During World War II and thereafter
World War II started with the German invasion of Poland on the 1st of September 1939, and its consequences for Lithuanian Jews in general, and Serey's Jews in particular, were felt several months later.
In agreement with the Ribbentrop-Molotov treaty on the division of occupied Poland, the Russians occupied the Suvalk region, but after 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. 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 border villages 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 "Suvalkia" region. Serey was obliged to absorb 50 refugees.
In June 1940 Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union and became a Soviet Republic. Following new rules, several factories and shops belonging to the Jews of Serey were nationalized and commissars were appointed to manage them. All the Zionist parties and youth organizations were disbanded, several of the activists were detained and Hebrew educational institutions were 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. At the beginning of June one Jewish family - four persons of the Tsviling family - whose enterprises were nationalized, were exiled deep into Russia.
On the 24th of June, two days after the beginning of the German invasion, the German army, after heavy bombing, entered Serey, where a great part of the town, mostly Jewish houses, had been destroyed. The victims found shelter on the farm of Yosef Garbarsky, about one km from the town .
The Lithuanians immediately started to persecute and abuse the Jews, and of them many Jews, mostly youngsters, were detained as communist suspects, and shot. There was the local physician Dr. Hershl Garbarsky, who was very popular in the town and its vicinity especially among the Lithuanian peasants, for curing the poor and charging no fee, and in addition giving them money to buy the medicines. Lithuanian youngsters called him to a patient, and on his way there they murdered him, throwing his body into the garden near his house. Serey Jews went to his funeral crying and with ominous foreboding regarding the future.
Several days later the Lithuanians detained a great number of Jewish youngsters, leading them in the direction of Alytus for so-called work and murdered them on the way. Zelig Ratchkovsky, a middle aged man, was ordered, together with several Lithuanians, to transport these people on his cart, but he never returned home. The murderers, apparently, did not want him to tell what had happened to his "travelers".
Serey Jews had to perform various types of forced labor, such as repairing roads etc. Every morning they were taken to work, returning home in the evening. They did not suffer from a shortage of food. Rumors about the "good" situation in Serey reached Serey Jews in Kovno by way of a Lithuanian, as a result of which many Jews left their flats there and returned home, after paying much money to Lithuanians who agreed to take them back on horse carts, because this was the only means of transportation allowed for Jews.
The annihilation of Serey Jews apparently took place on the 18th of Elul 5601 (Sept. 10, 1941). All the men were led to the Abreisk grove (Barauciskes) about 3 km south-east from Serey, one km from the road to Leipun (Leipalingis) and there they were shot and buried in pits they had dug themselves as "channels". On the next day the women and children were brought to the same place and were shot. All the Lithuanian dignitaries of Serey, such as the cultured population and the teachers, were present during the murder executed by their own folk.
229 men, 384 women and 340 children, altogether 953 people, are buried in the mass graves.
After the war the few survivors erected a monument on the graves, and in the nineties the inscription on the monument was replaced by a new one (see photo).
The Barauciskes grove with the mass graves The monument on the mass graves The inscription on the monument in Yiddish and Lithuanian:
"Here was spilled the blood of 953 Jews-children, women, men-who were brutally murdered by the Nazi murderers and their helpers on 1941.09.11
The wall bearing the name of Serey in the "Valley of the Communities" in Yad-Vashem, Jerusalem
(on the bottom of the second block from the bottom)
In Appendix 7 is presented the map of Serey and the list of the Jews in town in 1941.
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Compiled by Joseph Rosin
Updated by JA April 14, 2000 Copyright © 2000 Joseph Rosin