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Sveksna: Our Town

By Esther Herschman Rechtschafner, March 2007

This article is dedicated to the memory of my Grandfather Zacharia Marcus, who came from Sveksna; to my cousins Jack Marcus, Daniel Marcus, Marcia Partridge, Mark Marcus, to their children, and, of course, to my daughters and their children, with the hope that we will all always remember our common background with honor and love.

To Allison, Marcia’s daughter, the biggest wedding present that I can give you is to share my love for our Family Heritage with you.



During the past few years I have written articles about the places in Eastern Europe that my Grandparents came from. [1]   Now the time has come for me to try to write about Sveksna, the town in Lithuania that my Maternal Grandfather, ZACHARIA MARCUS, who I loved so much, came from. I hope to succeed here in honoring the memory of the Jews of this town, and, thereby, the memory of my Grandfather.

The obtaining of information about Sveksna, a small town in Lithuania, has not been very easy, and while I do not think that I have found enough, even so, I want to write down what I have found.

There are maps in the APPENDICES, which can be referred to in order to see the location of various places in connection with Sveksna.

I remember hearing about Sveksna when I was a little girl, and since then it has been a place that interested me. Therefore I thought I already knew much about this town. When visiting Yad Vashem[2], I did look up Sveksna, and read what information that there was about it. 

After deciding to write this article, I started to seriously go about searching and finding material on SVEKSKNA. I visited the Library of Yad Vashem, the National and University Library[3], the Lithuanian Archives[4], the Zionist Archives[5] and found in these places not only information, but people willing to help.

Of course, I want to thank everyone who has helped in seeking references and in the preparation of this article.

By way of the JewishGen [6] website, I was able to make contact with other people who are also interested in Sveksna. Many of them sent me whatever information [7] they had, and I have also used thisinformation in this article. I thank them all for their willingness to help, and am happy because of the nice contacts that I have made. I used this information mainly in footnotes, in connection with historical events. I seriously tried to locate the people from Sveksna who gave Testimonies about the Holocaust, and I am quite sorry that I did not succeed in doing so. Perhaps they are no longer alive? I did succeed in locating Zalman Yavenlovitz, who was together with them in the Work Camps and Concentration Camps. Contact with him was very thrilling for me, and also gave me more information. I also was successful in meeting with Rivka Ladon [8] the daughter of the late Meir Ladon. She showed me the video of her visit to Sveksna. Needless to say, this meeting was very meaningful for me.

I was seriously surprised by how much I enjoyed working on this article!!



Sveksna is also known by the names Sveksnos, Szweksnie, Sveksna, Schvetnau, Shveksni, Suveksniai, Shvekshne (Yiddish)[10] and Shvekshna. It is located in the Taurage district[11] in western Lithuania, near the German border[12]. The latitude is 55.5197, the longitude 21.6208, and the altitude 164 feet. The time zone is MT+2, or Greenwich mean time plus two hours. The nearby cities and towns include Jomantai in the west, Alseikos and Jonikai in the north, Uzlaukis and Siauliai in the east, and Nikelai and Vilku Kampas in the south. It is 38 kilometers southeast of Klaipeda[13], which is on the Baltic Sea, 60 kilometers from Taurage and 18 kilometers from Zemaiciu-Naumiestis[14].The nearest airports are in Palanga and Lipaja. The nearest train station is Korkoritein[15]. Today the roads to Sveksna are good.[16]Before World War II there were dirt roads connecting Sveksna with Verzan and Zemaiciu-Naumiestis with a better road connecting Sveksna with Memel and Silute (Heidekrug)[17].There is a stream or river in the town.[18]

In the eighteenth century, the Plaiteriai counts established a park here, with Linden paths, palaces, pools, and sculptures. The villa of Genovite was at the paths end. This villa was built by the count in 1880. The counts palace is at the other end of the town, behind the old cemetery.[19] The church, which is the highest in the area[20], can be reached by crossing a bridge.[21] The church was in the village square and a lane led from here to a smaller square where the Jewish houses of worship were situated. Some Germans, who were probably traders or craftsmen, lived on the outskirts of the town. On the other side there were shops and inns whose customers were mainly Lithuanian peasants. The village was almost entirely Jewish.[22] The Kaukiskiai estate, which was located three kilometers from the town, was owned by the Jew, Shajeviv.[23]


