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(Shventenai, Schvenchionys, Shvencionys, Shvenchenis, Shventshenis)

Svintsyan, Svintsian, Sventsian, Svenchan
Shvintzion, Svintzian, Sventzion
Sventsiany, Swenziany, Shvyentsiani, Shvyetsiani
 Swieciany, Swienciany, Svieciany, Swenciany, Svenciany

~ For my great grandfather, Leib Khonon Kovarsky ~
b. Sventsiany 1839 - d. Sventsiany 1892

Location of Svencionys
Isaac Levitan's
        Twilight: The Lake

     - Eastern Lithuania, in the Svencioniu Rajonas
(literally, "Rural District"--an Administrative Region),
bordering Belarus

      - 55 09'/26 10'

         Svencionys is located on the banks of the Kuna Stream 46.6 miles NE of Vilnius, the capital of the Republic of Lithuania (Lietuvos Respublika).  It sits at an altitude of 593 feet in a region with many forests and almost 300 lakes.  Written sources from the 15th century date the founding of the town to the 13th century.  The name appears to derive from the Lithuanian ventas, meaning holy, blessed, sacred, sainted, hallowed, or perhaps also from the Lithuanian vente, meaning holiday, gala, feast, festival. The modern name of the town of Svencionys is pronounced as if its English spelling were "Shven-TSHYO-nis," with the accent falling on the next-to-last syllable.  

         Svencionys Municipal Web Site 
         A Somewhat Deeper Look at Svencionys History

         Lonely Planet Map of Lithuania

         Google Map Showing Svencionys

         Map Showing Roads and Railroads (Svencionys is 6.7 miles east of Svencioneliai, shown on this map; click on map to enlarge.)

         Throughout its history, the town now known as Svencionys, Lithuania, has had many different names with numerous spellings.  Among former residents and Holocaust survivors, the shtetl is usually referred to by its Yiddish name, which, transliterated, is commonly spelled "Svintsyan" or "Sventsian" (pronounced "Svints-YAHN," with the accent on the final syllable.)  At this site, wherever a general name is required, "Svintsyan" will be used.

         The history of Svintsyan is linked to the tangled history of Lithuania, which has sometimes been an independent nation and sometimes not and was broken up between the two World Wars, with regions containing Svintsyan moving between several different countries.

Political History of Lithuania and Svintsyan with Regard to Location

Pre-19th Century

         The Jewish presence in Lithuania dates back to the early part of the 14th century.  Lithuania was an important center for artisans and craftsmen in the Middle Ages, and the Jews took part also in these occupations.  By the 17th century, Lithuanian yeshivot had become famous all over the world.  Many Lithuanian Jews worked as craftsmen or leased businesses, sometimes also administering estates belonging to others.  And they were moneylenders and tax collectors.  Though Jews in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were limited as to what they could own, they were given legal equality with non-Jews.  Perhaps for this reason, the number of Jewish inhabitants of Lithuania increased steadily during the 16th through the 18th centuries.

         History of the Jews in Lithuania

         The period preceding the 19th century gave birth to several important Jewish religious movements that were to have varying degrees of influence in Lithuania and in Svintsyan.  These were Shabbeteanism, Frankism, Hasidism, the Haskalah, and the Orthodoxy advocated by the Vilna Gaon.

Pre-19th-Century Jewish Religious Movements
          What is a Litvak?

          Litvaks from the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Site

19th Century

Lithuanian Jews under Russia

          The partitions of Poland ending in 1795 had made Lithuania part of the Russian Empire.  For most of the next 200 years, Lithuania remained under Russian domination.  Catherine the Great, ruler of Russia at the time of the partitions, had established a pale that restricted Jews, with few exceptions, to certain prescribed areas within the Russian Empire, prohibiting them from settling elsewhere.  Various legal restrictions continued to apply to Jews in the Pale of Settlement.

    Napoleon and Svintsyan

          The invasion of Russia by Napoleon in the early part of the 19th century was an event that could have changed the status of the Jews.  Napoleon had shown himself to be a great friend of the Jews in Italy, where he had abolished the ghettos.  He had promoted the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine and had given the Jews civil liberties and religious equality in France.

          Napoleon and the Jews

          But he was, of course, coming to Russia as a conqueror.  Russian Jews were suspicious of Napoleon's reforms; and the Hasidic rabbis were afraid that, in turning toward Napoleon, the Jews might turn away from God.   In Lithuanian territory in the summer of 1812, Napoleon had not reckoned on the heat and rain that transformed  the roads into mud, impeding the progress of supply wagons.  His inadequately provisioned soldiers rioted and looted in Vilna--a fact that undoubtedly also prejudiced the local population against him.  Proceeding to Svintsyan, Napoleon stopped there for one night at the largest house in town and, in the morning, reviewed his guard and troops from the balcony.  This house, known afterwards as "Napoleon's House,"  would eventually belong to a Jewish woman, Margolia Pliner, who, prior to the Holocaust, ran it as a mini-hotel with a first-floor refreshment bar and bakery.

    The Jews and the Russian Army

          Various forms of repression for the Jews had begun in Russia before Napoleon and continued after his campaign there failed.  Many of these had conversion of the Jews to Christianity as their aim.  A particularly heinous 1827 statute of Tsar Nicolas I required a quota of army conscripts from each Jewish community.  Unlike other Russians, who were required to serve in the army for 25 years, Jewish boys had six years added to their term of service prior to age 18, which meant that 12-year-olds and sometimes boys even younger were often forcibly removed from their families and obliged to serve in the military

          Jews in the 19th-century Russian Army

    Jewish Religious Movements

          In the 19th century, the Haskalah, or Jewish "Enlightenment," which had long been active elsewhere, finally reached Lithuania and began to gain many adherents there.  Another religious movement, the Musar (or "Mussar") Movement, with some elements of both the Haskalah and Hasidism, also attained prominence at this time but eventually died out in Lithuania.

