Even today, some older Litvaks, when they are surprised, use the expression “Yezne un Stoklishok!”, which by its meaning is similar to “Jesus Christ”. We invite you to visit Jieznas and try to find what surprised the local Jews so much that this saying even became a part of Jewish folklore.
Jews settled in Jieznas relatively late – at the beginning of the 19th century, however, the community experienced rapid growth, and in the middle of the century, Jews’ constituted about one-third of the total towns’ population. Most of Jieznas Jews engaged in trade, crafts, and even farming. During the interwar period, the town’s economy almost entirely relied on local Jews, as they owned 16 shops, about 17 Jewish artisans worked in this town, including the only photographer of this town. Weekly markets were held on Thursdays, so it was an important day for local businesses, and five times a year huge fairs were held, which attracted many people from all around the country.
At the end of the 19 century, it is known that the Jewish community had a synagogue with a separate women’s section, and next to the synagogue, a rabbi’s house once stood. Jewish boys attended cheder (a religious primary school), and during the interwar period, a secular Tarbut school was opened in the town, which promoted Zionist ideas. Those who wanted to continue their studies mostly traveled to Kaunas. Even though the Jieznas Jewish community was very active, until 1912, they did not have a separate cemetery, so all Jieznas Jews were buried in the nearby Jewish cemetery in Butrimonys. In the summer of 1941, as soon as Nazi soldiers gain control over the town, the slaughter of local Jews began. As a result of these cruel actions, almost the entire Jewish community was killed. Individual local farmers managed to hide 18 at their houses, however, only 4 Jews survived till the end of the war.
Most of the Jewish-owned buildings were built from wood, so it suffered heavily during the war and Soviet occupation. Those buildings that managed to survive World War 2, later were reconstructed to adapt them for other purposes. Some Jewish owned buildings were turned into warehouses or cultural houses. The wooden houses that stand in the town’s central market square now remind us about the vibrant Jewish community that once lived here.
Historical Jewish Quarter in Stakliškės
Historical Jewish Quarter in Birštonas
Historical Jewish Quarter in Darsūniškis
Historical Jewish Quarter in Prienai
Beit Midrash of Prienai