Situated on the crossroad of important roads, Ukmergė has undergone influence of different cultures in the course of time. One of most influential was the Jewish community.
The first Jews originally settled in Ukmergė until the middle of the 17th century. The number of population fluctuated due to misfortunes in 1776. According to statistics, 7287 Jews lived in Ukmergė in 1897, by 1914 there were more than ten thousands of them. The Jewish to Lithuania (western part of the Russian empire) resulted from many calamities and pogroms in central Russia. Jews found excellent conditions for business and peaceful life in Ukmergė.
Jews were quite skilled in business and handicrafts, selling grain and exporting flax, lumber, and firewood. A lot of large and small stores and individual businesses were Jewish. Jews also created their own education system, participated in local societies and other cultural activities. In XIX century it was “Talmud-Torah” religious school, a handicraft school, two primary schools and two gymnasiums, Jewish orphanages named after Rozenblum.
The Jewish community also created many social fellowships, including the Ukmerge branch of the Maccabee Union, the Vienybė Sports Association, a Literature and drama Society. The Erzo Society was very active, involving itself in charity works, social programs, and cultural affairs.
The Jewish were very involved in the local political and economic life. In 1920, in the first elections of independent Lithuania, nineteen Jews were elected to the Town Council to represent Jewish residence. A number of Ukmergė Jews also was a popular artists and inventors of metronome Zalman Pomeranc, a well-known philanthropist Chaim Frenkel, and writers Moshe Zeifert, Moris Tobias, Moshe Zeldov.
Jewish life in Ukmergė was brought to a tragic, during World War II. When the Soviets first occupied Lithuania, some of the wealthiest Jews were deported. As the Nazis wrested Lithuania from the Soviet control in 1914, the Germans and their local assistants herded the Jews from the town to ghetto and then killed them in the forest near village of Pašilė. As few Jews were left after the war and little remains of their culture, the survivors moved elsewhere. In the 1950’s, the Jewish cemetery was destroyed by Soviets. Several memorial plaques also can be found on many of the former Jewish religious buildings, acting only as a reminder of the long history and thriving community that was a part of Ukmergė and then abruptly disappeared.
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Mass massacre site of Jews - is about 1 km towards the thicket of Pivonia forest from the old road to Vilnius and its parting to Pašilė. About 7000 Jews: men, women and children from Ukmergė and surrounding villages were killed by Nazi and their local callaborators from 1 August till 26 September till 26 September 1941. In 1952 memorial monument was built there.
Talmud Torah primary school - established in 1886. This school building was built in 1898 with the support of a wealthy Jewish manufacturer Ch. Freinkel who was born in Ukmerge. The school was called Torbut in 1921. It was supported by different Zionist organizations. Later the school became one of primary schools of Ukmergė municipality. About 180 pupils were taught at school in 1938. The teaching process was performed in Hebrew from the establishment till the Soviet occupation in 1940. The work of the scholl was fatally interrupted at the beginning of the USSR – German war.
Rosenblum’s orphanage for Jews - the orphanage was founded in 1922 on the initiative and means of a rich American Jewish family – the Rosenblums. The building of the orphanage was built by the project of an engineer B. Kling. A part of the building was reconstructed in 1927 and a cinema, was established there. The orphanage was supported by the profit of the cinema. The Society of orphanage was 20 – 60 thousand Litas per year, all the money being a charity from different foundations and institutions. The level of support guaranteed satisfactory conditions for children’s daily living needs and supply. About 40 orphans lived in the orphanage another 15 children stayed in private houses, in families. They were from 6 till 14 years old. The board of the society decided about learning possibilities of every orphan, tey were protected til the age of 17. MR. A. Zivotz ran the orphanage. The property and buildings of the society were expropriated by the soviets in 1940, and the orphanage became a governmental institution.
The Jewish hospital – first time mentioned in historical documents in 1808. A few rich Jews united inti the Brotherhood of Hospital and founded a Jewish hospital. A bathhouse, pharmacy, butchery, and a meat market place were also founded by the Brotherhood. The profit of these institutions was allocated for maintenance of the hospital. A doctor and three other men worked in the hospital in 1833. 320 men and 15 women were treated in 1840, 205 men and 124 women in 1855. Ukmergė Jewish community assigned 630 silver roubles for the maintance of the hospital that year. A new stone – brick building of the hospital was being built from 1893 till 1895. The community assigned 20000 roubles for the works. In 1915, the manager of the hospital was dr. D. Sapir, and I. Los was it head. During the restoration period of the Lithuanian state, after World War I, a new municipality of Ukmergė over took the hospital, but it was returned for the Jewish community in 1921. All town dwellers and county municipalities paid for it. The hospital was run by dr. L. Kling, and the Charity society “Ezro” took care of its maintenance. The Jewish hospital expropriated by the Soviets in March 1941, and the society “Ezro” was disincorporated. Dr. L. Kling as well as other intellectual representatives of Ukmergė Jewish community were killed by local Nazi collaborators in June 1941.
The Jewish cemetery – was established at the end of the XVII century. The cemetery was beyond the boundaries of then Ukmerge town. The cemetery was the property of the Jewish community and a voluntary Bortherhood of burial called Chevro Kadish saw for it. The cemetery was extended in 1892. Like other Jewish memorilas it was destroyed by the Soviet government in 1951.
The Great Synagogue – was first mentioned in old documents in 1721, nut historians believe that the Synagogue really existed in its present place in Ukmege athe end of XVII century. At first, the building of Sinagogue was wooden and in 1787 it was burnt by the fire but it was rebuilt later. In the middle of XIX century, the Jewish community decided to rebuilt the Synagogue and a new stone-brick building was built in 1851. In 1877, during the Great fire of the town, the interior was destroyed by fire but it was renewed. In XIX century, a complex of Jewish religious and education institutions: other synagogues, yeshiva and “Talmud-Tora” primary school were formed near the Synagogue. There was a market place too. The work of the Synagogue was tragically interrupted in 1941. In the period of Holocaust, the last Rabbi J. Zusmanowich was killed in Pivonia forest together with other members of Ukmerge Jewish community. The Children’s Sport School was established in the building of the Synagogue in 1953. The interior and detailing of the building vaulting were destroyed readjusting the building to the needs aft h school.
Mikveh – is mostly used by practicing Jewish men for immersion to regain ritual purity; women are obliged to immerse themselves after menstruation or giving birth. Mikveh is also used in the ritual of conversion to Judaism – giur (He. גיור), as well as for immersion of vessels and utensils before their first use. A person has to immerse with entire body, so that water would reach all parts of body, including hair. In every case immersion in mikveh is associated with ritual cleansing, purity and cleanliness.
Etnographic Museum of Ukmergė
Vilniaus str. 6, LT- 20113 Ukmergė
Hotel „Big Stone“
Kauno str. 5, LT-20120 Ukmergė
The Jewish Community of Ukmergė district
Kauno str. 16, LT-20114 Ukmergė
Public Institution Tourism and Business Information Center of Ukmergė
Kęstučio sq. 2-2, LT-20130 Ukmergė
Ph: +370-340-56260, +370-611-97337
Support Fond of the Jewish Descendants of Ukmerge
Good Will Foundation
Email: [email protected]
Ph.: +370 5 261 12 59, +370 650 91521