Onuskis Jewish Cemetery
Onuskis (Anushishok in Yiddish) is a small village in the north of Lithuania, 3 miles from the Latvian border and some 16 miles northwest of the district administrative capital Rokiskis.
It is likely that the Jews settled in Onuskis in the first half of the 19th century. Many of Onuskis’ Jews had shops selling tools, groceries, haberdashery, hats, and women’s clothing. Some dealt in timber, horses, and cattle. There were Jewish craftsmen and peddlers. Before the First War most income was earned on Sundays and on the Christian holidays when hundreds of peasants from the area used to come to the church and afterward did their shopping. Their best customers were the nearby Latvians due to there being no border between Lithuania and the Courland region in Latvia at that time.
All Jewish residents led traditional lives. Followers of Mitnagdim and Hasidim attended separate prayer houses. There were Chadarim for the Jewish boys. Jewish children were sent to study in the Jewish schools of Rokiskis, Ukmerge, and Kaunas, and a few attended the local Lithuanian pro-gymnasium.
In the mid-1930s the economic situation became worse and many, in particular the young, left Onuskis to build their future abroad. The elderly moved to Rokiskis and Kovno or joined their families abroad. All this led to a decrease in the number of Jewish families in Onuskis. Only about 25 families remained in the village, mostly elderly who were supported by their children in America and South Africa.
In 1941 the Jews of Onuskis were murdered by the Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators. The location of the murder site is not known. Nor is it known whether the atrocities took place in the town or if the Jews were transported to be murdered along with the Jews of Rokiskis or Obeliai.
Two prominent Lithuanian figures come from Onuskis. The first was Hirsch Lekert, a Jewish shoemaker and a member of the Bund, a Jewish socialist party. In 1902, Leckert, protesting the arrest of his comrades and against the brutal dispersal of the May 1 demonstration, shot at the Governor-General of Vilnius. He was captured, convicted, and hanged in the central square of Vilnius. Hirsch Lekert played an extremely important role in the development of the movement of the Jewish people for their rights.
Another native of Onuskis was Rabbi Abraham Dov Popel, a Lithuanian political and public figure. He served there as a rabbi from 1897. In 1916 he was elected a rabbi of a quite important Jewish community of Mariampole. After the proclamation of Lithuania’s independence in 1918, he was elected a member of the Constituent Assembly of Lithuania and was a member of the First Lithuanian Seimas.
There is a small Jewish cemetery where barely 87 graves are still visible. TThe cemetery was still in use until the destruction of the Jewish community during the Holocaust. Nothing was built on the cemetery grounds in the Soviet time. In 1993 the cemetery was registered into the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania. There is a memorial stone with an inscription in Hebrew and Lithuanian: “The old Jewish cemetery. May their memory be eternal”