Mariampol Genealogy Data
History of Mariampol (Marijampol)
Written by Joseph Rosin
English edited by Fania Hilelson-Jivotovsky
Mariampol lies on the banks of the Sesupe (Sheshupe) river, one of the tributaries of the Neman, the main river of Lithuania, about 55 km south-west from Kovno (Kaunas). The first people, who settled in this place in the second half of the 17th century, were peasants. In 1736 the village in the area was called Starapole. Another new village nearby was called Marijampole, the name appearing for the first time in 1756. Later these two villages were joined under the name Marijampole.
In 1792 King Stanilaw-August granted Mariampol "The Privilege of a Town".
Until 1795 Mariampol 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. The part of the state that spread on the left side of the Neman river (Nemunas) including Mariampol was handed over to Prussia. During the Prussian rule (1795-1807) Mariampol was a regional center. In 1800 there were 1,178 people living in the town.
During the years 1807-1813 Mariampol belonged to the "Great Dukedom of Warsaw" and was considered as a county center in the Bialystok District. In 1813, after the defeat of Napoleon, whose retreating troops passed through the town, all of Lithuania was annexed to Russia, and Mariampol was included in the Augustowa Region (Gubernia). From 1817 it again became a regional center. In 1866 Mariampol was included in the Suwalk Gubernia. The construction of the main road in 1829 from St. Petersburg to Warsaw stretching through Mariampol, spurred the growth of the town.
After the great fire in 1868, many wooden houses burnt down but were replaced by solid houses rebuilt in the town. The municipal town area of the town was enlarged, and a park, later renown for its greatness and beauty, was planted at that time
In 1827 there were 1,759 people living in Mariampol and among them 1,157 Jews (66%). In 1840 there were 2,992 people and 2,264 among them were Jews (76%). Mariampol was under Russian rule for a hundred years (1815-1915). In 1915 during World War 1, Mariampol was occupied by the German Army, remaining in the area until the establishment of the New Independent Lithuanian State in 1918.
During the period of independence of Lithuania (1918-1940) Mariampol was a regional center. The construction of the railway in 1923 connecting Mariampol to Kazlu-Ruda, a terminal on the main line from Kovno to Kibart (Virbalis) contributed to the town's further development. Thus Mariampol was connected to the Lithuanian railroads. During that period many factories were built in town and among them the Sugar Factory, which produced sugar from beets. Many new homes were built then, and the number of inhabitants grew (9,488 people in 1923). Mariampol became one of the most beautiful towns in Lithuania. It was also a cultural center boasting a large number of high schools in the area. During the Russian rule there were three Russian high schools in Mariampol.
In June 1941 the German Army occupied Mariampol and the occupation lasted until 1944. During the retreat the army destroyed the center of the town, the power station and the sugar factory.
From 1955 until 1990, during the Soviet rule, the town was called Kapsukas (named after the Lithuanian underground communist leader). After Lithuania was set free from the Soviet rule Mariampol got back it's old name.
The Jewish Settlement before World War I
It seems that Jews started to settle in Mariampol at the beginning of the 17th century. They settled on the left bank of the Sesupe river, in the village Tarpuch. Later it became the suburb of Mariampol. In 1766 there were 347 Jews in the village. At that time the first Synagogue was built in the village and was burnt down during WWI.
On the right bank of the Sesupe river Jews began to settle only at the end of the eighteenth century. During the Russian rule there were no restrictions imposed on Jews to settle in the area, therefore in the fifties and sixties of the nineteenth century the Jewish population in Mariampol made up 80% of the population. In 1856 there were 2,853 Jews out of a total town population of 3,462 (82%). In 1861 there were 3,015 Jews out of a total town population of 3,718 (81%). In 1897 the number of Jews in the town decreased to 3,268 (48%) while the total population grew to 6,737.
The Jews of Mariampol made their living in commerce and crafts. There were also Jewish farm owners who earned a living from agriculture. Jewish merchants exported flax, grains and poultry to Germany.
During the Polish rebellion in 1831 Jews of Mariampol suffered from the rebels. The rebels hanged a wealthy Jewish family and four community leaders.
In summer 1881 a volunteer fire brigade was established in which most members were Jews.
The Jewish children of Mariampol were educated in a "Cheder" where some Russian was taught. Most of the time was devoted to teaching the Bible, some Talmud and the Hebrew language. For some time, at the end of the nineties of the nineteenth century, a "Revised Cheder" curriculum was created in Mariampol, where Hebrew in the "Ashkenazi pronunciation" was taught by Yechiel Yechieltzik (later Yechieli) who after "Aliya" became the director of the Girls School in Neve-Tsedek in Tel-Aviv.
