Papile Jewish Cemetery
Papile (Popelyan in Yiddish) is a small town in northern Lithuania. The first Jews settled in Papile in the middle of the 18th century. The Jewish population reached its peak during the years preceding World War I: when 965 people comprising 51% of the town’s population were Jewish according to the all-Russia census in 1897. The location of the railway line helped their commercial activities. Local Jews exported crops, flax and timber to Germany, which gave them economic stability. The Jewish Community maintained a high level of social and cultural activities. Most of the children and youth studied in institutions such as the cheder and the “Small Yeshiva”. In addition to those who studied Torah and whose life revolved around the Beit Midrash, Papile also had quite a few graduates of high schools and universities in both Russia and abroad. In 1915, during World War I the entire Jewish population of Papile was expelled to the interior of Russia. After the war, only a small proportion of Papile’s Jews returned to the town, which had burned down. From the 1930’s, the economic situation of the Jews worsened due to the propaganda that was initiated by the Union of Lithuanian Merchants, who called for a boycott on buying goods from Jews. The sources of livelihood in the town diminished and quite a few of the younger generation emigrated to South Africa or Israel. Although the community was small and depleted, it nevertheless managed to maintain an active social life and it had branches of various political parties. Among other things, they built a synagogue, a school, a library and established a branch of the Jewish Popular Bank (Folksbank).
The Germans entered Papile on June 28th 1941, six days after the German army invaded the Soviet Union. Jewish men were killed in July. The massacre took place outside the town, in the nearest forest, where victims were forced to dig graves for themselves. The women and children were transferred on August 25th to Zagare, where they were locked up in the local Beit Midrash together with the surviving Jews from the surrounding towns. On October 2nd 1941, all the prisoners were taken to a nearby forest, where they were all shot and killed. Very few of Papile’s Jews survived the war.
It is likely that the cemetery was in use from the second part of the 18th century, up until the Nazi occupation of Lithuania. After WWII, 75% of the cemetery was destroyed by the Soviets and houses were built on its territory. The tombstones were removed and thrown into the River Venta or were used as building materials in the town. From 1957, the territory of the former cemetery was supervised and maintained by a local teacher, ethnic Lithuanian Steponas Adomavicius, who also managed to identify in the town four gravestones which he returned to the cemetery. Mr Adomavicius planted trees to memorialize the murdered Jews of his village. To honor his dedication, a Jewish citizen of America, Grant Arthur Gochin, had a park bench installed in the cemetery in memory of Steponas Adomavicius.