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Jewish Families of Kalvarija, Lithuania

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Profiles

  • Rabbi Zelig Reuven Bengis (1864 - 1953)
    Rabbi Zelig Reuven Bengis (1864, Shnippishok, Russia - 1953, Jerusalem, E. Israel) was the Russian-born Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem for the Edah HaChareidis. He wrote a seven-volume commentary on the Talm...
  • R' Mordechai Meltzer (Klatzko) of Vilna (1797 - 1883)
    Rabbi Klatchko "Meltzer" Mordechai, son of Asher, was born in Vilna in 1797. He was named Meltzer for his father-in-law, Rabbi Leib Meltzer. His studied in the Volozhin Yeshiva, from the year 1831. He ...
  • Representative Meyer London (1871 - 1926)
    Meyer London (December 29, 1871 - June 6, 1926) was an American politician from New York City. He was one of only two members of the Socialist Party of America elected to the United States Congress.[...
  • Mordechai Margolis (c.1780 - 1846)
    There are a number of births in Przersol, Suwalki Gubernia, Biyalstok Province, Poland that indicate that Mordechai Margolis was deceased by 1850, namely his grandson and great grandson (respectively):...
  • R' Elijah Margolis, A.B.D. Przerosl, Veisiejai, Radyn and Rokishok (1811 - 1867)
    Rabbi of a number of Lithuanian towns - Veisiejai, Radun, and Rokishok for certain and likely also Wizhany. His sons were also rabbis of Lithuanian towns (see below and profiles of his sons). Was he ...

Kalvarija, Lithuania

Alternate names: Kalvarija [Lith], Kalvarye [Yid], Kalwaria [Pol], Kalvariya [Rus], Kalvarien [Ger], Calvaria, Kalvaria, Kalwariya, Kalwarya

Jewish Gen Locality Page, including many resources for Kalvarija.

Also click on Photos and Documents (right hand side of this page) for photos I took in 2012 of Kalvarija.

The purpose of this project is to help descendants of Jewish families from Kalvarija research their families and break down brick walls. Kalvarija research presents a special problem because the usual Russian Empire records have disappeared for this town.

"The construction of Kalvarija began in the 17th century on the two banks of the Sesupe River in southwest Lithuania. A village by the name of Trabi previously occupied the area. Around the year 1678, King August II conferred upon it the privileges of a city. Between 1795-1807, the city and district were part of Prussia, and between 1807-1815 it was part of the "Grand Duchy of Warsaw." The Russians captured it in 1815 and they included it in the District of Suvalk. Its location on the St. Petersburg -- Warsaw road led to its rapid development. It had 501 houses in 1827 and from 1867, Kalvarija was a provincial city. It had a court, post office, telegraph station, and hospital with 25 beds. Three doctors were on its staff. There were also army physicians at the military barracks located in the town. There was also a large jail and several alcohol distilleries as well as a large market. Some 250 petty craftsmen worked in the town. Two army units were based there. The city was built according to a careful urban plan -- straight, right-angle streets with wide sidewalks."

"Russian rule continued until 1915. During World War I, the Germans occupied the entire region. In the war's battles, one half of the city, some 900 houses, were destroyed. In 1919, the Germans withdrew from the city. It was handed over to the government of independent Lithuania, which incorporated it into Marijampole Province. All signs indicate that there was a Jewish community, which was engaged in weaving, in the village of Trabi that preceded Kalvarija. In 1713, the Jews received permission from King August II to build a synagogue on the condition that it would not be taller than the church. Jewish craftsmen received permission to practice their crafts without having to be members of the craft guilds."

"Jews earned their living through commerce, crafts, agriculture, and, to a lesser degree, industry. Nearly all the stores in the town were Jewish owned. The grain trade was also in Jewish hands, and they exported the produce to Germany. Tens of grain merchants lived most of the year in nearby Koenigsburg. They served as middlemen between the grain dealers of Kalvarija and the large grain magnates of the big city. The achievements of German Jews in the realms of culture and science greatly impressed the Jews of Kalvarija. The sons of the well to do, in addition to learning Talmud and Bible, began to study Russian and German. The Yiddish of the town was also 'Germanized.' This is how 'Kalvaiyer Deitch,' [the German/Yiddish of Kalvarija] which was famous throughout Lithuania, came into being."

"The community numbered 1,055 poll tax payers in 1766 and 6,508 persons (over 80% of the population) in 1856. During the 1860s many Jews in Kalvarija immigrated to the United States, and by 1897 the community had decreased to 3,581 (37%). Isaac Slonimer, author of Emek Yehoshu'a, and Mordecai Klaczko (also called Mordecai Melzer), author of Tekhelet Mordekhai, served as rabbis in Kalvarija. Other prominent scholars and communal workers included Baer Ratner and Isaac Meir Margoliot. During World War I there was a further decline in the Jewish population when, owing to the war and a fire which broke out in 1915, many Jews moved to towns in Russia and Lithuania. Their numbers had decreased to 1,233 by 1923 (27%). The gradual nationalization of the agricultural import trade, from which Jews largely derived their livelihood, led to further emigration, and by 1939 only 1,000 Jews remained in Kalvarija. During the period of Lithuanian independence (1918–40) the community had five synagogues and three Jewish schools, a loan bank, and communal and cultural institutions."

"Following the outbreak of World War II Jewish refugees from nearby Polish towns arrived in Kalvarija where they were warmly received by the community. After the Germans occupied Kalvarija on June 22, 1941, the Jews were brought to the Marijampole barracks on August 30 with thousands of other Jews from the area and murdered."

