In the Period of World War II and Afterwards
It should be mentioned that Mariampol Jews provided help to refugees from the Suvalk region at the end of 1939 in spite of the fact that their own situation was continuously deteriorating. In agreement with the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty the Russians occupied the Suvalk region, but after delineation of exact borders between Poland, Russia and Germany the Suvalk region fell into German hands. The retreating Russians allowed anyone who wanted to join them to move into the occupied territory, and indeed many young people left the area together with the Russians. The Germans kicked out the Jews remaining in Suvalk and the vicinity from their homes; they were robbed of their possessions, then directed to the Lithuanian border, and left in dire poverty. The Lithuanians did not allow them to enter Lithuania and the Germans did not allow them to go back. Thus they stayed in this swampy area in cold and rain for several weeks, until Jewish youth from the border villages in Lithuania smuggled them into Lithuania by different routes, with much risk to themselves. Altogether about 2,400 refugees passed through or infiltrated on their own, and were then dispersed in the Vilkavishk and Mariampol districts. In Mariampol alone 250 refugees were accommodated, among them tens of "Chalutzim", who got a warm welcome and loyal assistance for which Lithuanian Jews were famous.
In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. When troops of the Red Army entered Mariampol, many Jews welcomed them joyfully. This agitated some Lithuanians and for three days Lithuanian hoodlums rampaged in the town. In many Jewish houses windows were shattered and many windows of Jewish stores were shattered as well. An eyewitness recounted that the town looked like after a bombing. As a matter of fact, many of the rioters were detained, but they were released after signing a promissory note not to repeat such acts.
Following new rules, the majority of the factories and shops belonging to the Jews of Mariampol were nationalized. All the Zionist parties and youth organizations were dismissed and several of the activists were detained. Hebrew educational institutions were closed. Supply of goods decreased and, as a result, prices soared. The middle class, mostly Jewish, was hit hard, and the standard of living dropped gradually. Several families, the owners of nationalized factories or shops were exiled deep into Russia.
On Sunday, June 22, 1941, at dawn, Mariampol was bombed by the German Army air strike. The center of the town was destroyed. Twenty people, most of them Jews, were killed. Jews left without housing found shelter in Jewish homes that remained unscathed
The German Army entered Mariampol the next day, on Monday, June 23, 1941, encircling the town and blocking all the roads leading eastwards. Most of the Jews who escaped from town had to return. Many were murdered by Lithuanians who ambushed them. Only a few managed to reach Russia.
The Lithuanians welcomed the Germans with open arms and immediately started actions against Jews. Already on the first days of the occupation Jews were arrested under false pretences. All of the arrested were murdered in a ditch about 4 km from Mariampol in the direction of Vilkavishk (Vilkaviskis).
Jews were forced to go to work every morning: Men were forced to pick up the debris, women had to work in agricultural labor and housekeeping. The elderly, the towns Rabbi Avraham-Zeev Heler among them, were forced to sweep the streets.
Avraham Dembner, a native of the suburb Tarpuch, returned in 1946 to Mariampol from Russia and was told by former neighbors about a few young men who staged resistance to Germans and their Lithuanian helpers after being pushed to forced labor. Zeev Papirnik, a 24 year old man, snatched a riffle from one Lithuanian, shot one of them to death and wounded the other. He was tortured and murdered.
Mendel Agronitzky resisted the murderers who came to take him for work and separated him from his wife and his daughters. He was shot on the spot.
A few young Jewish people, among them the brothers Vilkozhirsky, Palnitzky and Ruzhnitzky were hanged publicly at the market place for resisting the Germans.