At the end of the nineteenth century a "Modern Yeshiva" was founded in Mariampol where Talmud, Hebrew, Bible, Russian, German and literature were taught. At that time the teachers were Hayim Joseph Lurie and Hayim Ber Rosenbaum who later taught in the Hebrew High School of the town. There were Jews in Mariampol who were subscribers to the Hebrew periodicals such as "haBoker", "haZman" and the children's paper "heChaver". In the Russian State High School for Boys only a few Jewish boys were enrolled because there was a maximum quota of 10% reserved for Jews. In contrast, at the two private high schools for girls there was no known quota and many Jewish girls were enrolled (one of them was the writer Devora Baron).
Because of the study of the Bible and the knowledge of Hebrew, most of the Mariampol Jews were supporters of the "Chibath Zion" (Affection for Zion) movement. Already in 1881 the local Rabbi, Shlomo-Zalman Gordon, added his "Haskama"(approval) to the book of Nathan Fridland "Joseph Chen". The book supported settlement of Jews in Eretz-Israel and became a popular book in the Diaspora. A year later his (Rabbi Gordon's) detailed opinion on the Zionist Movement was published in response to attacks coming from a group of Rabbis known as the "Black Lodge".
In 1882 a group of Mariampol Jews joined the association "Yesud haMa'alah" which was organized in Suwalk by the Mariampol native (1844) Eliezer-Mordechai Altshuler and whose task was to settle in Eretz-Israel. For different reasons, including the opposition of the Rabbis "to anticipate events", the task was not fulfilled.
In 1884 twenty-seven pictures of Moshe Montifiori were sold in Mariampol as a fundraiser for settlement in Eretz-Israel.
At the first Zionist Congress which took place in Basel in 1897 the delegate from Mariampol was Gedalyah Gitelevitz. At several Zionist Congresses afterwards the delegate from Mariampol was Aba-Yitzchak Rozental. He was also the delegate at the second All-Russian Zionist Conference and the representative on behalf of Suwalk Region at the Zionist Conference in 1908.
At the regional conference of the "Zionist Associations" whose participants gathered in Vilna in 1899, Rabbi Eliyahu Klatzkin from Mariampol was the delegate.
The numbers of "Shkalim" (like a membership card) that were sold in the year of the fifth Zionist Congress shows the number of members from Mariampol. belonging to the 'Zionist Association". Between the 1.7.1901 and the 1.7.1902 one hundred "Shkalim" were sold in Mariampol. The "Zionist Associations" in Mariampol were called "Benoth Zion" (The daughters of Zion), "Techiyah" (Revival) and "Bar Kochva", and they were among those who supported opposition to the "Uganda Plan". In 1905 a youth group, under the guidance of Devora Baron, was organized in Mariampol and was called "Pirchei Zion'' (The Flowers of Zion). Later its name was changed to "Tikvath Zion" (The Hope of Zion).
On the list of donors of 1909 who supported settlement in Eretz-Israel names of hundreds of Jews from Mariampol appear (see Appendix 1). Among the Jews from Mariampol who immigrated to Eretz-Israel at the beginning of the century were: Rachel Solnik (in 1909), later the wife of Yehuda Gorodeisky, one of the founders of Rechovoth, Yisrael Yablokovsky (1912) and Baruch Leibovitz (in 1911), later Dr.Baruch Ben-Yehuda. (see below).
A branch of the "Bund" (the anti-Zionist workers organization) acted in Mariampol and disturbed the Zionist activities. Among its other activities the disruption of the Memorial Assembly which took place in the Synagogue in Mariampol on the "Sheloshim" (Thirty days) after the death of Theodore Herzl is attributed to the " Bund"
Public life concentrated around the three Synagogues in town: the Central Synagogue, the "Hachnasath Orchim" Synagogue and the "Beth haMidrash". The ceiling of the central Synagogue was ornate with colored paintings of a tiger, an eagle, a deer and a lion. The Hoy Ark (Aron HaKodesh) was decorated with beautiful wooden carvings.
Until 1870 the Rabbi of Kalvaria (A town about 18 km south-west from Mariampol) was the Rabbi of Mariampol too. The first Rabbi in Mariampol was Chayim Perlmuter-Shereshover (from 1780 till 1820), after him his son-in-law Yehuda-Leib Charlap was officiated. In subsequent years Shlomo-Zalman Gordon (died in 1879); Yehonathan Eliashberg (from 1879 till 1887); Azriel-Aryeh Rakovsky (died in1894); Eliyahu Klatzkin (from 1892 till 1910) served as Rabbis.
