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1 Execution site(s)
Eyewitness Edvardas, born in 1932, remembers a hot and bright summer day, when the Jewish children of Kražiai were shot: “Watching through the window, we saw the column passing. It was accompanied by two or more armed men, and the rabbi was marching in front of it. He was carrying a small baby in his arms. Several Jewish women were marching together with those schoolchildren. The Jewish doctor Šmitas was following the column on a cart with his wife and the child. His wife was very nervous, as I remember. They met Purvinskas on the way, and doctor Šmitas told him, “We are heading to our death.”(Testimony n°115, interviewed in Kražiai, on October 23, 2014)
“We, the undersigned, […] compiled the report about the following. During the period of the German occupation from 1941 till the liberation of the Lithuanian SSR by the Red Army, citizens of different nationalities of Kražiai volost, Raseiniai Uyezd, were shot and deported to the German slavery. 250 Jewish people of Kražiai volost were shot; 26 Lithuanians were arrested; 20 Lithuanians were deported to Germany.” [Report of the local investigation commission, RG-22.002M.7021-94/427, p. 63]
As one of the oldest settlements in Lithuania, Kražiai was the home for one of the oldest Jewish communities in the country. Jews started settling there in the 17th century, when Kražiai was already a district center. A synagogue was built in the town in the middle of the 19th century, and the Jewish population surpassed one thousand people. Most of the Jews were engaged in commerce and trade, but the development of the town slowed down when it stayed aside of the highway and railway constructed through the region. Kražiai gave way to Kelmė to become an important trading center, and Jewish population of the town started decreasing and dropped by half by the end of the WWI. About 550-650 Jews lived in Kražiai in the period of independent Lithuania between the world wars, and their number didn‘t change much in 1941, when Germany attacked the Soviet Union. When the German armed forces approached Kražiai on June 24, 1941, a battle broke out, and the whole town burned down.
The new occupational government started the persecution of Jews immediately. At first, about 400 Jews of the town and the surrounding villages were assembled in horse stables and storehouses that survived the fire. On July 8, 1941, they were gathered in the main square with their belongings, stripped of valuables, then marched to the Šiukšta manor outside the town and placed under guard in a barn. Groups of Jews were taken to the town to clear the debris and perform other physical labor. That lasted several weeks, till July 25, 1941, when almost all Jews over 14 years old were brought by truck to the Kuprė forest, about 7 kilometers east of the town, and were shot. 64 children and teenagers were left in the barn for one week more with five adults, including the rabbi. They were executed on August 2, 1941, near the hill of Medžiokalnis, one kilometer northwest of Kražiai. Ten children managed to escape the shooting, but only five of them survived till the end of the war. A witness interviewed by Yahad told that several hundred women were shot near Medžiokalnis, too. According to him, they were brought from the surrounding towns and were confined in the monastery for a few months before the mass execution.
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