3 Execution site(s)
Edvardas C. (born in 1928) remembers the selection of Jews on the first days of the German occupation: “They took all of us, both Lithuanians and Jews, to the park next to Minija River. We spent the whole night there, under guard and unable to leave. A command was given several times for Lithuanians to separate from the Jews, but nobody did that. We also stayed, sitting close to the family of Fisheris whom we used to live with. The next morning gendarmes from Klaipėda surrounded the park and allowed people to go check their houses, but only the Lithuanians were let out of the park. If a Lithuanian resembled a Jew, had a darker face or a bent nose, he would be detained in the park for further examination, and the witnesses would be invited to confirm his identity.”
(Witness N°79, interviewed in Gargždai, on October 10, 2014)
“850 Soviet civilians, men, women and children, were shot and brutally tortured to death in the town of Gargždai, Kretinga Uyezd, during the German occupation. This information is based on the grave exhumation report and testimonies of the witnesses.”
[Local commission report compiled on April 11, 1945, in Kretinga, RG-22.002M.7021-94]
As a border town, Gargždai was a convenient location to conduct trading. The Jewish population started growing in the town after they were granted privilege by the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania Władysław IV Vasa in 1639. By the end of the 19th century, almost 1500 Jews lived in Gargždai, comprising 60 percent of the total population. They engaged in exporting lumber to Germany, thus most of them spoke German. Once independent Lithuania was established after WWI, exports started growing rapidly. The merchants from Gargždai traded flax, animal hides, chickens and geese, beans, and other merchandise. There was a synagogue and Bet Midrash in Gargždai, Zionist parties and Youth movements, as well as a Jewish bank, soccer team and a number of social organizations to help the poor and sick. The government survey conducted in 1931 revealed that Jews owned all 34 businesses and stores in the town. On the eve of WWII, the Jewish population was between 500 and 1000, including the refugees from the Klaipėda region, which was occupied by Germany in 1939. When the German army approached Gargždai on the first day of the war (June 22, 1941), it faced strong resistance from the Soviet troops, but captured the town the same afternoon.
On the second day of the war, the entire population of Gargždai was assembled in the market square and then in the town’s park, where Jews and Communists were then separated from the others. About 200 men were taken to an open-air camp near the German border, were forced to deepen and broaden an antitank trench left by the Soviets and were shot in it. This shooting was carried out on June 24, 1941, and it was the first mass execution of Jews organized by the Nazis in Lithuania. Meanwhile, Jewish women and children were confined in storehouses in Aneliškė manor, 1 km east of Gargždai, and forced to perform forced labor. About 250-300 people were kept there for several months until they all were shot in two separate executions in Vėžaitinė Forest in September 1941. Only one woman, Rachel Yomi, is known to have escaped the execution. She survived the war and married her rescuer, a Lithuanian teacher.
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