On the 15th of July 1941 the governor of Mariampol district published an order according to which: 1) Jews were forbidden to walk in the following streets: Vytauto, Church, Donelaicio, Petras Armino and Dariaus ir Gireno; 2) Jews were forbidden to visit beaches, parks, coffee shops, restaurants, libraries and similar places;
3)Jews were forbidden to purchase food products on the streets, roads, yards and markets. They would be allowed to buy their food in special shops as determined by the mayor, or in the general shops at restricted times 4) it was forbidden for Jews to use services of non-Jews; 5) all the Jews, despite sex or age, had to wear a yellow patch on the front and on the back of their garments in the form of a "Magen-David", 8-10 cm in diameter. Every Jew caught without the patch would be put in jail.
One day a group of Jews were brought to the yard of the Synagogues and forced to take out all the Torah Scrolls and Holly books from the Synagogues, pile them up and burn them. Chanan-Musikant - a musician and a "Badchan" (comedian) at weddings - jumped into the fire to retrieve a Torah Scroll. The Germans snaatched it away from him and threw it back into the fire. He suffered a hard beating.
There was also an order to greet every German soldier by taking off the hat and bowing low. One day the former teacher of the Hebrew high-school Ayerov, a very polite and quiet man, but pensive and a little distraught, failed to notice a German soldier and didn't greet him. The German slapped Ayerov and without hesitation he slapped the German back. He was arrested and murdered in jail.
The same month an order was published that the Jews had to leave their houses and gather in the synagogues and a few adjoining buildings. It was easier for the Germans to assault Jews in this crowded area, take them to forced labor and abuse young women at night. From time to time the Germans would choose young strong men for so-called "work" and then they would murder them in places near town.
In August the Germans forced young Jewish men to dig large ditches behind the barracks near the Sheshupe river. The men found out that the ditches were for the Jews. When the young people told their parents about it the parents were so disturbed they were running to try to cancel the order, but they didn't succeed.
At the end of the same month Jewish public workers were summoned to the Lithuanian District Governor who informed them that in a s short time a large Ghetto would be formed near the cavalry barracks and the adjoining area. To deceive them he promised that, as long as the war continued, Jews would administer their public and economic affairs by themselves.
The Jews packed their belongings, prepared food for a few days and went in a long cavalcade to the barracks. Upon arrival men were separated and forced into crowded stables. On the following days the men were relentlessly abused by an imposition of "Sports exercises", as the Germans called it. Jews from Kazlu-Ruda, Liudvinova and other nearby villages were brought to the barracks. On the 30th of that month Jews from Kalvaria were brought to that same place. In a similar fashion, men from these groups were forced into the crowded stables. Afterwards, they were ordered to join in the "Sports exercises".
On Monday, 9th of Elul 5611, (1.9.1941), Mariampol Jews, together with the others who were brought there, about 7,000-8,000 Jews and about 1,000 people of other nationalities were murdered. All were buried in 8 ditches that were dug beforehand, each ditch 70 m long, 3 m wide at the top, and 2 m at the bottom. The ditches were near the Sheshupe river, at the right side of the bridge, on the road to Kalvaria. The massacres started at 10 in the morning and ended at 4 in the afternoon. The murderers were mostly Lithuanians, among them University and high school students who volunteered for the "job".
The Jewish men were brought to the ditches in groups of 100-200 men, completely naked. They were forced to lie down in the ditches in lines. From above they were shot by machine guns. When the women and childrens turn came a tremendous and tumultuous agitation began, while the drunk murderers began pushing victims into ditches, crashing the heads of children with clubs and spades. Because of the tumultuous agitation many of the victims were wounded but not dead, thus they were buried alive. Lithuanian eyewitnesses recounted that most of the victims were deeply depressed, as if in a fog. Other Lithuanians who were brought to the place to cover the graves the next day told that earth under the graves moved for a long time after the massacre.
Following the murders the bandits divided the goods they have looted from the victims and returned to town singing in a drunk fashion and celebrating the whole night.
Religion and Welfare
The three Synagogues, built around one courtyard before WWI, continued to fulfill their designation in this period as well. The central Synagogue would be closed in winter, because there was no heating.
