Naishtot (Kudirkos-Naumiestis)

Written by Joseph Rosin

English edited by Fania Hilelson-Jivotovsky

Naishtot is situated at the south-western part of Lithuania near the border with East Prussia (now Russia) where the small stream, Shirvinta, flows into the Sesupe river. The Shirvinta stream was the border between Lithuania and Prussia and a concrete bridge linked Naishtot with the Prussian town Schirvindt.

Naishtot is listed by the name Novomiasto in documents dating back to the sixteenth century. In 1643 Queen Cecilia Renate granted the town the Magdeburg Rights (Self Rule) and named it Wladislawow - after her husband King Wladislaw the Fourth.

Until 1795 Naishtot was part of the Polish Lithuanian Kingdom. After the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times - Russia, Prussia and Austria Lithuania became partly Russian and partly Prussian. The part of the state on the left side of the Neman river (Nemunas), including Naishtot, was handed over to Prussia, and this town, called then Neustadt was under the Prussian rule from 1795 until1807. During these years Naishtot was a county center.

After Napoleon defeated Prussia, according to the Tilzit agreement of July 1807, Polish territories occupied by Prussia were transferred to what became known as the "The Great Dukedom of Warsaw", established at that time. The King of Sachsonia, Friedrich August, was appointed Duke, and the Napoleonic code then became the basis of 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, Naishtot belonged to the "Great Dukedom of Warsaw" and was part of the Bialystok district. The Napoleonic code was then introduced in this region, remaining in effect even during the Lithuanian period.

In 1815, after the defeat of Napoleon, all of Lithuania was annexed to Russia. As a result, Naishtot was included in the Augustowa Region (Gubernia), and in 1866 it became a part of the Suwalk Gubernia and a county center.

In 1819 Naishtot got back its old name Wladislawow. This name endured until WW1.

In 1835 there were 350 houses in town; 60 of them were built of bricks. That year Naishtot had 4,413 residents, 3,348 Jews among them - (76%). After the big fire of 1865 many brick houses replaced the burnt wooden homes .

Under the Russian rule Naishtot started to grow, and in 1867 the town was declared a district center. The reasons for this urban sprawl was due to improved roads and the resulting trade with Germany .

With the construction of the new railway connecting St.Peterburg to Berlin in the middle of the 1860-ties , the importance of Naishtot as a district center decreased.

At the beginning of WW1 Naishtot passed from one government to another several times. In the spring of 1915 it was occupied by the German army remaining in control of the area until the end of 1918. As a result of fighting more than a quarter of the homes in Naishtot were destroyed.

When the Lithuanian state was established after WW1, the district center was moved to Shaki (Sakiai) and the economy of Naishtot slumped. The only governmental institutions left in town were the border guard unit, the border crrossing point, customs station and the county court.

In 1934 a memorial was erected in honor of the doctor and poet Vincas Kudirka who was born and burried in Naishtot. He was the author of the Lithuanian anthem. Since that time the town was called Kudirkos Naumiestis. This name was not subject to any changes during the Soviet rule 1940-1941.

In the years 1941-1944 the town was under Nazi rule with all the atrocities and murders characteristic of the regime.

During the struggle for liberation against the Nazis in 1944, a great part of the downtown core was destroyed.

The Jewish Settlement till after World War 1

In 1643, when Naishtot was granted the Magdeburg Rights, Christian inhabitants asked the authorities to forbid Jews to live in the town. According to the available data it seems that in the middle of the 17th century Jews had already been living in Naishtot , but according to the inscriptions on the old tombstones at the Jewish cemetery, Jews settled in Naishtot at the beginning of the 18th century. Initially Jews settled around the Synagogue and the Beth-Midrash, and in the quarter near the Sesupe river. The big fire of 1865 caused the destruction of this quarter. Later the Jewish area spread out, and the burnt wooden houses were replaced by brick homes.

During the Prussian rule (1795-1807) the government promised a prize of 1,500 Marks to a person who will be the first to build a solid building in town (the building was not to be built in wood) . The prize was awarded to Yitskhak Abelson, the son of the local Rabbi, Aba Abelson.

In 1797 429 Jews and 565 Christians lived in town.

In May 1881 a big fire destroyed 200 Jewish and Christian homes and all belongings. A help committee was established who dealt with distribution of the money, food and clothing received from the neighboring Jewish communities and Jewish philanthropists abroad. Thanks to the work of the committee the victims of the fire avoided starvation and helped rebuilt some of the houses. In 1887, another fire destroyed 87 houses and in 1889 in just two weeks two fires broke out and 20 houses were burnt.

In 1871 and in 1893 the town endured a cholera epidemic.

