Ylakiai Jewish Cemetery
Ylakiai (Yelok in Yiddish) is a small town in north-western Lithuania, 13 km from the Latvian border.
Ylakiai’s Jews had established a settled community by the beginning of the 19th century. Until World War I, Jews made their living in trade, small scale agriculture and peddling, and they comprised more than half of the town population. According to the 1897, Russian census, 1367 people lived in Yelok, of whom 775 of them were Jewish (57%). After the war and with the establishment of the independent Lithuanian state in 1918, Ylakiai was rebuilt. However the first census performed by the new government in 1923, showed that the Jewish population had fallen to 41% of the town. During this period Ylakiai‘s Jews made their living through trades and crafting. According to the government survey of 1931, 85% of local shops were Jewish owned.
Public life centred around the Beit Midrash. Ylakiai was one of the first communities to open a branch of Agudat Yisrael. Thirty Ylakiai Jews were named in two lists of donors to the Agudat Fund for the years 1913 and 1914, but there were also donors to funds for the settlement of Israel. Many of Ylakiai’s Jews emigrated to America, South Africa and Israel. Those who remained continued to maintain the Hebrew Yavneh School, where around 40 pupils studied, the Talmud Torah, the Gemiluth Hesed fund and the library. Zionist activities grew and became stronger with time. During the interwar period, the Zionist youth organization HaShomer HaTsair and a branch of the sport organization Maccabi were active locally.
When the German army invaded Lithuania in June 1941, the Jews of Ylakiai (around 300 people) were arrested and held in the Ylakiai synagogue. Witnesses said that the mass murder lasted two days, between July 6th and 7th 1941: men were shot on the first day and women and children on the second. A band of armed Lithuanians led groups of Jews to the Old Jewish cemetery and shot them there. All of Ylakiai’s Jewish residents were murdered and buried in a large mass grave.
There is no record of when the Jewish cemetery of Ylakiai was established. It is likely that it was esatbalished in the 19th century, soon after Jews first settled in the town. It was in use until the Nazi Occupation period, when all of the Jews of Ylakiai were led to the cemetery and shot there. After the war, the cemetery became neglected but not destroyed. In 1965, the monument stone was erected in memory of the victims. This monument was replaced by a new one in 1988. By 1999, when the cemetery was registered in the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania, only 90 gravestones were found, mostly in the northern and western parts of the cemetery. There is a memorial stone, informing what the site is.