebrew school of the Tarbuth chain was formed. On average 160 children studied in both schools. The teachers at the schools were A. Helfer, A. Shapiro, M. Pakman, G. Burgin, R. Gordon, A. Sudavsky, A. Shadkhan, Turetz, Zang, Vareis, Shapiro, Rozental, Reznik, Pilevsky, Kosover, Aizen.
In 1924 a Talmud Torah was also opened. Some of the students continued their studies in the Hebrew high schools of Vilkomir (Ukmerge), Utyan and Kovno. Maliat also had a library and a drama circle.
Religious life was concentrated at the four prayer houses. Among those who served as rabbis were the following religious authorities: Meir-Shalom HaCohen Guryon who worked in the 1820s and 1830s and died in Jerusalem in 1839; Yisrael-David Heilperin, died in 1883; Ya’akov-Meir Yaka served from 1901; Yits’hak-Aryeh Bilitsky (1887-1933) served in Maliat from 1920; his son, Neta-Hayim Bilitsky, the last rabbi of Maliat, who served from 1933 until 1941 and was murdered together with his community.
In 1891, before the Zionist movement was formed, Shimon Gordon from Maliat emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael and was one of the founders of Haderah. In 1898 the Hebrew newspaper HaMelitz (#173) mentioned two Jewish families, Helper and Shnipilishky, who donated money to the development of Eretz-Yisrael.
In the 1920s and 1930s Zionist activities intensified, and most of the Zionist parties had their followers, as can be seen from the results of voting for the Zionist congresses in these years:
|Total Votes||Labor Party
Among the Zionist youth organizations Gordonia and Beitar had branches in Maliat. Also the Bund had an active membership together with a sport team. Sport activities were also organized by the Maccabi branch with its 30 members.
Shemuel Kagan was born in Maliat. He was the head of a Yeshivah in Slabodka for some time.
During World War II and afterwards
In summer 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, the factories, mostly them owned by Jews, were nationalized, as were Jewish shops, and commissars were appointed to manage them. All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and the Hebrew school was closed. Supply of goods decreased and as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore the brunt of this situation and the standard of living dropped gradually. At that time about 400 Jewish families lived in Maliat.
On June 26, 1941, several days after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the German army entered Maliat. Prior to the invasion Lithuanian nationalists had taken over the town and arrested the supporters of Soviet rule; in particular they targeted the Jews. A short time later these Jews were murdered.
The first week, following the German invasion, 60 Jewish youngsters were shot and buried in the swamps of Babulka, 500 meters behind the old palace. Other Jews were herded to Utyan where they were murdered together with the local Jews.
On August 26, 1941 the Germans forced the remaining Jews, mainly women and children, to the Beth Midrash where they were kept for three days without food and water. On August 29, 1941 (6th of Elul, 5701) they were ordered out of the Beth Midrash and led to a place one kilometer out of town, 350 meters to the right of the road leading from Maliat to Vilna. There they were murdered and buried in a mass grave. In the early 1990s a monument was erected on the mass graves carrying an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian.
After the war the grave was uncovered and 700 bodies of men, women and children were found at this site of mass murder.
Several Jews who managed to escape the massacre sought shelter in the surrounding areas but were caught by the Lithuanian auxiliary police and murdered. A few survived, thanks to a few Lithuanians who hid them during the war. Their names are preserved in the Yad Vashem archives.
Yad Vashem archives, Jerusalem, M-33/985; Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, file 95
Central Zionist Archives: 55/1788; 55/1701; 13/15/131; Z-4/2548.
YIVO, New York, Collection of Lithuanian Jewish Communities, files 1529,1667; pages 69585-86
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem (Hebrew) page105
Di Yiddishe Shtime (Yiddish), Kovno, 17.1.1922; 30.5.1930; 23.6.1931; 25.10.1933
Der Yiddisher Lebn (Yiddish). Kovno-Telz, 11.7.1924
Der Yiddisher Cooperator (Yiddish), Kovno, # 5(1928); # 11(1929)
Folksblat (Yiddish), Kovno, 7.8.1938; 27.9.1940