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Linkuva and its Residents

Linkuva and its Residents

By Teodora Katiliene

(Essay on the Jews of Linkuva by Teodora Katiliene, a non Jewish woman in Vilnius. Translated by Alexander Karnovsky, Rehovot)

Copyright The Lithuanian Jewish State Museum 1994 p191-5

Extensive local folklore about the relationships between Jews and farm labourers testifies that very many years ago Jews in the Linkuva area made their living from agriculture, although in the 1880's the Tzar's decree forbade the Jews from living in the country. One should research in archives for information about the first Jews who settled both in the town of Linkuva and in the surrounding villages.

Excavations in the old Dirzar cemetry show that once there were buried soldiers of [the Great Prince) Mindangas. Already in the Xlllth century Linkuva was one of the seven district centres of Ziemgala. A strategic road from Bauske to the contemporary Panevezys went through Linkuva, and various armies from time to time moved along it. Nowadays the roads from five directions arrive at Linkuva. Therefore ne can suppose that already many centuries ago Jews could arrive at the fertile lands and the active commerce centre of Linkuva. Up to the W.W.11, in the Dvariukai village, to the left of the road, the land was still tilled by Jewish farmers who lived in poverty.

At the same time, to the right of the road, up to Musa, prospered nice farms of Jananskas, Vilipas and others. In Dvariukai there was also a Jewish mill. In Valakai, which borders with Linkuva, Jews owned many acres, but most of them, while living in the town, leased out the lands (Marhehericiene [Mrs. Markelovich], Baske and others).

The mill in Valakai belonged to the Jews also. Also in the direction of the village of Duciai there were Jewish lands. One of those Jews was married to a Lithuanian girl, lived in the Zalioji street and was completely Lithuania-ised. Everybody was surprised that he was killed together with all other Jews.

There was also a number of rich Jews who had acquired lands near the town but did not cultivate them by themselves. The lands of Davidsonas [Davidson] began not far from the big hardware store near the church and continued along the priest's garden until the Hoday's [?] bakery. The farm of the rich Barai [Bar]family was about half a kilometre from the town and occupied about 15 hectares [1 acre = 0.705 hectare]. It bordered with the lands of Linbaushas and the linden avenue of the Demgelavicius estate. A hired Lithuanian family who lived in a new brick cottage cultivated the land and tended the big warehouse. They planted only wheat and clover. They did not even plant a garden. It was Calkis (Celis Baras)[Tsalke (Betzalel Bar)] who managed that warehouse.

After WWI there were more Jews who had owned land in the country, but because of difficult conditions gave up cultivating the land and moved elsewhere. But in the town of Linkuva, especially in the centre, many houses with yards, storehouses, barns and of course land lots belonged to Jews. Fifty years later, it is possible to recollect only a couple of surnames, since even in those years people usually did not know the true surnames of Jews. People called the Jewish estates and the Jews themselves by the old names of the estates, they used nicknames, distorted surnames, etc. It would be interesting to find out how were the Jews recorded on the documents which have become now available. So let us not miss this occasion.

In Linkuva there lived two Blecheriai [Blechers]. In the beginning of the Stoties quarter [Railroad Station Street] there was Blecher's galvanized tinware store. The owner himself manufactured tin buckets, bathtubs, milk cans, various mugs and sold them. He even made things to order.

On the old photographs one can see the shop signs "Leather Shop", "J.Pleinas [Plein (?)] Shoe Workshop", "Nagines and Leather Shop". Nagines was a local footwear made of thick, strong, waterproof leather. Most country people wore nagines, and there was a big demand for them. Ready-to- wear nagines were rarely bought: everybody preferred to have them done to measure, so that they would be comfortable. To tie up nagines one used special flaxen laces. If the leather was good, one pair of nagines could last the whole summer. Farmers used to provide their families and the hired hands by the material for nagines, by using the hide of the cattle or some other old animal and giving it to tanners. The Jews did not wear nagines, only a few Jewish farmers. When a farmer went to a town, he wore real shoes. Jewish shoemakers were rare. Jews searched for various hides (raw and dry hides) to provide the Siauliai leather factory with raw materials. Jewish shoe repairmen were more common. They even traveled in the country repairing shoes. This way many elderly Jews also earned a living, sewing working underwear or used a few old garments to "stick" a new garment for an apprentice or a low-salary farmhand. Sometimes, from a cheap bedspread they would sew outdoor clothes. Even if they stayed several days in one village, they would always leave Friday afternoon, "to make Shabbat".

