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Virtual Jewish World: Vilkavikis, Lithuania

Vilkaviskis is a town in south-western Lithuania.

According to tradition, Jews were living in this area in the 14th century and a synagogue was built at the beginning of the 16th. By the 19th century a flourishing Jewish community had developed. Between 1823 and 1862 no new Jews were permitted to settle in Vilkaviškis, which was near the border with Germany, under the czarist legislation restricting Jewish settlement in border towns. Nevertheless, the community numbered 4,417 in 1856 (as against 834 Christians), 3,480 in 1897 (60% of the total population), 3,206 in 1923 (44%), and 3,609 in 1939 (45%). The majority were occupied in commerce and crafts. Some derived their livelihood from agriculture and garden plots close to the town. The sizable brushmaking industry in Vilkaviškis was predominantly Jewish and employed hundreds of Jewish workers. These organized a workers' union, the Jewish "Brushmakers Bund," and in 1898 published a clandestine periodical entitled Veker. The industry diminished in scope in the years between the two world wars. The Vilkaviškis community had an active Jewish social and cultural life. Its educational institutions included a large Hebrew primary school, a science-oriented Hebrew secondary school, and a vocational school.

The day of the outbreak of the German-Russian war, June 22, 1941, Vilkaviškis was occupied by the Germans. Most of the Jewish houses, including the synagogues, were destroyed during the fighting. On July 28, 1941, the systematic murder of the Jews in Volkaviškis began. At first about 900 men were murdered. A ghetto was established for the remaining Jews, most of them women and children, in the local barracks, close to the mass graves of the executed men. The Jews in the ghetto were killed on the day after Rosh Ha-Shanah, Sept. 24, 1941. Only a few survived until the liberation. The number of Jews in Vilkaviškis after the war remained low.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

B. London, in: Lite, 1 (1951), 1567–73; 2 (1965), index; Yahadut Lita, 1 and 3 (1959, 1967), indexes; Mats, in: Yalkut Moreshet, 2 no. 2 (1964); J. Gar, in: Algemeyne Entsiklopedye: Yidn, 6 (1963), 330–74.