Druskininkai Jewish Cemetery
Druskininkai is the oldest Lithuanian spa town, famous for its mineral water springs and impressive nature. Jews began settling in Druskininkai in the middle of the 18th century and by 1897 they made up about half of the town’s population (636 of 1280). The town’s Jews engaged in various crafts and trades and actively contributed to the development of the town. The strength and the activeness of the Jewish community is evidenced by the hospital and charity house for impoverished Jews, which was established in 1853. The town’s synagogue stood in the very heart of the town, on the right hand side of the current Vilniaus Alėja (Vilnius Avenue). It was surrounded by Jewish-owned shops. There were several Jewish schools: traditional cheder and later on cheder Metucan, which were more progressive. During World War I the Germans opened a German school for all children of Druskininkai and allowed Jewish pupils three hours weekly for the study of their religion and Hebrew. In the 1920s a Yiddish school was opened. Its’ teachers developed many cultural activities within the school and outside of it, such as a library and a drama group which were open to everyone.
The town was seized by the Germans at the end of June 1941. The local Jews, about 800 people, were driven into the ghetto in the outskirts of the city and in August 1942 the prisoners were deported to the Kolbasin concentration camp near Grodno. A few weeks after their arrival in Kolbasin, the Druskininkai Jews were sent to the death camp Treblinka. Today, the painful history of Druskininkai Jews is marked by a Holocaust Memorial created in 1992 to commemorate the town’s Jewish victims during the Second World War.
The site of the former cemetery is located on the top of a sandy hill and surrounded by forest. There is a small wooden arrow pointing the way to a modest memorial, inside of which the outline of a Star of David with a small concrete plaque was erected. In the corners of the Star fragments of 3 remaining gravestones were placed. The cemetery was consecrated in the 1880’s during the founding of the town’s Jewish community and it was demolished in 1967. Today an area of 225 m² inside a 60m perimeter is under governmental protection, it is unclear if the cemetery historically was larger than this area. Amongst those interred in the cemetery is the mother of renowned Litvak painter and sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, Rachele Leah Krinski Lipchitz. Lipchitz’s father Abraham ran the “Central” Hotel, whose building has survived to the present day and maintains its original interior. In front of this hotel there is a small wooden building, where the young artist spent his childhood and in 1996 a museum was established in it.