Radviliskis Jewish Cemetery
Radviliskis (Radvilishak in Yiddish) is a city located close to the county capital, Siauliai. Jews first began to settle in Radviliskis at the beginning of the 19th century when Radviliskis became a large train junction, which attracted Jewish people to the town. The travellers who passed through the train station, brought business to the various shops, restaurants and inns, whose owners were mainly Jews. During World War I the Jewish community grew as the German authorities brought Jewish labour from Vilna to the city. During this period hundreds of supply trains to the military passed through Radviliskis. It provided plenty of work for the local Jews and as such there was no emmigration as was common in other Lithuanian Jewish communities.
After the war, with the declaration of Lithuanian Independence, the Jews of Radviliskis made their living through commerce, crafting and light industry. According to the 1923 census, 847 Jews comprised 15% of the total population of Radviliskis. However from the 1930s, the number of Jews in the town declined: the economic crisis and the official propaganda against buying from Jews motivated many Jews to seek their future elsewhere.
Many of the Radviliskis’ Jews belonged to the Zionist camp. Almost all of the Zionist parties had their branches in the town. The following Zionist Youth Organizations were active in Radviliskis: “Bnei Akiva”, “Tzeirei-Zion”, “Gordonia”, “Hashomer Hazair”, “Betar”, “Maccabi”.
The Jewish children received their elementary education in the “Tarbut” Hebrew school. The “Tarbut” network also organized the Hebrew language evening classes and a drama class that staged plays in Hebrew. There was also a school that taught in Yiddish, however it only existed for a short time. Religious life centred around the synagogue and numerous welfare institutions.
When the German army entered Radviliskis on June 26th 1941, around 250 Jewish families lived in Radviliskis. On July 12th 1941, all the men were shot and buried in the grove next to the Jewish cemetery. Some women and children were sent to the Siauliai ghetto, the majority were sent to Zagare, where they died together with the Zagare Jews. Only a small number of the original Jewish community would survive the war, some managed to escape into the Russian interior, whilst others outlasted the war.
Until the end of the 19th century, the Jews of Radviliskis did not have a cemetery of their own. After the cemetery was established, it remained in use until the extermination of the local Jewish community in 1941. After World War II, the cemetery was abandoned and there were access issues: it was surrounded by a private farm, and the owner fenced his territory without leaving a path to the cemetery. It was only in 2018, that the local municipality solved the problem. When in 1995, the cemetery was registered into the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania, there were 72 gravestones and an ancient concrete fence around the cemetery.