Tirksliai, Mazeikiai New Jewish Cemetery
Mazeikiai (Mazheik in Yiddish) is a city in northern Lithuania near to the border with Latvia, it is also the district capital.The Jews first started to settle in Mazeikiai in the second half of the 19th century. The Jewish community had grown rapidly after the construction of the railway through the city. According to the all-Russian census of 1897, there were 1,979 residents in Mazeikiai, of whom 435 were Jewish (21%). Before WWII there were around 900 Jews that comprised 16% of the town’s population. The majority of the Jews made their living from peddling and small scale trading with the surrounding villages. They were also wholesalers: they owned stores and exported some consumer goods. After the First War with the assistance of the Joint Distribution Committee, retail and wholesale trading in food staples such as eggs and poultry increased, while timber and other agricultural products were exported successfully to Germany and England. Jews took over several light industries: flour mills, flax-processing shops, shingle production, the match factory, liquor, clothing, as well as others. The weekly market days were held on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which resulted in significant revenue for the Jewish merchants. According to a survey performed by the Lithuanian government in 1931, there were 89 shops in Mazeikiai, of which 77 (86%) were owned by Jews.
In the 1920’s, the Jewish community founded a Hebrew elementary school of the Tarbut network and a Hebrew pro-gymnasium. There were two Jewish libraries. The leftist Yiddishist Kultur Lige worked in the field of culture, the non-party Frauen Verein worked in the welfare field, and the Zionist Maccabi, established in 1924 with 84 members, was engaged in sports.
With the German invasion of Lithuania on June 22nd 1941, many Jews attempted to escape to the Soviet Union. Only a few managed to make the journey, as many perished on the way and others returned home. In July 1941, all of Mazeikiai’s Jews were imprisoned inside the beit midrash, and after a few days were transferred to large barns near the River Venta. On August 3rd 1941, all the men were led to prepared pits near the Jewish cemetery and shot dead there. On August 9th 1941, all the women and children were taken to the same pits and murdered.
The Jewish cemetery was established as a burial place for the Jews of Tirksliai, a little town 4 miles from Mazeikiai. Later, after the Jewish community of Mazeikiai had formed, the local Jews were buried in the same cemetery. During the Soviet years, the old Jewish cemetery was destroyed, and most of the tombstones were taken away. In 1994, the cemetery was registered into the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania. At the entrance, there is a memorial stone with an inscription in Lithuanian: “The old Jewish cemetery. May their memory be eternal”. On that same spot around 4000 Jews from Mazeikiai and the surrounding area were shot dead in August 1941.