Kalvarija Old Jewish Cemetery
Kalvarija (Kalvarye in Yiddish) is a city in southern Lithuania, 9 miles from the border with Poland. Jews first settled in the village of Trabi that preceded Kalvarija in the 18th century. In 1713, the Jews received permission from Polish King to build a synagogue on the condition that it would not be taller than the church. By 1766, there were 1055 Jewish residents in Kalvarija. The peak of the Jewish population was in 1897, when 3581 Jewish residents comprised 38% of the city’s population. Before WWII there were around 1000 Jewish residents in the town.
Jews earned their living through commerce, crafting, agriculture, and small industry. Nearly all of the shops in the town were Jewish-owned. The grain trade also involved many Jewish people, who grew and then exported the produce to Germany. Several grain merchants, from the city, lived in nearby Koenigsberg for the majority of the year. They served as middlemen between the grain dealers of Kalvarija and the large grain magnates of the larger city. The Yiddish spoken in the town became Germanized. This is how ‘Kalvaiyer Deitch,’ [the German/Yiddish of Kalvarija] which was famous throughout Lithuania, came into being.
The majority of the Jewish children were taught in a cheder. Kalvarija also had a Talmud-Torah where 150 poorer children, taught by 9 teachers, received their education at no charge. In 1858, with the approval of the government, a general Jewish school was established. It had between 80-100 pupils of both sexes.
There were 5 synagogues in Kalvarija: the Great Synagogue, the Beit Midrash, 2 Kloiz, and 1 shtibel. The buildings of three of them have survived, however they have now passed the point that they could have been restored.
The German army entered Kalvarija on the first day of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, June 22nd 1941. On August 30th 1941, all of the Jews were assembled and transferred to the ghetto in Marijampole. There, near the barracks of Marijampole, they, alongside the Jews from the surrounding areas, were shot and buried. In total 8,600 people were killed.
Among the natives of Kalvarija were: Ari Ankorion, an Israeli politician and lawyer; Meyer London, an American politician; Yefim London, a Russian radiobiologist; Elias Avery Lowe, a Russian-American palaeographer; and Israel Matz, an American businessman, the founder of EX-Lax company.
The cemetery dates back to the 18th century. There are around 70 gravestones and 60 tombstones remaining in the cemetery. The cemetery is located on “Geliu” street, this was once known as the “Dead street” due to the cemetery. Nothing was built on the site during the Soviet period. 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. May their memory be eternal”.