Vishey (Veisiejai).

Written by Joseph Rosin.

English edited by Sarah and Mordechai Kopfstein.

Vishey is situated in the southern part of Lithuania, close to the Polish border. The town was built along the shores of Lake Ancia (pronounced Ancha) where a bridge connects the two parts, with many woods and lakes in its surroundings. The district center Lazdey is about 20 km distant from Vishey.

Photo supplied by Barney Rubin

Aerial photo from Vishey taken by the German Luftwaffe In 1944

Vishey from the air

Vishey was founded during the first half of the sixteenth century near the estate of the Lithuanian Prince Glinsky, after King Zigmund "The Old" permitted the establishment of a bar room near the estate and to maintain markets.

Until 1795 Vishey was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom, after which the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times - Russia, Prussia and Austria – resulted in Lithuania becoming partly Russian and partly Prussian. The part of the state which lay on the left side of the Neman river (Nemunas), including Vishey, was handed over to Prussia which ruled there during the years 1795-1807, Vishey being a county center during these years.

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 codex 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, Vishey 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 1827 Vishey had a population of 737 people.

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

Jewish Settlement till World War II.

Jews started to settle in Vishey apparently in the middle of the eighteenth century after the Great Etman Masalsky, the owner of the estate at this time, invited them there in order to promote commerce. Jewish merchants would buy grain and other agricultural products in the surroundings, transport them to Grodno and in return import industrial goods from there. A document of 1783 in possession of the Vishay church states that several tens of Jewish families were living there after getting permission to do so from Bishop Zienkewitz of Vilna in1748. They had their synagogue and a "Kahal". In 1797 there were 518 people and 85 houses in Vishey.

In November 1811 the Russian finance minister Matushevitz invited Jewish representatives from all ten Gubernias of Poland to a meeting in order to discuss the issues of taxes and of military service of Jewish youth. The representative of Lomzha Gubernia was Sender Abramovitz from Vishey.

In the seventies of the nineteenth century many Lithuanian Jews immigrated to America. In a list of immigrants from 1869/70 the name of A.Miler from Vishey was found.

By 1897 the population of Vishey numbered 1,540 people, of whom 974 were Jews (63%), who made their living from commerce, crafts, fishing and agriculture, with several Jewish families owning great estates. In those days the economic situation of Vishay Jews was sound, but the big fire of 1872 badly affected the economy for many years to come. In this same year Vishey Jews donated money for the hungry, the collectors being Eliyahu Kaplovsky, Dr.Shmuel Kukliansky and Aba-Leib Tuman.

In 1891 a "School for Boys" was opened, supervised by the local Rabbi Nathan-Neta Kabak and the learned Ben-Zion Rastokhotsky, Russian was also taught and the teachers were M.P.Veinshtein and Sh.Izersky. Before WWI a "Cheder Metukan" (an improved cheder) was established by David Boyarsky, one of its teachers being the known writer A.A.Kabak.

The architect of this monument V.Margelis

"In this place stood the house in which in 1886-1887 lived and worked the establisher of the Esperanto language Ludvig Zamenhof"

(In Lithuanian on the left and in Esperanto on the right)

During 1886-87 Dr.Ludvig-Lazar Zamenhof lived there, where he worked professionally as an optometrist and created the International Language Esperanto.

Long before the "Chibath Zion" movement spread among the Jewish communities of Russia, single Jews from Vishey immigrated to Eretz Yisrael. In the old cemetery of Jerusalem at least two tombstones of Vishay Jews were found: Etl daughter of Avraham, died in 1879, and Ya’akov-Yehoshua Beharav Tsvi grandson of "Peney Yehoshua" (the famous book of Rabbi Ya’akov-Yehoshua Falk, 1680-1756), who died in 1885.

Zionist activity started at the end of the nineteenth century when a "Zionist Association" was established. In 1899 Vishey Zionists were in contact with the Zionist Center in Kishinev, which was in touch with all "Zionist Associations" in Russia. In 1899 and 1903, lists of donors from Vishey for "The Settlement of Eretz Yisrael" were published in the Hebrew periodicals of these times. The collector was Dan Yeshaya Cohen. The "Bund" organization also held a strong position in the town till WWI.

During WW I, on the first of April 1915, Vishey Jews, numbering some 400, were exiled, at the order of the retreating Russian army. After the war and the establishment of the Lithuanian state, only half of them returned.