The area known today as Sveksna has been inhabited for over two thousand years. This is proven by the many barrow graves and fortress hills which are found there. The fortress hills form an entire defense system, occurring at intervals of five kilometers, along the banks of the Asva and Veiviras rivers. Ornaments, beads, weapons, and Roman coins have been found there. Some of these are now on exhibition in the Vilna Museum.

In the middle of the thirteenth centuries Teutonic knights began raiding the area, and fought there for over a hundred years. They usually marched from the Memel castle through the Sveksna countryside. Sveksna is mentioned in historical documents, of the fourteenth century.[25]The road descriptions from 1384 and 1388 mention the Sveksna creek.[26] Therewere then a few small settlements and a large forest in the area. In 1509 a church was built on an estate there.

The first landlords were the magnates of the Kesgaila family. The entire township was virtually their holding. From 1598 through 1766 various noblemen owned the estate and village. There were five hundred inhabitants there in 1644. Count Wilhelm Broel-Platter, a nobleman of German origin, acquired the estate in 1766. His descendants continued to own this property until 1940.

In the seventeenth century Sveksna had a wool-carding shop, gunpowder and glass factories, a brickyard, a sawmill, and the only paper factory[27] in the area. Jurgis Plateris (1810-36) built a large library on the estate, and invited Simonas Stanavicius[28] (1799-1848) to be the librarian. He lived on the Plater estate and served as the librarian from 1829 until his death.Adomas Plateris (1836-1909) aided booksmugglers in carrying Lithuanian publications across the Prussian border.[29]Juozapas Rugis practiced medicine in Sveksna, from 1886 to 1918, and was an important figure in the National Reawakening Movement.

During the period of Russian rule[30] the town was part of the district of Vilna until 1843, and, afterwards, part of the district of Kovne. In the nineteenth century market[31] days and large fairs took place.[32] During this time there were then about thirty shops[33] and pubs[34].The shops sold various products. There were craftsmen of various skills working in them.

In 1858 and 1863 there were serious fires, in which one hundred and thirty houses were burnt, and only twenty-three were left. There was another serious fire in 1903, in which almost all of the buildings were damaged.[35]

Sveksna was the district center from the middle of the nineteenth century and during the period of national independence. The town developed under the Lithuanian Autonomy. Then the town had Roman-Catholic and Protestant Churches, a Synagogue, a high school, a hospital[36], a nursing home, three mills, two wool-carding shops, a dairy processor, and other economic and cultural institutions.

There was another serious fire in 1925[37]. The government then forbade buildings of wood there. Thereafter, the new buildings that were constructed in the center of the town were of stone. The town as a whole was redone. Streets were paved. There was a public park[38] and there were public gardens. Sveksna was then considered one of the nicest kept places in the Taurage area.[39]

After the annexing of Memel, Sveksna became part of the twenty-five kilometer strip between Lithuania and Germany. An order was issued by the German army to liquidate all the Jews and the Communists[40].This order was given before the Germans captured Sveksna. 

The Germans captured Sveksna on June 22, 1941, the first day of the war.


Jews first settled in Sveksna in the seventeenth century. One Jew lived on the estate[42] there in 1644.Among the founders of the community were also refugees from the Bogdan Chmielnicki massacres. In the beginning of the nineteenth century a synagogue was established. The Jews paid taxes to the government. During the period of Russian rule, the Jewish community grew. Every family had a vegetable garden and poultry next to their house. Some also had a cow.[43] The Jews worked mainly in trade and crafts. Some worked[44] for the noblemen in the area, and also lived on their estates[45]. In the neighboring village of Kaukiskiai, which was about three kilometer from Sveksna, there was an estate owned by the Jewish family Sibutz.

