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Birzai (Preserving Our Litvak Heritage - Volume I)

Birzai (Preserving Our Litvak Heritage - Volume I)

(Biržai, Lithuania)
56°12' 24°45'
Birzh – as it was called in Yiddish – (Birzai – in Lithuanian) is situated in the north–eastern part of Lithuania on the shores of the rivers Apascia (pronounced Apashcha) and Agluona and along Lake Siruinis, surrounded by thick forests, not far from the Latvian border. Four islands exist in these rivers; on one of them a palace was built in the 16th century, where Napoleon rested during his march through Lithuania. Because of the town's spectacular landscape it attracted many vacationers. It is one of the oldest towns in Lithuania and was mentioned in 1415 in some documents.
During the years 1492–1806, Birzh belonged to the family of a noblemen by the name of Radzivil (Radvila in Lithuanian). From time to time the town served as the official residence of the family and they invested in its development. Its location, on one of the main roads from Vilna to Riga, was an important factor in its development. During the rule of Prince Christopher Radzivil the First the town developed rapidly economically, especially after it was granted the Magdeburg Rights of a town in 1589. In 1609 Prince Christopher promulgated municipal laws, erected a building for the municipality and established several welfare institutions. Near the town a big fortress was built with a palace inside. As a result of the influence of the Radzivil family, Birzh became the center of the Reformation in Lithuania. Every week two market days were held in Birzh.
In the 17th century Birzh suffered during the wars with Sweden, and during the Northern War the town was damaged again. At the beginning of the 18tthcentury, after the Northern War and regional religious wars, Birzh lost its importance.
Until 1795 Birzh was part of the Polish–Lithuanian Kingdom, when the third division of Poland by the three superpowers of those times – Russia, Prussia and Austria – caused Lithuania to become partly Russian and partly Prussian. The part of Lithuania which included Birzh fell under Czarist Russian rule, first from 1802 as part of the Vilna province (Gubernia) and from 1843 as part of Ponivezh district in the Kovno province.
At the beginning of Russian rule the Magdeburg Rights were denied and Birzh became a regular small town. In 1806 the town was transferred to Graf Tishkevitz's family who kept it till the 1860s.
In 1812 Napoleon's army passed through the town on its way to Riga and Mikolas Tishkevitz organized a special battalion for its service.
During the Polish rebellions in 1831 and 1863, Birzh took an active part in the insurrection against the Russians and heavy fighting occurred in its surroundings, which caused an interruption in the economic development of the town.
For the rest go to; Birzai, Lithuania (Preserving Our Litvak Heritage - Volume I)