19th-Century Jewish Religious Movements
          The great appeal to Russian Jews of the Haskalah had been that it stressed secularism and assimilation and thus was envisioned as a movement which could put an end to antisemitism.  But in this particular aim it would fail in 19th-century Lithuania and the rest of the Russian Empire because of a dramatic event in St. Petersburg.

    Assassination and Its Aftermath

          On March 1, 1881, Tsar Alexander II, a popular monarch who had freed the serfs, was assassinated.  Although of the six conspirators subsequently rounded up, only one was Jewish (a young woman named Gessia Gelfman), pogroms broke out in many southwestern areas of the Pale of Settlement, prompting a wave of Jewish emigration that would eventually spread to other parts of the Pale and continue for many years.  The Jews of Lithuania were initially spared because the Governor of Vilna Province prohibited pogroms. But fires set by arsonists ravaged many Jewish neighborhoods throughout Lithuania.
          Although the next Tsar, Alexander III, promulgated some reforms favorable to the Jews, this attitude was short lived.  In 1804, Jews had been ousted from villages and ordered to settle in rural areas--a plan which soon, however, proved largely unworkable.  The 1882 "May Laws" reduced the area of the Pale and confined Jews to towns, prohibiting them from settling in rural areas.  Jews could not own land or property except for the houses they already lived in, and they were barred from many professions.  The numerus clausus of 1887 established quotas of only 10% for Jewish students in Russian schools and institutions of higher learning within the Pale of Settlement, and there were even more restrictive quotas for Jews living in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
          The expulsion of the Jews from Moscow in 1891 brought refugees pouring into the northwestern part of the Pale and gave impetus to a subsequent flood of Jewish emigration from Lithuania.  The emigrees from Lithuania went primarily to America; and they went, in somewhat smaller numbers, to South Africa.

Zionism and the Jews of Svintsyan
A Girl
         Interest in establishing Jewish settlements in Palestine was also sparked.  In 1897, Theodor Herzl  convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, writing in a prophetic September 3, 1897 diary entry, "In Basel, I founded the Jewish State."

         Theodor Herzl

          Some of Svintsyan's Jews raised funds or traveled to the Holy Land with the Vilna "Lovers of Zion" to purchase tracts and plant vineyards.  A few "Svintsyaners" went to Palestine to live in the latter part of the 19th century; more would immigrate and settle there in the 20th.  These aliyahs would save many Lithuanian Jews, including the immigrants from Svintsyan, from annihilation in the Holocaust.

Religion in Svintsyan

          Though followers of the false messiah, Shabbetai Zvi, could still be found in Lithuania for many years, in shtetls like Svintsyan one of the most insulting things one could accuse a fellow Jew of was Shabbeteanism.
          By the 19th century, much of Jewish life in Svintsyan (as in other Lithuanian towns) revolved around the shtetl's Orthodox synagogues.  One such synagogue, now referred to by survivors as the "Old Synagogue," was a substantial brick structure that could house a large congregation.  It eventually became home also to a family of storks, who built a nest on its roof and returned there every year.

          Photo of Svintsyan's "Old Synagogue"

          In addition to the "Old Synagogue," for adherents of the Orthodoxy propounded by the Vilna Gaon (mitnagdim), Svintsyan had two Hasidic congregations and a synagogue for craftsmen and artisans.  It would eventually have a fifth synagogue, referred to as the "New Synagogue"--also for mitnagdim.
          The 19th century saw the establishment of some of Lithuania's most famous yeshivot, those of Volozhin, Slobodka, Mir, Radin, and Telz.   The yeshivot at Lida and Ponevez would be established early in the 20th century.

          Lithuanian Yeshivot

          Svintsyan had a yeshiva for awhile, too, under Rabbi Isaac Jacob Reines.

    Rabbi Isaac Jacob Reines

          Isaac Jacob Reines (1839-1915), who became Svintsyan's religious leader in 1869, was an important proponent of the Haskalah in Svintsyan.  Reines established a yeshiva there in which non-religious subjects as well as religious ones were taught and physical labor was encouraged.  His devotion to the study of Russian secular subjects brought him into conflict with Svintsyan's ultra-Orthodox population, particularly the Hasidim, and Reines was obliged to close his school and leave for Lida in 1888.  Reines eventually became a staunch admirer of Theodore Herzl, joining the Zionist movement in 1898, and publishing the book Or Hadash Al Tzion (A New Light on Zion) in 1902.  Although at the 6th Zionist Congress in 1903 the practical Reines supported the British proposal for a Jewish homeland in Uganda, Reines is best known today as the founder of the Mizrachi movement, which envisioned the return to Palestine and establishment of a Jewish homeland there as the solution to the problem of Jewish persecution.

          Rabbi Isaac Jacob Reines

    Mordecai Menahem Kaplan

          One of the most famous "sons of Svintsyan" was Mordecai Menahem Kaplan (1881-1983), born in Svintsyan to Israel Kaplan and Anna Kowarsky, a member of a large family prominent in Svintsyan for many years.  (One of Anna's brother was Jonas Kowarsky, born 1866, died 1933.) At the age of 9, Mordecai Kaplan immigrated to America with his parents.  In spite of the Orthodoxy of his mother and father, Kaplan was attracted to heterodox philosophies.  Eventually he attended Jewish Theological Seminary, becoming an ordained rabbi in 1902.  Kaplan rejected a literal interpretation of the Bible, called for a concept of Judaism as a religious civilization, founded the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, and established the Reconstructionist Movement in Judaism.  Kaplan's liberal leanings brought him into conflict with the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada.  In fact, his unorthodox ideas were rejected by most of the Conservative faculty at Jewish Theological Seminary.  Nonetheless, he taught there for 50 years.  By the time of his death in New York on November 8, 1983, Kaplan was revered as one of American Judaism's most influential thinkers.

