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Varėna

Varėna, Alytus County, Lithuania

To enlarge the map click here Street in Varėna before World War II Street in Varėna before World War II YVA, photo collection, 187FO6

Only a few Jews lived in Varėna in the mid-18th century. Their number increased at the end of the century when the town was connected to the Russian railway system and, thereby, to the developing commerce in the region. At the end of the 19th century the town's 1,473 Jewish residents comprised 56 per cent of the total population. After World War I the number of Jews declined: only about 60 Jewish families remained at the end of the 1930s.
Most of Varėna's Jews earned their living from commerce, crafts, or services provided to the summer visitors who vacationed there or to military camps in the area (Varėna was close to the Lithuanian-Polish border). Local Jews established cultural and educational institutions, including a Talmud Torah, a Hebrew-language school affiliated with the Tarbut network, a library, welfare associations, and a bank, and they conducted a broad range of Jewish activities, mostly of a Zionist orientation.
With the annexation of Lithuania to the USSR in the summer of 1940 the private businesses of the Jews of Varėna were nationalized and Zionist activities were banned. The Hebrew-language school was also closed.
The town was occupied by the German army on June 23, 1941. This conquest at the very beginning of the war prevented evacuation or flight. The occupation authorities immediately began their persecution of Jews that included confiscation of property, violence, and arrests.
The Jews of Varėna were killed on September 9, 1941 in a nearby forest.
The Red Army liberated the town in July 1944.