Salantai Jewish Cemetery
Salantai (Salant in Yiddish) is a small town in the north-western part of Lithuania. Jews first settled in Salantai in the beginning of the 18th century. They made their living in crafting and commerce, in particular in the flax trade. According to the census taken in 1897 the Jews comprised 45% of the total population of Salantai. However, in 1915, during World War I, the Russian army exiled Salantai’s Jews deep into Russia and many of them never returned. During the period of Lithuanian Independence Salantai’s Jews continued to make their living in commerce and crafting. The 1931 government survey showed that 90% of the local businesses were owned by Jews. However, the economic crisis as well as the propaganda against Jewish shops in the middle of the 1930s led a lot of Jews to search for a future elsewhere.
Salantai’s Jewish children studied at the Hebrew elementary school of the “Tarbut” chain. The religious subjects were taught at the “Talmud–Torah” and there was a private Hebrew Kindergarten. The Jewish library had about 1,600 books in Hebrew and Yiddish. The centre of religious life in Salantai was the old synagogue (built at the beginning of the 19th century), the Beit Midrash and the two “Kloiz”. The townwas known well for the “Musar” rabbis and intellectuals who trace their roots to the town. Many of Salantai’s Jews belonged to the Zionist movement, and all the Zionist parties in town had their followers, but even before these parties were established, some of Salantai’s Jews immigrated to Israel. At the old Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem, there are 7 headstones of Salantai Jews who passed away at the end of the 19th century.
The entire Jewish Community of Salantai were murdered by the Nazis and local collaborators in summer 1941 in three different places, including one near the Salantai Jewish Cemetery.
It is likely that the Jewish cemetery of Salantai was established at the end of the 18th century and was in use until June 1941. The cemetery was not destroyed under the Nazi’s rule and some local Jews who died locked in the temporary ghetto were buried in this cemetery. After World War II the cemetery was abandoned, and the fate of many gravestones is unknown. In 1967 a small concrete monument was erected in the central part of the cemetery with an inscription: “For the victims of fascist terror in 1941”. In 1991 at the entrance, a memorial cemetery plaque was placed at the initiative of Plungė resident Jakovas Bunka and the Salantai community. On the plaque, there is a Star of David and an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian. Not far from this memorial stone there is a wooden totem pole, depicting an old Jew stretching his hands to the sky and a woman kneeling under his feet. Below is an entry in Lithuanian: “For the 405 Jews of Salantai murdered in July 1941”. In 1997 the cemetery was included into the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania.