1930s Status Report

By Ben-Alexander

Written about 1937, and published in 1951 in “Lita” [Lithuania], pp. 1587-9[1]

The town now consists of some 9,000 souls, a third of them Jews. The economic situation of the Jews has become very hard. Commerce has completely dried up. Many Jewish-owned shops have been taken over by Christians. The number of Jewish skilled artisans has also dropped drastically.

From time immemorial Keidan has had many gardeners, who sold the fruits of their labors not only in Shavl [Šiauliai] and Kovno [Kaunas], but as far away as Libau [Liepaja].

Even today, more than 50 Jewish families are engaged in growing vegetables. Yet the demand is very small, and only a few Jews who have their own land are able earn a livelihood from their produce. The Jewish Folksbank tries to help Jewish merchants, artisans, and farmers.

Regarding Jewish public life, there is little to boast about. Nevertheless, there is a school, called Tarbut, with 200 pupils and four teachers. The Yiddish folkshul has 35 pupils, and 40 to 50 children still attend cheder. There is even a Hebrew pro-gymnasium with three classes, but it is struggling to survive. The young people of Hashomer Hatzair keep an extensive library of good Yiddish and Hebrew volumes, which are well read.

Our civic and cultural institutions are currently in difficult condition. We are looking to our generous landsleit in America and Africa. From the large Keidan Society in New York we know of the energetic Dr. Chaim Yankel Epstein, Phillip Greenblatt and Bernard Richards. I’m also told of a well-liked Keidaner in the town of Waterbury, Connecticut, not far from New York, David Stein, who is said to be active in civic and cultural endeavors, as well as a talented painter.

Relations between the Jews and Lithuanians in Keidan up until the First World War were very good. It should be noted that in the early years of the 20th century, there was a small circle of educated Jews and Lithuanians who took an active part in Lithuania’s liberation. In 1909, at the direction of the elderly Lithuanian patriot Dr. [Juozas] Jarašius, the Jewish apothecary Gurvich [Yid: Hurwitz, Lith: Gurvičius] printed medical prescriptions in Lithuanian. Despite the fact that Gurvich was condemned for doing so by the Russian medical authority, he continued to label his medications in Lithuanian only.

Thus the two peoples lived in peace and harmony, particularly during the years of the left-liberal political course. Recently, as evil winds began blowing our way from neighboring Germany, many Lithuanians have begun to fall under their influence. If this process does not cease, the ground may burn under the feet of Lithuania’s Jews.


Translated by Miriam Erez.

[1] “Lita” [ליטע] published in Yiddish by the Jewish-Lithuanian Cultural Society, 1951, New York.

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