Some had large families and were very poor.[46]Yet it is known that the Jews of the community did give much charity. They were among the contributors to the Jews of Lithuania who suffered from the famine of 1872. There was a severe famine in Persia,[47] and it was known that the Persian Jews were really suffering, and getting minimum, if any aid from the Persian government.All the Jews of Lithuania who knew famine, and this includes the Jews of Sveksna, were among the donors.[48] They also contributed to the Jewish settlement in the land of Israel in 1898, 1899, and 1903. [49]

They were also among the taxpayers of the various taxes that the Jews had to pay[50]. In 1843 Jewish communities were combined for the chief purpose of the collection of taxes[51]. This was the case with Sveksna and Vieverzenai for paying the Box Tax[52]. In 1887 five Jews were listed as payers of this tax. In 1892 and 1914 four Jews were listed[53] as paying taxes in the Postal Savings Records. These also seem to be the tax collectors.[54]

My Grandfather told a story about paying for Shabbos candles. He also told a story about being subject to draft into the army. He said that he was listed as younger than he wasfor this very reason.Therefore his age was not certain as there was a discrepancy between what was on the official documents and how old he thought he actually was.[55]

Anti-Semitism[56] as well as poverty[57] was felt by the community. In the 1880s many immigrated[58],[59] mainly to the USA.[60] Some also went to South Africa,[61] and some to Denmark.[62]

The Jews suffered from the devastating fires of June 1858, and June 1861.This caused even more poverty in the community[63].[64]

The synagogue and study hall were also burnt in the serious fire[65] of 1903. The family of Count Platter, whose estate had in the meanwhile been divided between four inheritors, contributed logs for the rebuilding of a few houses, the synagogue[66], and the study hall. The condition was that the name of the contributor would appear on a plaque on the wall of each building. The local rabbi, Rabbi Ben-Zion Zev Kranitz[67] placed an advertisement in the HaMelitz newspaper on July 28, 1903. Here he told of the urgent need for help for the people[68] who had lost all their possessions in the fire. The people whose houses were not burnt contributed nicely to their brethren, and the Rabbi himself contributed his salary for four weeks.

The Jews of Sveksna suffered during World War I, as did the general population of Lithuania and particularly the Jews[69], for the Germans occupied the town and confiscated what they needed.[70]

As far as Jewish education[71] and religious practice goes, the community had two Hadarim[72],[73] a Talmud-Torah, and a Yeshiva[74]. Of course there was a Synagogue[75], but the Shtebel / Bet-Midrash (study hall) was used constantly. This was the place of worship of the artisan class. The seats were oriented so that they faced Jerusalem (to the east). Seats near the front were very honorable and expensive. They were rented or sold, and they were inherited. There were also free seats near the back door.[76]

The Yeshiva was founded and headed by Rabbi Kranitz. He gathered a group of quite brilliant Torah students and started a Yeshiva for them in Sveksna. These students came from Sveksna, the surrounding area, Memel, Telz, and Perieai[77]. He organized a program of studies, which included the study of ethics for a half hour each day. He was very particular about the behavior of his students. The Jewish families of Sveksna provided the Yeshiva students with meals. This deed of charity came to about 600 rubles a year.[78] This Yeshiva existed between the two world wars. It is on the list of important Lithuanian Yeshivot[79] and was also well known among Polish Rabbis[80].

According to law of the Lithuanian autonomy, the Jews had a Community Committee, from 1919 to 1925. This committee did much in all fields of Jewish life.In the municipal elections, after World War I, two of the twenty-one council members were Jews. The Jews of Sveksna participated in the national elections for the first Lithuanian Siem, in 1922. Then the Social Zionists established a school for girls. This existed until the establishment of the Tarbut[81] school. There was also a cheder. After finishing elementary school, some already began to work. Many of the students, whose families were well off[82], continued their high school education in the local gymnasium despite the fact that there was a bad anti-Semitic atmosphere there.Some went on to a higher Yeshiva, and others went to the Hebrew high schools of Kovne.