In Linkuva there were two famous dressmaker sisters Sochinaites [Shochin]. Only the ladies used to order clothes at the sisters, because the latter were very expensive. Linkuva was famous for very tasty bread, rolls and bagels which were baked by a Jewish woman Sulatiene [Mrs. Sulat or Sulata?]. She had a small shop by the bakery, where she sold the bread, still warm. The young gymnasium students, co-op members, used to bring, during a break between lessons, rolls and bagels for their teachers and colleagues. The president of the student co-op used to run by himself to bring hot pastry from Sulatiene. There was also another bakery, belonging, as far as I remember, to a Lithuanian Garastas (from the Udekai village), which had a shop by the bakery. On the Zemelio Street, there was another Jewish woman who baked delicacies at home and sold them to visitors. The butcher's shop belonged to Zalmanas Lurje [Zalman Lurie], who by himself provided the shop with the meat. He bought the animals (sometimes kept them to feed them up) and sold the cut meat.

There was an additional butchery in Linkuva, belonging to a Lithuanian woman Mastaushaite, also known as Mase, but people mostly bought the meat at home from Jewish resellers, who provided their compatriots with kosher meat. The resellers cut in abbotoirs, slaughtered animals or poultry. One should remember that an experienced butcher easily distinguished a healthy animal from a sick one.

The first electricity in Linkuva was supply around 1928-1930 by an energetic although noisy Jew Peresmanas [Peresman], who arrived from elsewhere. He put the poles up by himself, helped by workers, and drew the wires to the houses of richer people (because in those days the electricity was expensive). Peresman rented a part of the Linkuva district self-govenment's "shop" (store warehouse) fenced it off and built a thermoelectric power station. He himself collected the payments from the electricity users. In those days, there were no meters, one paid according to the number of bulbs and their power. Peresman used to check whether people hadn't changed the bulbs or added some more lamps. Several times the inhabitants succeeded in making Peresman reduce the price of the electricity in Linkuva. When the famous photographer Labuzelis (a nickname) left Linkuva, on the Zalioji [Green] Street there appeared a married Jewish photographer couple, who tried to be on a par with their predecessor. They had a lot of business. Everybody liked their pleasant nature and professionalism, but later they left to hide in Kaunas, where they perished. They had sons. The photographer's father kept a horse with which he used to travel to villages buying up old rags and bristles.(?). The photographer's neighbours on the Zalioji Street and Tilto [Bridge] Street corner where Chaimas Fuksas [Haim Fuchs], Nedeli Polenas, further off there lived Karaliai [The Magi] (beginning of January - horse trading), Juozines [St Joseph's Day] (March 19) (horses and cattle). Traditionally, those fairs created business opportunities for Jewish merchants of Linkuva, because until 1908, when Linkuva co-op was created, all commerce was in Jewish hands. In the beginning of WW1, the Germans built a narrow-gauge railway from Petrosiunai station to Linkuva "shop" Junkyard), thus connecting Linkuva to the Siauliai line. The connection significantly enlivened the commerce. Farmers from agricultural districts started bringing their produce to Linkuva and trying to buy all necessities. It was told that in Linkuva one can get "from a needle to a mare". Indeed, the activity of the Linkuva co-op some what hampered private merchants, because all the time the co-op intensified his propaganda against the private commerce.

