The Jewish Community of Siauliai during the Holocaust
The Liquidation of the Siauliai Ghetto
In January 1943 there remained a total of 4,836 Jews in the two parts of the Siauliai Ghetto. As many men had already been murdered, two thirds of the ghetto’s population were women. 236 people were above the age of 61.
In the summer of 1943 the situation of the Jews of Siauliai took a turn for the worse. The guards at the ghetto’s gates were increased, and Jews caught smuggling food were imprisoned. At least one Jew was publically hanged. In September 1943 the Siauliai Ghetto came under the jurisdiction of the SS, and SS guards joined the Lithuanians posted around the perimeter. The ghetto was now renamed as the “Siauliai Concentration Camp”. Most of the authority of the Jewish committee was taken away. By October 1943 most of the ghetto’s Jews had been transferred to six new labor camps, which had just been established. The “Kaukazas ghetto” was emptied of its residents and ceased to exist.
On the 5th of November 1943, the “children’s roundup” began. The SS and Ukrainians encircled the ghetto, kidnapped 574 children and over 200 other Jews, most of them elderly. They adults were shot in a forest on the German border, while the children were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau to be murdered. During the roundup, the Jewish parents were told their children were being moved to children’s homes in Germany. But as many Jewish parents did not believe the official explanation, two members of the Jewish committee – Bar Katon and Aaron Katz – accompanied the children so as to ascertain their fate. A similar roundup was carried out in the labor camps, and dozens of children, women and elderly people were deported to their deaths. 227 Jewish children under the age of 12 remained in Siauliai, and a few dozen others in the labor camps – those whose parents had succeeded in hiding them from the Germans and the Ukrainians.
In the spring of 1944, as the front approached, preparations were made to liquidate the ghetto. At the beginning of July all the Jews still left alive in the labor camps were returned to Siauliai, and Jewish labor outside the ghetto ceased. All exit permits from the ghetto were canceled. The SS commander of the ghetto now announced that anyone caught trying to escape would be murdered along with their entire family. During a Soviet bombing of the city, some of the ghetto’s residents were killed, among them the former head of the Jewish committee, Mendel Leibowitz.
In the middle of July 1944, the remaining Jews in the Siauliai Ghetto were deported by train to the concentration camp of Stutthof, to labor camps across Poland, and to concentration camps in the vicinity of Dachau in Germany. One group was deported to a concentration camp in Riga. Dozens of ghetto residents succeeded in escaping from the ghetto or the labor camps, either before or during the deportation, whereupon they went into hiding or joined the partisans. Of the 3,000 Siauliai Jews transferred to labor camps, only 500 survived to be liberated. A number of Jews from Siauliai succeeded in escaping to the Soviet Union before the Nazi occupation began. They joined the Lithuanian Division of the Red Army (the 16th division). In the bombings which preceded the fall of Siauliai, the remains of the ghetto were burned.
After the Red Army liberated Siauliai, on the 27th of July 1944, dozens of Jewish survivors returned to the city. They were joined by Jews who had escaped into the Soviet Union.
In the 1970s there were 800 Jews living in Siauliai. Most of them spoke Yiddish. They constituted less than 1% of the city’s population. In 1994 there were only 470 Jews in Siauliai.
In 1991 a memorial for the memory of the Jews of Siauliai who perished during the Holocaust was erected in Holon, Israel. In Lithuania, a memorial to the Jews of the ghetto has been erected at the site of the entrance gate to the Traku quarter of the former ghetto.