Kedainiai Jewish Cemetery Oldest Part
The three smaller cemeteries in Kedainiai used to be one large cemetery (as shown on a map from 1933), however they were later divided and have their own perimeters and protection statuses.
Jews began settling in Kėdainiai at the end of the 15th century. The peak of Jewish population in Kedainiai was in 1897, the year of the official census in the Russian Empire, with 3733 Jewish residents (61% of the total population). Before WWII the Jewish population had declined to 2500 (28%).
Keidan was one of the most significant Jewish spiritual centers in Lithuania. Here the Gaon of Vilna Eliyahu studied Torah and Talmud under the local rabbi Moses Margalioth. The Kedainiai Jewish community had a respectable place in the Jewish Lithuanian Council, the “Va’ad Medinat Lita” (1623-1764), and was represented there from its inception. In 1778 and 1782 Kedainiai was the location of the meetings of the representatives of all the Jewish communities of Lithuania. Most of the Jewish residents made their living by trade and crafting. In addition to the merchants, grocers, landlords and peddlers, Kėdainiai had at least 80 Jewish families that for generations were farmers. They cultivated fruits and vegetables and beetroot for animals. Kedainiai’s cucumbers were famous throughout Lithuania, and prior to WWI they were shipped to Latvia, England and Germany. In the interwar period under an independent Lithuania according to the 1931 government census, Kedainiai had 114 businesses, 98 of which (86%) were owned by Jews. There were 7 Jewish prayer houses. Nowadays three former Synagogues are in a good and authentic shape and are used for the cultural purposes of the city.
The Jewish community of Kėdainiai was totally annihilated during the Nazi occupation of Lithuania. On August 15, 1941, Germans and the Lithuanian auxiliary police drove the Jews out from their houses and assembled all of them in the courtyard of the Synagogues, in the “Shulhoif”. On August 28 1941, 2076 Jews of Kėdainiai and the surrounding areas were brutally murdered in the ditches near the Smilga River. On September 25, 2011 a memorial was unveiled near the mass graves where the dead were buried. 1,003 names of the dead were identified and engraved on the memorial.
Among the notable citizens were famous rabbis such as Ezekiel Katzenellenbogen, Avrohom Elya Kaplan, Avraham Zalman Zoref , a Jewish scholar and author Moshe Leib Lilienblum.
There are two Jewish cemeteries in Kėdainiai (Keidan) 300 meters apart. The old one is completely empty, only a memorial stone with the inscription in Lithuanian and Yiddish languages remains. The new Jewish cemetery is in relatively good condition and contains about 600 gravestones. It is tidied up, surrounded by a fence and looked after by the municipality.