(Jonava) - Kovno District
Yanova, 18 miles northeast of Kovno, is located on both
banks of the Vilia (Nerys) River, along the Libau-Rumanian
rail line. A narrow-gauge train connected it to Vilkomir.
The road connecting Warsaw and Petersburg passed the town.
The area was surrounded by thick forests.
A small Jewish settlement
existed about 100 years ago in the village of Skarull (Skarouli),
which is on the left bank of the Vilia River. Remnants of
the Jewish cemetery stood at the edge of this village. At
the end of the eighteenth century, the Jewish community
began to be concentrated on the right bank of the river on
land owned by noblemen named Kosakovsky.
Princess Maria Kosakovsky
founded the town and invited Jews to settle there. Jewish
settlement began in 1775.
In 1847, the Jewish community numbered 813. In 1897, the
Jewish population was 3975, 80% of the general population.
A large fire damaged the town in the early 1890's. In 1905,
almost the entire town burned down; 75% of the buildings
were destroyed, but soon after were rebuilt in brick and
In 1915 during World War 1, the Jews were exiled by the
Czar, mainly into Russia. Some concentrated in Vilna and
returned at the time of the German conquest.
At the end of the War, in 1918, Jews began to return to the
town from Russia. The town rabbi, R. Haim-Yitzhak Shilman,
returned, along with public figures Abba Pagirsky, Haim
Levine, Shmaryahu Stern, Yakov Gloz, and A. Abramson. They
began to reorganize the Jewish community. The Talmud Torah
was reestablished, with veteran Hebrew teacher Saul
Keidansky as principal. A small yeshiva was founded. An
interest-free loan charity for craftsmen and shop owners was
established and later became part of a large Jewish bank.
Institutions, including Bikur Holim and Linat Hazedek, were
Jews formed a majority on the City Council. Haim Levine
served as Mayor. In 1921, the Jewish population was 1800,
and in 1932, it was 2710, 65% of the general population.
Prior to the Holocaust, approximately 3000 Jews, 60% of the
population, lived there.
Natural conditions and its geographical location favored the
economy of the town. The forests provided lumber for export
and raw materials for building and industry (furniture,
matches, etc.). Trade in lumber supported hundreds
of jobs for workers employed in cutting down trees and
transporting them on the Vilia. The latter were called
"water people." The sights of bonfires on the transport
rafts at night and the voices of singing that broke the
stillness of night were a regular part of the town
The town was a center for all the little villages in the
vicinity. There was a market day twice a week. Jews engaged
in marketing agricultural products (grains, large animals,
chickens, fruit, etc.), both within the country and as
exports. Many families in the villages earned their
livelihood in small shops and crafts. In 1939, 140 members
registered in the association of craftsmen. This membership
included 25 shoemakers and seamstresses, 20 blacksmiths, 26
carpenters, 10 bakers, 8 painters, 9 scribes, 3 tinsmiths, 3
watchmakers, and others, such as iron-workers, plasterers
and butchers. Dozens of families worked in the transport of
freight and passenger traffic to Kovno, Vilkomir and other
places. They were wagon-owners. In the 1910's, the horse and
wagon was replaced by machines and autos. Many sold their
horses and became drivers or automobile owners.
The furniture industry played an important role in the
economy of the town, employing 600 workers. Several hundred
Jewish workers were employed in factories producing parquet,
matches (owned by the Burstein family), and sugar, in
sawmills and in 4 flour mills.
The Jewish Peoples Bank had a membership of 560 in the year
1929 and was administered by A. Abramson and Shmaryahu Stem,
chairman of the bank council.
Unlike most towns of Lithuania, Yanova was healthy
economically. The Jewish community consisted primarily of
working people - men with muscles, working hard during the
week and religious in their observance of the Sabbath. When
the need arose, they could react using their strength
against wild hooligans and in pogroms against the Jews.
At the end of the nineteenth century, emigration to the U.S.
and South Africa began. The number of emigrants went
alternately up and down. The ones who left maintained
connections with the town. They gave support to needy
relations and helped with public projects.
The Jewish community had religious and secular groups,
scholars and Maskilim, Hasidim and working people. There
were 7 houses of prayer: the Great Synagogue, the Great Beit
Midrash, the New Beit Midrash, the kloiz of
the Peddlers, the kloiz of the Stonecutters, a shtibl of the
Chabad Hasidim and the Beit Midrash of Tiferet Bachurim. In
addition, there were small prayer houses of various
craftsmen. They served as the center of tradition,
spiritual life and sometimes also as a center of public
action in times of emergency. At the prayer houses, there
were many active societies of Six Orders of Mishna (Shas),
Mishnayot, Chayei Adam, and Megidai Tehilim. The Yeshiva was
founded by Yehuda Gorfunkel and administered by him from
1902-1914, and afterward by Mendel Dietch. There were also
During Independent Lithuania, there were 3 ethnic schools -
a Tarbut School (administered by Shaul Keidansky), a Yavneh
School, and a Yiddish school. About 100 students studied in
these schools. Many went to the high schools
and to the Lithuanian university in Kovno. There were three
libraries: the Zionist, the Yavneh, and the Yiddish
In the town was a hospital, an interest-free loan fund, a
dowry fund for poor brides, a hostel for wayfarers,
maotchitim and a bath-house. At the beginning of the present
century, youth began to seek a secular education. During the
political agitation in Russia at the beginning of the
century, there were activists in Yanova from all the
revolutionary parties. The bourse on Bolvoar Street was the
scene of many stormy arguments.
Between the World Wars, public life crystallized around the
two camps of the Zionist and the Yiddishists. Both did
constructive work. They established schools, night classes,
libraries, sports clubs and institutions for occupational
training. The majority of the youth belonged to Zionist
youth movements. Motivated by the Zionist youth, a "Pioneer
House" was established. It served the pioneer group and was
a center for Zionism and a
place to learn different vocations.
Of the first Pioneer group from Lithuania to make aliyah at
the end of World War I, one half came from Yanova. They
joined various settlements in Palestine.
From the rabbinate: R. Yehoshua-Heshil Eliashzon; R. Moshe-Arye
Halevy [died ca. 5652/1892. Before that he served as rabbi
in Eishishuk and in Ponevezh; R. Haim Segal [a cantor from
5653/1893]; R. Haim-Yitzhak Shilman [author of "Zera-Yitzhak"];
and the last rabbi, R. Nahum- Baruch Ginzburg.
Scholars from Yanova: R. Abraham Shlomovitz; Professor
Yisrael Davidsohn [scholar in Hebrew poetry]; Morris
Vintshavsky [poet]; Dr. Avraham Meyerson [psychiatrist];
Natan Yonsavitz [Secretary of the Kovno Community and an
historian, folklorist and founder of the Jewish museum in
Lithuania]; Dov Zisla (Gazit); Rachel Zisla-Lavi [a leader
of Hechalutz and one of the founders of Ein-Harod]; David
Cohen and Yishayahu Kolviansky [artists]; Noah
Public figures: Moshe Ivansky [a leader of the Socialist
Zionists in Lithuania]; Shmaryahu Stern [built a building
for the Tarbut School]; David Burstein [Chairman of Keren
Hayesod and a member of the Zionist Center in Lithuania];
Zvi Levine [active in Betar]; and Menahem Mins/Miness
[active in Socialist Zionists].
Editor's Note: The
towns referred to above by their Yiddish names are, in
[To be added]