The Rabbis who were appointed in this period in Mariampol were: Avraham-Dov Popel who was the Deputy Chairman of the "Nationalrat" (National Committee) of Lithuanian Jews, Chairman of the Association of the Rabbis and a delegate of the Lithuanian Seimas (died in Mariampol in 1923); Avraham-Ze'ev Halevi Heler (from 1923), who was the last Rabbi of Mariampol and perished in the "Shoah". Shlomo-Pinchas Butnitzky (died in 1932).was appointed as the "Dayan" (Religious Judge)
After the liquidation of the Community Committee in the middle of the twenties, all welfare activities were taken over by the "Ezrah" association. Together with "Adath Israel" it helped the poor, raised money for "Maoth Chitim" (money to buy Matzoth for Pesach) and for the "Moshav Zkeinim" and also acted on special welfare issues. The "Association of the former Mariampol Jews in America" sent $200 for "Maoth Chitim" every year and from time to time would send several boxes of second hand clothes for the poor of the town.
The "OZE" organization maintained a clinic for children and a dental clinic. Its main function was health maintenance among Jewish schoolchildren. Weak and poor children would be sent to summer camps for convalescence at the expense of the organization.
The "Gemiluth Chesed" society dealt loans without interest to needy people. The other welfare societies continued to act as before: "Bikur Cholim", "Linat haTzedek", "Chevrah Kadishah"etc.
Among the natives of Mariampol it is worth to mention: the poet Alter Abelson, later a Rabbi and a preacher in Brooklyn; Shmuel-Tsvi Peltin (1831-1897) who was the publisher of the periodical "Israelita" in the Polish Language for 31 years in Warsaw; Moshe ben Ya'akov Goldshtein who translated the "Hagada of Pesah" and the whole "Machzor" (The prayer book of the Holidays) into the Russian Language; the writer and translator into Hebrew Avraham-Aba Rakovsky; the journalist and writer of Hebrew books for the youth Avraham Frank (1884-Holocaust); the Zionist activists Alexander Goldshtein and Aba-Yitshak Rosental (1875-1948); Moshe-David Heiman, who established the first factory of concrete products in Mariampol; the doctors Prof. Yehoshua Bronshtein and his brother Prof. Aharon Bronshtein; the pedagogue Dr. Baruch ben Yehuda (Leibovitz, 1894-1990), chairman of the Education Department of the "Va'ad Leumi", the first director general of the Education and Culture Ministry in Israel, the director of the "Hertzeliya" high-school and Holder of the "Israel Award" for Education (1979); Dr. Eliyahu Segal (1891-1963), the first sports doctor in Lithuania, who was very active in "Maccabi" and published many articles on medical subjects in the daily press in Israel; the painter Aryeh-Leib Margushelsky (1914-1982) founder of the high school for painting in Tel-Aviv; Israel Biderman (Izis), photographer and writer; the painter Moshe Rozentalis (born in1922).
Two families committed suicide. Dr.David Rosenfeld administered poison to himself, his wife and his daughter. Cantor Lansky also took poison himself, gave poison to his wife and his three children.
After the war the survivors of Mariampol Jewish community placed a tombstone on the site of the graves. In 1992 a new monument was built (see image below)
The site of the mass graves near the military barracks and the Monument at the site. The inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian says:
"Here blood was spilled of about 8000 Jewish children, women, men and of 1000 people of different nationalities, that the Nazis and their local helpers cruelly murdered in September 1941"
In the same year a monument was erected in Shunsk (Sunskai) forest near Mariampol (see image below).
The site of the mass grave and the monument on it. The inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian says: "Here blood was spilled of 200 Jews, children, women and men, who were cruelly murdered by the Nazis and their helpers in 1941. Let the memory of the martyrs last forever".
In the same surroundings, in Rudziai grove, another monument was erected (see image below).
The site of the mass grave with the monument. The inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian reads: "In this place the Hitlerist murderers and their local helpers murdered Jews from Marijampol in July 1941".
