Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Zerach (Zorach) Orelowitz, Rokiškis (Lithuania), Nov 1939

The photo shows the celebration of Miron (Meir) Meller's (No 13 above) Bar Mitzvah in November 1939 at the home of Yudel Meller (No 11 above, co-owner of a factory and his father. Yudel Meller was the co-owner with his brothers Shmuel, Mordechai, and Khona of a business which encompassed a printery, a paperboard factory and a saccharin tablet factory. In addition, the family was involved in the Meller Candy factory in Rokiškis). No 5 above is Zerach (Zorach) Orelowitz, my grandmother's (Riva-Rachel Orelowitz) 1st cousin (please see my Memorial Page and my Family Tree). Zerach was a moneylender and owner of a newspaper kiosk in Rokiškis. Most of the people in the photo were either exiled to Siberia during the Soviet rule (please see my post "Lithuania under Soviet rule, 1940-1941") or murdered in Rokiškis in August 1941 in the aftermath of Nazi Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union. (Also, Jewish refugees from Poland presumably took part in the Meller family celebration).

If I am not mistaken, Zerach's father Shlomo (Shloime) Orelowitz served as staff member of the Yiddish Volksbank (Jewish People's Bank)1 in Rokiškis---please see picture below, Shlomo sitting first right (photo dated 1929?).
Shlomo Orelowitz (Šlioma Orelovičius) also served as a member of the City Council (miesto taryba) of Rokiškis. In 1934 the municipal council consisted of 12 members, 5 of them Jews (other Jewish members were: Abraomas – Vulfa Volpertas, Abraomas Charmacas, Mejeras Berkovičius and Chaimas Lekuchas).
Actually, Zerach Orelowitz, since the postwar period until his death, had always been very close to my Rachowitz family. In the early 1970s, Zerach together with us made "aliya" to Israel. My Dad, Aaron-Israel Rachowitz, took care of all his needs and was very sensitive to all his needs (Zerach had no close family). Zerach son of Shlomo, died of natural causes at age 94 on April 9, 1987, may He rest in peace.


 In pre-war Lithuania, many members of the Jewish middle class, especially the educated strata who had already experienced the establishing of Jewish autonomy to some extent, mobilized their resources in order to strengthen the social economic basis of the Jewish masses and their livelihood. With the blessing and initiation of the Economics Committee at the Ministry for Jewish Affairs and with the assistance of the “Foundation,” a national financial system of co-operative credit societies was established. By the end of 1920, these were already active in 44 cities and towns and were named “People's Bank”. In addition to making positive impact on local economic activity (extending loans, etc), they were also of importance in the social and cultural sphere. In a number of places, the community bodies and other organizations also used the bank building. There were also cases of the bank granting study scholarships and prizes for cultural activities. In order to co-ordinate and regulate the activities of the People's Banks in time of need and crises, a central institution was established in 1921, [in Kaunas -- D.R.], formally called the “Central Jewish Bank for the Encouragement of Co-operation.”[---please see picture below] 71 People's Banks throughout the country were linked to it, and the number of (dues paying) members reached 11,000. Over the years, the capital assets of the institutions increased, as did the amount of deposits and savings. Thanks to that, the conditions for granting loans to members and public institutions were loosened. In 1930, 85 People's Banks existed in Lithuania with 22,262 members. In that year, 11,953 loans were granted to them and to others in a total amount of 10,249,159 Lit (approximately one million Dollars). Although the People's Bank was open to non-Jews as well, the share of gentiles was no more than 5%. Work in the offices, correspondence and daily routine was conducted in Yiddish, and this was also true of the national conventions and conferences which took place every few years. This was, therefore, a Jewish banking system spread throughout the cities and towns of Lithuania. At the time, the total deposits amounted to 14,113,413 Lit (approximately $1.4 million), of which 46% came from members, 16% from institutions and [the rest] from non-members. Taking into consideration members' families and all others who required the People's Banks' services, and that of its associates, we can conclude that they served about two thirds of the Jewish population. Unlike similar Lithuanian banks, that enjoyed cheap governmental credit, the People's Banks had to depend on deposits only. In 1933, a special bank was established to assist Jewish farmers (Yiddisher Landwirten Bank)---please see en.15min.lt - news portal: "Lithuanian bank architecture: Symbols of wealth, power, and crisis."
Central Jewish Bank (Centrinis žydų bankas) building, Kaunas, Laisvės al. 106. The bank was built by the architects-engineers G. Mazelis and M. Grodzenskis.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Vacation in Palanga (Polangen, Połąga) before the War

