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2 Execution site(s)
Elvyra S., born in 1926, saw how Jews were kept in the synagogue in Vilkija. She remembers one disturbing episode when “girls asked to be let outside the synagogue to go to the toilet. Young men and some students from our school formed a human barrier through which the Jewish girls had to walk to reach the toilet. They beat everyone who passed by with sticks and whips. The younger girls cried in the toilet and were afraid to go back.” (Witness N°149, interviewed in Kėdainiai, on March 24, 2015).
“We left Kaunas in the morning in two trucks, about 25-30 people in total. Lieutenant Barzda and another officer were in charge; I didn’t know the latter and don’t remember his rank. As far as I remember, one truck was covered and loaded with ammunition and food. […] To be more precise, we shot 400-500 people in Vilkija. This number is approximate, as I have determined, considering the time of the shooting and the conversations I heard among the local nationalists and guards.” [Deposition of Petras Zelionka, born in 1917, Lithuanian sentenced for treason in 1947, taken on September 14, 1961, Lithuanian Special Archives, Fund K–1, Inventory No. 58, File No. 47337/3, Vol. 6, p. 25-27]
The oldest tombstones in the Jewish cemetery of Vilkija date back to the 18th century. The synagogue was built in the town by 1859. Jews engaged in commerce and labor, a number of them transported timber on rafts by Nemunas River from Vilnius and Kaunas towards Germany. Dozens of Jewish families lost all of their property in a large fire that broke out in 1903. When WWI started, most of the Jewish population of Vilkija was expelled from the town, and only 60 percent of them came back after the war. The timber export declined when the Vilnius region was occupied by Poland, but Jews successfully developed food trade, textile and other businesses. According to the Lithuanian government census conducted in 1931, Jews owned 15 of 16 light industry factories in Vilkija. However, the Jewish population of the town declined in the 1930s due to the economic crisis, appeals of Lithuanian merchants to boycott Jewish ones and a fire that left 120 people without shelter in 1937. About 400 Jews lived in Vilkija on the eve of WWII.
Once the Germans occupied the town on June 24, 1941, the hunt for supporters of the Soviet regime and Jews started immediately. The latter were forced to wear Stars of David, forbidden to walk on the sidewalks and to associate with Lithuanians, assaulted and robbed. Up to 200 Jewish men were arrested on July 7-8. 21 detainees were sentenced to death for connections with Soviet regime and were shot outside Vilkija, near the village of Jagminiškiai. The rest of the detainees were escorted to Kaunas. Later in July, the remaining Jews of Vilkija were assembled in the synagogue, which became a ghetto. Jews from Čekiškė, Lekėčiai, Seredžius and Veliuona were brought there as well. In mid-August, about 400 Jews were brought away from Vilkija, possibly to the Kaunas ghetto, and the same number was executed on August 28 outside Vilkija, in Pakarklė Forest, near the village of Jaučakiai. Apparently, another execution was carried out not far away. A witness interviewed by Yahad - In Unum saw the shooting of about a hundred Jews in the field, not far from the Jewish cemetery in the summer of 1941.
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