Vaskai, Lithuania (KHAIT, KREIGER, SHENKER)

Vaskai, Lithuania (see also Linkova, Lithuania)


Jewish Population:
1897:  440 (50% of 883 population)

Family Members:
Max Highstein  (Mendel Khait), GGFather (father of Charles Highstein)
B 1873 Vashki, Linkova; M Celia Kriger; D 1945 Baltimore

Celia Kreiger, GGMother (mother of Charles Highstein)
B 1875 Vashki, Linkova; M Max Highstein; D 1935 Baltimore

Asna Kreiger, 2nd GAunt (Sister of Celia Kriger)
B 1870 Vashki; M Yudel Khait; D 1933 Tel Aviv

Gitel Scheinker, GG GMother (mother of Celia Kriger)
B ~1850 Vashki, Linkova; M Zusman Kriger; D 1908 Vashki

Vaskai is first mentioned in historical sources in 1656. In 1701, it was granted the license to hold a weekly market day. During the second half of the 18th century, Vaskai was rebuilt in accordance with a new plan. During the period of Russian Rule (1795-1915), Vaskai was called Konstantinovo and was administratively part of the Vilnius region, and from 1843 it was part of the Kaunas region and the Panevezys district. During that period and also during the period of Independent Lithuania (1918-1940), Vaskai was the center of the county. In 1930, it had 162 residential homes and among them 9 Khoma (brick) houses and 3 two-storied wooden houses, 21 stores, 4 restaurants, 2 bakeries, a flourmill, a pharmacy and municipal institutions.

Apparently, Jews first settled in Vaskai during the 17th century. They established their communal institutions as time went by. On the eve of WWI, the Jewish community numbered 200 families. They made their living mostly by trading in flax and exporting it to England. Quite a few of them were craftsmen.

Among the Rabbis who served in Vaskai were: Rabbi Yehuda-Leib Kharif; Rabbi Avraham Hofenberg, who served in the rabbinate 48 years (he passed away in 1929). He wrote the book “Kol BaRamah”; his son-in-law, Eliezer Levin was su4bsequently a Rabbi in Detroit. One of the town's natives was Dr. B. Hofman, who became known among world Jewry as an important author and journalist (he wrote under the pseudonym “Tsivion”).

The names of Jews from Vaskai appear on the 1914 list of donors for settling Eretz-Yisrael. The delegates were Shraga Jatskan and Moshe Dorfman.

At the beginning of WWI, the entire Jewish population of Vaskai was expelled to the interior regions of Russia.

Only some of the Vaskai Jews who were expelled to the interior of Russia returned to the town after Independent Lithuania was established. In accordance with the law of autonomy for the Jews, a 5 member community council was voted for in Vaskai. The committee was active for a number of years in most areas of Jewish life in the town.

According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census, Jews owned the following businesses in Vaskai: 4 grocery stores, 3 fabric stores and 2 flourmills. In 1937, the town had 11 Jewish artisans: 4 tailors, 3 butchers, 2 glaziers, a baker and a painter.

Vaskai also had a branch of the Jewish popular bank (Folksbank). In 1927, it had 72 members. Due to competition from the Soviet Union, the price of flax went down significantly in the world market, bringing heavy loses to Jewish merchants with many businesses going out of business. Lithuanian cooperatives which were established in Vaskai also competed against the Jewish merchants. Seeing that their economic opportunities became significantly limited, many of them emigrated to South Africa and the United States. Many elderly people remained in the town. In 1939, the town had 20 telephones, 5 of which belonged to Jews. Although the number of Jews in the town was small, a religious school which was part of the “Yavne” network continued to function in the town throughout that time. 


In June, 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, armed Lithuanian nationalists got organized in the town and immediately started to arrest and torture Jews even before the Germans entered Vaskai. Jews were accused of sympathizing and affiliating with the Soviet Rule and were executed. 27 Jews were murdered during the month of July due to such accusations. They were buried in the Jewish cemetery. All of the other Jews, men, women, elderly and children, including the town's Rabbi, were transferred within a few weeks to the nearby town of Pasvalys where they were murdered together with the Jews of Pasvalys by being shot to death on August 26, 1941.