Lithuania's Jewish Artists

          The biblical prohibition against the making of images kept Jews out of art for many years.  There were Jewish artisans but not Jewish artists.  But 19th-century liberalizing trends in Lithuanian Judaism eventually led to the appearance of Lithuanian Jewish artists.  Some of the most famous were landscape painter Isaac Levitan (born in Kibartay, 1860), William Zorach (born in Jurbarkas, 1887), Jacques Lipchitz (born in Drushkininkai, 1891), Chaim Soutine (born in Smilavitchy, 1894), and Ben Shahn (born in Kovno, 1898).    

    Svintsyan's Jewish Artist, Meyer Matzkin

          Svintsyan also had someone who became a famous American Jewish artist:  Meyer Matzkin, born in Svintsyan in 1881.  Matzkin was a self-taught painter, primarily of portraits and landscapes.  In 1904, he immigated to America, settling in the Boston area.  His  works were displayed at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Chicago Art Institute, and Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Academy of Art.
          The Smithsonian (Archives of American Art) has conducted an oral history interview with Matzkin, and microfilm showing some of his paintings is also available from the Archives of American Art.

20th Century

World War I, the Russian Revolution, and Jewish Socialism

          When Russia was attacked by Germany in 1914, Russian Jews sprang to the defense of their country.  But the long-standing Russian anti-semitism was not to be dispelled so easily.  Jews in Lithuanian areas of Russia were accused of being German spies.   They were even expelled from part of the Kovno Gubernia.
          In some parts of the Russian Empire, invading German forces treated Jews well--a fact which was to lull Jews into a false anticipation of German intentions later during World War II.  But Jews were sometimes also subjected to maltreatment by the Germans during World War I.  Many Jews from Vilna and nearby villages were incarcerated by the Germans at Poligon (literally, "shooting range"),  the site of a former Polish Army camp near Novo (New) Svintsyan less than seven miles distant from Svintsyan.  During this period, the Jews of Svintsyan and Novo Svintsyan, who had been more fortunate than their Vilna counterparts, organized relief efforts at Poligon.
          Meanwhile, in Russia, the winds of Revolution were blowing.  Food shortages during the winter of 1916-1917 caused rioting in Petrograd, and Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate.  A struggle for control of Russia ensued between two kinds of Socialists--the radical Bolsheviks and the more moderate Mensheviks.

   Eva Broido, a Menshevik from Svintsyan

          Eva Gordon Broido (1876-1941) was the daughter of a Svintsyan timber merchant.   Nearby forests had made the timber industry an important one in Svintsyan, and the 1895 establishment of a rail line along the Postava-Svintsyan-Novo-Svintsyan route, and later to the town now known as Panevezys, had given the industry a boost by enabling easier transportation of wood as well as of other freight and also passengers.
          Eva Gordon grew up to be a strong-willed woman who trained as a pharmacist but became a revolutionary.  Her second husband was Mark Broido, also a revolutionary and childhood friend whose family had lived in Svintsyan before moving to Vilna.  Arrested in St. Petersburg as revolutionaries, Eva and Mark were married in jail and exiled to Siberia but escaped following a mutiny.  In 1914, Eva was again arrested and exiled to Siberia, this time without Mark.  But when revolution broke out in Russia in 1917, Eva became Secretary of the Central Committee of the Menshevik Party, while Mark was given an important position in the Petrograd (former name, St. Petersburg) Soviet.
          In late 1918, with the Provisional Government fallen, the White Army under General Yudenich challenging the Reds, and Russia in the throes of civil war, Eva and her youngest daughter, Vera, began an odyssey that led them from Moscow to Poland to Vienna, where they rejoined Mark, eventually making their way to Berlin.  Only later did they find out about events in Svintsyan during the Civil War in Russia.

The Combattants and the Jews of Svenciany
          In Germany, Eva and Mark associated with other important ex-patriate Mensheviks such as Menshevik leader Yuli Martov, theorist Pavel Axelrod, and Menshevik revolutionary Feodor Dan.  Returning to Russia in 1927 to contact Mensheviks still there, Eva was arrested, sentenced to solitary confinement, and subsequently exiled to Central Asia.  Though she was brought back to Moscow in 1930, she was not a defendant in the Menshevik show trials of 1931--a fact which has been cited as evidence that she could not be induced to "confess" to fictional crimes.  Mark died in 1937; and in September 1941, coincident with the German invasion of Soviet Russia, Eva was executed by firing squad on orders from Stalin.
          Much of Eva's life was dangerous and chaotic.  High points seem to have been her election as Secretary of the Menshevik Party and a period when she was an English-Russian translator, winning a prize for her translations of the works of Jack London.  Yet Vera writes also of happy times on holiday in Lithuania.
Sojourns in Svenciany and Surrounds
    The Bund and Svintsyan's Aron Kramer

          Though the aliyahs that began in the 19th century and continued in the 20th would save many Lithuanian Jews (including immigrants from Svintsyan) from annihilation in the Holocaust, another movement that arose at the same time as Zionism would keep many Jews at home in Lithuania, leaving them in harm's way later.
          Only a few weeks after the convening of the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, the General Jewish Labor Federation of Russia and Poland, an organization which came to be known as the Bund, was founded in Vilna.  One of its founders, its most active organizer, and its primary proponent in Svintsyan was Arkady (Aron) Kramer (sometimes also spelled "Kremer"), born in Svintsyan in 1865.  With Menshevik leader Yuli Martov, Kramer wrote an important Socialist pamphlet, On Agitation. The pamphlet advocated the emancipation of the working masses through their own efforts but called on the Social Democrats to lead the workers.
          In contrast to Zionists, who emphasized the importance of a Jewish Homeland, the Bundists were fierce proponents of staying put.  They envisioned a peaceful coexistence with their non-Jewish neighbors, one in which antisemitism would disappear and the Jews could flourish in a non-religious but distinctly Jewish cultural environment.  Bundists helped establish the great literary tradition in Yiddish and were instrumental in organizing Jewish resistence against pogroms.  But by their fierce opposition to Zionism and to Jewish emigration in general, they helped encourage the Jews to stay in Eastern Europe on the very eve of the Holocaust.

