The Keidan Memorial Books, and More

If someone met a Jew from Keidan on a journey and asked, “Where are you from?” he would answer proudly, “Me? I’m a Keidaner!” And on the word “me” he would thump his finger into his chest. Envious, other Lithuanian Jews dubbed them “Hole-in-the-chest Keidaners,” the hole resulting from excessive chest-thumping. 1

Jews were an important part of Keidan for nearly 400 years, but in the late 19th century, social and political storm clouds began to gather that would lead to the community’s annihilation. In the decades before World War I, hundreds of Keidaners emigrated to the U.S., South Africa and elsewhere. Yet even in diaspora, they remained tied to their home community, and over the years they wrote memoirs, essays, and histories, documenting and recalling the life of their historic town.

This literature, collected from numerous sources, is presented here in English translation, as an archive and living commemoration of this once-beloved community.

The first formal anthology about Keidan was published in 1930 in New York. Edited by Boruch Chaim Cassel and Chaim Epstein, it included a history of the town, profiles, humorous reminiscences and much more. Mainly in Yiddish, its tone was nostalgic, with only a slight sense of foreboding about the community’s political and economic condition. Of course there was nothing to hint at the horror that would destroy Jewish Keidan less than a dozen years later.

In the wake of that catastrophe, efforts to commemorate the town became more urgent. The survivors understood that they were the last generation to know the vanished community, and they attempted to record whatever they could about its life and death. The principal result was the “Sefer Zikaron” – also known as the Keidan Yizkor Book. Published in Israel in 1977, it was mainly in Hebrew, and remained largely untranslated until recently.

A third, smaller collection of essays and histories was published in South Africa in 1950, marking the 50th anniversary of the Keidaner Sick Benefit and Helping Hand Society of Johannesburg. Together with various individual essays and memoirs circulated privately over the years, these sources constitute a rich tapestry, a grassroots historiography, and an invaluable window into our own past.

The original memorial books were organized based on the contingencies of their times. This site attempts to provide a more contemporary structure, adding footnotes and context where appropriate and organizing by chronology and content.

Sections (click to jump)

Overviews  /  Before 1914   /  The First World War  /  Between the wars   /  Notable Keidaners The Approaching Storm  /  War and Destruction The Keidan Diaspora  


Before 1914

The First World War

Between the Wars

Education and culture

Youth movements

Religious life

Profiles, memoirs, etc. 

Notable Keidaners

The Approaching Storm 

War and Destruction

Escape and struggle

‘Embers from the fire’

The Keidan Diaspora

Pioneers in Zion

Memories In Song and Verse



  1. “ griber-in-hartzn Keidaner,” from the 1930 “zamel bukh” of the Keidaner Assn. of New York.

2 Responses to The Keidan Memorial Books, and More

  1. Hello
    My name is Varvara Keidan Shavrova, a PhD researcher based at the School of Arts & Humanities at the Royal College of Art in London. I am currently researching my family roots, and since our family name is Keidan, and I know our diaspora originated from Lithuanian town of Keidan, I wanted to ask your advice on researching the history of my family roots in this town, and on tracing the Keidan’s exodus from Lithuania. I am the only daughter of Vladimir Israilevich Keidan, a well-known artist who lived and worked in Moscow ( 1936-2005). As far as I know there are no relatives left in the former Soviet Union to date. The members of Keidan family that I know live in the US (New York), Israel (Safed) and Italy (Rome), plus myself, in London. I would be very grateful to hear your advice, especially on where I can find further materials on my family diaspora, any records of the Keidans who might have lived in Lithuania, or anywhere else in the former Soviet Union prior to the 1900s, and where can I access any data or publications on the subject. I am also planning a research trip to Lithuania, including to Keidania , later this Summer, and am looking for any connections I could make that could help me to to find my family roots there.

  2. Andrew says:

    Apologies for the late approval of your note; I only discovered it today. You might consider sharing your questions on the Facebook site: “Roots in Keidan”:
    It may draw a quicker response from others who have done similar research. Best of luck.

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