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Darbenai Photograph Series

The Darbėnai (English spelling: Darbenai) Photograph series includes photographs of various locations throughout the town. These places range from public places such as a street typical of this town, public facilities such as the railway station or the market square, to more individually identifiable places such as the Toutz family home. The Series also includes one photograph of some local townsfolk.

Before World War I, Darbenai fell under the sprawling Russian Empire, which was dismantled as part of this conflict. Following that occupation and WWI, Darbenai celebrated under the somewhat Independent Lithuanian period between the wars, but during World War II suffered greatly at the hands of occupiers. Nazi Germany annexed the county that Darbenai was part of in 1939, followed by the whole of Lithuania being declared a Societ Republic in 1940. Not long after, on June 22nd 1941, the first day of war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, German troops entered Darbenai orchestrated a massacre that was met with no resistance and even some assitance from local non-Jewish Lithuanians. With many losses and much destruction, the shtetl was slowly rebuilt and repopulated following WWII under Soviet occupation until 1990, and some more while Lithuania struggled for independence, finally becoming a Republic in 1991. Despite changing hands and suffering losses by various occupying powers conducting massacres, the town maintained some Jewish meeting points such as a synagogue, some Jewish schools, a Jewish library, a Zionist office of sorts, and even some culture and sports clubs. [Source:;].

The greatest emigration losses from this shtetl are considered to be between 1914 and 1941. Darbenai, studied as a special area of expertise by Professor Eric Goldstein, is known to have been the root location for Diaspora of Jews to the United States, Palestine, the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and to Krugersdorp and Kroonstad in South Africa. Here in South Africa, as opposed to other sites of immigration, but in common with Palestine, immigrating Darbenai Jews tended to be young and single, therefore family networks and cohesion were weaker in the sense that they had not formed as strongly as they had in older Jews. This means that the Jewish people who live in South Africa and came from Darbenai were more likely to marry outside of their town of origin, forming new community networks and relationships with Jews from a variety of backgrounds. [Source:].

The town of Darbėnai (English spelling: Darbenai) is named as such in Lithuanian, as Dorbyany in Russian, as Dorbiany in Polish, and as Dorbian in Yiddish. The name of the town in Lithuanian originates from the nearby river Darba.

Johannesburg History Collection

  • Collection
  • YYYY-

The Johannesburg History Collection gathers together a small number of photographs pertaining to various aspects of Jewish life in Johannesburg in the 20th century.

Whenever possible research has been conducted to enrich the information in these collections. If you would like to add any additional information please contact us.

Johannesburg History Photograph Series

The Johannesburg History Series includes images depicting various instances of Jewish life.

To begin with are the Courts, followed by the Cantors and Choirmasters. A large portion of the collection is focused on the Jewish Government School, which later changed its name to I. H. Harris School, as well as the Hebrew High School.

The Beth Din is the Jewish Court of Law. There is an image of the Johannesburg Beth Den in Grafton Road. There is also in image of the interior of the dilapidated Booysens Shul.

The Cantors and Choirmasters Association met on 8 August 1975. It was the opening of the Beit Hachazan. Beit means “house of the father” and hazan means “cantor”. The cantors present were Cantor Moshe Stern, Rabbi O Altshuler, Cantor Soberer and Rev J Chaitowitz.

The Hebrew High School was opened and consecrated in 1911. The old building is now a National Heritage Monument.

The Jewish Government School was a primary school which took in a high percentage of immigrant pupils and trained them for South African living. In 1966 the school changed its name to I. H. Harris School, named after one of their former headmasters. The function of the school remained the same. Many of the images in the collection feature school children in their sports teams, such as soccer, tennis and rugby, as well as standing with their awards.

Jonava Photograph Series

The Jonava Photograph Series includes one photograph of some people seated in a motor vehicle, smiling at the camera. This photograph is taken with a house and some tall trees as the backdrop. The driver of the vehicle, Sonia Berger, is a relative of Mr Berger, who lived in Panevezys. Mr Berger moved to Johannesburg, where he donated this photograph in 1988, among other photographs in this Collection.

