Zeimelis Jewish Cemetery
Zeimelis (Zheimel in Yiddish) is a small town in northern Lithuania, near the border with Latvia. It is likely that the local Jewish Community was established in Zeimelis in the 17th century. The Jews of Zeimelis made their living from commerce and agriculture. Almost every family had an auxiliary farm near their home. At the end of the 19th century the Jewish community was at its largest, in 1897 there were 679 Jewish residents comprising 54% of the town.
After World War I, Zeimelis was cut off from its rural hinterland, which was incorporated into Latvia. This led to the decline of the fortunes of the Zeimelis Jews, and many emigrated to South Africa, the United States, and Israel. The synagogue and the Beit Midrash were built in 1862. In 1887, Rabbi Abraham-Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, was elected the Rabbi of Zeimelis. Rabbi Kook officiated in the town for seven years and enriched the library of the Beit Midrash and strengthened the welfare societies, his efforts also led to the construction of a bathhouse. In 1903, R. Kook emigrated to Israel, where he was the Chief Rabbi of Israel, between 1921 and his death in 1936.
During the period of the independent Lithuanian state, the Jews of Zeimelis made their living mainly by commerce. The Jewish merchants were engaged in the export of flax and grain, while others made their living as buyers in the villages, teamsters, packers and other jobs. However from the 1930s, the number of Jews in the town dwindled. Due to the crisis in Lithuania and the propaganda against buying from Jews, many of Zeimelis’ Jews decided to emigrate abroad.
The Jewish children received their primary education at the Hebrew school of the Tarbut network. There was a library in the town and an amateur troupe which gave theatre performances in the surrounding towns. Many of Zeimelis’ Jews belonged to the Zionist camp, and almost all the Zionist parties were represented in the town. Among Zionist youth movements which were active in the town were both Betar and Hehalutz. Sports activities took place at the local Maccabi branch.
On the eve of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, 205 Jews lived in Ziemelis. The German army entered Zeimelis at the end of June 1941. Before that ten Jewish families had managed to escape to Russia. On the 8th of August 1941, the Lithuanian auxiliary police rounded up the Jews of Ziemelis, transported them into a nearby forest and murdered them there.
The exact date of the establishment of the Jewish cemetery in Zeimelis is unknown. Apparently, the territory for the cemetery was granted to Jews together with the permission to settle in the 17th century. The cemetery was in use until the Nazi occupation of Lithuania in summer 1941. Today the cemetery is covered by trees and grass and only 240 tombstones remain in the site. In 2001, the cemetery was included in the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage List. There is a small sign, written in Hebrew, Yiddish and Lithuanian, which says: “The old Jewish cemetery. Sacred is the memory of the deceased”