The Great Synagogue and the "Beth-Midrash"
(Destroyed during the war)
Helping institutions in Mariampol were the same as in most other Jewish Communities of Lithuania: "Gemiluth Chesed", Linath haTzedek", "Somech Noflim" (from 1876), "Bikur Cholim" (from 1892) with a budget of 1,600 Rubels, a respectable sum in those days, and other organizations.
With the outbreak of WW1 the Germans occupied Mariampol, but after the advancement of the Russian army the Germans retreated. When the Russians returned to Mariampol, they blamed the Jews for influencing Germans, and as a punishment the Russian General Renenkampf ordered the Jews, including the Rabbi, to go out to work and repair the roads on Succoth 1915. In 1915 the Germans occupied Mariampol again and ruled there until 1918.
In Mariampol almost every family had a nickname that past from generation to generation. The family names were used only for official occasions
During the Period of the Independent Lithuania
Public and economic life.
According to the first census in Independent Lithuania in 1923, the number of Jews in Mariampol decreased to 27% of the total population (2,545 Jews of 9,488 people).
Mariampol was one of the first towns in Independent Lithuania in which the Jewish life was organized according to the Autonomy Law regarding minorities. Already in 1919 the elections to the Community Committee took place. In the elections 935 persons participated and they were 73% of the privileged to vote. 21 persons were elected to the committee: 6 from the "Tseirei Zion" list; 4 from the General Zionists; 2 artisans; 3 from the "Bund" list; 2 from the "Poalei Zion" list and 4 independents. In the elections of 1921 17 persons were elected: 2 General Zionists; 2 from the "Tseirei Zion"; 1 from "Mizrachi"; 3 artisans; 5 workers and 5 independents. The Committee was active until the beginning of 1926 when the Autonomy was annulled. During the years of its existence the Committee collected taxes according to the law and were in charge of of all areas of community life with the help of many sub-committees: a sub-committee for taxes, for appeal, for the public bath, for education and culture, for the administration and for social help. Among its other activities the Committee cared for Jewish soldiers who served in the infantry regiment of the Lithuanian army stationed in Mariampol and arranged a kosher kitchen for "Pesah" and a traditional "Seder".
In 1920 the elections for the first Lithuanian "Seimas' (Parliament) took place. The Jews appeared with one list that represented the Zionists, the "Agudath Israel" and the "Folkspartei". Among the elected Jews was the Rabbi of Mariampol Avraham-Dov Popel.
At the elections for the Municipality Council in Mariampol that took place in the twenties, 10 Jews from 32 Council members were elected. In the elections of 1931 6 Jews from 15 Council members were elected: Leib Bialoblotzky, Yitzhak Levin, Leon Stoklitzky, Berl Altshuler and Chayim Rotshtein. In the elections of 1934 only 4 Jews among 15 Council members were elected: Adv. Stoklitzky, Yitzhak Levin, Israel Levin and Aba-Yitzhak Rosental who resigned and Dr. Rosenfeld took his place. One of the Jewish members acted as the Deputy Mayor.
The Jews of Mariampol made their living in commerce, industry, craft and agriculture. According to the survey performed by the Lithuanian government in 1931 there were 146 shops in Mariampol and 121 of the shops belonged to Jews (83%) according to the following table:
|Kind of Business||Total||Jewish Ownerships||%|
|Grains and flax||14||13||93|
|Butcher's shops and cattle trade||20||16||80|
|Restaurants and taverns||12||8||67|
|Textiles and furs||17||16||92|
|Leather and shoes||12||11||92|
|Tobacco and cigarettes||1||1||100|
|Haberdashery and house utensils||13||13||100|
|Medicines and cosmetics||5||2||40|
|Watches and jewels||4||3||75|
|Bicycles and electrical equipment||3||1||33|
|Tools and iron products||10||8||80|
|Building materials, lumber, furniture||4||4||100|
|Heating materials, cattle food||3||3||100|
|Machines, terrestrial transportation||3||1||33|
|Books and stationary||3||1*||33|
* the shop was called "Moriyah" and belonged to Pilvinsky, later another shop opened and was named "Tushiyah" and belonged to Saks.