The chaotic pattern in Eastern Europe and nearby regions in the first half of the 20th century – mostly as a result of the two World Wars – consisted of sporadic occupation, independence, and reoccupation of territories. Following the same pattern as many shtetlach in Eastern Europe, particularly in Lithuania, Jonava was part of the Russian Empire until the First World War when it was occupied by Bolsheviks. Notably, this town was particularly large, and had a particularly large Jewish population, forming the majority of the residents. In the interwar years, the town was part of the Independent Republic of Lithuania, which was disrupted by Soviet invasion in 1940, and once again by Nazi invasion in 1941 at the start of the Second World War when Soviets and Nazis declared war. Aside from destruction of property and looting of citizens, the Nazi troops worked in tandem with Lithuanian Army units to massacre Jewish residents in two mass murders, one in August and one in September of 1941. [Source:].

The town of Jonava is named as such in Lithuanian, as Ianovo in Russian, as Janów in Polish, and as Yanove in Yiddish.

Kaunas Photograph Series

The Kaunas Photograph Series includes photographs of members of Jewish clubs, societies and organisations, most of which were taken in 1925. These group photographs range from educational organisations such as the ORT, to athletics/sports clubs, to conference attendees, and to unions of Jewish workers. Jewish community members would often form their own organisations, schools, banks, clubs, and unions, which served as meeting points for Jews who were largely excluded in other realms of society and therefore unable to join mainstream organisations of a similar kind. This exclusion was primarily based on anti-Semitism, not only making Jewish organisations necessary if Jews were interested in taking part in these activites, but also promoting an in-group sense of belonging in a highly community-oriented group. In the period in question, there was an increase in nationalism across the European continent, which was accompanied by increased anti-Semitism, adding to the need for Jewish-specific organisations.

The chaotic pattern in Eastern Europe and nearby regions in the first half of the 20th century – mostly as a result of the two World Wars – consisted of sporadic occupation, independence, and reoccupation of territories. Kaunas formed part of the Russian Empire before World War I, but notably had significant internal Lithuanian nationalists, who even established the main office of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania when the original capital (Vilnius) was captured by Bolsheviks in 1919. It makes sense that the Lithuanian nationalist coup occurred in Kaunas in 1926, as this was a hub of national activity, and the location of a coup that saw the election of President Kazys Grinius alongwith a government led by Antanas Smetoona (who would later become president). Kaunas remained an important town for the Lithuanian Armed Forces, who kept an arsenal and training camp here between the two World Wars. In June 1940, the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania, including Kaunas, as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This rule was deemed oppressive, leading to nationalist activity and a coup which included rebel groups and coordination with German troops to annex Lithuania, which many Lithuanians thought would better their situation compared to Soviet occupation. Of course, for Jews, neither Lithuanian occupation nor independence were favourable, but Soviet occupation seemed less of a threat than general anti-Semitic Lithuanian nationalists and murderously anti-Semitic Nazis. Germans occupied on June 26th 1941, and remained until the end of World War II. Jewish people in Kaunas are credited with contributing meaningfully to the culture and business of the city in the early 20th century, including schooling and cultural gatherings that were established by the community. The pictures in this Series are evidence of these congregations of Jewish organisational activity.

The town of Kaunas is named as such in Lithuanian, as Kovno in Russian, as Kowno in Polish, as Kovne in Yiddish, and as Kovna in Hebrew.

Klaipeda Photograph Series

The Klaipėda (English spelling: Klaipeda) Photograph Series includes photographs of two different youth organisations: Haesharah and Hechalutz. While this organisations differ slightly in the finer details of their aims, both are Zionist in ideology.