          The Bund, a Yiddish Socialist Labor Movement

          Vilna Bund Manifesto Against Zionism

          Tomasz Wisniewski's Montage of Old Photos of the Jewish Cemetery

          Bagnowka Video of People from Svintsyan   

    Before Germany invaded Poland and the Holocaust began, Ze'ev Jabotinsky issued the following warning:

It is already THREE years that I am calling upon you, Polish Jewry, who are the crown of World Jewry. I continue to warn you incessantly that a catastrophe is coming closer. I became grey and old in these years, my heart bleeds, that you, dear brother and sisters, do not see the volcano which will soon begin to spit its all-consuming lava. I see that you are not seeing this because you are immersed and sunk in your daily worries. Today, however, I demand from you trust. You were convinced already that my prognoses have already proven to be right. If you think differently, then drive me out of your midst! However, if you do believe me, then listen to me in this twelfth hour: In the name of G-d! Let anyone of you save himself, as long as there is still time, and time there is very little.

What else I would like to say to you on this day of Tisha B'Av is whoever of you will escape from the catastrophe, he or she will live to see the exalted moment of a great Jewish wedding - the rebirth and rise of a Jewish state. I don't know if I will be privileged to see it, but my son will! I believe in this, as I am sure that tomorrow morning the sun will rise.

Ze'ev Vladimir Jabotinsky
Tisha B'av 1938
Warsaw, Poland
    Had this warning been heeded, many lives could have been saved.
          Holocaust Period

        In 1939, following the German invasion of Poland, Polish refugees, including Jews, began to pour into Lithuania.  Svintsyan was in Poland at this time:

        Polish-Jewish Genealogy Questions and Answers

However, Lithuania had declared independence in 1918 following World War I.  Below is a little-known story of how the Lithuanian government helped many Polish refugees until this Lithuanian government fell in 1923.

        "The Silent Helpers," by Ginutis Procuta  

        In 1940 the Soviets established army bases in Lithuania and annexed the entire country, including the Vilna region, as the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.  A strong Lithuanian nationalist movement sprang up in reaction to this, causing the Soviets to exile thousands of Lithuanian citizens considered politically unreliable in June of 1941, including Jews from Svintsyan.

         Soviet Deportations from Lithuania

         Only a week later, in violation of his pact with Stalin, Hitler invaded Lithuania and the Soviet Union.  The German invasion of Lithuania fed the hopes of Lithuanian nationalists and their aspirations for a lasting independence from the Soviet Union.  Jews, 4000 of them as volunteers, had helped defend Lithuania in its bid for independence from 1918 to 1923.  Yad Vashem has a photo of some of them:

         Jews Who Fought for Lithuanian Independence Gather in Utena, Lithuania

In the climate of 1941, Bolshevism was still seen as a great evil--a far greater one than fascism.  The Jews, many of whom had believed in the ideals of the Russian Revolution and had supported it, tended to be seen as Bolshevists, even though Lithuanian Jews, as well as ethnic Lithuanians, had suffered arrest and deportation to the Soviet Union in large numbers.  In this atmosphere, collaboration of a great many Lithuanians with their German "liberators" occurred.  In fact, the Lithuanians enthusiastically welcomed the Germans.  Shockingly, this attitude was characteristic of even some of the Catholic Church leadership.  Historian Raul Hilberg, writing in Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders, cites the case of Lithuanian Auxiliary Bishop Vincentas Brizgys, who forbade other members of the Lithuanian clergy to offer any assistance to Jews, even discouraging an effort to obtain shelter in monasteries for Jewish children.  The two reviews below make clear the complexities of the situation in which Lithuanians tended to look upon the Germans as liberators and the Jews as Communists.

          Lituanie Juive 1918-1940, a Review (Scroll down to see, especially, "The Myth of the Communist Jew.")

          Pogroms had begun even before the German invasion, and many young Lithuanian Jews--including some from Svintsyan--joined the Soviet Army or Jewish partisan units.  Some Jews from Svintsyan were deported; some fled to the Soviet Union before the German advance.  But many more Lithuanian Jews, including most of the Jews of Svintsyan, remained in their homes.  There they became fair game for the Nazis, aided by Lithuanian police, or Schutzmannschaft ("protective force") battalions.
          Almost immediately after the German invasion, severe repressions against Jews began.  The order for Lithuanian Jews to move into ghettos came on August 4, 1941, on the pretext that this would protect the Jews from excesses by the Lithuanian non-Jewish population.  Although some Lithuanian Jews were sent to Nazi labor camps, most were soon imprisoned within the newly established ghettos.  Svintsyan was the site of one of four Lithuanian ghettos.   Throughout Lithuania, mass executions of Jewish populations were soon initiated, with only Jews in "strategic occupations" initially  exempted.  The executions were carried out by Einsatzgruppen, so-called SS "action groups" that had begun as intelligence units tasked with "combatting hostile elements" but soon became mobile killing squads directed primarily against Poles and Jews.

