Arūnas Bubnys (born November 7, 1961) is a Lithuanian historian and archivist. He started his studies at Vilnius University  in 1985. In 1993 he received a Ph. D.for the thesis Lietuvių antinacinė rezistencija 1941-1944 m. (English: Lithuanian Anti-Nazi Resistance 1941-1944).
By Dr. Arūnas Bubnys

Jews settled down in Vilkaviškis in the 16th century. A good geographical location (it is in the vicinity of the German border) served as a good basis for the town to become an important trade centre between Russia and Germany in the 19th century. In ca 1623, one of the oldest synagogues in Lithuania was built in the town (it was burned down by the German Army on 22 June 1941 - note by A.B.).

In the 19th century Jews made up the biggest share of the town’s population. According to the 1897 census, the Jewish population of Vilkaviskis totaled to 3,480 (60% of all the population). However, according to the 1923 census, the Lithuanians totaled to 3,228 (47.7%) and the Jews to 3,166 (45.2 %). According to unofficial statistical data of 1 January 1941, the Jews made up 6,994 (7.37%) of all the inhabitants in Vilkaviskis County.

During the German occupation, there were 11 districts in Vilkaviskis County. More numerous Jewish communities lived in Vilkaviškis, Kybartai, Virbalis and Pilviškis. In other districts, the Jewish population was scarce or not present at all (i.e. in Pajevonis District). During Lithuania’s Independence,

Vilkaviškis started to play a less significant role as the main trade town of Suvalkija, as it was taken over by Marijampole. Still, the town remained a rather important centre of trade and industry. In the first years of independence the local Jewish community played a very important part in the town’s cultural and political life. In 1924 September elections to the town’s council, the representatives of Jews got the majority of votes. Mauša Kleinšteinas was elected the Head of the Council.

In the inter-war period the majority of the town’s Jews were engaged in trade or had some sort of their own business: processed bristle or produced tobacco, soap, confectionery. The companies of Kabaker, Fisher and other exporting agricultural production were known not only in Suvalkai Region but also behind its boundaries. There were also a few large Jewish factories operating in the town: a cigar factory, an oil factory, a few soap workshops, a bristle processing enterprise and horsehair trade enterprise. In 1929 the bank of the Jewish people had 348 members. After Lithuania’s declaration of independence in 1918, there was a Jewish primary school founded in Vilkaviškis, which was quite different from the before existent cheders, where only religion and the Hebrew used to be taught. In 1919 one of the first Jewish gymnasiums was founded in the town. In the times of the Republic of Lithuania about 360 students graduated from it. Furthermore, the local Jewish community had divisions of various political parties, libraries, nursing homes for old people,sports clubs and other institutions.

The German army occupied Vilkaviškis on the first day of the war. The town was severely bombed and hammered by the heavy artillery. Meanwhile, at the border there was a stiff battle going on between the Wermacht divisions and the Soviet frontier troops. After the occupation of the town, Germans burned many Jewish houses and the old synagogue. After that they established a German Military Commander’s Office, founded Lithuanian police and a squad of “partisans” (white-bands). The Jews were told to put on yellow patches on their breasts and backs. After a few days local white-bands started to arrest communists, members of the Young Communist League and the Jews. On 30 April the arrested Jews were herded to the former three storied building of Vilkaviškis seminary which was barbed and guarded by the local white-bands and the police. There, the imprisoned Jews were brutally beaten, searched
and robbed. On 14 July 1941 the arrested were moved from the seminary to the barracks. The guards continued to beat the Jewish and to make fun of them in different ways. Every day able-bodied Jews were taken to the town to clean the streets and the ruins.

At the end of July the arrested Jews were taken to the grounds not far away from the barracks and in three days they dug up a 25-m long and a few metres deep ditch. On 28 July the arrested were taken out to the yard of the barracks and divided into some groups. One of the prisoners’ groups was sent to the storage of the barracks to clean guns. Soon two lorries full of German Gestapo soldiers drove into the yard. A quite large group of Lithuanian communists and members of the Young Communist League from the town prison were also brought over. The Lithuanian policemen took the arrested to the dug up ditch in groups. The destined were shot by German soldiers. Meanwhile, the Lithuanian policemen guarded the barracks and the shooting place in the firing grounds. The massacre lasted for 3 - 5 hours. That day about 500 - 700 Jews and 60 - 70 Lithuanian comm unists and soviet activists were shot. Only 7 Jewish men escaped the death.

After the massacre, 1 - 1.5 months later, the remaining Jewish families were ordered to move from their flats to the barracks. E. Oshry wrote that the Jewish women and children of Vilkaviškis were shot on 24 September 1941. However, this massacre has not been mentioned in K. Jäger’s report. It can be presumed that the massacre was carried out not by the Hamann but by Tilž Gestapo squad. The Jews who were allowed to move could take their valuables with them.

In 1941 soviet war prisoners dug up new ditches. On 15 November 1941 the remaining Jews of Vilkaviškis  were shot. In his
report K. Jäger, the head of the German Security Police and the SD, dated 1 December 1941, recorded that on that day in Vilkaviškis all in all 115 Jews were killed (36 men, 48 women and 31 children). That time the Jews were shot by Vilkaviškis policemen. The property of the massacred Jews was later sold out to the local population. The massacre of Vilkaviškis Jews was the last massacre of Jews in the Lithuanian province in 1941.

Only few Jews escaped from death. A seventeen-year-old Jewish girl Faktorovsky was one of the lucky ones. The family of
Čižauskien÷ helped to save her life and hid the Jewish girl at her relatives’ place in the countryside. During all the Nazi occupation period the family of Eugenija Dimšien hid the son of Vilkaviškis sweet factory owner Juozas Demontas. Although the neighbours knew that Dimšas family raised a Jewish boy, nobody gave them in. There were more cases like that. Unfortunately, they were not recorded on time and remain in oblivion

A small town in Southern Lithuania
Where the Jewish Community is no more
The Holocaust
A Lithuanian historian Dr. Arunas Bubnys describes the Holocaust in Vilkaviskis

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