Before the war, the Rachowitz family used to spend their summer holidays in Palanga, a popular seaside resort at the Baltic sea, according to my Dad, Aaron-Israel Rachowitz. Below is a picture of Palanga beach on a sunny day

Source: I. Stropus, Palanga. Vaizdų albumas, 1936 m. via Facebook 

The following picture shows Palanga with its white sand beaches and marvelous dunes

The next picture shows the Palanga general beach as of 1901 (Palangos bendras pliažas 1901 metais)

 Source: Nemunas, here

The last picture shows the Palanga beach in the early 20th century and it was taken by Paulina Mongirdaitė, the first Lithuanian woman photographer of the Palanga resort

Source: via Facebook

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Lithuania under Soviet rule, 1940-1941

A picture above (taken in 1941 and found in my grandfather's/Hirsch-Meir Rachowitz's photo collection) shows a pro-Soviet rally. People carry posters with Soviet leaders, Lenin and Stalin, as well as flags and banners in support of the Soviet regime -- with political slogans such as "Tėvas Stalinas" in Lithuanian, i.e., "Father Stalin."
With the outbreak of World War II and the return of Vilnius/Vilna (Vilnius and its surrounding area) to Lithuania, about 70,000-80,000 Jews were united with their relatives and friends from whom they had been cut off for 19 years (Vilnius was occupied by Poland in 1920 and Kaunas then became the temporary capital of Lithuania. Poland and Lithuania had no diplomatic relations until 1938 because of the Vilnius conflict!), while the number of Jews in Lithuania substantially increased and reached 240,000-250,000 (in 1940), including Jewish refugees from Nazi- or Soviet occupied Poland. Actually, the Soviet Union seized Vilnius in September 1939 in accordance with the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, then in October 1939, it returned the city to Lithuania, but annexed the whole country in June-August 1940, according to my Dad, Aaron-Israel Rachowitz. Lithuanian President Antanas Smetona and his family fled the country and a new pro-Soviet government was installed with Vilnius as the capital of the newly created Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). The Sovietization of country caused huge harm to Jewish culture. Everything that had been created in Hebrew was banned: all Hebrew schools and gymnasia (children/students were transferred to Yiddish or Russian schools. My Dad, Aaron-Israel Rachowitz, who had studied in the Hebrew Real Gymnasium in Kaunas/Kauno žydų realinė gimnazija---please see my post "Hebrew Real Gymnasium in Kovno/Kaunas, Lithuania before WWII"---was transferred to Yiddish school, while his classmate, Eli Stoupel, to Russian school); institutions; yeshivas (an Orthodox Jewish school, college or seminary), all public organizations; all parties; etc. Jewish leaders, politicians, scientists and wealthy Jews were arrested or deported. Menachem Begin, pre-war head of Betar (a Revisionist Zionist youth movement) in Poland (later becoming the 6th Prime Minister of the State of Israel and Nobel Peace Prize laureate) was arrested by NKVD (predecessor of KGB) and detained in 1940-1941 in Lukiškės Prison, Vilnius, whence he was deported to the Pechora forced labor camp in north Russia.      