According to the same survey there were in Mariampol 54 factories, 26 of them (48%) belonged to Jews. The data is presented in the following table:
|Type of Establishment||Total||Jewish Owners||%|
|Metal works, power stations||6||1||17|
|Chemical industry: spirits, soap||4||2||50|
|Printing presses, book binders||5||1||20|
|Clothing and footwear||9||3||33|
In 1931 the population was 13,000 people ,35% Jews among them were Jews.
Near Mariampol there were a few farms that belonged (or were leased) to Jewish families who made their living working in agriculture: Vitenberg, Shohat, London, Meklenburg, Goldberg, Z.Levin. In the farm "Ungarina" owned by the Skarisky brothers there was a "Training Institute" (Hachshara) organized for "Halutzim" prior to their immigration to Eretz-Israel. There were also Jewish families in the vicinity of Mariampol who worked in agriculture: Dubzhinsky, Beilis, Berkman, Palnitzky, Dembner.
In Mariampol there were scores of Jewish artisans. They were organized in "The Association of the Artisans" with a 100 members in 1937/38: 22 tailors, 10 shoemakers, 9 bakers, 8 butchers, 7 hat makers, 7 stitchers, 6 woodworkers, 5 hairdressers, 4 photographers, 3 tinsmiths, 3 electricians, 3 watchmakers, 2 painters, 2 dressmakers, 1 glaziers, 1 blacksmith, 1 jeweler and 1 other. The "Association" had a Loan Fund (Gemiluth Chesed) and was represented in the religious institutions, in the municipality and in the "Ezra" committee, where it had 4 delegates.
An important role in the economic life of Mariampol was played by the Jewish Folksbank. In 1927 it had 525 members and in 1935 -about 500. There were also two private banks, one belonged to Amsterdamsky and the other to Weisberg.
There was also a branch of "The United Company for Financial Credit for Jewish Agrarians" in town.
In the middle of the thirties the economical situation of the Jews in Mariampol started to deteriorate. One of the reasons was the open propaganda led by the Association of the Lithuanian Merchants (Verslas) against buying in Jewish stores. To achieve their goal they established Consumer Coops which competed with the Jewish commerce. In 1939 there were also physical outbursts against Jews in Mariampol. In those years many Jewish youths immigrated abroad and a part of them to Eretz-Israel.
According to the official Telephone Book of 1939 there were in Mariampol 297 phone subscribers, among them 85 belonged to Jews (29%).
Education and Culture
During the period discussed above there were two Hebrew elementary schools, one of the "Tarbuth" stream and the other of the "Yavneh" stream , in Mariampol.
During all the years the "Tarbuth" school was open it was in very bad condition caused by unbearable crowding. The Jewish delegates in the Municipality and the Jewish Deputy Mayor tried to get a grant to build a suitable building for the school, but despite promises it was not carried out. A Hebrew kindergarten was established as well. For a short time a Yiddish school existed in town.
In 1919 a Hebrew high-school was established in Mariampol. This was the first Hebrew High School in the Diaspora and the second after the "Hertzeliah" of Tel-Aviv. Until its closing in 1940, when Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union, 19 graduating classes with about 400 graduates completed their studies, prior to many of them immigrating to Eretz-Israel. Many of the teachers also immigrated to Eretz-Israel and among them there were the two founders and first directors of the school Dr. M.Meir and Dr. A.Loevenhertz (later he became the director of the high-school in Kiryath Motzkin) and both shared their professional experience and contributed to Education in Israel.
The announcement on the opening of the Hebrew High-School in 1919 in Mariampol
In the first 15 years studies took place in a building which was an officers’ club during the German occupation.. Before it became a school it was redone. In 1934 after stormy public debates the school moved into a new building initially intended as a Home for the Aged. The last director of the school, A.Tabachovitz was nominated that year. He, together with a team of other teachers, among them veterans Z.Ayerov, A.M.Levin and Ch.Rosenbaum perished during the Nazi regime.
On the 4th of May 1939 the 20th anniversary of the high-school was joyfully celebrated in the hall of a movie theatre in Mariampol. Delegates from the government, the municipality, as well as the directors of the town’s Lithuanian high-schools and naturally all the former students and graduates of the school participated in the festivities. The Railway Authority granted a 50% discount to everybody who traveled to the celebration.
The first conference of the Hebrew High-School teachers in Lithuania took
Place in 1921 in Mariampol.