          The Einsatzgruppen   

Operations in Lithuania were conducted after July 1941 under orders from Einsatzkommando 3.  By the end of the year, the majority of Lithuania's Jews had already been murdered.  With the Vilna region, including Svintsyan, the pre-Holocaust Jewish population of Lithuania had numbered approximately 250,000.  Ultimately, Lithuania would suffer the loss of more than 90% of its Jews, the highest percentage of any European country affected by the Holocaust.
          By fall of 1941, inhabitants of Svintsyan's ghetto had been scheduled for liquidation.  The Jews of Svintsyan and many Jews who had been brought to the Ghetto from surrounding communities were taken to Novo Svintsyan (now Svencioneliai), locked in barracks at the Poligon former Polish army camp for several days, and then shot.  According to a report by the Commander of Einsatzkommando 3,  on October 9, 1941, a total of 3726 Jews from the Svintsyan Ghetto--1169 Jewish men, 1840 Jewish women, and 717 Jewish children--were executed.

          The Jager Report

          A Guest at the Shooters' Banquet

          Only a few hundred Jews, the workers who could aid the German War effort through forced labor, had been allowed to remain in the Ghetto.  In Every Day Remembrance Day, Simon Wiesenthal writes that several hundred more Jews were murdered by the SS near Svieciany (Svintsyan) on January 7, 1942.  Some of those remaining sought, by any means, to save their loved ones.  One of the most amazing such stories is that told by Father Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel, who now lives in Israel and has found many family members there.

The Confession of a Polish Priest
          Other rescue efforts were launched by the Svintsyan Ghetto leadership.  In October 1942, representatives from Svintsyan applied for help to Jacob Gens, Head of the Vilna Ghetto and Chief of Vilna's Jewish Police.  But Vilna was caught in a trap of its own.  

          Gens Reports to the Jewish Leadership in Vilna on the Aktion in Ozmiana, October 1942

          From the Diary of Zelig Kalmonovitch Following the Report by Gens   

          An underground had sprung up, however, in the Svintsyan Ghetto.  (There were, in fact, underground movements in all four Lithuanian ghettos, those of Vilna, Kovno, and Siauliai, as well as Svintsyan.)  The NAAF Holocaust Project Time Line site mentions a March 6, 1943 event in which 20 young people, equipped with two revolvers, broke out of the Swieciany Ghetto and escaped into the nearby forest.  There they probably joined a partisan unit.

 Svintsyan Area Forests

 Svintsyan Partisans

          The Svintsyan Ghetto was finally completely liquidated in April 1943, when remaining Jews were packed into boxcars and told they were being relocated to Kovno. The train stopped instead at Ponary, the site of the mass slaughter of Jews from Vilna.  At least one of the guards opened the door of a car and told the occupants to run, but then guards shot at the fleeing Jews.  Only a handful made it to the forests--among them a brother and sister of Bronia Porus Chosid, the Svintsyan survivor who supplied this account.  

          Thus, the only Jews from Svintsyan still alive after the Holocaust were those who had been able to wait out the war in exile in the Soviet Union, had survived through service in the Soviet Army or partisan units or in Nazi labor camps, or had managed to survive by hiding in forests or with Righteous Gentiles.Chaim Soutine's After the Storm

           In "The Birthday Party," published in the January 2000 issue of Commentary, Avner Holtzman recounts the fate of some of the Jews from Svintsyan.  The story he tells is an elegy for all who perished.

  "The Birthday Party"
            Despite cooperation with Nazi aims by some of the non-Jews living in the Svintsyan area during World War II, others tried to help Jews, risking their lives and those of their families to do so.  Yad Vashem in Israel has recognized some of these brave people as Righteous Among the Nations:

            Romuald and Jadwiga Szymanski

            Piotr and Emilia Waszkinel
            Zofia and Irena Walulewicz

            The Walulewicz Family
The State Jewish Museum in Vilnius has now published a book,
Saving the Jews in Lithuania from 1941-1944, by Viktorija SakaiteThis book lists 2570 Lithuanian rescuers.  It is hoped that eventually the whole book, and not just the title, will be translated into English and it may then be possible to determine whether any of the righteous Lithuanians identified were involved in helping Jews from Svintsyan.              

            After the Soviets retook Lithuania in 1944, they erected monuments at slaughter sites.  But victims were usually identified merely as Soviet citizens.  In some places, Jewish survivors were able to commission monuments with Hebrew or Yiddish inscriptions, making it clear that the victims had been Jews.  For those less adept with computers, the below link, affording a view of the Memorial at Poligon on a single page, will be helpful.  This memorial was financed by Svintsyan survivors.     
             Lila Holzman's Photographs       

             Lazer Kovarsky's Video of 2001 Memorial Visit by Survivors and Family from Israel

             Jacek Szulski's Web Site and Photos
                   Svintsyan Jewish Cemetery (scroll down)
                   Svintsyan Jewish Cemetery and Ghetto monument
                   More Svintsyan Photos
                   Novo Svintsyan Jewish Cemetery and killing site  


              Information about, and Photos of, Many Svintsyan Residents (Type Svencionys into the Search window)

        Svintsyan's Jewish Poet, Menke Katz

          Poetry can also serve to memorialize.  One more distinction for Svintsyan was the birth there, early in the 20th century, of someone who would eventually become a famous poet.  This was Menke Katz (1906-1991).  Katz emigrated to the United States with his family in 1920, after losing a beloved brother who had been imprisoned in a German labor camp during World War I.  Accomplished in Yiddish and English, Katz wrote poetry in both languages and edited an international poetry journal, Bitterroot, in Spring Glen, New York.  Two of Katz's favorite forms for poetry were the sonnet and the triangle.  During his lifetime, eighteen books by Menke Katz (nine in Yiddish, nine in English) were published, and Katz was a Pulitzer Prize nominee and winner of the Stephen Vincent Benet award.  All of Menke Katz's books, translations, and essays, as well as the periodicals he edited, are listed at the Web site belonging to his son, Dovid Katz (  To see a rundown of what this prolific writer was involved in, go to:

         Menke Katz poetry about Svintsyan is in the yizkor book, Sefer zikaron le-esrim ve-shalosh kehilot she-nehrevu be-ezor Svintsian.  Below is some other representative poetry and additional information about Menke Katz, whose nine Yiddish books have now finally been translated into English by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav of Yale University.