During the Period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940).

After the war the returning Vishey Jews, who found their property plundered and most of their houses ruined, had to start life anew.

Z.Pitler from Vishey fought as a volunteer for the independence of Lithuania.

According to the Autonomy Law for minorities issued by the new Lithuanian government, the minister for Jewish affairs Dr. Max Soloveitshik ordered, in the summer of 1919, that elections be held for community committees in all towns of the state, and such a committee was also elected in Vishey. It was active till the end of 1925 when the autonomy was annulled. During its existence the committee collected taxes as required by law and was in charge of almost all aspects of community life, mainly the registration of births, marriages and deaths. These registration books were badly damaged in a fire in 1924, the remains being stored in the YIVO archives in N.Y. In this fire the synagogue, the school and many other buildings were ruined.

According to the first census performed by the Lithuanian government in 1923, Vishey had a population of 1,295 people, including 516 Jews (40%).

During this period Vishey Jews made their living from commerce, crafts, agriculture and fishing. According to the government survey of 1931 there were 15 shops, 12 of them owned by Jews (80%), consisting of 4 textile shops, 2 butchers, 2 restaurants, 1 shoe shop, 1 sewing machine shop, 1 iron and tools shop (Fridman) and 1 pharmacy (Shaul Kukliansky). There were about ten "shops of small goods" as written on the boards above the entrances. Since everybody had to work and earn money, these shops were managed by family members of the craftsmen, who sold kerosene, salt, sugar, flour, herring, haberdashery and other goods. The larger shops owned by Leib Flaxman, Benjamin Hasan and Mote Miller, sold manufactured articles.

According to the same survey there were 9 workshops, of them 7 in Jewish hands (78%): 2 bakeries, 1 brick factory, 1 saw mill, 1 flour mill and power station (M.Miller and son), 1 shoe factory. By 1939 only one of the 4 textile shops were still left and the iron and tools shop did not exist anymore.

In 1937, 23 Jewish artisans, members of the Artisans Association, still worked: 4 tailors (Khaim Doktorsky, Gershon Soloveichik, Moshe Pshezhorsky), 3 shoemakers (Yankel Doktorsky and his son Faive, Alter Shneider, Shlomo Levinsky), 3 butchers, 2 bakers (Biniamin Rude, Mikhael Rude), 3 blacksmiths (Leib Khmilevsky, Leizer Ofchinsky, Orchik Berznitsky), 2 stitchers (Hirsh Zalman Kviatkovsky, Meir Yosef Ribak), 2 carpenters, 1 oven builder (Avraham Berkman), 1 cord maker (Borovsky), 1 knitter and 1 barber (Avraham Sheinkin). There was also a group of Jewish coachmen (Aharon-Khaim and Zelig Shultz, Yankel-Zalman Khmilevsky, Aizik Pitler, Khaim Baltler, Yerukham Mlinarsky), who transported goods from Kovno and nearby towns to Vishey, and fish and agricultural products from it.

In addition to this there was the Zimenman family (Moshe, his son David-Elia and his grandson Aron), builders, who used to build log houses in the surrounding villages. They also rebuilt the synagogue burnt down in the fire of 1924. Yankel Kamerunsky and his son made caps, Velvel Fleisher and Dumblevsky caught fish all their lives, Elkhanan Fridkovsky and Khaim-Leib Pitler managed a fishing business. Motel Frank and Motel Arnberg bought agricultural products (each of them in different periods) for export, Nakhum Shneider made lemonade, and the Lozovskis and the Hofmans cultivated land. Some people used to rent their plots.

There were two Jewish doctors (Kopelman and Rik) and one medic (Berel Kukliansky), but in 1939 only one doctor was left.

Most Jews left agriculture, turning to commerce or crafts instead, but many continued to maintain a small auxiliary farm with a vegetable garden, some fruit trees, a cow or a goat and a chicken run beside their houses. Some continued to catch fish and lobsters from the lake.

The Jewish "Folksbank" played an important role in the economic life of the town. It had 116 members in 1929, but by 1939 only 70 remained. Katz was the first director of the bank, followed by Mrs. Kh. Presman-Berznitsky. There was also a branch of "The United Company for Credit to Jewish Agrarians". Vishey had 11 phone owners in 1939, including 5 Jews.

During this period the number of Jews decreased, mainly for economic reasons. Most young people moved to the big cities of the state or immigrated abroad including Eretz Yisrael. The big fires of 1924 and 1929 added to the decrease of the Jewish community.