Friday, June 15, 2012

Lithuania, 1927

A picture of my grandfather, Hirsch-Meir Rachowitz, when he was 29 years old 

Friday, May 11, 2012

Gershon Orelowitz and His Family, Lithuania in the 1930s

A picture (by courtesy of Fay Oppenheim) of Gershon Orelowitz, his daughter Riva Orelowitz Rachowitz and his grandsons, Nathan Rachowitz and Aaron-Israel Rachowitz (my father; the third from the left). Gershon son of Judah Leyb Orelowitz was born in 1872 in Tsarist Lithuania. He was very religious. Gershon went to San Francisco in 1904, stayed there for three years and came back because it was not religious enough for him there. Gershon married Bassia/Basye Joffe and they had five children: Riva-Rachel (above), Kazriel, Joseph/Joe, Shmuel and Berl/Berke. The family lived in Rokiškis, Lithuania. Gershon and his wife Bassia/Basye Joffe Orelowitz, died of sorrow, from the passing of their son Shmuel, according to Fay's father Joe.  

Monday, March 26, 2012

Kaunas (Lithuania), 1940

A picture taken of my father (second from the left), his parents, Riva Orelowitz Rachowitz & Hirsch-Meir Rachowitz and his younger brother Nathan. The Rachowitz family's new home of the 1930s was located at Mishko Street (Miško gatvė), not far from the building of the Polish gymnasium (A. Mickevičiaus privati lenkų gimnazija).

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Kaunas (Lithuania), 1939 -- EuroBasket

The Kaunas Sports Hall (Kauno sporto halė), above, was completed before the 3rd European Basketball Championship in 1939 (Eurobasket 1939). A prominent Lithuanian construction engineer of Jewish origin, Anatolijus Rozenbliumas, has designed the Sports Hall. My Dad was among the spectators in the hall. Below is a sample of a championship game ticket.

The Lithuanian national basketball team won the European Basketball Championship in 1937 (in Riga, Latvia) and in 1939 (when Lithuania was the host country). My Dad told me a lot about Pranas Lubinas (Frank John Lubin), an American-Lithuanian basketball player. Lithuania won the European Basketball Championship in 1937, using American-born players of Lithuanian heritage. When Lithuania hosted the EuroBasket in 1939, it again won the title, this time with Lubin playing and coaching. He is often called the "Grandfather or Godfather of Lithuanian basketball" (Lietuvos krepšinio Krikštatėvis). Also, Lubin had played for the gold medal United States national basketball team at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.

Please see below Youtube Video: Europos Krepšinio Čempionatas/EuroBasket 1939 (Kaunas, Lietuva) (In Lithuanian)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Kaunas (Lithuania), the 1930s -- Jabotinsky's visit

Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the founder of the Revisionist Movement and Betar, visited Kaunas in the 1930s. My Dad was fortunate to see him in Kaunas (a large crowd of Jews had gathered to watch the event, according to my Dad). 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Kaunas region in the 1930s

A picture taken in Lampėdžiai or Panemuniai. My Dad, Aaron Rachowitz, is the second from the left. His brother/my uncle Nathan Rachowitz is next to him.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Panevėžys, Lithuania, 1923

A picture of my father's mother/my grandmother, Riva-Rachil Orelovičaite (Orelowitz). My grandmother attended the gymnasium in Panevėžys/Ponivezh.

Kaunas (Lithuania), Laisvės Alėja, in the 1930s

A picture of my grandfather, Hirsch-Meir Rachowitz, with my uncle, Nathan Rachowitz, strolling along the main street -- Laisvės Alėja (literary Liberty Avenue) -- in Kaunas, with St. Michael the Archangel's Church or the Garrison Church (Lithuanian: Kauno Šv. arkangelo Mykolo Įgulos bažnyčia/dar žinoma kaip Kauno soboras) in the background. By the way, my grandfather is holding a fashionable walking stick in his right hand (walking sticks were a part of fashion; carrying the finest walking stick was a must for gentlemen). Also, my grandfather used to carry a gold pocket watch -- the Tavannes watch -- with hunter case and watch chain (please see images below)

