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Monday, October 8, 2012

Jews Getting into Lithuania From Charlemagne's Invitation to Germany

Nadene Goldfoot
Already in the year 300 CE Jews were scattered in many places from the fall of Jerusalem in 70CE and the Bar Kokhba's Uprising of 135 CE.  That was it. Though some were able to remain, many fled throughout the Roman Empire except Britain where they were not welcomed until 1066.  They went to Asia Minor, East to the Caspian Sea area and to the Persian Gulf.  They were even living in Cologne, Germany.  In fact, Jews were living in Germany by the 4th century.  It was in 321 that Emperor Constantine issued regulations allowing this Jewish community to have rabbis and elders.  Ashkenazi Jews descended from the medieval Jewish communities along the Rhine in Germany from Alsace in the south to the Rhineland in the north.  Jewish soldiers were even found to be in the Roman garrisons of the period.

"Many Jews fled to Mesopotamia, which is modern Iraq, and the rest fled to lands around the Mediterranean, presently known as southeastern Spain, southern France, southern Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey. Later, the Jews began to head north (to present day northern France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Bosnia) and northern Africa (Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco)." Jews were established early along the Rhone River in Lyons in France.

Litvaks were what both my grandparents were. My grandmother (Bobba) was so proud to be one.   My grandfather, Nathan Goldfus, later changed to Goldfoot, was born in Telsiai, Lithuania and my grandmother, Hattie Jermulowske, was born in Lazdijai,  Suwalki, Poland, next door.  They met in the mountains of a tiny mining town of Council, Idaho.  They only spoke Yiddish, so must have been elated to find each other, both single, she being 18 years old and he 23.  She had been a recent immigrant to the USA but he had left Lithuania and meandered through England, then Dublin, Ireland into Canada and finally worked himself into Idaho.
 They most likely were speaking the main Yiddish dialects in Europe, The Litvishe Yiddish (Lithuanian Yiddish) dialect that was spoken by Jews in Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia and the Suwalki regionof NE Poland.  Yiddish has 4 main components;  Hebrew (written in Hebrew) old French and Italian, German and Slavic.  The German stands out as what was used as medieval German of the Middle Rhine region.  German words make up about 85% of the vocabulary and basic grammatical structure.  Hebrew is found in the religious and intellectual areas.  Recently English was entering the language.  Neither one could read or write English and I doubt if they were even schooled in Lithuanian or Russian, either.   My grandmother never did get the chance to go to school.

Charlemagne, Ruler of France and Western Germany Invites Jews to Live There for Economic Reasons 742-814

By the 8th Century, Jews began migrating and living in Lithuania, probably coming out of Germany.  Possibly my paternal ancestors of Goldfus were with them.  They could not depend on their safety there.  It depended on the whims of those in power.

First Settlement of Jews in Great Lithuanian Princedom or Magnus Ducatus Lithuaniae

In 1387 the Christian Catholic religion was introduced all over Lithuania.  

In 1388 The Jews  had the good fortune to be granted a charter by Vytautas (Witold).  They were invited by the Grand Dukes Gediminas and Vytautas  where they formed a class of freemen that were subject in all criminal cases directly under the jurisdiction of the grand duke and  his official representatives.  In petty suits they were under the jurisdiction of local officials on an equal footing with the lesser nobles (szlachta), boyars, and other free citizens.  This meant that by living there they were protected as well as their property.  They had the freedom to maintain their religious rituals.  They were allowed to lend money and were protected against blood libels.  The community prospered.  Since Christians were not allowed to lend money, this may be why the dukes invited them.  They were valuable  as the merchants and financiers of Christian Europe.

The winds changed and in 1495, 3 years after the major Spanish Inquisition in Spain, these 6,000 Jews were expelled by Alexander Jagiellon, the Grand Duke. their property was confiscated.   Then the winds shifted again and they were allowed to return in 1503, 8 years later and he was the King of Poland.  He gave the Jews back only part their property.

The Christians now living there, mostly Germans, were envious.  They had organized into unions and saw Jews as competitors.

Later on, the Lithuanian statute or law of 1566 placed many restrictions on the Jews and imposed laws including the requirement that they had to wear special clothing that stood out, including yellow caps for men and yellow kerchiefs for women.

The northeast section of Lithuania was Zamut.  The first Jewish settlers there were involved with the business of customs and tax collection.  Vilna Jews were expelled and came here to live in 1827 and Memel Jews moved into there in 1567.

Many Lithuania Jewish institutions were destroyed in the Khmelnytsky Uprising.  Nevertheless, the Jews must have toughed it out because their population grew from about 120,000 in 1569 to about 250,000 by 1792.  I found my ancestor, Iones "Jonas" Goldfus,  living in about 1730 in Telsiai, Lithuania.  It's one of the oldest towns in Lithuania, mentioned in 1320.  .  Until 1795 it was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom and was under Russian rule.

From 1569 to 1795 was the period of actual unification of the Great Lithuanian Dukedom with Poland within the framework of the "Polish Republic" or Rzeczpospolita.  

My grandmother, Hattie, lived in Lazdey, Suwalki and Jews had already settled there by the end of the 16th century.  They had permission to live there from King Jan Sobiesky.   Jews had occupations there by the town was surrounded by Jewish farms and farmers until WWI.

People made a living from agriculture throughout this time from breeding cattle and poultry, fishing in rivers and lakes and harvesting trees.  A few Jews were peddlers.  (My grandfather took this up upon living in Portland, Oregon. Hattie's brother and sister's husband stayed in rural Eastern Oregon and dealt with buying hides.)   A few Jews worked with import and export of agricultural products.  A few were granted the privilege to lease the collection of levies..  Many Jewish artisans and merchants settled near the taverns and storehouses near crossroads and in river ports that sprung up  and became villages and towns.

By the 18th Century 83 settlements were granted recognition as a town.  Right for commercial activity was grated to 87 settlements.  There were no differences between small and big towns this way.

Christian Lithuanians still believed in devils and ghosts and Jews replaced those thoughts in Blood libels, saying that we killed children and drank their blood.

After 1793's Second Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Lithuanian Jews became subjects of the Russian Empire.  Poland and Lithuanian were in what was called the "Pale of Settlement" an area set off where Jews were allowed to live. There were many harsh limitations imposed on the Jews living here that continued until WWI.  (Note the movie of Fiddler on the Roof.)   They were not allowed into Russia proper.

Book:  Preserving Our Litvak Heritage-a history of 31 Jewish communities in Lithuania by Josef Rosin by JewishGen, Inc.
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia

1 comment:

Nadene Goldfoot said...

There was also many jews in Normandy since the roman time., from Regis