Many remember how the market days Calkis [Celrs Baras] [Betzalel Barris] the rich man , used to buy flax on the Gimnazijos Street from farmers, carrying the flax to the market. He stopped their horses and asked those farmers, whose flax he liked, to turn to Motiejus Pozela's (Moses Pozel) yard. He gathered several carriages, pulled out a bundle (tied 16 heavy handfuls of scutched flax) took it to Mrs. Pozela's kitchen and analyzed it in all possible ways: he brought it to the window, turned it from all sides, stroked it, sometimes even licked it and spoke in a low voice. He was very afraid of making a bad deal. Once he made up his mind, the bargaining began. The bargaining took a long time, so that both the seller and the buyer became sick of it. They quarreled, then made up, parted, and sometimes Calkis chased a leaving carriage. If a farmer raised flax, Calkis used to visit him several times before he made a deal. Sometimes, being tired of him, the farmer asked Calkis to stop coming to his house, but after some time always he was there again with the question: "Did you already sell the flax?" If the flax was not yet sold, the drama started again.

A similar bargaining went on about wheat, linseed and other produce. Therefore many farmers, seeing Calkis on their way, used to hurry their horses to avoid meeting him. When he was not bargaining Calkis was a different man: talkative, agile although fat, tactful, socially active (Linkuva District self government member for many years), respectable and even tolerably ambitious.

I have to mention also Davidsonas [Davidsons] appliances and hardware store. People used to say that it carries "from a plate to a plough". It was located near the church, at the corner of Laisves and Baznycios streets. The big house, the spacious yard and the warehouse were full of various goods: chemicals, fertilizers, paints, agricultural tools, machines and their spare parts, iron wares (axes, scythes, spades, rakes, nails), kitchen tools (pans, coppers, buckets, baskets, china, glassware), wares cheap and expensive, which one could find only at Davidson's: ropes, belts, containers.

Probably, it was a hobby of the rich merchant to collect a multitude of rare articles and to show them off for other people. Exotic stationery, sporting accessories, some useful books (eg calendars) have attracted everybody.

Actually in those days each Linkuva shopkeeper tried to attract the customers offering more interesting and valuable merchandise than that of his competitor (Leveriuke's taxtiles, Bijomkiene's threads and buttons, Borkumas' shoes, Sulatilne's buns, Baske's strawberry caramels, etc.)

By the marketplace and Pasvitinio street stood an inn, a barn converted to a warehouse and a general store belonging to the smart wholesaler Girsa [Hirsch]. Girsa, like Calkis, used to travel to farmers buying upwheat, linseeed, flax. When a wholesaler learned that some village harvests crops or sells flax, he rushed there to arrive first and to buy cheapest.

Another wholesaler, Kanas [Kahn?], was also active in Linkuva. Possibly he accumulated even more wealth. He sent his daughter Liuba, a very friendly, pleasant girl, to a Lithuanian elementary school, then to the Gymnasium. Shortly before the war a terrible news had spread that Kahn had murdered a little Lithuanian girl for Christian blood, allegedly required for matzos according to the rules of a Jewish sect. The police interrogated Kahn, made an inquiry, but couldn't prove the guilt. Some time earlier, similar aspersions were cast on Jews of Zeimelis, but there also the guilt was not proven Probably, because of such rumours, mothers used to scare naughty children: "if you will not obey me, I will give you to a Jew". All these were echoes of the Black- Hundred moods! Once in the spring, two Jews had quarreled and started fighting. Many curious children and adults had gathered, attracted by an unusual noise. Jews often argued noisily but fighting was not heard of. One of the fight participants rushed into his store, the other chased him with vytele [some tool not found in the dictionary], willing to hit him, and broke the door glass. A policeman came to find out what was happening. Immediately other Jews appeared and asked the Lithuanian policeman not to interfere in the Jewish argument, telling that they will settle everything in the synagogue under rabbi's directions. Hence everything was calmed down. The producers' and merchants' ways of doing business are rarely straight, in many cases there are clashes. On the surface, the relationship between Lithuanian farmer producers and Jewish [she, the author, uses "zydelis", a diminutive with a derogatory shade] merchants looked even very good, but as the storm came, the passions flared up and pools of blood were spilled on both sides. Grass of some hundreds of lives has grown up by the Atkociunai Wood. That is only one place, and where are the others?

[Table of Contents] [Background - Journey to Linkova] [The Journey to Linkuva] [Photograph Gallery - Linkuva, Lithuania] [Maps of Lithuania] [Blumsohn tree] [Linkuva Directory] [Linkuva and Holocaust Resources] [Audio testimony - Murder in Linkuva]

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