Kupiškis (Kupishok, Kupishik) | Panevėžys

/ The former synagogue of Kupiškis, located near the town’s central square.  Today, it is a Kupiškis Municipal Public Library. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Kupiškis’ main square. Before the war, it was a market square, where many Jewish merchants used to work. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Kupiškis’ main street. Before the war, it was a Jewish quarter. Most of the Jewish residents used to live and work here. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The former Jewish house, located in Kupiškis. At the time, it belonged to a Jewish family of Boltas. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The old Jewish cemetery near the main road of Kupiškis. No tombstones remain today. There is a memorial plaque indicating the former location of the cemetery. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Vanda J., born in 1932: “My father had many acquaintances among the Jews, as he knew how to speak Yiddish. What’s more, as a blacksmith, he regularly had Jewish apprentices in his forge.” ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Julius S., born in 1931: “Before the war, I lived in Šimonys. There was a Jewish shopkeeper, Choritza. I used to play with his daughter, Perla, who was my age. Another Jew, Itzika, lived there with his wife and child.” ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Julijana S., born in 1931: “All the Jews from Šimonys were taken to Kupiškis for execution. I saw three columns of 10 to 15 Jews being marched there. The victims thought they were being transferred to the ‘Jewish land’.” ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Feliksas M., born in 1927: “I saw many columns of Jews in Kupiškis being escorted by the guards.” ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Headquarters of the town’s commandant, who was responsible for Kupiškis at the start of the occupation. This is an original building, located 50 meters from the former prison. Today, it is used as a Kebab restaurant. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Kupiškis’ former prison, where the victims were rounded up before being taken to the execution site and shot. Today it is a bakery. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Vanda J., born in 1932, showing the execution site of a Jew in Kupiškis who was being taken to the shooting along with a group of about 20 or 30 other people. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The execution site of 808 to 1,500 Jews, murdered in the Jewish cemetery of Kupiškis during the summer of 1941. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Jewish cemetery of Kupiškis, located in a park, at the foot of the water tower. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Jewish cemetery of Kupiškis. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum Ther execution site of about 1.000 Jews, murdered in the cemetery of “Free Thinkers” in Kupiškis during the summer of 1941. The cemetery is located on the outskirts of the town. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The memorial plaque in memory of the Jewish men, women and children murdered in Kupiškis in the summer of 1941. The “Free Thinkers” cemetery. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum The Jewish victims’ corpses are buried in three mass graves at the cemetery of “Free Thinkers”. Apart from the Jewish victims, there is also a monument erected in memory of Soviet soldiers. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum List of Jewish victims. ©Jordi Lagoutte/Yahad - In Unum

Execution of Jews in Kupiškis

2 Execution site(s)

Kind of place before:
Jewish cemetery (1) ; Free Thinkers cemetery (2)
Period of occupation:
Number of victims:
Between 1.808 and 2.500

Witness interview

Vanda J., born in 1932:
"Y.U.: What happened to the Jewish community [of Kupiškis]?
Witness: At first, the Jews were forbidden from walking on the sidewalk. They had to walk only in the middle of the street. I also remember yellow five-pointed stars that they had to wear. It was not allowed to speak to them. My sister told me that once, in the summer, when she went to her school after the end of the school year, there were Jewish girls, her former classmates, cleaning the school windows. I didn’t know about it back then. It was forbidden to talk to them too. Such actions could have ended very badly for everyone involved. So, this is what the beginning of it all looked like. There was no ghetto here. When the shootings started, groups of [Jewish] people were taken away one by one. As I said, at first [the Jews] were simply not allowed to walk on the sidewalk, but later they were arrested group by group. There was a prison near the river. [The town commandant] could see this prison from his windows. People were locked up in this prison, from where, afterwards, small groups of detainees were taken away to be shot. These victims were our local [Jewish] residents. Although some other victims, not only Jews, but also Lithuanians and Russians, were brought to the execution sites from other localities. The majority of the murdered victims were Jews, though." (Testimony N°YIU437LT, interviewed in Kupiškis, on October 7, 2023)