Description: My grandfather's Tavannes gold pocket watch

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Klaipėda/Memel (Lithuania), 1930

A picture of my father, Aaron-Israel Rachowitz, taken on January 7, 1930 in Memel (Klaipėda; Fotogr. Otto Lehmann, Libauer Str. 23). His father/my grandfather Hirsch-Meir Rachowitz was a businessman and owned a crate factory (kistenfabrik or dėžių fabrikas) in Alexanderstrasse, Haus Nr.11 (today/heute Lindenstrasse, Liepų gatvė) in Memel/Klaipėda. His mother Riva-Rachil Orelowitz Rachowitz was a white-collar worker

Monday, January 16, 2012

Jonava/Yaneve, Lithuania

A picture of Shmuel Orelowitz (my father's maternal uncle who died before World War II) and his wife. Shmuel's wife and their daughter, little Rivkale (a picture below), were murdered during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania (1941-1944)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Rovno (Rivne, Równe), 1918

A picture of my grandfather, Hirsch-Meir Rachowitz, taken on December 5, 1918 in Rovno (Ровно), when my grandfather was 20 years old  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Hebrew Real ("Reali") Gymnasium in Kovno/Kaunas, Lithuania before WWII


My father Aaron Rachowitz attended the Hebrew Real/Reali Gymnasium (Kauno žydų realinė gimnazija, today Kęstučio g. 85 [1] formerly  Kęstučio g. 59, in front of the theater/Valstybės teatras בית הריאל-גימנסיון העברי בקאונסin Kovno/Kaunas for four years, i.e., completed four beginning or preparatory classes/'progymnasium': from 1936 to 1940 (the above pictures [2] show the gymnasium building then and today). His younger brother, Nathan Rachowitz, also attended this school. My father's good friend Eliyahu Stoupel (later to become a well known cardiologist in the world -- Professor Eliyahu Stoupel[3]), was his classmate. Most of their friends and classmates were killed during World War II in Kaunas, at Dachau and other locations. Hadassah Gorbulski (the sister of the famous Lithuanian composer Benjaminas Gorbulskis), Shura Katz, David Shein (former EL AL director in New York), Shlomo Yarmovski and Nissim Krakinovski were among those who survived the Holocaust. [4] The principal language of instruction in the high school was Hebrew but students communicated among themselves in Yiddish (the spoken language of Jews in Eastern Europe. They also studied Latin and Lithuanian (it must be remembered that Lithuania was a Catholic country). All courses -- except for Lithuanian language, literature and history -- were taught in HebrewAccording to my Dad, the gymnasium was a private institution. If parents do not pay their tuition fee on time (by the due date), the students will be reminded, in front of the whole class, to settle the debt. The gymnasium was on the name of Edward Azriel Chase (Eduardas Čais or Čaisas in Lithuanian), the famous Jewish philanthropist who was born (1874), grew up and spent the greater part of his youth in Tsarist Alytus/Alite (between the two World Wars and since the end of World War II, the town has been a part of Lithuania), but later immigrated to the United States and lived in Manchester, New Hampshire. With his financial help, a new building was erected for the Hebrew Real Gymnasium in 1930 (pictures above) in Kaunas (a formal inauguration dates from August 30, 1931, in the presence of the Lithuanian Minister of Education Konstantinas Šakenis, the mayor/burmistras of Kaunas, Juozas Vokietaitis, as well as Edward Chase and his wife, Dr. Zemach Feldstein, Nathan Greenblatt/the list of teachers below, and many others---250 guests took part in the event), where thousands of Jewish children received their education and Jewish upbringing. The Hebrew Real/Reali Gymnasium had a good academic reputation all over the country (The roots of this gymnasium go back to 1915, i.e., the period of German occupation of Lithuania. Jüdische Realgymnasium was founded by Jewish-German Rabbi Dr. Joseph Hirsch Carlebach, who was charged by the German Occupation Authority in Lithuania with organizing a secondary school system. By the late 1920s, the gymnasium had earned good name but lacked adequate premises, i.e., had been housed in various locations/rented buildings). The total cost of the project, including Chase funding, was estimated in 1931 at 700,000 LT (approximately $70,000). The new gymnasium building (nauji žydų realinės gimnazijos rūmai) accommodated both girls' classes and boys' classes. It had two big halls: the gymnastics hall and the celebration hall; 19 classes; physics cabinet; a technical drawing hall; buffet; 4 wardrobes; 4 rooms with showers. Every floor had two corridors and etc. [5] The Hebrew Real Gymnasium was designed by Baruch Kling who also supervised the construction. From an architectural point of view, the gymnasium has features derived from the German Bauhaus style or Dutch De Stijl style. [6] Edward Chase also established the Chase Fund that gave dozens of Jewish students the possibility of studying abroad or in Lithuanian universities. In addition, Chase established a scholarship fund to help outstanding students from different religious backgrounds. He contributed much for the development of his native town of Alytus (built houses, awarded scholarships to local students, etc). And his last dream during his visit to Lithuania in 1938 was to turn his former house in Alytus into a Jewish cultural center for Lithuanian youth. At its peak, the Hebrew Real Gymnasium had 40 teachers and 1,000 students. Dr. Zemach Feldstein had been the director of the gymnasium during 1922-1940 (Previous directors: Rabbi Dr. Joseph Hirsch Carlebach, 1915-1919; and Dr. Shalom Yona Tscherna, 1920-1922). By the way, My Dad served as a goalkeeper on the school's football team, defended staunchly the goal and had been called (in Yiddish): "ארקה די הינדשה פלייש" ("Arke die hundische fleisch").

