“I saw 3 men digging a pit next to the synagogue. The “white armbanders” aimed their guns at them. All of a sudden, they started to shoot the Jews. One German fainted…” – Julijonas, born in 1930 in Anyksciai.
During this research trip, the “Yahad – In Unum” team interviewed 42 witnesses and identified 20 mass graves, six of them without memorial.
Region: Utena and Panevėžys Counties
Cities and Towns Investigated:
Troškūnai, Kavarskas, Skiemonys, Kurkliai, Anykščiai, Obeliai, Keblonys, Dideliškis, Rokiškis, Stepaniai, Šileikiai, Bajorai, Vaštakai, Svėdasai, Kamajai, Eikuotiškės, Degučiai, Vencavai, Tolimėnai, Salakas, Sungardai, Linkmenys, Pusvarsneliai, Čepukiškė, Dūkštas, Utena, Bičiūnai, Vikonys, Jotkonys, Bajoriškės, Pauliškės, Pupiškės, Šiškiniai.
The 8th research trip in Lithuania was focused on the eastern region of Utena, also including a small part of the Panevėžys region that remained to be investigated from the 6th research trip. Each district center in the region had a sizeable Jewish community, and Utena’s was one of the oldest in Lithuania. In the Jewish cemetery outside the town, there are gravestones dating back to the 16th century. The region started rapidly developing in the 19th century, when the railway connecting Warsaw and Saint-Petersburg was laid through it. The railway connection boosted trade, and the Jewish population started growing faster. Between the world wars, the Jewish population of Utena County doubled from 2500 to 5000.
The geographical location of the region implied several specificities, including a high activity of partisans during the German occupation due the vicinity of Belarus and big forest areas, comprising about 30 percent of the whole territory.
Partisans played an important role in fighting the Germans and disrupted at least one mass execution in the region investigated by Yahad – In Unum. As the witness Elena Z. (born in 1928) told the investigators, the partisans attacked the town of Obeliai on the day of the execution in August 1941 and prevented the mass crime. The witness saw a wounded partisan in a cart after the attack. However, the perpetrators learned the lesson and put heavy guard on their second attempt two weeks later. In late August, they killed 1160 Jewish women and children near the town.
The following characteristics emerged from this research:
- Attempts of local nationalists to stop the flow of Jews and communists from the Western and Central Lithuania to the east.
- Repeating cases of extreme humiliation and violence, including violence against women.
- Large-scale local participation that might have been the reason why the witnesses were reluctant to speak.