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 Chaiken Family of Nezhin
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 Geffen Family of Vilkomir
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 Zavelsky Family of Glukhov
Click here to see a map of Ancestral Towns.
Click here to see an aerial view of Vilkomir and a town map from 1911
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Click here to see the Cybrary of The Holocaust
Click here to look up information on a Shtetl you may recall hearing about.

Vilkomir is 43 miles north of Vilna and 30 miles east of Keidan on the Shventa River, a tributary of the Nieman. The river divides the city into the new and the poorer section "across the river" A bridge connected the two.

Our Geffen ancestors lived "across the river"

The city was called Wilkomierz by the Poles, Vilakomir by the Russians and Vilkmerge, later Ukmerge, by the Lithuanians. The name appears to be associated with wolves, "vilkas," found in the forest of the area.

The city dates from the thirteenth century. Jewish settlement began in the seventeenth or late sixteenth century. A document from 1665 gives the Jewish population at 622. The Jews then were permitted to build a synagogue "across the river," and were given a plot for a cemetery.

We believe that our earliest Geffen ancestors were born in Vilkomir during the mid 1700s.

The Jews concentrated "across the river," and on the streets near the river. The Christians lived in other areas. In 1766, 716 Jews lived there. In 1797, all of Vilkomir District had 6088 Jews. In 1864, the Jewish population of the city was 4561; there were two synagogues and 12 minyans. The 1897 census shows 7287 Jews lived there, 53% of the general population. In 1914, the Jewish population reached 10,000.

The town benefited from its geographical location on a crossroads and also on the Shventa River. In the early days, the river was open to navigation. By the nineteenth century, sandbars blocked the river to all but rafts.

Vilkomir Jews worked as woodcutters and dealers in wood. They also traded in wheat and flax which they transported on rafts on the river. They became more involved in trade when they came in contact with the many Jewish merchants passing through the town on their way to the big trade centers.

Our documents show that many of the Geffens were tradespeople; butchers, bakers, winemakers, printers, etc. Beginning in the mid 1800s migration began to surrounding areas of Vilkomir such as Jonava, Kaunas and Vilnius. From 1870 on emigration began to England, South Africa and America.

In May 1915 the Jews were expelled from Ukmerge, together with those in Kovno. After the war many Jews returned. A yeshiva ketannah (preparatory yeshiva) was established as well as two secondary schools for Hebrew and Yiddish. R. Joseph Zussmanowitz, born in Palestine and ranked as the most prominent Lithuanian Rabbi, was the last Rabbi in Ukmerge.

With the annexation of Lithuania to the Soviet Union in 1940, religious and nationalist Jewish life was systematically destroyed. A year later, Ukmerge fell into the hands of the Germans. On September 26,1941, the remaining Jews in Ukmerge,together with those of the neighboring towns, were assembled in the nearby Pivona forest and massacred.

A Visit to Vilkomir...1933

From a letter written to me by Pearl Graham of London, granddaughter of Chaya Geffen b.1870 Vilkomir

"I went to Vilkomir in 1933 by train and boat. I met Chaya my grandmother (for the only time), Pesky my aunt, Henky my other aunt, her son and I have vague recollections of cousins who were all waiting to emigrate.

I recall the place to be larger than a village with a large forest at one end.. It had a police station and one proper road leading to the main town of Kovno (Kaunas). The forest was used by holiday makers since it had a number of bungalows in it. There was also an army camp situated there. A few shops and a weekly market existed, but the majority of the people were in subsistence agriculture.

There was a chemist, a Shul - it was mostly Christian though. A river ran through the place - people bathed in it - boys would dive from a bridge into the river. There was very little work so life was tough. A man who lives near me returned recently and says very little has changed. One evening there was a gathering with an accordion and dancing. The streets were unusually lit by electricity. (London had gas at this time)

All the family spoke Yiddish. Border guards were very strict about papers but we managed okay to cross Europe by speaking Yiddish since Jews turned up in these places. In Germany I recall Swastika flags flying throughout the land."

The Holocaust Period

"After the outbreak of W.W.II and the conquest of Poland by the Germans, Lithuania came under Soviet rule and at the end of summer 1940 was annexed by the Soviet Union. Jewish public life came to a standstill.

Three days after the German attack on Russia (June 22, 1941), the Germans conquered Vilkomir. The town was full of Jewish refugees from western Lithuania.

Local Lithuanians broke into Jewish houses, looted them, harassed the Jews and killed a number of them. The Jews were accused of having caused the death of two German soldiers who were killed by stray bullets.

German soldiers expelled doctors and nurses from the Jewish hospital and arrested lawyers and public figures. All were taken to the prison yard and brutally tortured. Finally they were all murdered in the Russian Orthodox Cemetery. The Lithuanian head of the secret police and citizens of the town, all known to the Jews, took part in the torturing and murder.

At the beginning of August, 1941, a ghetto was closed off in the poor section of Vilkomir; the Germans ordered the Jews to assemble there within twelve hours. On September 5, 1941, 6,437 men, women and children, the Jews of Vilkomir and its vicinity, were murdered in the Pivona Forest.

On September 26, 1941, German soldiers and Lithuanian policemen surrounded the ghetto, and all its inhabitants were taken to the Pivona Forest where they were mowed down by machine guns. Their bodies were covered with earth where they had fallen."

Click here to go to The Steven Spielberg's Jewish Film Archives Virtual Cinema

Click here to see additional photos of the Holocaust Memorial in Vilkomir

#1..The banks of The Shventa River in Vilkomir 1914.
#2..The Great Synagogue in Vilkomir 1924.
#3..Kovno Street, the central street in Vilkomir early 1900s
Boris Feldblyum Photographic Collection
#4..Bath Street in Vilkomir
#5..Former Jewish Cemetery in Vilkomir with a marker and one tombstone.
#6..Memorial erected by the survivors from the Vilkomir community, at the mass killing fields in Vilkomir where the Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. Click here for larger memoial photos
#7..Motel Geffen, b.1858 in Vilkomir, with his family, 1910 Vilkomir. Motel was a bookbinder, the son of Chaim David, the winemaker. Click here for larger photo
#8..The "Old People's Home" in Vilkomir taken on July 10, 1928
#9..Teachers and students in Vilkomir at the Professional School which was supported by the Relief Committee of Vilkomir Landsleit in Chicago
#10..First meeting of the "Hisdadruth Hechalutz" (a Zionist group) and delegates of the area.
#11..Children's Orphanage in Vilkomir, July 30, 1924.
#12..1926 Vilkomir School Photograph. Click here for a 1929 Schiool Photograph.