Soviet archives

"I plead guilty of organizing a bandit squad of about 40 people immediately after learning about German Fascist army’s attack against Soviet Union in 1941. We took weapons and stood against Soviet rule arresting Soviet party activists and communists.
In August 1941 I joined an SS squad in Kupiškis town and participated in shooting of Soviet citizens and Jewish population. I personally shot about 50-60 people at the Jewish cemetery of Kupiškis." [Deposition of Antanas Petrikėnas, born in 1902, Lithuanian peasant accused of mass shootings, taken on October 9, 1944; Lithuanian KGB Archives RG-26.004M Reel # 1 File 4004_3 BB, p. 80-81]

Historical note

Kupiškis is situated approximately 45 km (28 mi) east-northeast of Panevėžys. The town’s origins can be traced back to the late 15th century. The first mention of the Jewish community in Kupiškis comes from 1682, when Bishop Mikolaj Pac issued the permission to build a synagogue. According to the 1897 census of Tsarist Russia, the Jewish community numbered 2,661 individuals, constituting approximately 71% of the town’s total population. According to the 1923 Lithuanian census, Kupiškis was home to 1,444 Jews, comprising 54% of the total populace. During Lithuania’s period of independence, many Jewish residents emigrated abroad.

Local Jews were primarily engaged in commerce, service sector and artisanal work. They owned and operated many of the town’s businesses. Between 1927 and 1935, Lithuanian United Craftsmen’s Union operated in the town. Some Jews found opportunities in small industrial enterprises, such as power station and iron trading center. In the interwar period, Kupiškis was home to three synagogues, including the Kupiškis Great House of Prayer, the Hasidic House of Prayer and the Kupiškis Jewish synagogue. There was a Jewish cemetery, Jewish schools, a kindergarten, national and Zionist organizations, a Jewish People’s Bank, a mill and a library.

By 1938, the Jewish population in Kupiškis had decreased to 1,200 individuals, comprising 42% of the total populace. When Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, the economic situation deteriorated as the nationalization of the Jewish stores and enterprises led to a shortage of goods and rising prices. Several local families were deported to Siberia.

Holocaust by bullets in figures

As World War II loomed, about 40 Jewish families managed to evacuate to eastern regions of the Soviet Union. A number of Jews fled to nearby villages, but they were sent back to Kupiškis by partisans. Consequently, when German forces occupied the town on July 26, 1941, approximately 1,000 Jews remained in Kupiškis. Anti-Jewish Aktions started shortly after the occupation began and were conducted by a German military commandant’s office, consisting of an armed self-defense squad, headed by a German immigrant, Dr. Werner L., and a unit of white armbanders. On June 28, 1941, 78 Jews and Lithuanians, accused of being loyal to the Soviet regime, were executed in the nearby forest.

Anti-Jewish policies were established in the ensuing days, mandating that Jews wear distinctive Star of David symbols and forbidding Jews to use sidewalks. Beginning July 11, 1941, a ghetto was set up in Kupiškis, and all local Jews and those from neighboring localities, such as Šimonys, Subačius and Viešintai, were compelled to relocate to the designated area near the synagogue, which was surrounded by a barbed wire fence. Ghetto inmates were coerced into various forms of forced labor, such as cleaning the school windows, and subjected to systematic humiliation.  

Most of the ghetto detainees were murdered throughout July, August and September 1941. In the execution Aktions, a small group of victims was first transferred from the ghetto and nearby localities to the local prison, then, after several days of detention, they were marched on foot to one of two execution sites: the Jewish cemetery, and later, the Free Thinkers cemetery. Once arrived, the victims were stripped of their belongings and shot in the pits dug in advance by the POWs. Those unable to walk were killed on their way to the execution sites. In the first period of the Aktions, the victims were mainly Jewish men and women, while in the second one all Jews were victims, including children. It is estimated that between 1,808 and 2,500 Jews were murdered in Kupiškis. Apart from the Jewish victims, a number of Communists and Soviet activists were also executed in the Kupiškis Free Thinkers cemetery.

A group of 47 Jewish craftsmen was spared during the Aktions and remained in the town to perform forced labor until November 1941, when they were sent in the direction of Subačius to be murdered.

Holocaust Atlas of Lithuania

Nearby villages

  • Paliūniškis
  • Ilčiūnai
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