A group of Vishey youth

The second from left in the first line-Shakhne Berznitsky (living in Vilna), the sixth-Eliezer Peltin (died in 1999 in Kibbutz Mishmaroth).

The first from left in the second line-Zlate Milinarsky (murdered in Katkishke)


Photo supplied by Y.Berznitsky

Vishey Jewish girls

First line from right:Leah Fridkovsky, Ida Peltin, Eli-Yitskhak Frank

Second line from right: Khaya Iglovsky, Sarah-Leah Peltin, Sheine Berznitsky, Hinde Arenberg, Rivkah Khmilevsky, Rivkah Frank.


Photo supplied by Y.Berznitsky

Vishey Jewish girls

First line sitting from right: Rivkah Khmilevsky, Khaya Shimansky, Sarah Yedvabnitsky, Lozovsky

Second line from right: Khaya Iglovsky, --------, Zlate Milinarsky.

Jewish children received their elementary education at the Hebrew school of the "Tarbuth" chain, whose headmasters were Khaim Shultz and later Kaplan, with an average of 60 children studying there. Many of its graduates continued their studies at high schools, some of them at Kovno university, and among them two who graduated with a M.D. degree, named M.Shnaider and Y.Levinson. The latter served as a battalion commander in the medical corps of the Red Army during the war, after which he became professor in the faculty of medicine in Kovno university.

The town had a library of about 700 books in Hebrew and Yiddish, as well as a dramatic circle under the guidance of the barber Avraham Sheinkin.

Photo supplied by Y.Berznitsky

From right:Esther-Zlate Berznitsky-actor of the Jewish popular theater, Leah Podgorsky

During this period many local Jews belonged to the Zionist movement and all Zionist parties had their adherents. This can be seen in the results of elections for Zionist congresses as detailed in the table below:




Total Shkalim

Total Voters

Labor Party

Z"S . . ..Z"Z


Gen. Zionists

A . . . B























































Collectors for the national funds (KKL and Keren Hayesod) would come from Kovno to Vishay from time to time and would be made very welcome.

Among the Zionist youth organizations were "Gordonia" with 40-50 members (one of the activists was Eliezer Peltin, later in Kibbutz Mishmaroth in Israel), "Tseirei Zion", "HeChaluts" and the sport organization "Maccabi".

Vishey branch of "Gordonia"

Members of these organizations were helpful in collecting donations for KKL. There was a "Volunteer Fire Brigade", most of its members being Jewish, who also maintained a wind orchestra.


The Jewish wind band

First line below from right: Mikhal Rud, Yosef Upnitsky, Faivel Doktorsky

Second line from right: Alter Shliakhtsitz, Hirsh-Zalmen Kviatkovsky, Balkosatsky, Moshe Shnaider, the conductor, -------, Podgorsky, Yakov Berznitsky

Third line from right: -----, ------, -----, Moshe Fridman, Avraham Pitler


Photo supplied by Y.Berznitsly

Benjamin Rud-commander of the Jewish Volunteer Fire Brigade and amateur actor

In the fire of 1872 the "Beth Midrash" was ruined too, but it was rebuilt and served as the religious and public center. Vishey cantors with their choirs were famous in Lithuania and would perform in synagogues in nearby towns.

The fire of 1924 razed the "Beth-Midrash" again and Rabbi Yosef Goldin appealed to former Vishey inhabitants in America for urgent help to rebuild it.

Among the Rabbis who served in Vishey were: Eliyahu Margalioth; Nathan-Neta-Klonimus Kabak (1854-1913),in Vishey from1890; Nakhman Kolyaditsky; Avraham Reznik, who was a delegate to the communities conference in 1920; Yosef Goldin, and the last Rabbi of Vishey was Yekhezkel Goldshlak. These two were murdered in the Holocaust.

Among the personalities who lived in Vishey were: Mordekhai Smolnik, who served as the "Shamash" (synagogue beadle) and who was very conversant with the "Talmud"; Menakhem Diskin, philanthropist and public worker; Shlomo Hirshel, the veteran "Melamed" in town, and A.A.Kabak, (1883-1944) the son of the Rabbi. The latter, who lived in Eretz Yisrael from 1911, was a writer and translator, who published many novels and stories in Hebrew and translated novels from world literature into Hebrew.


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