Skuodas Jewish Cemetery
The town of Skuodas (Shkud in Yiddish) lies in north-western Lithuania, on the border with Latvia, about 40 km from the coast of the Baltic Sea. Jewish settlement in Skuodas began in the 17th century, but until 1747 Jews were not allowed to live in the New Town of Skuodas, settling instead in the Old Town across the river. The population grew steadily over the next century and reached its peak at the end of the 19th century. According to the census of 1897, Jews comprised 60% of the population of the town. At the beginning of the 20th century, large numbers of Skuodas’ Jews emigrated to the USA, South Africa, the UK, and other destinations.
The Jewish community worked in trade, agriculture, transportation, and crafting. The shoe industry was particularly important, producing 400 pairs of shoes a day, which were marketed throughout Lithuania.
Until the end of World War I, the Jewish community was ruled by an elected committee of 12 people known as “The Dozen” (Di Tsvelftlech). In 1926 an elected board was replaced by the “Ezra” association, which ran the community’s affairs until its destruction in 1941.
Skuodas had two synagogues and several study houses. The Old Town synagogue, built at the beginning of the 18th century was one of the oldest in Lithuania, well-known for its elaborate interior with wood carvings. Other important institutions included the Hebrew kindergarten, a Yiddish pro-Gymnasium, a Hebrew pro-Gymnasium, and a Talmud Torah. Community organizations also included organizations for assisting the sick and poor, sporting associations, a choir, a dramatic circle, and a library. The town was active in supporting Zionism, with many active Zionist youth groups. All this ended with the coming of the Second World War to Lithuania. The entire Jewish Community of Skuodas was annihilated in summer 1941 in four different places in Skuodas and surroundings. Only a small part of Skuodas Jewish youth escaped together with the Red Army troops, most of them fell in the battlefields. Only a few men came back to their hometown after the war.
The Jewish cemetery in the town was established in the 18th century at the edge of the Old Town. During the Soviet era after World War II, the cemetery was destroyed. According to the recollections of those few Jews who survived the Holocaust and came back to Skuodas after the war, the Stalinists planned to build a new marketplace instead of the Jewish cemetery. But there was a Skuodas Jew who appealed to Moscow to prevent this vandalism. A marketplace was not built in the cemetery, but the tombstones were carted away for various building projects. All that remains is a flat cement base, shaped like a Star of David, into which a few upright fragments of tombstones have been set. During the Nazi occupation, the cemetery spot was the site of a massacre. On the 10th of July 1941, members of Skuodas’’ “Riflemen“ militia brought about 20 Jewish men to the cemetery and executed them in bomb craters. In 1996 the cemetery was included into the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania. At the entrance to the cemetery stands the monument, with an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian, reading “The Old Jewish Cemetery. Sacred is the memory of the dead.”