The Yeshiva students that left Sveksna for other Yeshivot were in a class by themselves. If they were particularly bright they went on to one of the renowned Yeshivot such as Volosin or Slobodka. If not, they left the village anyway and went to another Yeshiva. They didnt have to worry about paying for their keep, as they ate days (every day they ate with a different family[83]).

During the beginning of the period of Lithuanian independence the Jewish population, as well as the general population, diminished[84]. Many Jews emigrated from Sveksna, as from Lithuania and Eastern Europe in general. This was not easy for older people, and sometimes also caused a problem for religious people.[85]

In the spring of 1922, the Lithuanian Nationalists tried to blame a blood-libel on the Jews. The mobs attacked the home of Rabbi Reuben Srulovitz. The Jews then went through four days of rioting against them. This was stopped by the members of the Maccabi youth movement. If not for them, many more lives would have been lost.

In 1925[86] there was another serious fire and almost all of the towns buildings were burnt. The rebuilding began a year later, with the aid of friends and relatives from abroad, mainly from the USA.The Jews were very diligent and stubborn about the building of their houses.[87]The new Synagogue was competed in 1927.[88] The library of the Social Zionists was also burnt down; it was rebuilt with the help of the surrounding Jewish communities.

The Jews were proud of their town; because of all the renovations done the town became very attractive.[89] The youth spent much time in the park. Families went for walks there on Shabbat after the afternoon meal of cholent.Activities were organized there, for the children and youth. Everyone enjoyed the fresh air and the trees and flowers.

There was only one place in Sveksna where Jews didnt feel comfortable, and for generations had not gone there. This was Verzan Street.It was written in the city charter that Jews were not allowed to live or build on this street. A note there stated that a long time before Jews used to use this street as a route to carry their dead to the Jewish cemetery. On one such occasion, the Christians threw stones on a Jewish funeral procession and many Jews were wounded. Then the rabbi forbade the Jews to use this street, and the families that then lived there had to move. This custom continued until the Holocaust. [90]

The president of Lithuania visited the town in 1926 and the Jews went out to welcome him.[91]

The connections with the Lithuanians, the local population, had always been bad for they felt that the Jews were their economic and social rivals, and they believed the stories about the blood libels.[92]

The 1930’s were characterized by anti-Semitic vandalism. There was a blood-libel in the early 1930s. This occurred before Passover, and Rabbi Reuben Srolovitz[93] was again involved. He was accused of murdering a Christian boy, in order to use his blood for the baking of matzot. There was a mass demonstration at his house and his property was robbed and ruined. After the boy was found, and was in good health, the towns people then said the Jews were frightened and had therefore returned him. The Jews spent that Passover in fear and locked in their houses.[94]

In the winter of 1931, the Lithuanian gymnasium students attacked one Jew, and wounded him badly. The local priest returned from a trip to the USA. He collected a sum of money for the gymnasium. He said that large contributions were from Jews.

According to a survey taken by the Lithuanian government in 1931, there were then sixteen shops, ten of which belonged to Jews.[95] The Jews also owned a sawmill, a flourmill,[96] and two leather factories.In 1937 fifteen craftsmen worked in the town. There were seven butchers, three tailors, a baker, a hat maker, a welder, a shoemaker, and a watchmaker. In 1939 there were twenty-five telephones, six of which belonged to Jews. Four large clothing stores belonged to Jews[97].

Most of the Jews worked in trade or crafts. A small number worked in agriculture. Most Jewish families had a vegetable garden, a few fruit trees next to their houses, and raised cows and chickens. Therefore they lived as if they were villagers. They also carried on intensive business with Memel, and they sold agricultural products, meat, and horses there.[98]

In December 1936, sixty-five tombstones in the Jewish graveyard were desecrated by Lithuanians.

There was a boycott of Jewish businesses. The deterioration of the economic situation was caused mainly by propaganda from the Organization of Lithuanian Merchants, Verslas, by the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, and the annexation of Memel[99]. These caused a cessation in the connections with the port there, and with the city of Telz. Sometimes shop signs were smeared with tar.