Menke Katz, Poet

Some Menke Katz Poetry
Some More Menke Katz Poetry

Lithuania and Svencionys Today

          Before World War II, Lithuania, including the Vilna Region, had a Jewish population of approximately 250,000. Today there are only a few thousand Jews in all Lithuania. They are concentrated primarily in Vilna, where they struggle to revive and maintain an almost-vanished culture. Bluma Katz, one of Svintsyan's few remaining Jews, survived the war through deportation to the Soviet Union and was lecturing and teaching Yiddish cooking in the summer Vilnius Program in Yiddish, Vilnius University, and also acting as caretaker of the mass killing sites near Svintsyan until her demise on 27 October 2006 at age 94. A message from her with information about the Holocaust and her deportation can be found at:   
           Sadly, although there were brave Lithuanian gentiles who helped their Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust, there were also many Lithuanian collaborators. And Lithuania has been involved in a revisionist history that downplays Lithuanian collaboration and emphasizes Lithuanian victimization by the Soviets over Jewish victimization by the Nazis. One person fighting against this trend is former University of Vilnius Yiddish Professor Dovid Katz with his Defending History Web site, a link to which is directly below. Much can be learned from it.

           Defending History

  Today's Lithuanian Jews

  Bluma Katz's Sweet Treats          
  The Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum
  Lithuanian Jewish Art
  The Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum's Art Exhibit    
  "Kaddish De Rabbanan," a Poem
  "Why?" a Poem
           The LitvakSIG Poetry Page

           The present-day Svencionys Region boasts the tourist attraction of a National Park,  Aukstaitija, by the Zeimenio Lake.  Boating is available in the waterways of this park, and the hilly ridges of the Lithuanian Highlands are there.  More than 70% of the park consists of pine stands, and there are ancient oaks, as well as endangered rare plant species.  Accommodations may be had in old windmills that have been converted to inns.  Camping is also permitted in the Park.

           Aukstaitija National Park

           Lithuanian State Department of Tourism

           Although the Svencionys District has been slow to establish formal relations with other countries, folk artists come to Svencionys from all over Europe for the annual Ezeru Sietuva (Sietuva of Lakes), a folk music and dance festival held each autumn. Craft work and art work are also exhibited at this festival.  Svencionys has a hotel, a museum (the Nalsia), and four sports clubs, and the town also boasts the only stadium in eastern Lithuania.  Timber still constitutes one of the major industries for the region, and there is a factory that makes herbal medicinals and herbal tea.   The railway line that now stretches from Warsaw to Vilnius and St. Petersburg stops at the Svencionys station.

           Photos of Svencionys at Radzima Site

           Photos of Svencioneliai at Radzima Site

           Yad Vashem's Photos of Svencionys (Typing Swieciany in the Search window will yield the most photos. Some of these are pre-War photos, some are Holocaust photos, some are post-War.)

In the forests near Svencionys are pine groves that are home to many animals:  deer, rabbits, mink, even wild boars and wolves.  In summer, berries and mushrooms are there for the picking.  The lakes are alive with perch and pike and bream.  Rare birds make their nests at Kretuonas Lake.  Salmon leap in the rivers.

William Zorach's Untitled

          Before the Holocaust, Svintsyan had five synagogues--two Hasidic, two devoted to the Orthodoxy of the Vilna Gaon, and a synagogue for craftsmen and artisans.  There is no longer a synagogue in Svintsyan.  Before the Holocaust, there were almost 4,000 Jews in Svintsyan--approximately 50% of the local population.  In November 2000, there were five Jews in Svintsyan.

Svencionys Research

          Although it appears no 19th-century Jewish records of births, marriages, and deaths for Svintsyan have survived, Russian Revision List (census) records for this shtetl for the years 1834, 1850, 1851, 1858, 1868, 1872, 1873, 1874, 1875, 1877, 1889, 1890, and 1898 are available from the Lithuanian State Historical Archives.  These can be a good source of genealogical information.  Address inquiries to:

          Galina Baranova, Head Archivist
          Lithuanian State Historical Archives
          Gerosios Vilties 10
          Vilnius LT-03134

          FAX:  (+370 5) 213 76 12

          All pre-1940 Lithuanian records are now located in the Lithuanian State Historical Archives above.  However, birth, marriage, and death records for Svencioneliai (formerly New, or Novo, Svintsyan) for the year 1940 can be obtained from the Lithuanian Central Civil Register Archives, Kalinausko 21, Vilnius 2600, LITHUANIA.