At the end of the 19th century the Jews of Naishtot owned 2 leather processing shops. Before WW1 the Naishtot Jews had 4 brush manufacturing plants employing over 100 Jewish workers, 2 soft drink and beer factories, a silk spinning workshop with 40 workers and 60 apprentices. Jewish women worked at the cigarette factory in the neighboring German town of Schirwindt and made knitting products at home. Jews working in trades made a fine living. Among them there were 4 shoemakers, 3 tailors, 2 tinsmiths, 1 cooper, 1 locksmith, a few producers of carts and cabriolets and also roofing specialists and road pavers. Many worked in commerce. Big merchants among them traded on national and international levels as exporters and contractors. They exported grains, vegetables, fruit and poultry mainly to Germany.

The proximity of the German border was an important factor in the life of Jewish shopkeepers. Germans would come to buy food products in Naishtot lured by cheaper prices. Bringing in different goods from Germany and selling them in Lithuania yielded an additional source of income for many Jews.

Another source of income was smuggling emigrants over the border to Germany. There were cases of fraudulent "smugglers" who would cheat the emigrants by taking away various items belonging to them. In other cases "the smugglers" would keep the migrants in the hostel longer than necessary in order to extort more money. Sometimes the smugglers would set their eyes on a young woman or a nice girl and would detain her longer than necessary. All this aroused indignation in the community and set the community against the "smugglers". However, thousands of Jews who arrived in America with the help of these smugglers remembered them favorably, despite the fact that they had not always been treated fairly.

A few dozen Jewish families in town were agrarians. They owned more than 300 hectares of land and cultivated mostly grains. A part of the Jewish farms were conducted by modern means. Many Naishtot Jews had auxiliary farm facilities beside their houses.

The great Synagogue built in 1880

In the same year the "Talmud-Torah" was established in town, and most of the Jewish children studied at the school. Hebrew, Russian and arithmetic were taught at the school as well. In 1887 the school was a solid school with an annual budget of about 1,000 Rubels. There were 4 classes with 4 "Melamdim" (Teachers). A part of the children studied at the Russian school. At the beginning of the nineteenth century 20 Jewish, 80 Catholic and 50 Protestant students attended the Russian school.

In 1878 a Jewish school, subsidized by the government was open in town. The director of the school was A.Yevarkovsky and one of the teachers was Y.Rozer. These teachers established a library in 1879 where Russian and Hebrew books could be borrowed.

Zionist activity started in Naishtot in 1884 by the "Khovevei Zion" (Fans of Zion) Society. The main activity of the group was fundraising on behalf of Eretz Yisrael. One of the fundraising activities was the sale of Moshe Montefiore’s photographs. In 1899 the Society sent a delegate to the regional conference of the Zionist Societies in Vilna and in 1913 to Druskenik (Druskininkai), and to the regional committee in Suwalk in 1909. The Zionist Society of Naishtot was one of the 5 Societies of the Suwalk Gubernia with its own delegate, Yitskhak Nisnboim, at the 5th Zionist congress. In the years 1898,1899 and 1903 the Hebrew newspaper, published in St.Petersburg, "HaMeilitz" printed lists of contributors from Naishtot for the Settlement of Eretz-Yisrael . The fundraisers were Zalman Zubishsky, Eta Rozenberg, Khana Vistanetsky and Shlomo Landau.

For the Naishtot correspondents who wrote in "HaMeilitz" see Appendix 4.

At the old Jewish cemetery of Jerusalem there is a tombstone of a Naishtot man, Rabbi Yosef-Tsvi son of Moshe HaCohen,.who died 1979.

The local "Bund" branch (Anti-Zionist workers organization) struggled for improved working conditions for Jewish workers and also dealt with smuggling revolutionary literature from Germany to Russia. Together with "Poalei-Zion" they organized strikes of the local brush manufacturing workers at the beginning of the twentieth century. One of the first revolutionary organizers in town was the local Yankel-Aba (Apolon) Finkelshtein.

In 1905 the police found a few pistol guns in the "kloiz" and imposed a penalty of 3,000 Rubel on the community.

At the beginning of the eighteen eighties there were many plots organized against Jews, causing migration of Naishtot Jews to America and South-Africa. The Jewish population in town decreased from 2,305 in1908 to 1,600 in1914.

For the Vital Records for Wladislawow of the 19 th century see Appendix 1.

At the beginning of WW1 Naishtot passed from one government to another several times . As a result more than a quarter of the houses in town were destroyed and for several years the town was left deserted in ruins .

During German occupation (1915-1918) about 70% of the Jews returned to town. Living in great poverty, they needed the help of the "The Jewish Aid Committee" in Koenigsberg headed by Dr.Nathan and Dr.Bernard Cohen.


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