The last graduation class, 1940
The teachers sitting from right: Miss Vitenshtein, ---, --- , Miss Smilg, Rosenbaum, the Director Tabachovitz, Levin, Ayerov, Rutshtein
The pupils standing from right: Aba Veinshtein (later Gefen), David Bruker, Aryeh Leibovitz (the authors cousin), Jehudith Kushner, Miriam Finkelshtein, Sarah Rudberg, Shevach Levin, Janetta Medalie, Shimon Zupovitz, Zehavah Pilvinsky, Moshe Strazdansky.
Standing behind from right: Aryeh Nun, Elchanan Halperin, --- .
The fate of the above listed during and after the war:
All the teachers were murdered except Mr. Rutshtein who managed to escape to Russia. There he was conscripted in the 16th Division (the Lithuanian) of the Red Army. He fell in battle in 1943.
Aba Veinshtein-Gefen survived the Holocaust, is living in Israel and was the Ambassador of Israel to Romania.
Jehudith Kushner escaped to Russia from Vilna, lives in Lithuania, her two daughters live in Israel.
Shevach Levin was exiled with his family to Siberia two weeks before the war and remained there.
Janetta Medalie escaped to Russia from Vilna where she studied. Lives in Israel.
Zehavah Pilvinsky escaped to Russia from Vilna. Lived in Israel where she died a few years ago.
All the others were murdered in the Holocaust.
There were several Hebrew and Yiddish libraries in Mariampol: at the High-School, at the Zionist-Socialist club, at the "Sirkin" society. The biggest library was at the "Libhober fun Visen" society (Fans of Knowledge). There were about 4,000 books in Yiddish in addition to Lithuanian, Russian and science books. The "Tarbuth" organization arranged evening lessons in Hebrew and Yiddish. In 1922 about 50 people participated in the lessons.
In Mariampol there was a drama circle presenting shows in Yiddish and Hebrew from time to time. The Yiddish theater from Kovno would occasionally visit Mariampol. There were two movie theatres in town which contributed to the cultural life in Mariampol.
In 1934 when young Jewish refugees arrived from Germany, an agricultural school was opened for them in the "Ungarina" farm. Later vocational courses were offered in that farm for Jewish refugees from Germany and Chechoslovakia. Organized by "ORT"
Zionist and public activity.
During the years of Autonomy there were quite a few workers’ organizations in the communicty, such as " Bund" and "Poalei Zion Smol". They established the "Kultur Lige" (League of Culture) in town and arranged evening courses for children and adults. Later all that remained of the "Yiddishists" was the "Folkist" (The Populists) movement . They stood for Yiddish and opposed Zionism. Their medium was the daily newspaper "Volksblat" that was published in Kovno. However, by then the Zionist movement in all its shades had conquered the Jewish public in Mariampol. We can learn about the division of power among different Zionist parties represented in the Mariampol branches by looking at the results of the elections to the Zionist congresses:
<xxx xxx> Means that this is the total for the two columns representing the combined Labor Party
*The elections took place in the Synagogue.
A branch of "WIZO" (Women International Zionist Organization) was also organized in Mariampol. In 1938 it had 138 members, and the chairwoman was Mrs. Medalie, the wife of the known doctor in town Chayim Medalie.. Among the Zionist youth organizations organized in Mariampol we can find "haShomer -haTsair", "Beitar", "Gordonia" and "heChalutz". Already in 1919 the group "Achva" from "heChalutz" Mariampol went to "Hachshara" and in 1920 immigrated to Eretz-Israel. Many of the former members of the Zionist youth organizations are presently residing in the Kibbutzim in Israel. In 1934 there was an urban Kibbutz of "heChalutz" in town.
In 1940 the "haShomer-haTsair" movement organized an "Hachshara" Kibbutz for refugees from Poland in the farm "Michalina" near Mariampol. The farm belonged to the Levin family. Due to political changes in Lithuania this Kibbutz existed only for a short time.
Sports activities took place in the branches of "Maccabi" and "Maccabi haTzair" with 125 members. These branches had a soccer team with its own stadium, where groups for gymnastics and athletics were also organized. . Other sports companies were "JAK" (of the Yiddishists), "haPoel" and haKoach". Youth groups from Mariampol participated in the first and second "Maccabia" (in 1932 and 1935) which took place in Tel-Aviv. Many of them remained in Eretz-Israel.
There was also in town "The Association of the former Jewish soldiers" who participated in the struggle for the Lithuanian Independence.
Mariampole on Map of Disposition of Russian Forces in 1944
The map below shows the disposition of Russian forces facing German forces in World War II on August 18, 1944. The large arrow in the map sits directly above Mariampole.