The town of Pokroje has existed since around 1531, but the first evidence of the presence of Jews there dates back to the 17th century. The settlers came to recover the population, impoverished by wars and epidemics; they were attracted by the privilege granted to Jan Siciński from 11 April 1613, which allowed to hold two fairs a year. In 1765, Pokroje and its vicinity was inhabited by 420 Jews, in 1783 - the town itself by 35 Jewish families, i.e. 129 people. Probably, a place of worship already existed at that time.

The town was devastated by great conflagrations in 1787 and 1788. The destruction slowed down the development of Pokroje and resulted in a complete change of the urban layout. In 1790, 26 Jewish families lived there. In 1801, a wooden synagogue was built and a cemetery was founded. In 1810, the local rabbi Chaim Katz was one of the first to travel to Palestine, following the teachings of the Gaon of Vilnius.

In 1847, there were 750 Jews living in Pokroje, in 1897 - 1,093, and around 1914 - as many as 1,400 (300 families). The percentage of Jews in the total population was about 70%. The town was known in the 19th century for good relations between Jews and Christian population; the attitude of the owners from the von Ropp family contributed to that. However, it was ravaged by successive natural disasters such as conflagrations in 1879 and 1886, after which many people chose to emigrate to South Africa, among others.

World War I brought a significant decline in the number of Jews in the town. In 1921, only 406 Jews lived in Pokroje. In 1939, however, there were already 545 Jews - 120 families, which translated to 30% of the total population. Three town councillors were Jewish, among the 12 members of the council. Zionists enjoyed considerable support.

In the interwar period, there was a Jewish district in Pokroje. Mark Szrajber, a doctor, whose house housed a laboratory, and whose wife was a dentist (house number 6) were among its most prominent figures. At no. 8, there was the house of Fajwel Kramer, at no. 13 - Judel Maktusz, at no. 19 - Cerina Kirszon; all of them ran grocery shops. In house no. 14 lived the Szynkman family, lime producers. At no. 21, there was a pharmacy in Lieka Furmon's house. Plot no. 26/27 belonged to brothers Dawid and Szloma Majzl - owners of the mill. At the intersection with Vytauto Didžiojo g. (Vytautas Witolda (Polish: ul. Witolda)) stood the house of Grisa Volk (No. 30), with a metal and haberdashery shop. Josef Kac's kosher butcher's shop operated at no. 68, Beniamin Kac's liquor shop at no. 72, and Kaulman's shop with underwear and percale at no. 73.

Houses and shops of wealthy Jews werew located at the main street Vytauto Didžiojo. On the corner, there was Jankiel Maj's shop ( no. 74), and on the other side - Frida Aronowicz's wooden house with Szulc's carpentry workshop (no. 86). At no. 76, there was the “Europa” Hotel owned by Frida Szapiro. At no. 80, there was a bakery and shop owned by Chaim Rabinowicz, at no. 101 there was a butcher in Gołda Szurna's house, at no. 116 there was a stone house owned by Icyk Kapłan with Feldman's and Kac's shops, and then there were the adjoining houses of Icyk Szneider (a manufactory shop) and Irmon Kalcman (a hardware shop). On plot no. 156 stood Golda Ulbien's shop with small goods, at no. 158 - Elicka's ritual slaughterhouse, supplying the aforementioned Kac's butcher's shop. House no. 163 belonged to Icyk Lurje, a wealthy businessman who had a shop at Wileńska Street ( Vilniaus g. (Polish: ul. Wileńska)) had a fur factory and sawmills. Following Vytauto Didžiojo Street, one could reach the complex of four Jewish community buildings (probably in the area of today's Kranto and Neries Streets). Two synagogues were built there - Winter and Summer Synagogues (according to other descriptions there were four synagogues in Pokroje, perhaps these were houses of prayer - next to the Winter Synagogue stood, for example, a tailors' kloyz, abandoned in 1938). The poorer Jews lived in wooden houses near the river; these buildings have not survived. There was also a mikveh by the Kroja River.

The above description shows that trade was the main source of the livelihood of the community. The largest group of shops operated at Vytauto Didžiojo. In most cases these were tall wooden buildings, serving both commercial and residential (for the owners) functions. It was cold inside because they were usually unheated rooms; when there was a lack of daylight (usually the shop had only one window) they were illuminated by paraffin lamps. In the 1930s, electricity started to be used for the purpose of providing lighting. Shops were open from 8.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. or from 9.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. and on Sunday, after mass, from 4.00 p.m. Rich Jews ran shops specialising in a given industry, others sold small goods or were involved in itinerant trade. They bought up flax, cattle, rags, bristles, horse hair and scrap metal in surrounding villages. In exchange, the peasants received pepper, herrings, matches, buttons and scarves. If the value of the goods was higher, the difference was paid in cash.

From 1940, Lithuania was under Soviet occupation and, from 1941, under German occupation. The outbreak of the German-Soviet war activated Lithuanian nationalists, who had taken control of the town, committed assaults, looting and murders. The first extermination of Jews took place in mid-July 1941. The victims were shot in the Jewish cemetery and by the river. The Morkakalnis forest also became a place of execution. Before the genocide, the Jews of the town were driven to the synagogue, where the rabbi gave a sermon. In the forest 300-400 Jews were shot, first the men (10 or 31 July 1941), then the women and children (5 August 1941). Even in April 1942, 20 hiding Jews including a doctor, were murdered.

Bibliografia

  • Pakruojis, Žydai Lietuvoje [online:] 10.06.2012, https://zydai.lt/ [accessed: 23 January 2019, inactive 24 April 2020].
  • Pakruojus, [in:] The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, vol. 2, eds. Spector, G. Wigoder, Nowy Jork 2001, pp. 963–964.

 

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