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Friday, April 27, 2012

What Happened to Lithuanian Jews?

Nadene Goldfoot
 In 1939 there were 17 million Jews in the world. By 1945 there were only 11 million. We lost 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. The world population in 1939 was at 2.3 billion. That’s like wiping out all of the following countries: take your pick. Each held about 6 million.
1. Bulgaria
 2. Austria
3. Nepal
4. Sweden

 Before the 2nd world war started, there were 160,000 Lithuanian Jews, or 7% of the total population It was a large and influential Jewish community. There were over 110 synagogues and 10 yeshivas in Vilnius alone. It had become the very center of Jewish learning in Eastern Europe and was where the Vilna Gaon and his family lived who was an outstanding Rabbi.

20,000 Jews claim descendancy from him. Our tradition now includes having some sort of family connection to him as well. I think it must be through the wife of one of his found descendants, as we’re not listed in Chaim Freedman’s famous book, “Eliyahu’s Branches.”

 My paternal grandfather, Nathan Goldfoot, was born in 1871, and came from Telsiai, Lithuania. I actually found “Poland” written on the 1910 census for my grandmother’s country, but she had said with pride that she was a Litvak.

Lithuania Jews, or Litvaks, were Jews with roots in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which for us today would be the areas of Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine and the NE Suwalki region of Poland, which is where my grandmother actually came from. She had told the census taker she was from Suwalki! By 2005 there were 4,000 Jews in Lithuania.

There are Jewish communities of the descendants of Jewish Lithuanians today in Israel, the USA, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Brazil and Australia. Many had left in the early 1900's like those going to the USA and England. Poland had had an independant army before the German invasion and had conscripted Jews from Lithuania. Between 60,000 to 80,000 had been in this army. They got killed, anyway.

Today’s world population is at 7 billion people. Jews are less than 1%, or 0.19%.

Book: Eliyahu's Branches by Chaim Freedman

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