Sakiai Jewish Cemetery
Sakiai (Shaki in Yiddish) is a town in south western Lithuania, 40 miles west of Kaunas.
Jews were already settled in the village Sakaiciai by the beginning of the 18th century. In 1856, the town had a population of 1,764 residents, of which 1,473 were Jews (83%) and in 1885 3,000 Jewish residents comprised 81% of the town’s total population of 3,700. The Jews made their living from commerce and crafting, among them peddlers, carters, horse traders, one blacksmith, two tailors, one watchmaker, as well as various merchants and shop owners. Several of the Jewish merchants would export agricultural products to Germany, mainly grain.
During the period of the independent Lithuanian state (1918-1940), Jews played an important role in the economic and municipal life of the town. In the 1920’s, 7 out of the 12 members of the municipal council were Jews, and in the elections of 1931, 5 Jews were elected out of 9 council members. According to the 1931 Lithuanian government survey, there were 82 shops in Sakiai, of which 68 belonged to Jews (83%).
There were two prayer houses in Sakiai: the Beit-Midrash where prayers were held every day, and the Great Synagogue “Di Shul“, famous in Lithuania for its internal ornaments, where prayers were held on Saturdays and Holidays only. The Jewish children of Sakiai studied in schools of the “Cheder” type and in the elementary Hebrew school from the “Tarbut” chain, which had 4 regular and 2 preparatory classes. In Sakiai, Hebrew was taught in the “Ashkenazi” pronunciation, and 200-400 pupils studied simultaneously.
There were branches of most Zionist parties and youth organizations active in the town, including: “Tseirei Zion”, Z”S, “HeChalutz”, “HaShomer HaTsair”, “HeChalutz HaTzair”, “Betar” and “Poalei Zion-Smol”. A member of this party, Yudl Alfeld, was elected Mayor of Sakiai.
The German army entered Sakiai on the first day of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, on June 22nd 1941, at 11 o’clock. Many Jews tried to escape eastwards, but only 50 succeeded in escaping into Russia. Many were killed on the roads and most of the escapees returned home. In July, Jewish men were separated from their families and concentrated in a large barn outside the town. On Saturday July 5th 1941, all the men were taken out of the barn and led to the trenches. There they were forced to pull off their garments and jump into the trenches where all of them were shot dead. September 13th 1941, marked the end of the Jewish residents in the same trenches, in total around 1200 Jews were killed.
In 1970, The old Jewish cemetery was at the edge of the settlement. During World War II, the bombing of the town severely damaged the cemetery, which was gradually destroyed by the Soviets after the war. At present, the cemetery is simply an open field, fenced, with a small monument to denote its status as a Jewish burial ground. The inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian says: “The old Jewish cemetery. May their memory be eternal”.