World War II broke out as result of the German invasion of Poland on the 1st of September 1939, and its consequences were felt several months later for Lithuanian Jews in general, and especially for Jews of the southern part of the state which bordered on Poland.
In agreement with the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty on the division of occupied Poland, the Russians occupied the Suvalk region, but after the delineation of exact borders between Russia and Germany the Suvalk region fell into German hands. The retreating Russians allowed anyone who wanted to join them to move into their occupied territory, and indeed many young people left the area together with the Russians. The Germans drove the remaining Jews out of their homes in Suvalk and its vicinity, robbed them of their possessions, then directed them to the Lithuanian border, where they were left in dire poverty, as the Lithuanians did not allow them to enter Lithuania and the Germans did not allow them to return. Thus they stayed in this swampy area in cold and rain for several weeks, until Jewish youths from the towns and villages of this part of the state smuggled them into Lithuania by various routes, with much risk to themselves. Altogether about 2,400 refugees passed through the border or infiltrated on their own, and were then dispersed in the "Suvalkija" region (the part of Lithuania laying on the left side of the Nieman river).
In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, the majority of the shops belonging to the Jews of Aran were nationalized.
All Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded and the Hebrew school was closed.
Supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, bore most of the brunt, and the standard of living dropped gradually.
The Germans were already in Aran on the 23rd of June 1941, the second day of the German army's invasion into the USSR. The fast advance of the Germans prevented the escape of the local Jews, and thus all remained in town.
The first days after the occupation passed relatively quietly. On the surface nothing changed and there were no offences against Jews. But under the surface there was intensive activity among Lithuanians in order to integrate into the "new order" and to get rid of the Jews.
The "Activists", the local "intelligence" were headed by Adv. Minkunas, who was also the inspector of forests, as well as the secretary of the local court, post clerks and others. They now wore white stripes with swastikas on their sleeves and waited for a signal to act. And the signal was given on Friday night, the 28th of June, when all Aran's Jewish men were woken and ordered to come to the police station in the morning with shovels in their hands. Seventy men presented themselves at the police station at five o'clock on that morning. The Lithuanian police chief delivered a venomous speech informing them that as from that day the life of Jews was not covered by law, and that they would have to work hard, because it was they who had brought disaster onto the Lithuanian people.
Amongst other things they were ordered to repair the roads which had been damaged during the fighting. The work was carried out under hard conditions, without food, without appropriate tools, and with much abuse by Lithuanian guards. In addition to the Jews being hit, they were robbed of their watches.
On the 1st of July Jewish youngsters who were members of the "Komsomol" (Communist youth) organization were taken to a nearby forest and shot. On the 3rd of July the Jews were ordered to hand over their cows and bicycles. On the 10th of July a "Judenrat" of 12 members was established in order to act as liaison with the authorities and to ensure the execution of their orders.
On the 16th of the month the Jews were ordered to put a yellow "Magen-David" on their garments, with the letter "J" on the front and back of their clothes, and were also forbidden to have any contact with non Jews.
The former communists sympathizers, who by now had become policemen, Gestapo clerks etc. treated the Jews with special harshness and cruelty.
On the 12th of August 1941 Lithuanian policemen raided Jewish houses looking for young, strong men and for important and intelligent Jews. Ten men were taken and, under the pretext that they would be sent to work, were sent to Alytus, where they were murdered together with Jews brought from other small towns in the surroundings. In Aran people did not want to believe that they had been murdered, although no news was heard from them for a long time.
On the 17th of August Jews were forced from their homes and eleven young men were taken to an unknown place.
On the 1st of September 24 Jews, among them women and sick people, were taken out of the town and disappeared. Meanwhile the chief of the local police Sadauskas and the chairman of the county council Tarila extorted money and valuables from the Jews, making various empty promises.
There were Jews who managed to sneak out of the town and to escape to the nearby towns Vasilishok and Radin, which belonged to Belarus, as people then thought that these outrages happened only to the Lithuanian Jews.
On the 5th of September Jews were abducted again for so called work, but were murdered on the way. The saw mill owner Miler was brutally tortured, all his money stolen, and after his wife and his 15 years old daughter were raped in his presence, all were shot.
On Monday, the 8th of September 1941, the remainder of Aran's Jews, about 125 people, among them 70 children, were concentrated into the synagogue. Armed Lithuanians, including all the civil servants of Aran, guarded the Jews to prevent their escape. One 12 years old girl, Liba Yurkansky, managed to escape, but the Council Chairman Tarila chased her on horse back and brought her back.
Hundreds of Lithuanians from the nearby villages arrived on carts and with sacks, in order to rob Jewish property.
The next day, the 9th of September (17th of Elul 5701) all were brought to a forest not far from Aran, where they were murdered.
According to German sources 541 Jewish men, 141 women and 149 children, altogether 831 Jews, were murdered on that day.
According to the list of mass graves published in the book "Mass murder in Lithuania" Vol. 2, the following are the mass graves of Aran:
In a forest 1.5 km from Aran, 200 meters on the left on the road to Druckunai village, lie 831 victims.
In Marcinkunai forest, between Lake Kastina and the railway station, some 200 meters from the station, lie about 200 victims.
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Yahaduth Lita, (Hebrew) Tel-Aviv, Volumes 1-4.
Yad-Vashem Archives-Files: M-1/E-63/19-1; 2215/2314; 0-3/640, 5760; TR-2/5096.
Koniukhovsky collection 0-71, files 34, 177.
YIVO, Lithuanian Communities Collection, file 105.
Central Zionist Archives: 55/1788; 55/1701; 13/15/131; Z-4/2548.
HaMeilitz (St. Petersburg) (Hebrew): 11.7.1894.
Cohen Berl,. Shtet, Shtetlach un Dorfishe Yishuvim in Lite biz 1918 (Towns, Small Towns and Rural Settlements in Lithuania till 1918) (Yiddish) New-York 1992.
Y.D.Kamzon, Yahadut Lita, page 21. (Hebrew) Mossad HaRav Kook - Jerusalem 1959.
Gotlib, Ohalei Shem, page14.
On the Ruines of Wars and Disturbances, Notebook of the regional "YeKoPo" committee 1919-1931 (Yiddish), editor Mosheh Shalit, Vilna 1931.
Di Yiddishe Shtime (The Yiddish Voice) Kovno (Yiddish): 11.1.1931,
Folksblat, Kovno (Yiddish): 19.4.1937.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murder in Lithuania) vol.2, Vilnius 1941-1944 (Lithuanian).
Pinkas haKehiloth. Lita (Encyclopedia of Jewish Settlements in Lithuania) (Hebrew), Editor: Dov Levin, Assistant editor: Yosef Rosin, Yad Vashem. Jerusalem 1996.
The Book of Sorrow, (Hebrew, Yiddish, English, Lithuanian), Vilnius 1997.