The chaotic pattern in Eastern Europe and nearby regions in the first half of the 20th century – mostly as a result of the two World Wars – consisted of sporadic occupation, independence, and reoccupation of territories. Jewish-Lithuanian relations before World War I were not overtly hostile, but Jews were unable to hold positions of community leadeship or government. In 1914, as part of being occupied by the Russian Empire, an order was given for all Jews in this town and others under the Russian Empire to be expelled, with Jews from Klaipeda being exiled to an island in the Baltic Sea. In the interwar years of Independent Lithuania, Jews were permitted to return and were given citizenship, however their activities and organizations were located in one part of town, not to be mixed with the rest of the town. Many German citizens lived in this town, giving its most wellknown moniker, Memel. This complicated the process of occupation when Nuremburg Laws were passed in Germany that restricted rights of Jews. In1938, an election in the local Seimas lead to Nazis holding the majority vote, and many Jews left in response to this, knwoing they were unwelcome. The last Jews left the town in 1939, having had property and capital confiscated, and being threatened. [Source:].

The town of Klaipėda (English spelling: Klaipeda) is named as such in Lithuanian, as Klaypeda in Russian, as Kłajpeda in Polish, and as Memel in Yiddish and German.

Krekenava Photograph Series

The Krekenava Photograph Series includes photographs of the graphic side of post cards, ranging from landscapes and cityscapes of the town of Krekenava, to group photographs of Jews who lived in Krekenava.

One photograph shows the reverse side adressed to someone in Johannesburg, South Africa and written in Yiddish.

The chaotic pattern in Eastern Europe and nearby regions in the first half of the 20th century – mostly as a result of the two World Wars – consisted of sporadic occupation, independence, and reoccupation of territories. Krekenava was part of the Russian Empire pre-World War I, but early during WWI there was an incident of mass violence where the Russian government expelled all Jews from the shtetl and burnt it to the ground. Even during the brief period of independence in Lithuania between the wars, a small proportion of Jews compared to pre-WW1 returned to Krekenava, where they worked as traders and artisans. Notably, there was a strong Zionist presence in Krekenava, with many Jews advocating for the use of Hebrew and trying to facilitate the passage of Jews to Israel. There was some significant contribution of Jews to the economy in Krekenava between the wars, where Jews were noted to own all 12 of the stores in the shtetl in 1931. This contribution was eliminated by Soviet occupation, where all factories and stores were nationalized. This made Jews vulnerable to the virulent Lithuanian nationalists in the town, and drove many Jews to seek protection from the Soviet occupiers. The Lithuanian guard that had formed were determined to stop this kind of escape, and forced Jews to remain in Krekenava, awaiting German occupation in June 1941, upon which Germans handed control over to Lithuanians to govern under German supervision. This was a violent period of massacre for Jews. [Source:].
The town of Krekenava is named as such in Lithuanian, as Krakinovo in Russian, as Krakinów in Polish, and as Krakinove in Yiddish.

Kremenchuk Photograph Series

The Kremenchuk Photograph Series includes a photograph of some Jewish members of the Hechalutz organisation. The Hechalutz Zionist organisation aimed to train and prepare youth and young adults to survive and self-sustain in Israel, through practical training in agricultural work and ideological teaching of the Zionism. Due to the harsh political and economic situation in Israel, it was necessary to have these skills. This immigration to Israel is in light of the Zionist sentiment of aliyah (returning to the Jewish homeland). The members of this organisation competed to become Halutzim, which is a Hebrew word that translates directly to “pioneers”. This originally referred to the first Jewish people who immigrated to agricultural Palestine from the 1880s until the State of Israel was formed in 1948, but was increasingly used in the 20th century to refer to those who migrate to Israel. In other words, members of this organisation were intending to immigrate to Israel, but were competing due to the limited number of travel passes for this kind of emigration at the same. [Source:].

Notably, Kremenchuk is situated in the country of Ukraine, thus standing apart in this Lithuanian Towns Collection. However, Ukraine does share the similar status with Lithuania of being an Eastern European country. Present-day Kremenchuk is mainly an industrial town, and is built along both banks of the Dnieper River.

