The Jewish Community of Siauliai during the Holocaust
The German Occupation and the First Roundups
When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, on the 22nd of June 1941, hundreds of Jews began fleeing the city, heading deeper into Soviet territory. At the same time hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing from the advancing German Army arrived in the city. Four days after their invasion of the Soviet Union, the Germans took Siauliai. As they entered the city they were accompanied by armed Lithuanian nationalists.
The German occupation signaled the beginning of a murder campaign against the Jews of Siauliai. Lithuanian nationalists dragged Jews out of their homes and locked them in the local jail. On the night of the 28th of June 1941, these Jews were murdered and buried in the Kuziai Forest, some 15 kilometers from the city. Aaron Baksht, the community’s rabbi, and Mordechai Rodnik, the principal of the Hebrew gymnasium, were among those murdered. During the first two weeks of the occupation, the Lithuanians murdered about a thousand of the city’s Jews. Most of the Lithuanian intelligentsia, including university and gymnasia students, participated in the anti Jewish murder campaign. Those who stood up against such actions, including a local priest, were themselves threatened with death.
In July of 1941 the Jews of Siauliai were forced to wear the yellow badge, and forbidden to walk on the sidewalks. Older Jews were deported to nearby Zagare, where they were murdered. The Lithuanians put together a plan to deport all the Jews in Siauliai, but the intervention of Jewish representatives, who later formed the Siauliai Ghetto Judenrat, succeeded in changing the authority's plans. Some 400 Jewish specialists were employed in leather factories; together with their families they were housed in the poverty stricken neighborhood of Kaukazas. After the deportation plan was canceled the authorities decided to use this neighborhood to house all the city’s Jews, and it became a ghetto.
An edict declared that all Jews must move into the ghetto by the 15th of August 1941. However, it became apparent that the neighborhood known as Kaukazas – which held 200 houses in bad condition – was too small to contain all the Jews of Siauliai. It was therefore decided to add the neighborhood of Traku to the ghettoized area; Traku was about half a kilometer from Kaukazas and had 110 houses. Even with the newly added area the ghetto suffered from extreme overpopulation. About 1,000 Jews who had not yet relocated to the ghetto were concentrated in the Landkremer kluiz and in a “colony for the aged” – these Jews were later murdered and buried in pits in Bubiai.