Salakas Jewish Cemetery
Salakas (Salok in Yiddish) is a village in north-eastern Lithuania. The first Jews started to settle in Salakas from the 18th century, however the Jewish Community stayed small until it grew significantly in the 19th century, when Salakas gained the status of a trading town and large markets and annual fairs were organized in it. At that time, there were more than 30 stores and small pubs in town, most of them owned by Jews. The Jews earned their living by trading in agricultural products, timber, and fishing. Salakas was also known for its pottery production. The population census of 1897 revealed 2,386 residents in Salakas, 1,582 (66%) of them were Jews.
The economic situation before World War I was relatively good, but after the war, the situation in Salakas changed considerably. The new borders, redrawn as a result of the Polish army’s occupation of the Vilnius region, cut Salakas off from Vilnius. It was left without any economic resources and many Jews left, emigrating to South Africa, Cuba and Israel. Many of the Salok Jews were affiliated with the Zionist camp, with the Zionist Socialist party being especially active in the town. Jewish children received their elementary education at cheder or Hebrew Tarbut school. The town had a fine library with many Yiddish books.
Religious life was concentrated around three praying houses: the Beit Midrash, the Kloiz and the Hasidic shtiebel . Among the Jewish organizations of Salakas, the welfare society Linath Hatsedek was well established. Rabbis who served Salok included Rabbi Shmuel Mohliver (1824-1898), who became active in the religious Zionist party. The kibbutz Gan-Shemuel in Israel is named after him. Another notable native of Salakas was Dr Aryeh Behm (1877-1941), who moved to Israel where he established the first Pasteur Institute in Jerusalem and became a founder of the Medical Council there.
During the Holocaust Salok’s Jews were murdered in the nearby forest of Sungardai. The inscription on the modern memorial says in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “At this place, Hitler’s henchmen and their local helpers brutally murdered 114 Jews – children, women and men – in August 1941. May their memory remain sacred”.
It is unclear when exactly the cemetery was established, but given the oldest preserved tombstone was dated 1881, it can be inferred the cemetery was already in use by the late 19th century. The latest tombstone found mentions the burial date as 1938. The cemetery was not demolished after the local Jews were murdered in 1941, however during the Soviet period the cemetery was neglected. Today about 570 tombstones and their fragments can be found in the cemetery, however many of them have been tilted or knocked to the ground. The tombstones are in a traditional arch shape, mostly granite, have inscriptions in Hebrew but many of them are no longer readable. There are remains of a pre-war masonry wall on the territory of the cemetery. In 1991 a memorial stone was erected with inscriptions in Hebrew and Lithuanian. The cemetery was registered into the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania in 1999.