Pasvalys Jewish Cemetery
Pasvalys (Posvol in Yiddish) is a city in northern Lithuania 17 miles from the border with Latvia, it is the district capital for the Pasvalys District Municipality. Historical sources dating from 1643 mention a Karaite Jewish community existing in Pasvalys. “Rabbinical” Jews were permitted to settle in Pasvalys only in the middle of the 18th century. The peak of the Jewish population in Pasvalys was in 1897, the year of the official census in the Russian Empire, with 1590 jews living there which was 52% of the total population. Before WWII the Jewish population had declined to 700 people and was now only about 25% of the population.
Most of the local Jews made their living from commerce, which concentrated mostly around the bi-weekly market fair in Pasvalys. In addition to the dozens of cloth merchants, haberdasheries, as well as other shops, the town also had a large wholesale store which was owned by the Mariampolski brothers. Some of the town’s Jews made their livelihood as laborers or by trading in grains. According to the 1931 Lithuanian government census, Pasvalys had 40 businesses, 27 of those (67%) were owned by Jews.
The Zionist movement had a great following in Pasvalys. The only Beit Midrash in the town served on more than one occasion as a forum for speakers from the Zionist camp. The community’s last Rabbi, Yitzkhak Agulnik, was also an enthusiastic Zionist and played an important role in maintaining an atmosphere of tolerance in the community. The “Tarbut” network established a Hebrew school in Pasvalys in 1921. Among the Zionist youth movements in the town were: “HaShomer HaTzair”, “Beitar”, and “Bnei-Akiva”.Among the famous figures from Pasvalys were: Rabbi Abel Posvoler, who served as the head of the community’s Rabbinate and subsequently became the Rabbi of Vilnius; Rabbi Khaim-Yakov Bialostotski, the “Magid from Posvol”; Dr. Shakhne Mer, founder of the Hospital for the Poor in Panevezys; Professor Benyamin Bernstein, a famous mathematician, as well as others.
The German soldiers entered Pasvalys on June 26, 1941, 4 days after the outbreak of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. In the middle of July 1941, a ghetto of sorts was established in Pasvalys. On August 26, 1941, a decree was published, ordering all Jews to concentrate with their belongings and property in the Beit Midrash, which was located outside the ghetto. Once assembled the men were separated from the women and children, and all of them were transferred on that very same day to the Zadeikiai grove, located 3 miles from Pasvalys, where they were brutally murdered.
It is likely that the Jewish cemetery was established in the 18th century. The cemetery has some 100 tombstones scattered over hilly terrain located behind a lumber company. Most of the stones are partially buried so that only the upper parts show. Approximately 20 stones are readily identifiable; seven of them have clear inscriptions. The cemetery was in use until the destruction of the Jewish community during the Holocaust. There is a memorial stone with an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “The old Jewish cemetery. May their memory be eternal”.