A small town in Southern Lithuania
Where the Jewish Community is no more
Under Russian Rule
1815 - 1914
After the defeat of the French army in Russia many retreating soldiers were frozen to death and drowned in the lakes around Vilkovishk, and 80 French soldiers and 3 generals were buried in the vicinity of Vilkovishk. In 1815, after the defeat of Napoleon, all of Lithuania was annexed to Russia, as a result of which Vilkovishk was included in the Augustowa Region (Gubernia), and in 1866 it became a part of the Suwalk Gubernia as a district center.
The Russians built large barracks near the town as well as several factories, one factory for producing spirits and a few large factories for extracting oil etc. They also built big storehouses where locally produced goods were stored together with imported ones, for distribution to neighboring towns.
Vilkovishk in these years was the center for processing pig bristles, and in 1900 about 1,000 workers were employed in this industry.
During the years1882, 1886 and 1895 the town suffered from extensive fires.
During the nineteenth century the Jews were the majority of the entire population of Vilkovishk. In 1857, out of a total of 5,503 people in the town, 4,559 were Jews (83%), and by 1897 this had increased to 5,788 people, but included only3,480 Jews (60%).
During the years 1869/70 Jewish immigration to America started. In a list of immigrants from Vilkovishk the following names appear: L.Aronberg, H.Volkovitz, A.Varshavsky, M.London, S.Levi, M.B.Lichtenstein, S.Neuman, T.Memlonusky, S.Karigarsky.
In the eighties and nineties of the nineteenth century Jews from Russia would arrive in Vilkovishk in order to cross the border to Germany without a passport, and from there to sail to America. This was attempted for mostly financial or political reasons, but sometimes the smugglers were caught by the Russian Border Guard, whereupon the Vilkovishk community was obliged to free these Jews from jail. In 1898 a warning was published in the Hebrew newspaper "Hatsefira" (printed in Warsaw) against attempting to cross the border without a passport, signed on behalf of the community of Vilkovishk by: Rabbi Zvi Mah-Yafith, Rabiner (official Rabbi) Eliyahu Shereshevsky; Trustees: Sender Turberg, Efraim-Mendel Pustapedsky; Gabaim (honorary officers): Yechezkel Yafe and Yehosua Lipman Yofe.
Over the years the Jews concentrated on trade in grains, timber and agricultural products designated for export to Germany. There were Jews in Vilkovishk who owned considerable fields (according to the Napoleon Codex Jews could acquire land in this region), also growing vegetables and fruits. The fire of 1882 harmed 180 Jewish families, and in 1886 300 Jewish houses burnt down. The fire of 1905 destroyed many Jewish houses, resulting in help being supplied by the Jewish French "Alliance" association and Barons Rothschild and Hirsch.
There were many Jewish shopkeepers, various artisans and car and carriage owners who transported goods and passengers to the railway station and to neighboring towns. In particular the industry of processing pig bristles for the production of brushes was developed in Vilkovishk. There were four big factories of this kind - belonging to Sobolevitz, Rozin, Vilkovisky and Vindsberg - who employed more than 400 Jewish workers in addition to several smaller workshops. These workers were the first ones who organized and arranged strikes in order to improve their working conditions.
In 1896 a strike took place in Vindsberg's factory, organized by members of the "Bund" party from Vilna (Avraham Alexandrovitz and Ortshik), the workers demanding to reduce daily working hours to 10, and they achieved their goal. At that time the "Union of the Brush Workers" was established, and in 1898 a proclamation "To the Jewish Brush Workers in Lithuania and Poland" concerning the struggle for workers rights was issued by this union. The "Bund" also organized illegal demonstrations causing collisions with the police and some of the demonstrators were detained (the tailor Voloch, Shmuel Joffe, Eliyahu Slitovsky, Yisrael Kenigsberg). In 1911 about 1000 bristles workers, mostly Jewish, struck in order to achieve an eight-hour working day and a supplement of 75 Kopeiki (100 Kopeiki=1 Ruble) per week, thus becoming the first workers in Lithuania to benefit from an eight-hour day. The "Bund" organization fought not only for workers rights, but also propagated knowledge and Yiddish culture among the working classes.
There were many prayer houses in town: the old synagogue, the "Beth Midrash", four "Klois'es": the German, the French - where Napoleon's soldiers had lodged - the "Chevrah Kadisha" and the R' Ya'akov Yeshayahu, and one "Shtibl". The brush workers had their own prayer house which was called "Chevrath Sh "Ch (Hebrew initials of Pig Hair) This society (Chevrah) was established in 1875, initiated by the "Magid" from Kelem (Kelme) who taught those workers "Chayei Adam" and "Mishnah" A "Chevrah Kadisha" was also active, whose "Pinkas" (Notebook) existed from 1811 and "Chevrath Mishnah" whose "Pinkas" already existed in 1761.
We discovered this 1816 map of Vilkaviskis at a display of "Synagogues of Lithunania " at the Museum of the Gaon from Vilna - Pylimo g. 4, LT-01117, Vilnius.
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1816 Map of Vilkaviskis