Kudirkos Naumiestis Jewish Cemetery
Kudirkos Naumiestis (Nayshtot-Shaki in Yiddish) is a town in southern Lithuania, on the border with Kaliningrad District of Russia. Jews first settled in Kudirkos Naumiestis in the middle of the 17th century. The proximity of the German border was an important factor in the life of local Jews. Many of them earned their living exporting agricultural products to Germany and many Jews worked at the cigarette factory in the neighbouring German town. Another source of income was smuggling migrants over the border to Germany. A few dozen Jewish families in town were farmers. At the beginning of World War I, Kudirkos Naumiestis between the control of nations several times. As a result, the town was left deserted, in ruins and only 70% of the former Jewish citizens returned home after the war.
According to the census performed by the government in 1923, there were 981 Jews, which was 32% of the town, living in Kudirkos Naumiestis. The public institutions of the Jewish Community included a magnificent Synagogue, the Beit Midrash, the “Kloyz”, the Bath House and the Mikveh, as well as numerous benevolent organizations. There were two elementary schools (one in Yiddish, and one in Hebrew), as well as Hebrew and Yiddish libraries. The town boasted an evening school and was known to organize literature and drama evenings. Shortly before the Holocaust, the local Rabbi opened a small yeshiva school for boys. The general political leanings among the Jewish population of Kudirkos Naumiestis were reflected in the elections to the first Lithuanian Parliament when the majority of Jews voted for the Zionist party. Almost all Zionist parties and youth organizations had their branches in town. According to a governmental survey in 1931, 86% of shops were owned by Jews in Kudirkos Naumiestis.
The Nazis rise to power in Germany affected a great number of Kudirkos Naumiestis’s Jews: the border with Germany was closed, Germans stopped coming travelling, and all local businesses saw a significant decrease in income. The transfer of regional offices from Kudirkos Naumiestis to Sakiai also caused a slump in the economic situation, which led many Jews to emigrate.
In 1941, before the German invasion of the Soviet Union there were around 800 Jews in living in Kudirkos Naumiestis. All of them were murdered during the Nazi occupation. In July 1941, all Jewish men were shot at the Jewish cemetery. In September 1941, women and children were shot at the Parazniai forest, 4km away from Kudirkos Naumiestis. Only one woman, with her four children, managed to hide at a farm belonging to Lithuanian peasants and survived.
It is likely that the Jewish cemetery of Kudirkos Naumiestis was established at the beginning of the 18th century. The cemetery was in use until the destruction of the Jewish community in summer 1941. At the time of the Holocaust, the cemetery was the site of a massacre of local Jews and other enemies of the Nazi regime.
Nothing was built on the territory during the Soviet regime, however the cemetery was neglected: only fifty gravestones have survived until modern day. In 1990, the cemetery was cleaned and tidied. A memorial stone informing visitors what happened at this territory in 1941, was erected. In 2011, another monument was erected in memory of the Red Army Soldiers, shot there by the Germans. In 1993, the cemetery was registered into the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania. There is also a memorial stone with an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “The old Jewish cemetery. Sacred is the memory of the deceased”.”