BIRZAI (Lith. Birži ; Yid. בירזי), district capital in northern Lithuania, near the Latvian border. Jews started to settle there in the beginning of the 17th century. Birzai was one of the three leading communities of the "medinah [province] of Zamut" (Zhmud) in the mid-17th to mid-18th century. A small Karaite community also existed there. The Jewish population numbered 1,040 in 1760; 1,685 in 1847; and 2,510 in 1897 (57% of the total). In 1915 the Jews were expelled from Birzai by the Russian military authorities. After the war some of the exiles returned. The Jewish community developed during the period of Lithuanian independence (1918–39). There were approximately 3,000 Jews living in Birzai in 1934 (36% of the total). Three of the 12 city councilors were Jewish. Hebrew and Yiddish schools and a talmud torah were in operation. Most Jews earned their livelihoods from trade in wood products and flax; several factories for weaving and spinning were owned by Jews.
Shortly after the occupation of the town by the Germans in June 1941, the Lithuanian nationalists began to murder and maltreat the Jews. A ghetto was established and on August 8, 1941, Lithuanians executed 500 Jewish men. The remaining Jews were similarly murdered shortly thereafter.
Yahadut Lita, 2 (1967), 292–4. add. bibliography: pk Lita, s.v.
[Yehuda Slutsky /
Shmuel Spector (2nd ed.)]