The Jews had enjoyed full cultural autonomy in prewar Kaunas, according to my Dad. In addition to the Hebrew Real/Reali Gymnasium, my Dad also mentioned frequently other Jewish gymnasia and schools that were established in the city: a "Yavne" Hebrew Gymnasium for girls; a "Yavne" Hebrew Gymnasium for boys. Yavne schools were well known for their strong religious education and were partially supported by religious-Zionist Mizrachi organization; a leftist "Commerce" Yiddish Gymnasium (named later after Shalom Aleichem); the Hebrew Gymnasium headed by Dr. Moshe Schwabe and thus called the "Schwabe" Gymnasium (In 1924, Dr. Schwabe immigrated to Eretz-Israel where he was a lecturer in the newly created Hebrew University of Jerusalem and later became its rector. A prolific Hebrew language poet, Leah Goldberg, studied at "Schwabe" Hebrew Gymnasium from 1920 to 1928---please see a commemorative plaque below. By the way, students of the "Schwabe" Gymnasium were sometimes called in Yiddish: "שוואבה די גרינע זשאבע" according to my Dad/"schwabe die grüne zhabe" which means: schwabe the green toad). The Schwabe Gymnasium (the picture of a new building inaugurated in 1927, below) had Revisionist Zionist orientatation; the Hebrew Tarbut Gymnasium affiliated with the Socialist Zionist party Mapai (my Dad's best friend, Dr. Semen Yakobson, at first studied at the Tarbut Gymnasium until 1940, but with the advent of Soviet rule moved to the Shalom Aleichem Gymnasium/previously known as "Commerce" Gymnasium, occupying since the Soviet era the former building of the Schwabe Gymnasium, located on the banks of the Nemunas River [7]---please see the building of the Schwabe Gymnasium, below); Hebrew "Tarbut" schools with strong secular nationalist Zionist orientation. There was also one Jewish gymnasium where students were taught in Lithuanian language. Hundreds of Jewish youth from all over country continued their education in the Lithuanian University of Kaunas (in 1930 the university was renamed to Vytautas Magnus University/Vytauto Didžiojo universitetas). Kaunas had many Jewish associations, organizations, student unions and sports unions, like Maccabi and Hapoel. The Jewish youth joined the Zionist movements like Hashomer Hatzair and Beitar---the Hebrew Real Gymnasium, where my Dad studied, was well known for its support for the Beitar movement, according to my Dad. The young Jews were trained for immigration to and life in Eretz Israel. "Kibbutz Hachshara" (Training Kibbutz) on behalf of "HeChalutz" Zionist youth movement acted in Kaunas. Many of these "Chalutzim" made "Aliyah" to Eretz Israel. The "Tarbut" association initiated public lectures in Hebrew. Throughout the interwar period a Yiddish theater operated in Kaunas. Also, the Jews of Kaunas were privileged to have had theater shows from Poland, the United States and Eretz Israel (the “Habima” theater, "Haohel" theater, etc. Ida Kaminska, for example, performed in Kaunas). A drama studio was run in Hebrew. In the interwar period, more than 100 books in Hebrew were published in Kaunas and etc. Professor Dov Levin wrote that Lithuania's Hebrew educational institutions in the interwar period "not only gave their pupils a solid education in Judaism and Hebrew culture, as well as in the sciences and the arts, but also encouraged them to be active in youth movements, sporting associations, student groups, and training groups preparing to emigrate to Palestine. In fact, Lithuania came to be known as the 'Second Eretz Israel,' in no small measure thanks to the varied and wide-ranging network of Hebrew schools, which was quite unparalled throughout the Jewish world." [8] On a visit to Kovno/Kaunas in the 1930s, the foremost Hebrew poet of modern time, Hayim Nahman Bialik said: "if Vilna is known as the Yerushalayim DeLita [Jerusalem of Lithuania], then Jewish Lithuania should be known as the Eretz-Israel deGaluta [The Land of Israel of the Exile]. (Please see the much extended version of the post in Hebrew, "The Hebrew Real Gymnasium in Kovno," in Wikipedia - D.R.) 

