Vistytis First Old Jewish Cemetery
Vistytis (Vishtinets in Yiddish) is a small town in southwestern Lithuania, on the border with the Kaliningrad area of Russian Federation. Jews began settling in Vistytis in the middle of the 16th century. The Jews earned their living mainly from storekeeping and trade with Prussia. Some of them engaged in processing hog bristles, whilst others engaged in fishing and processing leather. According to historical data, the Jewish population reached its peak in 1856, when 2037 Jews lived in Vistytis. It comprised 60% of the town’s population. However, during the next seventy years, the Jewish population declined. Only 40 Jewish families lived in Vistytis during the Period of the Independent Lithuanian state. The majority of the Jews emigrated to the United States, Argentina and Israel. The ancient synagogue of Vistytis was known for its magnificent Holy Ark, however it has not survived to modern day, although a memorial stone marks its place in the town today. Jewish children studied in a cheder. In 1878, a contemporary school for Jewish boys and girls was established in the town. From the end of the 19th century, the Zionist ideas found supporters in Vistytis and many Zionist-cultural activities hold in the town. One was the “Dovrei Ivrit” society, whose members were obligated to speak with one another in Hebrew.
Nazi troops entered Vistytis on the first day of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union. On July 14th 1941, the Jewish men were taken to a field behind the municipality and were shot there. The Jewish women and children were murdered on September 9th 1941, at the local ravine around 600 meters from the killing place of the men. After the war, some natives of Vistytis returned to the town and transported some of the bones of the women and children and moved them to the men’s burial site. A memorial was erected on the mass grave, inscribed with the words: “Victims of Fascism”.
Among famous Jews from the town were Dr Mendel Sudarski, general manager of “ORT” in Lithuania; Dr Ya’akov Rabinson, a lawyer, who was an adviser to the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and later a legal adviser to the Israeli delegation to the United Nations; Dr Nekhemia Rabinson, a lawyer, who headed the Institute for Jewish Affairs in the United States, and after WWII he was the leading adviser to the Claims Conference against Germany.
The Old Jewish Cemetery of Vistytis was established in 1570 when the elder of Vistytis, Kristupas Jesmanas, granted the territory for burials to local Jews. The cemetery existed until the Nazi occupation in Lithuania. During the wartime, the Germans sold gravestones to locals for their needs. In this way, the cemetery was destroyed. Only a few fragments of former tombstones can be found today among the grass. In 1998, the cemetery was registered into the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania. At the beginning of the 1990s, a stone monument was erected at the site with an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian: “The old cemetery. Holy is the memory of the deceased”.