Eisiskes Jewish Cemetery 2
Eisiskes (Eishishok in Yiddish) is a small town in southern Lithuania close to the border with Belarus.
The Jewish community of Eisiskes is likely among the first to exist in Lithuania. Exact information concerning the numbers of Jews in Eisiskes, their profession, and public institutions, can be found only from later centuries, particularly the 19th century when Eisiskes became a renowned center for the study of the Torah and for its learned Rabbis. According to the sources, there were approximately 660 Jews in 1847, however fifty years later in 1897, during the general census in Russia, the community had grown to 2376 Jewish residents and comprised 70% of the population of the area. In 1925, when Eisiskes belonged to Poland there were 2800 Jews out of 4000 residents.
In the 19th century, the Jews dealt mainly in commerce and some were farmers. The Jews owned wide fields extending far beyond the river. Many Jews had vegetable gardens planted with potatoes, cucumbers, beets, carrots, and other produce, which satisfied all their needs and also left a considerable surplus to be sold on market days. The Jews were also involved with shopkeeping, peddling, and horse and hide dealing. At the center of the town, a row of fancy goods and fabric shops was located. Market day was on Thursday.
The Jewish life of Eisiskes concentrated around the shulhoyf in the center of the town that consisted of the Great Synagogue and two Beit Midrash. Eisiskes was renowned as a town of Torah study. There were two Yeshivas in Eisiskes. Many of the students of the town’s Yeshiva later became great biblical scholars.
The Germans occupied Eisiskes on June 23rd 1941, and on September 21st 1941, an SS unit entered the town, accompanied by Lithuanian auxiliaries. More than four thousand Jews from Eisiskes and its neighboring towns and villages were first imprisoned in the area of the synagogues and then taken in groups of 250 to the old Jewish cemetery where they were murdered.
The history of Jewish Eisiskes has been documented in the book “There Once Was A World“ by Yaffa Eliach, professor at Brooklyn College. The old cemetery is now a site of remembrance with a memorial stone in three languages: Lithuanian, Hebrew, and English.
There is a local legend surrounding a gravestone dating to 1097 existing in the Old cemetery of Eisiskes. However most likely the cemetery was established at the end of the 17th century. According to local farmers the cemetery land was no longer used in the 19th century. After this time the area of the old Jewish cemetery decreased. To preserve the remaining cemetery area, Jews dug deep ditches around the cemetery. No tombstones remain in the cemetery today. 989 Jewish men were killed and buried on the outskirts of the old Jewish cemetery in September 1941. In 2015 the cemetery was registered into the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania. There is a memorial stone with an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “The old Jewish cemetery”.