Kelme Jewish Cemetery
Kelme (Kelm in Yiddish) is a city in central Lithuania, 26 miles southwest of district capital Siauliai.
The Jewish community in Kelm was likely established in the seventeenth century. During the period of Va’ad Medinath Lita (1623-1764) the Kelme community was part of the Keidan district. 1019 Jews lived in Kelme in 1764. According to the all-Russian census of 1897, there were 3,914 residents in Kelme, of which 2,710 (69%) of them were Jewish.
The majority of the Jews made their living from commerce and crafting. They traded in grains, timber, leather, textile, seeds, and pig bristles. The weekly market days and the annual fairs brought a fair amount of business to the Jewish shop owners, whose businesses were concentrated around the Market Square.
Jewish children of elementary school age studied at the Talmud Torah and the older students at the Great Yeshivah, many students came from afar because it had become a seat of learning. The Great Talmud Torah, a Yeshivah of the Musar trend, was founded in the 19th century by a pupil of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, Simhah-Zisl Ziv-Broida. This was an upper Beit Midrash for selected pupils, aiming to perfect their knowledge of the Torah, as well as their morals, and behavior. This institution and its activities became famous throughout the entire Jewish world, as a result of which the greater Jewish community of Kelme also became well known.
A beautiful wooden synagogue in Kelm was built in the mid-18th century. In addition to the synagogue, three Beit Midrash were built: “the Great,” “the Small” and a Kloiz, and later a house for Gemiluth Hesed. Among the famous Jews who were born or lived in Kelme were: Simhah Zissel Ziv or the Alter of Kelm, one of the early leaders of the Musar movement; Zvi Yaakov Oppenheim, Chief Rabbi of Lithuania, and one of the founders of the Telz Yeshiva; Aryeh Leib Frumkin, a founder and pioneer of Petah Tikva and Icchokas Meras, a famous Lithuanian writer.
The Germans entered Kelme on the 26th of June 1941, and the persecution of the Jews started immediately. The majority of the Jews of Kelme district were murdered during a mass execution on July 29th 1941. On August 22nd a second mass execution occurred. The executions were committed by Lithuanian auxiliary police and Germans soldiers. In total, the victims numbered around 2000 people.
The Jewish cemetery dates back to the 18th century. There are about 260 granite and concrete tombstones, as well as many tombstones that have fallen and are partially sunk in the ground. The cemetery was in use until the destruction of the Jewish community during the Holocaust. A bakery was built on the edge of the cemetery grounds in the Soviet time. In 2015 the cemetery was registered into the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania. There is a memorial stone with a lengthy inscription in Hebrew commemorating the memory of the Jews of Kelme.