The Synagogue Complex

"Replacing the old wooden synagogue whose walls and foundation were crumbling, was a new stone building constructed in 1803. The new synagogue had thick stone walls and an elaborate Holy Ark and Bimah [Torah Reader's Platform] constructed of wood by a master craftsman. The walls were decorated with paintings of animals. The women's section was on both sides of the building. At the entrance were two small prayer rooms -- one for the "Psalm Reciters' Society" and the other for the Burial Society. In 1869, a Beit Midrash [Study House] was erected in the courtyard of the synagogue. It was constructed with funds donated by Sarah the wife of Azriel Sobolwitz of Koenigsburg. This was a large, spacious building with walls constructed of bricks. In addition to the large prayer room, there were smaller rooms used [for prayer] by the free loan society [Gemilat Hesed], the Society for the Dowering of Brides [Hakhnasat Kalah], and three rooms used by the Talmud-Torah for providing poor children with a free education. Kalvarija had additional small prayer rooms [known as Kloizim - singular Kloiz]: the Kloiz in the name of Rabbi Leibele Broida, the Mishmar [Guard] Kloiz, the teamsters' Kloiz, the Kloiz of Elijah Azriel and the Margulies Kloiz."

"There were 5 synagogues: The Great Synagogue, the Beit Midrash, 2 Kloiz, and 1 shtibel. The Great Synagogue was built on the ruins of the old synagogue, which had been destroyed by fire during World War I. It was a thick walled structure, whose interior walls were decorated with original illustrations of animals and birds executed by a local artisan. The pulpit [amud] was also a masterful work of art. Until his aliyah to Eretz Yisrael in 1938, Rabbi Zelig Reuben Bangiss served the community. He also functioned as a rabbi in Jerusalem. The last rabbi of Kalvarija was Rabbi Moses Mezigal."

Ruth Ellen Gruber describes the synagogue complex that I took photos of (see project photos) thus: "On a frosty November morning, I walked around the two massive, ruined synagogues that form a unique surviving Jewish complex in Kalvarija, a small sleepy town in southern Lithuania near the border with Poland. One of the synagogues was built in the early 18th century. Its roof had fallen in and its bottom windows were bricked up, but it was possible to see arches and other architectural detail and decoration. The other, built in about 1803, was more or less intact, but crumbling. Between the two stood a red brick building, a former rabbi’s house and a cheder, or Jewish school, with a big Star of David above the door."

Jews from Kalvarija emigrated to the USA, the UK, South Africa, Denmark, and Sweden.

Families

  • Abelitzky
  • Bengis (Zelig Reuven Bengis, served as rabbi of Kalvarija, beg. 1911)
  • Blaustein / Bluestone
  • Broda
  • Davis
  • Elkes
  • Epstein
  • Eron
  • Franks
  • Fried
  • Garmansky
  • Guterman
  • Goldenson
  • Kavadlo
  • Klaczko (Mordecai Klaczko, also called Mordecai Melzer, served as rabbi in Kalvarija)
  • Krongold
  • Kronzon / Kronsohn
  • London
  • Margolis / Margaliot (Isaac Margolis, native of Kalvarija and rabbi there)
  • Matz
  • Myszkowski
  • Phillips
  • Radner / Ratner
  • Rudnicki / Rudnitsky
  • Shapira (Eizel Harif Joshua Isaac ben Jehiel Shapira, served as Av Beit Din of Kalvarija)
  • Shulman
  • Simkovsky
  • Slonimer (Isaac Slonimer, author of Emek Yehoshu'a, served as rabbi in Kalvarija)
  • Smolizanski
  • Solomon
  • Spektorski
  • Susnitsky
  • Szterling
  • Trilling
  • Wilkowitsch

Famous natives and residents of Kalvarija

  • Zelig Reuven Bengis (1864–1953), Lithuanian rabbi. Bengis studied in Volozhin under Naphtali Zevi Judah Berlin and Hayyim Soloveichik. In 1894 he was appointed rabbi of Bodki and, in 1912, of Kalvarija, Lithuania.
  • Joseph Isaac Bluestone (1860 - 1934), U.S. physician, Zionist, and Hebraist. He practiced medicine on the Lower East Side.
  • Elhanan Elkes (1879–1944), chairman of Kovno (Kaunas) Aeltestenrat (Council of Elders under the Nazis)
  • Samuel Harry Goldenson (1878–1962), U.S. Reform rabbi, ordained at the Hebrew Union College in 1904, then led congregations in Lexington, Ky. , and Albany, N.Y.
  • Mordechai Meltzer Katzko, rabbi in Kalvarija
  • Meyer London, member of the American Socialist Party elected to the US Congress
  • Isaac ben Elijah Margolis (1842–1887), Polish rabbi and author, the son of a rabbi, Margolies devoted himself in his early youth solely to talmudic studies. After his marriage in 1862 to the daughter of a prominent member of the community of Merech in Vilna province, he took up residence there and began to take a keen interest in the Haskalah.
  • Israel Matz, founder of the Ex-Lax Company
  • Dov Ber Ratner (1852–1917), Lithuanian talmudic scholar.
  • Leah Rudnitsky (1913-1943?), Yiddish poetess, active in the Vilna ghetto group, where she produced a collection of verse, Durkn neplin (Through Mists). Only a few of the poems survived the war. Rudnitsky is said to have died in an Estonian concentration camp in 1944 or 1945.
  • Eizel Harif Joshua Isaac ben Jehiel Shapira (d. 1873), rabbi and talmudist. Known as Eizel Harif ("sharp") because he was one of the keenest intellects and most outstanding pilpulists of his day, he was av bet din successively at Kalvarija, Kutno, Tiktin, and, finally, Slonim.

Resources