House in Rokiškis center
|Municipality||Rokiškis district municipality|
|Eldership||Rokiškis town eldership|
|Capital of||Rokiškis district municipality
Rokiškis town eldership
Rokiškis rural eldership
|Granted city rights||1920|
|Time zone||EET (UTC+2)|
|• Summer (DST)||EEST (UTC+3)|
The legend of the founding of Rokiškis tells about a hunter called Rokas who had been hunting for hares (Lit. "kiškis"). However, cities ending in "-kiškis" are quite popular in the region. The city was first mentioned in 1499 . At first it was Prince Kroszinski's residence, later count Tyzenhaus build a beautiful neogothic church of St. Matthias and Rokiškis Manor, which is well preserved today and houses the Rokiškis Regional Museum. The town was planned in a classicist manner.
Rokiškis was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania (Rzeczpospolita) until 1795, when Lithuania was annexed by the Russian Empire. Rokiškis was included in the Vilna Governorate until 1843, when the Novo-Alexandrovsk district (uyezd) was transferred to the newly established Kovno Governorate.
In the summer of 1915, the German army occupied the city. When the war ended, the area became part of the new Republic of Lithuania. Rokiškis was granted city rights in 1920. Because of strained relationships between Lithuania and the nearby newly created Republics of Poland and Latvia, Rokiškis was economically isolated during the inter-war period.
Coat of arms
The first arms for the city were designed in 1970 but were abolished the same year. The current coat of arms was approved in 1993 . The shield is divided into 4 quarters. 3 of the quarters depict 3 families that ruled the city: the candelabrum represents the Kroszinski family; the bull is a symbol of the Tyzenhaus family, and three bars and a fleur-de-lis are taken from the arms of the Przezdziecki family. The fourth quarter shows impressive organ that is housed in the St. Matthias church.
Situated on the Daugavpils-Liepaja railroad, during the 19th Century Rokiškis served as a commercial center for a large rural area and a point for the export of wood, grain, and flax. Rokiškis is well known for its cheese. "Rokiškio sūris" is one of the largest cheese manufacturing companies in Lithuania. It grew from a small local dairy established in 1925 . In 1964 Soviets built a specialized factory. At present after reconstructions and foreign capital investments, its sales reach 400 million litas (about 155 million USD). 60% of the production are sold in foreign markets. The company is a very important employer in the region. It is also an important supporter of community initiatives.
There was a vibrant Jewish community in Rokiškis for hundreds of years. The first Jewish settlement may have been prior to 1574 and was located at the present site of the old Jewish cemetery (about half a kilometer southwest from the market square) until the mid-1700s, http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/pinkas_lita/lit_00646.html, when the community moved to the area near the market square and Kamai Street (now Respublikos Gatvė). In 1847 there were 593 Jews in the town and in 1897 2,067 (75% of the total population).
In May 1915, during World War I, Jews in central Lithuania were forcibly deported to the east by order of the Czarist government. Although Jews in the Rokiškis area were not the subject of the deportation order, as the Russian forces retreated Cossacks serving in a rear guard capacity terrorized the Jews in northeastern Lithuania and most of the Jews in the Rokiškis fled to the interior of Russia. The Germans occupied Rokiškis until 1918.
When World War I ended and the Republic of Lithuania was established, Lithuanian Jews were permitted to return home. The Jewish community of Rokiškis numbered 2,013 in 1923. Rokiškis developed rapidly after World War I, but under different economic conditions. Before the war, for example, Rokiškis could trade with nearby Dvinsk/Daugavpils/Dunaburg, Latvia, to which it was connected by a rail line. During the 1920s, however, Lithuania's border with Latvia was closed. As a result, trade increased with towns to the west which were connected by rail lines, such as Panevezys/Ponevizh, Siauliai/Shavli, and Kaunas/Kovno. (There was also a small gauge rail line to Pandelys/Ponidel.) Prior to World War I, only 3 stores had been Christian-owned. After the war, however, many Lithuanians from surrounding villages came to settle in Rokiškis and open stores. Further, Lithuanian cooperatives came into being, trade in flax and produce was nationalized, and other factors caused a severe economic decline for the Jews. Many Jewish businesses went bankrupt in 1925 and between 1926 and 1930 many Jewish families emigrated to South Africa, the United States of America, and Palestine. In 1939 there were 3,500 Jews in Rokiškis (40% of the total population). They were mostly Chabad Chasidim. During the period of Lithuanian independence (1918–1940) there were two Hebrew schools.
The Soviets annexed Lithuania in 1940 and all Jewish businesses were confiscated. When Germany attacked Russia on June 21–22, 1941, Lithuania was quickly overrun. The Germans soon brought in special assignment squads to arrest and murder Jews. The Jews of Rokiškis and its environs were murdered in nearby woods just north of Bajorai, 400 meters east of the intersection of the northeasterly road to Juodupė and the northerly road to Lukštai. The official German army report (“the Jager Report”) states that on August 15–16, 1941, a total of 3,207 Jews were killed. Other Jews were deported to the ghetto of Joniskis and killed there.
See http://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/rokiskis/rokmain.htm for more information on Jewish Rokiskis.
People of note
Rokiškis is the birthplace of the commander of the Soviet Air Force and Hero of the USSR, Yaakov Shmushkevich.
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