1 Execution site(s)
Justinas R., born in 1929: "The shooting took place in the forest, about two kilometers from the city. I heard isolated gunshots the night before the day of the execution. The next day, trucks carrying Jewish women and children drove by. I heard isolated but frequent gunshots. In fact, three explosive bullets arrived in my yard. The shooting lasted from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Three days later, I went to the execution site and saw the pit, which had been well covered over. The massacre was carried out by a special unit from somewhere else. They were assisted by some people who wore white armbands." (Witness n°377LT, interviewed in Vainutas on September 29, 2018)
Dargiškė is a hamlet located 3 km (2 miles) north of Vainutas, in the Klaipėda region of southwestern Lithuania. The first traces of a Jewish community in Vainutas date back to the mid-19th century, when the local Jewish cemetery was established. At the beginning of the 20th century, about 80 Jewish families resided in Vainutas. By the end of World War I, in 1920, there were only 65. During the interwar period, the local Jewish community had a synagogue, an elementary school, a Hebrew school and a library. Jews worked in a variety of different jobs, primarily as shopkeepers, craftsmen and farmers. Nevertheless, the Jewish community continued to decline, and by 1939 it had dropped to about 50 families. In the summer of 1940, under the terms of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact, the region was annexed by the USSR. Several important local figures, such as teachers, doctors and the head of the police, were deported by the Soviet authorities.
On June 22, 1941, the German armies and their allies began their invasion of the USSR, marking the beginning of Operation Barbarossa. Since Vainutas was only a few kilometers from the German border, the city was occupied on the very first day of the invasion. On June 23, by order of the Gestapo, all Jews aged 15 and over had to report to the local police station so that they could be assigned to various forced labor programs. They were restricted in their movements to within the town and subject to a curfew. At the same time, Lithuanian police collaborators executed some Jews outside the town. On July 18, 1941, an SS detachment from Tilsit, East Prussia, passed through the city. They beat the Jews they encountered and damaged their places of worship. After trying to intervene, the local rabbi was lynched in public. The next day, about 130 Jewish men were taken to the synagogue, where they were forced to burn the sacred scriptures in a pit. Unable to bear this, the rabbi threw himself into the flames. The Jewish men were then taken out of the city to a labor camp. In 1943 and 1944, they were transferred to the Auschwitz and Dachau camps where they lost their lives. At the end of July 1941, the remaining Jewish women and children were rounded up in houses near the synagogue. In this small ghetto, the Jews were still subjected to forced labor. In September 1941, a Gestapo detachment, under the command of a certain S***, arrived in Vainutas. All the residents of the ghetto, 125 women and children, were then taken in trucks to the forest of the hamlet of Dargiškė, located 2.9 kilometers (1.8 miles) north of Vainutas. They were then all shot in a large mass grave.
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