List of Teachers (Hebrew Real Gymnasium in Kaunas)
Last  Name
First   Name
Curriculum Subjects
Grinblatt (Goren)
Hebrew, Religion, History and Geography
Dr. Kissin (Deputy Director)
(1899-1945), perished in Dachau
Blecharovich (or Blecharovitz, Blecharavičius)
Mesenblum (Lith)
Hebrew and Jewish studies 
(1895-1942), died in the Soviet Union
the editor since 1937 of the Yiddish daily Dos Vort (The Word) in Kovno 
Hebrew and Jewish studies  
(1876-1941), murdered in the Kovno Ghetto (Slobodka) 
[1] The Hebrew Real/Reali Gymnasium building now serves as a music school (Kauno apskrities Juozo Naujalio muzikos gimnazija). Dr. Semen Yakobson drew my attention to the fact. 

[2] The second photo, by courtesy of Prof. Eli Stoupel. The third photo was found on the web: KVB, Kaunas: Datos ir Faktai. Fotogr. R. Vaitilavičienė (2009 m.). 

[4] Information provided by Prof Eliyahu Stoupel. 

[5] For further details, please see "Nauja Žydų Kultūrinė Įstaiga: Jos labdarys p. Čais," Rytas, Sept 7, 1931, p 2 via http://www.epaveldas.lt/vbspi/biRecord.do?biExemplarId=122209 

[7] Information provided by Dr Semen Yakobson. 

Description: In 1927-1940, this building housed Schwabe (Švabės) Hebrew Gymnasium
(present Karaliaus Mindaugo Ave. 11). 2009.
Photo by R. Vaitilavičienė Source: KVB, Kaunas: Datos ir Faktai. Fotogr. R. Vaitilavičienė (2009 m.) Holocaust: Most of its students were murdered during the Holocaust---please see the commemorative plaque below -- D.R.
Source: LitaLita.com

Source: http://atminimas.kvb.lt/iliustracija.php?img=iliustracijos/goldberg_lenta_d