Klaipeda Jewish Cemetery
The exact period of the cemetery’s establishment is unknown. Given the oldest preserved matzevot dates to the late 19th century, it can be inferred the cemetery was already in use by then.
Jews probably began to settle in Klaipėda (Germ. Memel, Yid. מעמל) in the 15th century. In 1567, Jews were expelled and forbidden to return to the city. In 1667, Jewish visitors were allowed to stay for Sabbath on the condition they would leave by Sunday. Only in 1667 did the Elector of Brandenburg Frederick William allow several Jews to settle in Memel as an exception. Most Jews were not allowed to settle until the early 19th century. In 1815, when Memel had a population of some 10,000, there were only 35 Jews in the city. The cemetery was founded in 1823. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Memel’s annual fair gave Jews from the Russian Empire an opportunity to buy religious books printed in Germany. By 1855, the Jewish population had risen to 289, and by 1867 to 887. The city had two communities: German Jews and Russian-Polish Jews. Although formally united, they continued to maintain separate religious and educational institutions. A large part of Memel’s Jews were Russian subjects. In 1880–1886, Jews without Prussian citizenship were expelled. As a result, the number of Jews decreased from 1,214 in 1880 to 861 in 1890. R. Isaac Rülf, who served as the city’s rabbi in 1865–1898, initiated educational, cultural and social welfare activities for the entire Jewish community of Memel. He was also one of the early proponents of Zionism and David Wolffsohn’s mentor. R. Israel Salanter, the father of the Musar movement, worked in Memel and founded the Society of Gemara Students and a periodical where new commentaries on the Torah (hiddushim) were published. Memel had two synagogues, a beit-midrash and a Jewish hospital. There was a school for poor Jewish children and a private religious school. In 1910, there were about 2,000 Jews in Memel, or 9% of the total. After WWI, the city was under French administration until 1923, when it was annexed by Lithuania. The Jewish population of Klaipėda quickly rose to 4,500 in 1928, 6,000 in 1938 (12%) and 7,000 in 1939 (14%). Jewish children attended a German-language school, at the same time Zionist activities increased. A Hebrew elementary school and a kindergarten were opened. A talmud-torah was established in 1927. The Jewish People’s Bank (Folksbank), as well as Jewish-owned private banks, played an important role in Klaipėda’s economy. After Hitler came to power in Germany, the idea of reuniting with Nazi Germany increasingly gained support among the German majority. When German annexation became imminent, Jews began to leave the city. It was still possible to leave after Germany had established control. No Jews remained in Memel by August 1939. In 1940, Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union, and the Germans invaded in 1941. The Jewish refugees shared the fate of their new communities. Few survived. In 1967, there were about 1,000 Jews in Soviet Klaipėda, but they had no organised community, no synagogue and no cemetery. According to the census of 2011, the Jewish population of Klaipėda was 241.