The chaotic pattern in Eastern Europe and nearby regions in the first half of the 20th century – mostly as a result of the two World Wars – consisted of sporadic occupation, independence, and reoccupation of territories. As part of these occurrences, Kremenchuk has changed hands a few times, before settling as part of independent Ukraine. At the start of the 20th century, including the date of the photograph in this Series, Kremenchuk was at the mercy of the Russian Empire, with centuries of anti-Semitism in the town and surrounds forerunning similar oppressive experiences under the Tsar.

However, the most tumultuous period of interest regarding power shifts in Kremenchuk that impacted the lives of Jewish people is that between the start of the First World War (WWI; 1914-1918) and the Second World War (WWII; 1939-1945). The Russian February Revolution of 1917 is the first point of contested rule in Kremenchuk during this period. Bolsheviks and Mensheviks are an important set of terms to differentiate when navigating the Soviet political landscape at this time, which incorporates the Russian Revolution. While both groups advocated for communism, the Bolsheviks, also known as the Red Army, were far more radical and elitist in their policies and governance. This is in contrast to the Mensheviks, known as the White Army, who fought with a less radical approach to communism, with more room for amenable power structures. During the 1917 February Russian Revolution, a Soviet council of workers took control of the city, with the leader of this council becoming a champion for communism in Ukraine. This informal control was only formalized on the 26th of January 1918 with Bolshevik occupation following the Ukrainian-Soviet War. Shortly after, in February 1918, Bolshevik troops were forced to withdraw as part of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, which acknowledged Ukrainian independence. Besides this treaty, the Red Army withdrew as a result of the rapidly approaching German and Ukrainian armies.

In a series of hostile events post-WWI between Bolshevik Russia and Ukraine, the Bolsheviks took back control of Kremenchuk on the 1st of February 1919. Not long after, a Ukrainian warlord nicknamed Otaman Grigoriev, switched from previously supporting Bolshevism to leading an insurgency in favour of Menshevism. This lead to Menshevik occupation of Kremenchuk from July to December 1919. Following their withdrawal, an uprising in a nearby town lead to the elevation of Kremenchuk to the administrative centre of a peasant-run government from 1920-1922. During the 1930s, Kremenchuk became involved in railcar and road equipment manufacturing, as opposed to the previous industries of railcar repair and agrarian equipment production.

During WWII, Kremenchuk was severely oppressed under Nazi occupation which lasted from 15 September 1941 to 29 September 1943. Nazi rule involved almost complete eradication of the city and its buildings, which forced Kremenchuk to rebuild post-WWII, explaining its distinctive architectural style comapred to the rest of Ukraine. After being liberated by the Red Army, Kremenchuk existed as part of the Soviet Union until 1991, when Ukraine declared independence.

An unfortunate and notable qualification to make is that Jewish people living in Kremenchuk were never truly peacefully settled or welcomed. This was due to ongoing anti-Semitism, which only worsened under each occupying power, with acknowledgement of the most dehumanizing and deadly experience being that under Nazi occupation. This occupation was run by Einsatzgruppen, who instigated mass shooting of Jewish folk, with the abundant assistance of local Nazi-supporters.
The town of Kremenchuk is named as such in Ukranian, as Kremenchug in Russian, as Kremeńczug in Polish, and as Krementchug in Yiddish.

Lithuanian and Surrounding Towns Collection

  • Collection
  • 2013-

During the period of 1890 to 1930 a great migratory movement took place in Europe (particularly Eastern and Southern Europe). Jewish people fled to other countires due largely to economic hardship and political persecution. South Africa received a large influx of these immigrants with the largest Jewish population in South Africa being of Lithuanian heritage [].

