Alytus Jewish Сemetery 1
The city Alytus was built on both sides of the river Neman, and a bridge linked both parts. Until 1795 the city was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The western part of the city was handed over to Prussia while the eastern half became a part of Russia. After the Napoleonic wars the western town was governed by the kingdom of Poland before being subsumed into Russian control. Even after this time the two halves were governed separately with Alytus I under the Vilna Governorate and Alytus II under the Suwalki Governorate, leading to the two halves developing independently.
The Jewish community of Alytus (Alite in Yiddish) was one of the oldest in Lithuania, with an established Jewish community that can be traced back to the sixteenth century.
In 1897, the year of the official census in the Russian Empire, there were 2010 Jews in Alytus I, that made up 37% of the total population. Before the Holocaust there were 1400 Jews in both parts of Alytus, comprising 17% of the population.
The Jews of Alytus made their living from commerce, light industry, crafting and agriculture. According to the government survey of 1931 there were 94 businesses in Alytus, of which 76 were owned by Jews (81%). There were also 51 factories in Alytus, of which 24 belonged to Jewish people (47%).
The Jewish children of Alytus could choose a suitable school among the several in the town, including a Hebrew elementary school that was affiliated with “Tarbut”, a Hebrew pro-gymnasium, a vocational school “ORT”, several Chadarim and a Yeshivah.
Zionist parties were highly active in Alytus, especially the Zionist Socialist party. Numerous Zionist youth organizations functioned in Alytus, such as “Gordonia”, “HaShomer HaTzair” and “Betar”. Sports activities were organized by the local branch of “Maccabi”.
Alytus was occupied on the second day of the Nazis’ invasion into the Soviet Union. Between August 13 and September 9 1941, in the Vidzgiris forest 1,137 Jews, men, women, and children were murdered. It is known that Jews from Czechoslovakia were murdered at the same site, as well as tens of thousands of Soviet civilians and war prisoners.
After the war, there was a monument built with inscriptions in Russian and Lithuanian that stated: “Soviet citizens and war prisoners, victims of the Hitlerist murderers are buried here”. In 1993, an impressive new monument made of iron in the shape of a broken “Star of David” was inaugurated in Vidzgiris forest in the outskirts of Alytus.
The Old Jewish cemetery of Alytus is located in Alytus I. It is surrounded by a preserved authentic stone wall. There are several hundred Jewish tombs in the cemetery, the vast majority without surviving matzevot. It is believed that these cemeteries were in use from the settlement of Jews in the city in the 18th century until 1941. The oldest tombstone dates back to 1755. No graves are visible in the larger area of the cemetery as these have not survived. Due to the hilly terrain, the direction of the graves do not have a single orientation.