Telsiai Jewish Cemetery
The Jewish history of Telšiai (Telz in Yiddish) starts in the 17th century. As soon as the town obtained the right to hold a market, Jews began to settle in the town. The Jewish population grew steadily and reached its peak in 1870, when 4399 Jews comprised 68% of the general population of the town.
There were four synagogues in Telz: the synagogue of soldiers, the Tailors’ Beit Midrash, the Beit Midrash of the butchers, and the Great Beit Midrash. The Soldiers’ Beit Midrash still preserves some obvious features of a Litvaks’ synagogue, as well as the Beit Midrash for tailors. Both buildings are marked by the sign “Jewish Heritage of Telz” and are included into the informational brochures for tourists.
Central to the life of the community was the Telz Yeshiva, thanks to which the town became a center of learning for the Torah for the entire Jewish world. In 1940, after the Soviet army occupied Lithuania, Telz Yeshiva was closed, however, the name of the yeshiva and its ways of teaching travelled to the USA. The building of the yeshiva survived the war and has been restored recently.
Under the Independent Lithuanian state, Telšiai was widely known for its school for girls “Yavneh” and the teachers’ seminary of the same chain, the only Jewish teachers’ seminary of that time in Lithuania. An attempt to establish leftist institutions such as a Hebrew School of the “Tarbut” school failed. The same failure in Telz had occurred fifty years earlier to the Russian Jewish School directed by famous poet of Jewish Enlightenment, Judah Leib Gordon.
The most popular political movement in the town always was “Agudath Israel” including all its factions.
During the Nazi occupation, the entire community was killed off by piecemeal annihilation on different dates from June 26 until December 25, 1941. The Holocaust Atlas of Lithuania mentions at least four massacre places of Telšiai Jews, the most largescale of which is in the Rainiai forest.
The exact date of the Jewish cemetery establishment in Telšiai is unknown, but it is likely that the territory for the cemetery was granted to Jewish Community together with the permission to settle in the 17th century.
Today the cemetery has lost its original appearance: of the initial 2.17 hectares only 0,43 hectares remain, due to the largest part of the cemetery being destroyed in 1987. In its place stands a park with some buildings nearby. In 1995 the remaining fragment of the cemetery was included into the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage List and fenced.
In 2018 Lithuanian Council of Culture initiated a project, during which participants attempted to find, clean and translate about 200 monuments or their parts. The informational stand near the entrance to the cemetery was placed. The same team prepared a booklet with pictures of the gravestones and epitaphs on them, translated from Hebrew to English and Lithuanian languages. Most, especially the old ones, did not record anything more than the first name and that of a parent. However, one can still find here a grave of Rabbi Yosef Leib Bloch, the head of the famous Telz Yeshiva.