“In Gargždai, Gene, born in 1928, went to bring food to the women and Jewish children detained in a barn. She remembered that her father was requisitioned to transport the women and children to the execution site. They made several round-trips during the day between the barn and the Vėžaičiai forest, where the victims were shot at the edge of a mass grave by Lithuanian nationalists".
During this fourth research trip in Lithuania, the Yahad-In Unum team recorded 39 testimonies and identified 29 mass graves.
Administrative regions: Klaipeda and Telsiai
Towns and villages investigated: Telsiai, Rainai, Geruliai, Viesvenai, Geruliai, Nevarenai, Tryskiai, Zarenai, Alsedziai, Seda, Gudiske, Tirskliai, Kausenai, Milasaiciai, Plunge, Jovaisiske, Purvaiciai, Viestovenai, Bokstikalnis, Laumalenka, Sateikiai, Zvainiai, Salynas, Ylakiai, Skuodas, Kulai, Darbenai, Joskaudai, Kunigiskiai, Palanga, Kretinga, Gestautai, Gargzdai, Vezaitine, Rietavas, Tverai, Mazeikiai, Vieksniai, Kraziai, Kelme.
Raseiniai, Gabšiai, Norgėlai, Šarkiai, Biliūnai, Anulynas, Sukuriškiai, Paklaniai, Kalnujai, Palendriai, Lyduvėnai, Naudvaris, Ribukai, Žalpiai, Girkalnis, Betygala, Nemakščiai, Pužai, Gaidėnai, Ariogala, Gėluva, Uždubysys, Budriškė, Jučiai, Lesčiai, Algimantai, Žąsinai, Padargupiai, Negirva, Lenčiai, Plembergas, Didžiuliai, Noliečiai, Pagojys, Paturkšlys, Požėčiai, Molupiai, Paliūnė, Šlapučiai, Plikiai, Veliuona, Raudonė, Seredžius, Vilkija, Jaučakiai, Kėdainiai, Vilainiai, Apytalaukis, Dotnuva, Akademija, Keleriškiai, Pelėdnagiai, Paobelys, Medekšiai, Liogailiškiai, Zabieliškis, Šventoniškis, Klamputė, Tubiai, Kėboniai, Ruminiai, Bogušiškiai, Kropilai, Bartkūniškiai, Pasmilgys, Janušava, Krakės, Stakiai, Babtai, Kaunas, Giraitė.
Lithuania was an independent country at the end of World War I until 1940. Although on January 16, 1939, Lithuania signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, two months later, the 3rd Reich annexed the Lithuanian territory of Memel-Klaïpeda, a region peopled by Germans, Lithuanians and Jews. Many more Jews escaped to the East, finding refuge in Lithuanian towns like Gargždai or Kaunas. The Soviet Union briefly occupied Lithuania between June 1940 and June 1941. On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany, determined to invade the Soviet Union as fast as possible, launched Operation Barbarossa. Western Lithuania was occupied in several days and the persecutions against the Jews began immediately. It was the start of the Holocaust in Lithuania. According to German archives, between June and September 1941, 5502 victims were executed by the Tilsit Einsatzkommando, responsible for the first mass shootings of Jewish victims in Lithuania.
– Jewish men, first victims of the Einsatzgruppen
The Yahad-In Unum team started their investigation in Gargždai and its surroundings. This first town is symbolic because it constituted the point of departure for the Holocaust in Lithuania. In effect, the first victims were documented in Gargždai. According to the German archives, close to 200 Jewish men were shot in the town.
– The emergence of the nationalist police
The recorded testimonies during this trip also allowed us to collect information on the establishment of the nationalist police, who were tasked with rounding up, watching and liquidating Jews in towns and villages. The witnesses interviewed gave us explanations according to the men’s motivations that went into these criminal units. Some of them were long-standing Lithuanian patriots and were part of a patriotic movement like the Siaulistes under Smetona. Some of them were youths who saw the opportunity of having paid work. Others were cruel “bandits,” who killed to obtain the Jews’ belongings. We also encountered cases where the village youth were forced to join these units by the Germans or the Lithuanian nationalists.
– The ghettoization and the assassination of women and children
The women and children were not immediately killed. They were initially placed in ghettos, where they were detained for several weeks, without being fed, until the whole Jewish population of the surrounding hamlets were rounded up