Pikeliai Jewish Cemetery
Pikeliai (Pikeln in Yiddish) is a small town in northern Lithuania, 16 miles from the district capital, Mazeikiai. The first Jews settled in Pikeliai at the end of the eighteenth century. Over time, two prayer houses and other community institutions were erected. A yeshiva operated in the town. Over the next hundred years, the number of Jews in town increased to more than a thousand, eventually comprising two-thirds of the total population. According to the all-Russian census of 1897, 1,758 residents lived in Pikeliai, including 1,206 Jews (68%). In the decades before World War I, the number of Jews in Pikeliai decreased as a result of a strengthened emigration abroad, so much so that by 1914, only around 150 families remained in the town.
The marking of the border between Lithuania and Latvia cut Pikeliai’s Jewish traders off from the markets of Latvia and seriously reduced their livelihood. As a result, they dealt in small trades, peddling and crafting. The majority of them maintained auxiliary farms next to their houses. According to the government survey of 1931, three Jewish businesses operated in town: one grocery, one textile shop and one pharmacy. The Jews owned a bakery, a leather processing factory, a workshop for producing soap, two flour mills, one sawmill, and two taverns. By 1940, around twenty Jewish families lived in town.
After the German army invaded the Soviet Union on the 22nd of June 1941, Pikeliai’s Jews suffered greatly from the abuse and oppression by their Lithuanian neighbors. On the 5th of August, they were transferred to the barns near Mazeikiai. Between August 3rd and 9th 1941, all the Jewish residents of Pikeliai were murdered by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators.
Notable jewish people born in Pikeliai included: the American writer and translator, Dr. Aba-Yits’hak Krim; the brothers, Robert and Albert Shif, known philanthropists from New York; Rabbi Marcus Shif from Cincinnati; Rabbi Eliyahu-David Rabinovitz-Teomim, who emigrated to Israel and was elected as the rabbi of Jerusalem. The chief rabbi of Israel, Avraham-Yits’hak Kook, was his son in law.
The Jewish cemetery was established at the end of the 18th century. Around 100 gravestones or their fragments remain in the cemetery. The cemetery was in use until the destruction of the Jewish community during the Holocaust. In 1996, 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”.