The Political History of Lithuania
and Svintsyan
with Regard to Location

      Lithuania first emerged as a nation in the 13th century.  By the end of the 14th century, it had extended its empire from the Baltic Sea on the West to the Black Sea on the South.  The first Jew to settle in the Lithuanian town that later became the shtetl of Svintsyan was Rachmiel Gurvits, in 1560.   Most of the Gurvitses--with spelling variations such as Gurevich, Gurvich, Gurwitz, Horowitz, Hurwitz, Horvich--were Levis, and the family eventually became a prominent one in Svintsyan.

        In 1569, Lithuania and Poland signed the Treaty of Lublin, which united the two countries in a single nation:  the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  The third partition of Poland in 1795, however, gave Lithuania to Russia.  In 1835, the Russian Pale of Settlement was established, with the area that had been Lithuania (including the town now known officially as "Sventsiany") becoming part of the Pale.  The area remained under Russian domination until 1918.  That year, on February 16, Lithuania declared independence.  But in 1920, Poland forcibly annexed the Vilna region, including "Sventsiany,"  which then became known as "Swieciany."  Poland held the region, and Swieciany, until late 1939.

        The Three Partitions of Poland

        Polish Jewish Genealogy Questions and Answers

        The non-aggression pact between Stalin and Hitler in 1939 gave Lithuania to the Soviets; but in late 1939, Swieciany and a large part of the Swieciany District were annexed to Belarus.   In 1940, when Lithuania became one of the republics of the USSR, the town was once more given to Russia (i.e, Soviet Russia), even though the large eastern part of the district in which it had been located remained with Belarus.  A short-lived 1941 revolt, in which Lithuania again declared its independence, came to an end later that same year.  In Operation Barbarossa, German troops attacked the Soviet Union and invaded the Soviet Socialist Republic of Lithuania, making their way, among other places, to "Svenciany" (Yiddish:  Svintsyan). Under the Nazis, what had been, until late 1939, the northeastern part of Poland became part of the Reich Commissariat Ostland and Svintsyan was again called by its Polish name of Swieciany.  The Nazi reign of terror was soon instigated and didn't come to an end until 1944, when the Soviets again gained control of Lithuania.

        Despite renewed attempts to become independent, Lithuania wasn't able to break free of Soviet domination until 1991.  In 1993, the last Soviet troops left, and the fully independent nation of Lithuania became a member of the European Council.  Since then, the former "Svenciany" has been called by its official Lithuanian name of "Svencionys."

       The official language of Lithuania is Lithuanian.  But because Lithuania has so often been influenced or dominated by bordering nations, languages such as Russian, Polish, Belarusian, and Ukrainian are also encountered there.


Copyright 2000 M S Rosenfeld