In the "Holocaust Cellar" at Mt. Zion in Jerusalem a Memorial Plaque was put up for the Mariampol Community
In 1992 a monument was place where the Jewish cemetery once was with no trace of it The inscription on the monument in Hebrew, Yiddish and Lithuanian says that there was a Jewish cemetery in this place.
The small Lithuanian Encyclopedia, Vilnius 1966-1971 (Lithuanian)
The Lithuanians Encyclopedia, Boston 1953-1965 (Lithuanian)
Lite, New-York 1951, volume 1 (Yiddish)
The Jewish Encyclopedia, St. Petersburg 1908-1913, (Russian)
Yahaduth Lita, (Hebrew) Tel-Aviv volumes 1-4
Yad-Vashem archives: M-9/13(2); M-21/1/357,670; 0-33/03,85,159,282,283,422.
Koniuchovsky Collection 0-71, Files 128, 130; TR-2/2849,2934; TR-10/1096
Central Zionist Archives: 55/1788; 55/1701; 13/15/131; Z-4/2548
JIVO,NY, Collection of the Jewish Communities in Lithuania, Files 585-658, pages 103, 922-925, 28, file 1667.
HaMeilitz (St. Petersburg) (Hebrew): 20.5.1879; 20.7.1880; 3.8.1880; 7.6.1881; 20.9.1881; 21.4.1884; 22.10.1886; 7.2.1893; 17.9.1893.
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
From the Beginning to the End - The book of the history of "haShomer -haTzair" in Lithuania (Hebrew), Tel-Aviv 1986.
Marijampole -Lithuania (Hebrew, Yiddish, and English) Published by the former Mariampol Jews, Tel-Aviv 1983.
Unzer Veg (Zionist-Socialist newspaper) , Kovno (Yiddish): 18.7.1924; 15.8.1924; 18.1.1925; 24.1.1926; 22.9.1926; 27.2.1929.
Neis (News) Kovno (Yiddish): 22.8.1921.
Der Yiddisher Cooperator, Kovno (Yiddish) 1922, Number 2-3
Dos Neie Vort (The new Word), Kovno (Yiddish): 4.5.1934;10.5.1934
Dos Vort, Kovno (Yiddish): 28.9.1934; 31.1.1939; 26.2. 1939; 5.6.1939
Folksblat, Kovno (Yiddish): 21.5.1934; 5.6.1935; 13.6.1935; 19.6.1935; 26.7.1935; 28.10.1936; 9.3.1937; 16.3.1937; 24.9.1937; 25.4.1939; 13.6.1939; 22.6.1939; 13.7.1939; 6.9.1939.
Di Yiddishe Shtime (The Yiddish Voice) Kovno (Yiddish): 5.9.1919; 24.1.1923; 9.3.1928; 20.9.1928; 30.4.1929; 7.6.1929; 12.6.1929; 14.2.1930; 28.3.1930; 7.7.1930; 27.5.1931; 26.6.1931; 1.12.1931; 26.4.1932; 20.5.1932; 22.6.1932; 8.3.1933; 7.3.1937; 4.11.1937; 1.3.1938; 12.1.1939; 24.2.1939; 13.3.1939; 14.3.1939;
Yiddisher Hantverker (Jewish Artisan) Kovno, (Yiddish) 1.11.1938
Bemisholei haChinuch (In the paths of education) Kovno (Hebrew), May 1939, May 1940
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murder in Lithuania) vol. 1-2, Vilnius 1941-1944 (Lithuanian)
Pinkas haKehiloth. Lita (Encyclopedia of the Jewish Settlements in Lithuania) (Hebrew), Yad Vashem. Jerusalem 1996
The Book of Sorrow, Vilnius 1997
A list of Mariampol Donors for the Settlement of Eretz-Israel in 1909 as published in "haMeilitz" (the collector was A.J.Rosental)
Klatzkin Dr. Ya'akov