          In 2009, the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum, Vilnius, published a  book entitled, The Ghettos of Oshmyany, Svir, Svencionys Regions: Lists of Prisoners. 1942.  The Table of Contents can be seen at  For more information about this book, contact Irina Guzenberg, Pylimo str. 4, Vilnius, Lithuania (Telephone: +370 5 262 8979; E-mail:

          You can also search for Svintsyan information with the following, putting "Swieciany" into the search windows for the interwar period when Svintsyan was in Poland:

          Logan Kleinwak's Search Engine for Online Historical Directories

          Information on Svencionys Jews who came to the United States and are buried in different Svencionys Landsmanshaftn plots at various New York and New Jersey cemeteries has been transcribed by Ada Green and is now available at the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR): The data covers plots in Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island (New York) and in Iselin and Woodbridge (New Jersey). A complete list of Landsmanschaftn plots in the New York area is available at the Web site of  the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York. Go to: For Svencionys Landsmanshaftn plots, simply put Svencionys into the search window. 

          Genealogists with relatives who immigrated from the Svintsyan area to New York may want to contact one of the three cemeteries in that area with landsmanschaft plots:

          (1)  Swencianor Association (Anshei Swenziony),  New Mt. Carmel Cemetery, Queens, 718-366-5900
          (2) Congregation Agudath Achim Anshei Swenziony, United Hebrew Cemetery, Staten Island, 718-351-0230
          (3) Anshei Schwinziane, Washington Cemetery, Brooklyn, 718-377-8690

          Researchers will also be interested in the following sites:

          Ancestry's Lithuania Page

          The Best Site for Jewish Genealogical Research

          The IAJGS International Jewish Cemetery Project

          Where to Find the Svintsyan (Svencionys) Yizkor (Memorial) Book

          A Scanned Copy of the Yizkor Book, with All Its Illustrations

          Selected Portions of the Yizkor Book, in English

          To Find Other People Researching Svencionys go to the JewishGen Family Finder Search Page, fill out the form, following the instructions.


          JewishGen Lithuania Database (for Svencionys)    

          Click the button to show all entries for Svencionys in the JewishGen Lithuania Database. (About the JewishGen Lithuania Database).

To Find Information on Other Shtetls

           Material on Svencionys at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum  (Click on "Search the Collections," and enter "Svencionys" into subsequent search windows.  You may need to click on the name of a collection to get a search window.)

           Yad Vashem and its Remembrance Projects  

           YIVO Institute for Jewish Research

           Scholars wishing to do research in depth, or persons wishing more information, will be interested in the following:            

           Lithuanian History from Scantours

           Lithuanian History from True Lithuania         

           Lithuanian History and Much More from Global Lithuanian Net

           Internet Resources on Lithuania from Global Lithuanian Net

           Lithuanian History from European University Institute


           Jews in Lithuania

           The Jewish Virtual History Tour:  Russia

           Jewish History of the Russian Federation

           The Holocaust in the Baltics



         The author is grateful to the many contributors whose work appears at this site.  Thanks are especially due Professor Avner Holtzman and his mother, Svintsyan survivor Lila Holzman, and also former Svintsyan residents Leyb Pliner, Bronia Porus Chosid, Rahel Gil Grindlinger, and Boris Jochai, all of whom contributed advice, information, and material.  Thanks are additionally due Harold Jochai for allowing the publication of the statement of his recently deceased father regarding the latter's partisan activities.  Helpful information and support for the project were also provided by Professor Dovid Katz, who teaches Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture at Vilnius University and is the son of poet Menke Katz; by Leon Matzkin and Evelyn Matzkin, the children of artist Meyer Matzkin; and by Sofija Tsiboulskiene, the daughter of Svintsyan resident Bluma Katz.   The author is additionally grateful to Mike Kazakevitch, of Kelly Graphics, Carlsbad, California, who donated scanning services, and to members of the Svintsyan Research Group--particularly to Steven Weiss, Jaqueline Sokolinsky, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Blum, Barbara Lefcowitz, Batya Olson, Dick Goldman, and Clifford Karchmer, who offered advice, information, and moral support.  Special appreciation certainly goes, as well, to Eilat Gordin-Levitan, who translated from Hebrew and donated the fine partisan account by Alexander Bogen, and to Ginutis Procuta, who granted permission for the use of his interesting article "The Silent Helpers."
          Additionally, thanks are due Richard Tyndorf, whose special interest is Catholic clergy who helped Jews during the Holocaust and who was extremely helpful in sending the author information on Righteous among the Nations recognized by Yad Vashem from the Svintsyan area.
          Thanks also are due all the publishers who kindly gave permission for the reproduction of articles or portions of books, and the museums, universities and galleries who gave permission to link to images of artwork owned by them, as well as to Bret Werb, of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, who donated his fine translation of Lila Holzman's lyrics for the partisan song "Rise Up and Fight."

          All major artwork at the site is by Lithuanian-born Jewish artists.  In order of appearance:

Untitled (?) a watercolor by William Zorach (1887-1966, born Jurbarkas), appears with permission of the National Gallery of Art (  More information about this watercolor can be found at:  The small bunch of grapes used to illustrate Hasidism (see "Pre-19th-Century Jewish Religious Movements" page) came from the Bitsela Artz Jewish Web Art site but is not available there now.  The animated menorah that accompanies the explanation of the Haskalah (see page entitled, "19th-Century Jewish Religious Movements") came from Judaic Graphics (, where it used to appear at The links to this site are apparently now non-operational, however.


(In addition to sites given under Acknowledgements above,
following are some, but not necessarily all, of the other sources consulted.
Information was also derived from personal interviews and correspondence.)

       Books and Articles

         Arad, Yitzhak, ed.  The Pictorial History of the Holocaust, MacMillan Publishing Co., New York, NY, 1990.

         Bauer, Yehuda.  A History of the Holocaust, Franklin Watts, New York, NY, 1982.

Beider, Alexander.  A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire.  Avotaynu, Teaneck, NJ, 1993.
Available online:

Bolotenko, George.  "Beyond the Metrical:  Records from the Russian Department of Police," Avotaynu, Volume  XI, Number 4, Winter 1995.

