During and After World War II
After the German army occupied Poland in September 1939 and, in accordance with the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty the Russians occupied the Suvalk region, but after the delineation of exact borders between Poland, Russia and Germany, this 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 Jewish people left the area together with the Russians. The Germans expelled the remaining Jews from their homes, robbed them of their possessions, then directed them to the Lithuanian border, where they were left in dire poverty. The Lithuanians did not allow them to enter Lithuania and the Germans did not allow them back. Thus they stayed in this swampy area in the cold and rain for several weeks, until Jewish youths from the border villages in Lithuania smuggled them into Lithuania by various routes, at much risk to themselves. Young Jews from Meretch, which was close to the border, were active in smuggling many of these Jews into the country and giving them a warm welcome in Meretch as well as loyal assistance, for which Lithuanian Jews were famous. Altogether about 2,400 refugees crossed through or infiltrated on their own, and were then dispersed in Lithuania.
In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. According to Soviet economic policy some Jewish factories and shops were nationalized and commissars were appointed to run them, the craftsmen being forced to organize into cooperatives. Supply of goods was restricted, as a result of which prices soared, and the middle class, mostly Jewish, was badly hit with its living standard dropping gradually. The Zionist parties and youth organizations were dispersed and some of its members were absorbed in the Comsomol - the Communist Youth Organization. The Hebrew school was closed and in its stead a Yiddish school opened. The headmaster A.Sidransky was dismissed and a teacher called Lurie was appointed in his place. The librarian M.Miklishansky was arrested and four Jewish families - Kabatchnik, Geler, Odientz, Kubitzky - were exiled deep into Russia.
0n June 22, 1941 the German army invaded the USSR . Units of the German army encircled Meretch cutting off all roads, so that not one Jew managed to escape from the town, except for a few who at this time were staying in Kovno. German bombing destroyed the center of the town and most of the Jewish families became homeless.
Together with the entry of the Germans into Meretch, the local Lithuanian bullies headed by a teacher of the elementary school, who was also the manager of the "Shaulist" nationalist organization, started to detain Jews, in particular those who were involved in some way in some activity connected to Soviet rule. The first victim was the youngster Hirsh Guzhansky, who was killed by Lithuanians in the center of town, in Kovno Street, with spades they carried, and buried there.
On the third day of the war, June 24, 1941, the detained Jews were led by the Lithuanians to the Jewish cemetery and there were forced to dig a big pit. Among them were Robert Aroliansky, Shalom Goldman, David Vildkin, Shmuel-Dov Pugatzky, Yitzhak Kopelman, Dov Kravitz, Menachem Krikshtansky. Then they were shot and buried in this pit. During that time several Jews were thrown into the Nemunas river and drowned.
After these murders the unrest in town decreased somewhat and many Meretch Jews deluded themselves by thinking that maybe they would now be left alone. Meanwhile news about the terrible murder of Jews in Kovno reached Meretch. Several Meretch Jews whose sons or relatives worked or studied in Kovno, got permission to go there in order to bring them back and a few actually returned home.
After a short while all Jews were ordered to concentrate in a particular site - the yard of the synagogues which became a Ghetto. Women and small children were crowded into the building of the "Klois" and the men into the "Beth Midrash". The Ghetto was encircled with barbed wire, with armed Lithuanians guarding it. Inside the Ghetto a committee was established whose members were the teacher Avraham Sidransky, Bezalel Veinstein and a few others. These committee members tried to develop contacts with the Lithuanians in order to make easier the life in the Ghetto, but all their efforts were of no avail. Every day groups of Jews heavily guarded were taken to various forced labor tasks. From time to time the Germans, helped by Lithuanians, would put together groups of Jewish men for transfer to a labour camp near Alytus, but in fact they were murdered on the way.
At the end of August 1941 Jews were made to dig long trenches beside the fence of the Jewish cemetery. Tension and fear among the Jews increased, but only a few realised the coming danger, the majority deluding themselves by saying that these trenches were meant for military purposes.
OnSeptember 7, 1941 the Ghetto was surrounded by heavily armed Lithuanians, who made their intentions very clear: "This is your last night, Jews. Tomorrow is your end". On the next day at dawn, on September 8th, the Jews were ordered to leave their abodes and to leave everything behind. Almost naked, being hit and cursed, they were led from the Ghetto to the Jewish cemetery and there beside the trenches they were shot and buried. Several young girls who managed to escape from the murder site, were caught later and murdered as well.
The Tombstone on the Mass Graves in the Forest of Marcinkonys
According to a German source, on this day 223 men, 355 women and 276 children, totalling 854 Jews, were murdered in Meretch.
After the town was liberated from Nazi rule in the summer of 1944, a native of the town, a girl partisan called Malka Pugatzky (later Smali), whose entire family had been murdered there, was the first Jew to arrive back in Meretch. At the site of the mass graves human bones and skulls were dispersed over the surface. She gathered them into a pile and applied to the police for help to bury them, but was not granted permission to do so. They hinted that she should leave town fast because her life was in danger.
Only after more survivors returned from the USSR, among them former soldiers of the Lithuanian Division of the Red Army, and after many efforts, did they receive permission from the authorities to erect two monuments on the two graves - one for the men and the other for the women and children. The inscriptions on the monuments were in Lithuanian and Yiddish, and the expenses of erecting the monuments were covered by the survivors.
In 1991 the inscriptions on the monuments were changed as follows: "At this place Hitler's murderers with their local helpers murdered 1,600 Jews - women, children"
The Monument on the Mass Graves near the Jewish Cemetery. One of the two adjacent Massacre sites.
In the town the "Beth Midrash" had become a granary, the "Shul" had been turned into a Lithuanian high school and of the "Klois" only the walls were left.
