ZARASAI (under the czarist regime Novoaleksandrovsk), city in N.E. Lithuania. In independent Lithuania the city was first called Ežerenai and was a district center. In 1838 there were 146 Jews there, among them five merchants; by 1847 the number of Jews had risen to 453. The town's geographic position, near Dvinsk (*Daugavpils), on the main Petersburg (Leningrad)–Warsaw–Berlin highway, had a favorable influence both on its general development and on the growth of its Jewish population; by 1897 there were 3,348 Jews in the town (53% of the total population). During World War I most of the Jews there fled to other parts of Russia, and not all returned to the town after the war. When Lithuania became independent, Zarasai was cut off from its hinterland, with disastrous consequences both for its economy and size of its population; by 1923, the Jewish population had decreased to 1,329 (35% of the total population). The community was composed largely of shopkeepers and artisans, but there were also some professionals. A number of Jewish secular and religious institutions of learning were supported by the community. In World War II, shortly after the Germans attacked the U.S.S.R., Zarasai was occupied by the German army. On Aug. 26, 1941, 8,000 Jews from Zarasai and surrounding communities were taken to a forest near Dusetai and murdered there.
Lite, 1 (1951); Yahadut Lita, 3 (1967); Yisker-Bukh fun Rakishok un Umgegnt (1952).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.