Saukenai Jewish Cemetery
Saukenai (Shukyan in Yiddish) is a small town in central Lithuania, 20 miles from the district capital Siauliai. Jews first settled in Saukenai at the beginning of the eighteenth century. In 1766, there were 177 Jewish poll taxpayers, who made their living from small scale trading with the surrounding villages. Market days and fairs were their main source of income. 569 Jews lived in Saukenai in 1847, and according to the all-Russian census of 1897, this had increased to 624 out of a total population of 992, which was 63% of the town.
The wooden synagogue of Saukenai built in the eighteenth century was famous for its beautiful carved bimah and aron kodesh. In the years 1867-1869, the rabbi of the Saukenai was Yitzhak-Yaakov Reines, one of the founders of the Mizrahi party. The synagogue burnt down in 1944.
During the period of the Independent Lithuanian State, the Saukenai Jews made their living from trade, crafting, and light industry while in the nearby villages there were several Jewish farmers. According to the government survey of 1931, there were four Jewish shops: three textile shops and an agency for Singer sewing machines. According to the same survey, there were six Jewish-owned factories: one shoe manufacturer, two sawmills, one flour mill, one leather factory and one millinery.
The economic crisis of the 1930s and the anti-Semitic propaganda of the Association of Lithuanian Merchants led to a boycott of Jewish shops, causing many to emigrate, mainly to South Africa and the USA. In 1937, there were still ten Jewish artisans in Saukenai: three shoemakers, two tailors, two butchers, a baker, a hatter and a knitter.
The Germans entered Saukenai on the 26th of June 1941. At that time there were 300 Jewish residents in the village, which was 43% of the town. On July 31st 1941, 273 local Jews were murdered by a German Einsatzgruppen together with Lithuanian collaborators in a forest 4 miles north from Saukenai.
The Jewish cemetery dates back to the 18th century. There are 162 gravestones and their fragments remaining in Saukenai cemetery. The cemetery was in use until the destruction of the Jewish community during the Holocaust. In 1993, the cemetery was registered into the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania. There is a memorial stone with an inscription in Lithuanian and Yiddish: “The old Jewish cemetery. May their memory be eternal”