Pinkas Va'ad HaKehiloth HaRoshiyoth BeMedinath Lita, 5383-5521 ( Notebook of Major Communities in Lithuania, 1623-1761 ).
The Small Lithuanian Encyclopedia, Vilnius 1966-1971 (Lithuanian).
The Lithuanians Encyclopedia, Boston 1953-1965 (Lithuanian).
Glen M. Meretch (Yiddish) Lite, New York, Volume 2.
Yahaduth Lita, (Hebrew) Tel Aviv, Volumes 1-4.
Yad Vashem Archives: Koniuchovsky Collection 0-71, Files 93.121; 0-3/3925.
Central Zionist Archives: 55/1788; 55/1701; 13/15/131; Z-4/2548.
JIVO, NY, Collection of Jewish Communities in Lithuania, File 1531.
HaMeilitz (St. Petersburg) (Hebrew): 23.8.1880; 9.6.1884; 20.10.1884; 18.11.1885; 16.12.1885; 21.7.1887; 16.2.1891; 11.7.1894.
Gotlib. Ohalei Shem, page 120.
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.
Der Yiddisher Cooperator, Kovno (Yiddish)1929, Number 10.
Meretch-A Jewish Town in Lithuania, Editor Uri Shefer (Hebrew), Tel-Aviv 1988.
The First Conference of the Jewish Regional Committee "YeKoPo" for helping the Victims of the War, Vilna, September 1919.
Dos Neie Vort (The new Word), Kovno (Yiddish), 2.7.1934.
Dos Vort, Kovno (Yiddish): 17.12.1934; 14.2.1935; 26.11.1935.
Folksblat, Kovno (Yiddish): 10.3.1933.
Di Yiddishe Shtime (The Yiddish Voice) Kovno (Yiddish): 30/12/1920; 24.5.1928; 26.12.1929; 4.7.1930; 15.7.1930. 26.6.1931; 19.8.1931; 4.2.1932; 9.3.1933; 7.9.1933; 7.3.1937; 11.5.1937; 1.3.1938; 17.7.1938; 13.3.1939.
Yiddisher Hantverker (Jewish Artisan) Kovno, (Yiddish) 1.12.1938. Nr 6.
Masines Zudynes Lietuvoje (Mass Murder in Lithuania) vol. 1-2, Vilnius 1941-1944 (Lithuanian).
Pinkas HaKehiloth. Lita (Encyclopedia of Jewish Settlements in Lithuania) (Hebrew), Editor: Dov Levin, Assistant Editor: Joseph Rosin, Yad Vashem. Jerusalem 1996.
The Book of Sorrow (English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Lithuanian), Vilnius 1997.
A Partial List of Personalities Born in Meretch.
Harry Fishel (1865-1948), philanthropist, donated funds for establishing the "Tarbuth" school in Meretch, established the Harry Fishel Institute in Jerusalem, died in Jerusalem.
Max Leopold Margalith (1866-1932) Professor of Semitic languages and Bible research in American universities, Editor of the new English translation of the Bible.
Rabbi Zalman-Ya'akov Fridman (1865-?), Rabbi in New York and as from 1893 in Boston.
David-Eliyahu Stone (1888-?), from 1906 in America, one of the founders of the Zionist organization in the USA, member of the Zionist Executive, prosecutor in Massachusetts.
Luis Stone (1884-1957) brother of the above, prosecutor in Boston.
Aharon Frenkel (1886-1941), from 1903 in USA, Hebrew-Yiddish reporter and editor, member of the editorial board of "Hayom" and "Hadoar".
David Berezovsky (1896-1941), journalist and writer, lived in Grodno and from there was taken to be murdered in Treblinka.
Menachem Glen (Glembotzky) D.Ph. (1898-1978) from 1914 in the USA, published articles and books in Yiddish, Hebrew and English: "On the Shores of the Neman" (Hebrew), Jerusalem 1937; "Rashi - The Popular Teacher" (Yiddish), N.Y.1947 etc.
Ya'akov Glen D.M. (1905-1974) from 1923 in the USA, published articles on medical issues in the Hebrew and Yiddish press in America and a few books in Yiddish about health and diabetics.
Malkah Pugatzky-Senior-Smali (1919-1992), was very active in the autumn of 1939 in absorbing a group of "Gordonia" members, refugees from the Suvalk region, in Meretch and later in Kovno; being in the Kovno Ghetto joined the anti-fascist underground and took 17 Jewish babies out of the Ghetto bringing them to a Lithuanian nursery; joined the partisans in the Rudniky woods; after the liberation of Kovno was one of the founders of the Jewish orphan home in which poor orphans, gathered from Lithuanian families who hid them during Nazi rule, found a warm home; member of the Zionist underground and a contact woman on behalf of the "Bricha" organization with the Zionists in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia; arrived in Eretz Yisrael in November 1947 after half a years detention by the British in Cyprus; from 1951 in Kibbutz Kefar Masarik.
Benjamin Kaplan, A.Vitkind, Mordechai-Zvi Hurvitz were reporters of "HaTzefirah";
Benjamin HaCohen, David Zeiberg, Yakobson, Chayim Gadovsky, G.Zeiberg, Chayim-Yitzhak Laukalitzky were reporters of "HaMeilitz".
Meretch Jews who fought in the War against the Nazis.
In the Red Army.
Smali (Smolnik) Yosef
In the USA Army.
Shafransky (Shafner) Aharon
Shafransky (Shafner) Zerach
In the British Army - The Jewish Brigade from Eretz Yisrael.
Romanov Yafa (Sheine Leah)
Among the Partisans.
Go to the Appendix III of this article
Last updated by JA on Nov.4, 1999