Birzh, Lithuania


Report by Abel Levitt, who with his wife Glenda, has just returned from Lithuania.

While in Lithuania last week we spent a fascinating 4 days in Birzai, known to the Jews who lived there as Birzh.

On 8th August 1941 the 2400 Jews of the town were marched to the forest where they were all murdered, Men, Women and Children.

There exists in Birzai an ancient Karaite and Jewish cemetery. For years it remained neglected and uncared for.

And then a few years ago, the local teacher of History and Tolerance, Vidmantas Jukonis, together with his son Merunas, also a teacher of History, started a project of cleaning up the cemetery  ,  removing the overgrown grass and weeds, and cutting the trees.  They were joined by the local Reformed Lutheran Church where they are members ,and then by a Lutheran

community in Germany who came to Birzai in the summer, camped outside the walls of the cemetery, and helped with the work. Later they made contact with

SEFER, the well-known organization in Moscow specializing in Jewish Heritage,  Sefer conducted a big 3 year academic international project

The participants were:

1) Center for University Teaching of Jewish Civilization "SEFER" .Moscow                                

2) Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences .Moscow                                    

3) Centre for the Studies of the Culture and History of East European Jews . Vilnius                                   

4)Birzai Regional Museum "Sela" Birzai                                 

 5) Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Authority . Jerusalem

Professionals and Volunteers joined in the project and expertly cleaned the gravestones, identified the names, and mapped out the gravestones that were still there. The leader of the final group was Motl Gordon, a St. Petersburg Jew, who became religious a few years ago, fluent in Yiddish.  This final group was funded by the Birzai municipality (half) and by local sponsors, including the family of Sheftel Melamed, the last Jew in Birzai, who passed away on 31st August 2015. The Birzai district municipality also helped with materials, logistics and more.

The Birzai "Ausra" secondary school's Tolerance Education Centre,  headed by Vidmantas Jukonis  provided volunteers , citizens of Birzai, who remembered Jews, arranged meetings for those people, and drove groups of students to meet them.

In Birzai on Friday afternoon an event was held to celebrate the completion of the project, and to launch the book that had been written about the project and its findings.

The book, 374 pages , in Russian, was published by SEFER  with the help of

the  GENESIS Philanthropy Group and the UJA FEDERATION OF NEW YORK.


There is little in English in the book. But from the table of contents (in

English) it appears that there is much of interest. The book is written in

the form of essays written by scholars involved in the project and tables recording the 1627 stones that were found in the cemetery, mostof them with names.

Glenda and I were given a copy. When I asked if we could buy some more, for family and friends with an interest in Birzai (Birzh) Motl Gordon told usthat they had distributed the few copies that they had brought for the event, but that he would enquire from Sefer in Moscowwhat the cost would be to buy.

It is hoped that a translation into English will be available via a PDF document on-line.

Attached are photos of the front cover (1), the back cover (2), a photo on

the inside front cover (5) and a photo on the inside back cover (6).

This book is of great historic importance.

A rough check of the list of tombstones shows that the last two tombstones

to be erected and that remain are those of Barukh Michaelson (he was the

famous town photographer) who died on 13th July 1939, and Herce (Hirsch) Evin,  who died in 1940.  Michaelson's tombstone was found buried during the work on the cemetery and restored.  It should be noted that after the Soviet occupation in

June 1940 Jewish religious life came to a halt and it is probable that no further Jewish funerals and consecration of tombstones took place.  There was however a tombstone dated 1945. And the newer tombstones from the '30's were probably stolen and used in building as was the case throughout Lithuania.





June 15

The project in Birzai is moving ahead.

We have had a meeting in Israel and we will be establishing a Tolerance Centre in a local school, constructing a monument with names at the site of the mass graves, and hopefully adding a Jewish display in the municipal museum which has nothing indicating the presence of a Jewish community 100's of years old, until it's destruction in August 1941.

We would greatly appreciate your bringing this to the attention of the Jewish community in Australia. There are surely many descendants of Birzai (Birzh) people in Australia.  

Glenda and I will be addressing a meeting of the SA Genealogical Society in Johannesburg when we are there in the latter part of July and will hold a meeting in Cape Town as well. Benny will also host a meeting of Birzh people while we are in Cape Town.

We have a busy time ahead. Any help that you can give us would be greatly appreciated.

Abel & Glenda Levitt


0875  Birzai.  Marunas the young director of Youth activities in Birzai, Abel and Seftel Leib Melamed, aged 89, the last Jew in Birzai


Report by Abel & Glenda Levitt November 2015