Vieksniai Jewish Cemetery
Vieksniai (Vekshne in Yiddish) is a town in the northwestern part of Lithuania about 10 miles southeast of the district capital, Mazeikiai. The first Jews settled in Vieksniai in the 18th century. According to the all-Russia census of 1897, there were 2951 residents, of whom 1646 were Jewish (56%). After WWI, the Jewish population had dropped to 300 and before WWII it had grown to 600 people. Vieksniai’s Jews made their living by trade, crafting, and light industry. A few dealt in agriculture. The economic situation was generally decent for the majority. Grain and timber merchants were known to be affluent. According to a government survey of 1931, there were 53 shops in town; 45 of them belonged to Jews (85%).
The religious, social, and public life of Vieksniai Jews concentrated around the shulhoyf, which housed the local yeshiva and two prayer houses (one for winter and one for summer). At the beginning of the 1920s, two schools opened in Vieksniai, a religious-orthodox school of the Yavneh chain and one of the secular-Zionist Tarbut chain. Secular cultural activities were organized by the Jewish library, which had about 1,200 books in both Yiddish and Hebrew. There was also a drama circle, some youth organizations, and a few political groups.
With the invasion by the German army of Lithuania on June 22nd 1941, many of Vieksniai’s Jews attempted to escape into the Soviet Union, however only a few succeeded. On August 4th 1941, guarded by armed Lithuanians, the Jews were transferred to Mazeikiai. There, they were herded to the Jewish cemetery together with other Jews from Mazeikiai and the neighboring towns. Lithuanian guards forced some of the men to dig pits, and after the work was completed all were shot the next day and buried in the prepared pits.
Notable Jews that were from the town included: the Zionist leader Avraham Idelson, the Zionist activist Yehudah-Leib Apel, Miriam Shakh, the secretary of Dr. Herzl, her brother, the writer Fabius Shakh, the writer Yisrael Efroikin, the journalist Aharon-Yits’hak Grodzensky and the writer Meir-Joel Vigoder. Vieksniai’s Jewish cemetery dates back to the 18th century. Around 250 gravestones or their fragments remained in the cemetery, the oldest of which dates back to 1858. The cemetery was still in use until the destruction of the Jewish community during the Holocaust. Nothing was built on the cemetery grounds during the Soviet period. In 1992, the cemetery was registered into the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania. There is a memorial stone with an inscription in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Lithuanian: “The old Jewish cemetery. May their memory be eternal”.