Broido, Vera.  Daughter of Revolution:  A Russian Girlhood Remembered, Constable, London, 1998.

Cargas, H. J.  Voices from the Holocaust, University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, 1993.

Dubnow, S. M.  History of the Jews in Russia and Poland:  from the Earliest Times until the Present Day. Translated from the Russian by I. Friedlaender.  Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, PA, 1916.

Eckman, Lester and Lazar, Chaim.  The Jewish Resistance:  The History of the Jewish Partisans in Lithuania and White Russia during the Nazi Occupation 1940-1945, Shengold Publishers, Inc., New York, NY, 1977.

Eliach, Yaffa.  There Once Was a World, Little Brown & Company, Boston, MA, 1998.

Feldblyum, Boris and Shadevich, Yakov.  "Some Problems in Researching Eastern European Records," Avotaynu, Volume IX, Number 3, Fall 1993.

Friedlander, Alex.  "Jewish Vital Statistic Records in Lithuanian Archives," Avotaynu, Volume VI, Number 4, Winter 1990.

Greenbaum, Masha.  The Jews of Lithuania : A History of a Remarkable Community 1316-1945, Gefen Publishing, Jerusalem and New York, 1995.

Greenblatt, Ada.  "Lithuanian Central Civil Register Archives Revisited,"  Avotaynu, Volume XIV, Number 1, Spring 1998.

Greenfield, T. Allen.  "The Frankist Ecstatics of the Eighteenth Century," Agape I:  2 (February 1998).  Available:

Holtzman, Avner.  "The Birthday Party," Commentary, January 2000.

Iwaskiw, Walter R., ed.  Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania:  Country Studies, Headquarters, Department of the
Army, 1996.

Hilberg, Raul.  Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders:  the Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945, Harper Collins, New York, NY, 1992.

Levinson, Yosif.  The Book of Sorrow, VAGA Publishers, Vilnius, Lithuania, 1997.

Margol, Howard.  "Genealogical Research in Lithuania," Avotaynu, VolumeXII, Number 3, Fall 1996.

Mokotoff, Gary.  How to Document Victims and Locate Survivors of the Holocaust, Avotaynu, Teaneck, NJ, 1999.

Rhode, Harold.  "What May Be Learned from 19th-century Czarist Jewish Birth Records and Revision Lists," Avotaynu, Volume X, Number 3, Fall 1994.

Rhode, Harold and Sack, Sallyann.  Jewish Vital Records, Revision Lists and Other Holdings in the Lithuanian Archives, Avotaynu Inc., Teaneck, NJ, 1996.

Sanders, Ronald.  Shores of Refuge:  A Hundred Years of Jewish Emigration, Schocken Books, New York, NY, 1988.

Schoenburg, Nancy and Schoenburg, Stuart (Contributor).  Lithuanian Jewish Communities, Garland, New York, 1991.

Shadevich, Yakov.  "A Genealogical Trip to Lithuania:  the Host's Perspective," Avotaynu, Volume VII, Number  1, Spring 1991.

Sliwowska, Wiktoria.  The Last Eyewitnesses: Children of the Holocaust Speak, Northwestern University Press,  Evanston, IL,  1998.

Suziedelis, Saulius.  "War, Revolution and Holocaust: Germans, Lithuanians, Russians, Jews" (Thoughts on Lithuania's Shadows of the Past: a Historical Essay on the Legacy of War, Part II.), Artium Unitio,  December 27, 1999.   

Tobin, Jonathan S.  "A Lost Cause Remembered:  Marking the Centennial of the Failed Ideology of the Bundists," Jewish World Review, February 6, 1998.  Available:

Tushnet, Leonard.  The Pavement of Hell, St. Martin's Press, New York, NY, 1972.

Wiesenthal, Simon.  Every Day Remembrance Day:  a Chronicle of Jewish Martyrdom, Henry Holt, New York, NY, 1987.

Wigoder, Geoffrey, ed.  Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, NY, 1990.

Wigoder, Geoffrey, ed.  Encyclopedia Judaica, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, NY, 1975.

Woods, Alan.  Bolshevism:  The Road to Revolution, Wellred Publications, 1999.  Available:

Yahil, Leni.  The Holocaust:  The Fate of European Jewry. Translated from the Hebrew by Ina Friedman and Haya Galai.  Oxford University Press, Oxford, New York, NY, 1990.

Yodaiken, Len.  "More on Revision Lists," Avotaynu, Volume  XIII, Number  4, Winter 1997.


        Web Sites


         Archives of American Art:

          Aukstaitija National Park:

          Dovid Katz's Web Site:
 European University Institute (Florence, Italy):


 Eliezer Segal's Home Page, University of Calgary:


  Ghetto Fighters House:

  ( (Type Svencionys in the Search window.)

  Google Maplandia Maps:








  Jewish-Polish Heritage:


  Jewish Virtual Library:










  Jews in Lithuania:


  Lietuvos Liaudies Kulturos Centras (Lithuanian Cultural Center):

  Lithuanian Art Databank:


  Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Web Site:



  Lithuanian Global Genealogical Society:

  Lithuanian KTL Home Page, the:

  Lithuanian Jewish Communities:

  Lithuanian State Department of Tourism:

  Litvak SIG:


  Lonely Planet:

  Michael Steinore's Legal Resource on Jewish Life in the Pale:

  Museums of Lithuania:


  NAAF Project: An Online Memorial to the Victims of the Holocaust:


  Napoleon Series, the:



  Polish Roots: the Polish Genealogy Source:

           Sarmatian Review Online, The:



            Shlomo Gurevich's Home Page:

            Steve Locks's Web Site:

            Survivor Mitzvah Project:

            Svencionys Municipal Web Site: