Siaulenai Jewish Cemetery
Siaulenai (Shavlan in Yiddish) is a small town in the Samogitia region of Lithuania. The Jewish community in Siaulenai dates back to the 17th century. For many years, the town was considered as having one of the largest Jewish communities in the region. The Jews lived mainly by peddling, petty trade, and craftwork. Siaulenai’s synagogue, built in the middle of the 17th century, was one of the oldest in Lithuania, it had a Holy Ark, beautifully carved in wood. During World War I, the Siaulenai Jews were exiled to regions in the Russian interior. After the proclamation of Lithuanian independence (1918), many of the Jews returned to the town. Due to the economic situation, the town’s Jews began to grow vegetables and fruits. Many Jewish families in the town were forced to rely on assistance from relatives who had emigrated to the USA or South Africa.
According to a survey conducted by the Lithuanian government in 1931, the Siaulenai Jewish community owned flour mills, a mechanical metal works and several shops. A wool combing plant was also Jewish owned. In 1937, the town had 11 Jewish artisans; 3 shoemakers, 2 bakers, 2 tailors, 2 butchers, a cloth dyer, and a stitcher. The number of Jews in the town fell annually due to emmigration to larger cities and abroad. As a result, it did not have a Jewish school. Some of the children studied in a Lithuanian school and others in a cheder under the direction of the local rabbi. In those years, the town enjoyed an active Zionist presence and had a HaShomer HaTzair branch. The youth of the town considered the Jewish public library and its reading room to be of the greatest importance.
When the German army conquered Lithuanian in June 1941, only twenty Jewish families lived in Siaulenai. In September 1941, they were transferred to Zagare and massacred together with the local Jews.
The Jewish cemetery in Siaulenai was established in the middle of the 17th century. The cemetery was not destroyed purposefully after the Holocaust in Lithuania, however it was forgotten and fell into disrepair during the Soviet Era (1944-1991). Only in 1996, was the cemetery included in the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania. Around 40 gravestones have remained in the unfenced territory covered by thick grass and trees. The fate of the rest of the tombstones is unclear. There is a small plaque, informing visitors in Lithuanian that this territory is an old Jewish cemetery.