The large Lithuanian and Surrounding Towns Collection includes photographs taken from towns in Eastern Europe that existed for years prior to, and during, the first half of the 20th century. This collection primarily includes towns that fell under what was previously the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and in interwar years traded titles as part of various powers, but settled into Independent Lithuania after the fall of the Soviet Union. However, there are also some towns that are from surrounding Eastern European countries, all of which had some connection to the Soviet Union, and which had very similar characteristics to the Lithuanian towns in this collection. These towns had considerable Jewish populations, either in number or in presence, referring here to significant Jewish cultural and religious contributions. These photographs have been preserved by survivors of the Holocaust, or by family members of survivors, and have been donated for the purpose of educating and providing comfort to those interested in or invested in the lives of East European Jewry.

Each town is named according to the moniker for that town in Lithuanian, or in the language of the country that the town in question falls under.
In the Series Description for each town, alternative names are given, for ease of reference and for contextual clarity. The number of alternate names is limited to Eastern European countries and Russia, due to the commonplace act in the first half of the twentieth century for these towns to pass from one occupying country to another. This is particularly true for occupation by Russia (then the Soviet Union), and Poland, thus justifying these as the most common alternative provided. Further, being primarily Jewish towns (plural: shtetlekh; singular: shtetl), the Yiddish name is given if it has been identified. This information was sourced from JewishGen, using the Communities page, which provides historical, current and alternative names for various towns. [Source:].

Interconnections between towns, with family and community ties were an extremely important factor deciding where Jewish communities lived and spent time in terms of school and work. This extended from within the little town (referred to as a shtetl in Eastern Europe), to in between shtetlach (plural of shtetl). [Source:]. There has been an attempt to illustrate some of these linkages, with examples of movement between towns and strong community and inter-organisational activities, demonstrating the strength and significance of Jewish life in Eastern Europe.

Importantly, although not always visible in the photographs, various stages of occupation and reoccupation by different powers throughout this period meant conditions for Jewry in these towns could change significantly from one day to the next. Some towns have larger treasure chests of tangible memories in photograph form, while others were unable to preserve as much.

The general pattern of occupation for most of these towns in Lithuania went as follows: The Russian Empire controlled Lithuania until the outbreak of World War I. Bolsheviks (the Red Army) occupied many Lithuanian towns during WWI, which was accompanied by a decree from the Tsar that all Jews were to be exiled deep into the interior of Russia. After the Russian Empire fell at the end of WWI, some of these exiled Jews could return to their original shtetl, but many did not due to having emigrated or died in the transit or by more cruel means. This meant the Jewish population had already begun to decline by the First World War.

During the period of the Independent Republic of Lithuania between WWI and the Second World War, while Jews had some community leadership positions, anti-Semitism was generally quite violent. This Independence was disrupted by Soviet invasion in 1940, which saw the confiscation and nationalisation of economic resources and new governance of these towns. Since Soviet rule had anti-Semitic tendencies, but not necessarily murderous ones, and since some Jews were supportive of communism as part of their Zionist or Bundist ideologies, many Lithuanian nationalists perceived Soviet rule as being beneficial to Jews and saw Jews as supportive of Soviet occupation. Therefore, when Nazis occupied in 1941 at the beginning of war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, many Lithuanian citizens turned against their Jewish neighbours and either orchestrated or collaborated in massacres of Jews.

Lithuanians saw Jews as threats to their independence in many instances, and saw Nazis as more amenable to allowing Lithuania to govern itself compared to Soviets, and thus Lithuanians were likely to collaborate with Nazis. This is one of the reasons that such a large proportion of Lithuanian Jewry were killed during the Holocaust, as Nazis were not acting alone and were not met with resistance from local non-Jews in many instances. There were periods of mass exodus from Lithuania, whereby some Jews were able to escape in between occupations, or during occupation when borders were still open, with most Jews from Lithuania immigrating to South Africa, America and Israel. [Source:;]

Whenever possible research has been conducted to enrich the information in these collections, if you would like to add any additional information please contact us.

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