Obeliai Jewish Cemetery
The Jewish community of Obeliai is quite old and it goes back to the 16th century. According to the census in the Russian Empire of 1897, there were 652 Jews in Obeliai, in 1923 the Jewish population grew to 768 comprising 67% of the total population, and before the Holocaust, there were around 300 Jewish families in the settlement.
Most of the Jews of Obeliai made a living from trade, commerce, and crafting. In the interwar period, many Jews were shopkeepers and homeowners. Some maintained fruit and vegetable farms and sold their yield abroad. According to a survey conducted by the Lithuanian government in 1931, there were 19 stores and business establishments, of which 15 were owned by Jews (79%). Towards the mid-1930s the economic and political situation in Lithuania worsened and many Jews emigrated overseas, especially to South Africa.
There was a Synagogue in Obeliai, a Beit Midrash, and a Hasidic prayer house. The Jews of Obeliai were divided between Hasidism and Misnagdim and prayed separately. There were great hostilities between them. Conflict broke out frequently between the two camps. Most of the Jewish children learned in Cheders, and only few studied in the Russian elementary school. In the 1930s a Hebrew school of the Tarbut system was operating in Obeliai.
Immediately upon the entrance of the Germans into Obeliai on June 26, 1941, the persecution of the Jews started. On August 25 armed Lithuanians took the local Jews, together with refugees from the nearby villages, to the village of Antanoshe, about 3 miles from Obeliai and there they were all cruelly murdered and buried in a mass grave. According to the German source, 112 Jewish men, 627 Jewish women, and 421 Jewish children were murdered.
One of the most famous natives of Obeliai was Joe Slovo (born Yossel Mashel Slovo), a South African politician, and an opponent of the apartheid regime. He was a long-time leader and theorist in the South African Communist Party, a leading member of the African National Congress and a minister in Nelson Mandela’s government.
The Jewish cemetery in Obeliai (Abel in Yiddish) is located at the edge of this little town. It has no fence and there are about 230 gravestones mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries. Descendants of the town’s residents, directed by Rabbi Mayer Abramowitz, renovated and rededicated the cemetery in 2003.