Alite (Alytus)

Written by Joseph Rosin

English Edited by Hilelson-Jivotovsky Fania

Alite (as was called in Yiddish) is located in the south-western part of Lithuania on the shores of the Neman (Nemunas) river about 360 km from its estuary into the Kurish Gulf (Kursiu Marios), the Bay of the Baltic Sea and about 60 km south of Kaunas.

The town was built on both sides of the river, and a bridge linked both parts. In documents of the fourteenth century Alite was already mentioned as a village. In 1377 the German Crusader Order conquered Alite, murdered a part of its population and destroyed tens of villages in its vicinity. In 1392 big battles between the Germans and the Poles broke out in the area..

In 1581 Alite obtained the rights of a town (Magdeburg rights). In 1775 the regional courts from Troki (Trakai) and Meretch (Merkine) were transferred to Alite, an event which contributed to its development and to the increase of its population. The "Hansa" merchants who arranged storehouses with salt on the shores of the river would also pass through Alite.

Until 1795 Alite was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom, when the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times - Russia, Prussia and Austria - caused Lithuania to become partly Russian and partly Prussian. The part of the state which lay on the left side of the Neman river (Nemunas) was handed over to Prussia while the other part became a part of Russia. So the right side of Alite (Alite1) was ruled by Russia and the left side (Alite2)-by Prussia who ruled there during the years 1795-1807.

After Napoleon defeated Prussia and according to the Tilzit agreement of July1807, Polish territories occupied by Prussia were transferred to what became known as the "The Great Dukedom of Warsaw", which was established at that time. The king of Sachsonia, Friedrich-August, was appointed duke, and the Napoleonic code now became the constitution of the dukedom, according to which everybody was equal before the law, except for the Jews who were not granted any civil rights.

During the years 1807-1813, Alite 2 belonged to the "Great Dukedom of Warsaw" and was part of the Bialystok district. The Napoleonic Codex was then introduced in this region, remaining in effect even during the Lithuanian period.

In 1915 all Lithuania was annexed to Russia including Alite, but Alite1 was included in Vilna Gubernia and Alite2 - in Suvalk Gubernia. In 1856 Alite2 had 619 inhabitants and of them 285 were Jews. In 1886 there were 843 inhabitants in Alite2 and 926 in Alite1.

Because of these circumstances both parts of the town developed in a different way. The western part (Alite2) developed considerably more than Alite1, especially in the nineteenth century when the Russians constructed fortifications and barracks in the vicinity of Alite 2, paved roads to Kalvarija, Sejny and Daugai and built a railroad through Simnas to Suvalk connecting with the railroad net of Russia.

In 1909 as a result of a great fire most of the town's houses burnt down. During World War I Alite was not damaged.

In the years of independent Lithuania (1918-1940) both parts of Alite were united into one district town. The railroad to Vilna and Suvalk were cut off after Poland occupied the Vilna region. Instead the Lithuanian government built a railroad from Alite through Marijampole that connected at Kazlu-Ruda to the main line Kaunas- Virbalis (Kybartai). All the governmental and educational institutions were located in the western part of the town (Alite2).

At the end of 1939, according to the agreement between the USSR and Lithuania,

Vilna and its region were returned to Lithuania, and the USSR established four military bases in this state one of which was in Alite.

In June 1940, after Lithuania became a Soviet Republic, the Soviets started to construct an underground airfield and positions for heavy guns near Alite.

During the Nazi rule, 1941-1944, the Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators

murdered tens of thousands Soviet war prisoners and thousands civilians, among them all the Jewish population of Alite and the surrounding towns.

The Jewish Settlement till after World War I

The Jewish community of Alite was one of the oldest in Lithuania. A few Jews lived there since the times of the Great Prince Vytautas (1335?-1430). A more or less organized community began in the sixteenth century.


Photographed by Sa'adya Bahat in 1997

A tombstone from 1902 at Alite 1 cemetery

At the Jewish cemetery of east Alite (Alite1) tombstones dating back to the sixteenth century were found. A "Pinkas" (Notebook) of the "Chevrah Kadisha" from 1755, where the preface was copied from an older "Pinkas", was preserved by the community. The oldest tombstone at the Alite2 cemetery could be traced back to 1852.

Photographed by Sa'adya Bahat in 1997

A tombstone from 1896 at Alite 1 cemetery

According to a list of taxpayers of 1765 there were 360 Jews who paid Head Taxes. In 1847 their number decreased to 262. In 1897 there were 482 Jews in town, 33.6% of the total population.

The Jews of Alite made their living from small commerce, barrooms and providing services to the many soldiers that were stationed in the barracks in the vicinity. Several Jewish families had large farms and made their living from agriculture.

In 1886 a fire destroyed 30 houses in Alite1. On May 12, 1890 a great fire destroyed almost all Jewish houses in town, and hundreds of families were left without a shelter. A big fire occurred also in 1909.

With the breakout of World War I the Jews of west Alite (Alite2) were ordered to leave the town. until April 8, 1915. They were allowed to take with them only things to fill a cart. They crossed the river into Alite1 where the expulsion order was not in effect. During the German occupation (1915-1918) the Jews returned to their homes and businesses.

Picture supplied by Ruth Ben-David

The Jewish school with the teacher Milman 1915?

On the list of donors contributing for the settlement of Eretz-Yisrael in 1900 the names of 18 Jews from Alite were mentioned. (See Appendix 1).

Among the Rabbis who served in Alite during this period were: Hayim-Nathan Levin (1825-1897), Yosef-YAliteakov Rosenberg who served there for 40 years (-?-1922), Bezalel Levin, Yitzhak-Noah Levinbuk (died in 1901 at the age of 48), his son Reuven Levinbuk, Joel Zalkind (1839-?).

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