In 1939, when Memel became a part of the Third Reich, six Jewish families came to Sveksne as refugees.

The community was ultra-Orthodox[100]. The Jewish religious life centered in the synagogue[101], the Bet Midrash (study hall) and the Kloiz (a room for study and prayer). Many were Zionists. They voted for the Zionist Congresses of 1933, 1935, and 1939.Their votes were distributed between the Social Zionist, Young Zionist, General Zionist, Political Zionist Revisionists, and Mizrachi parties. Most of the youth were Zionists who were preparing themselves for Aliyah. The Zionist youth groups in Sveksna were ZeiriZion (Young-Zionists), HaShomer Hazair (Young Guards), Tifferet Bachurim (Glorious Boys), Maccabi (a sports organization), and Brit Hakanaim (Fanatical Brotherhood) that ran a training farm in the area.These youths spent their spare time in the activities of these Zionist organizations. In the period of Free Lithuania[102] a few of the youth belonged to the illegal communist youth movement.[103]

Famous Rabbis of Sveksne were Rabbi Menachem Mendel Horowitz[104], Rabbi I.B. Gevrunski[105], Rabbi M.I. Segal [106], Rabbi H.Z. Broide[107], Rabbi S.A. Feivelson[108], Rabbi E.L. Kumai[109], Rabbi B. Kranitz[110], Rabbi I. Portman[111], and Rabbi S.I. Levitan[112].

Famous people born in Sveksna include Rabbi B.B. Gevrunski[113], Rabbi S. Rabinowitz[114], Rabbi M. Sominov[115], Rabbi M. Uri, Rabbi Bashavlan[116], Shlomo Steinberg [117], Doctor Margolis[118], and Professor J. Raisin[119].


The Jews began to suffer at the hands of the Germans, even before the war because of Sveksnas physical proximity to the Memel area.[121] This was felt mainly economically. At night, tar was spread on the signs outside stores owned by Jews. Circulars were distributed, which called for the Christian population not to buy from Jews. Many of the Jews received economic aid from relatives who lived abroad.

After the Soviets captured Lithuania, in 1940, the anti-Semites tried to become close to the Jews. The general situation of the poorer Jewish strata became better, but the Jewish merchants found themselves in a situation which was constantly declining.

On the Sabbath of June 21, 1941, there was a feeling of nervousness among the officials and the Soviet citizens who were then present in Sveksna. Soviet army officers had moved into the Platter estate. The next day, at 4 AM, there was a German artillery attack on the estate. The frightened Jews left the town for the surrounding villages, by foot or by wagons.

This was the day that the Germans captured Sveksna, June 22, 1941, the first day of the war.

The farmers, in the villages where the Jews had hidden, told the Jews to leave their property immediately. Some of them even threatened to shoot the Jews and shouted: You have had enough good days. You will no longer sing Russian songs. Moshe Shapiro, who had served as head of the Communist party in Sveksna for one year, and had been in charge of the collection of grain from the farmers for the government, escaped from Sveksna, but the farmers from the village of Kurmai caught him. He fought against them, fired his gun, and wounded one of them. Yet they succeeded in wounding him, then torturing him to death, cutting open his stomach and filling it with grain. The Partisans arrested Jechiel and Leizer Lacon, and three girls who were members of the Communist Youth: Zelda Lurie, Bluma Ickowic, and Aida Lacon. They murdered the girls on Saturday, June 28, in the public park. It was rumored that they were shot when they were naked. The two boys were kept in jail and on Friday run to the Synagogue, as were all the Jewish men. From there, on Saturday, they were sent to the Work Camp near Heidekrug with the other men.Israel Gesel, who served as secretary of the Communist Party in Sveksna, escaped to a village near Silale. The Germans however, got there before him, and he had to return to Sveksna. Then he met Jews who were already returning to Sveksna. They advised him not to return. The Partisans caught him and immediately shot him to death, near Kveserna. He was buried in Sveksna on Thursday, June 26.

Upon returning to their houses the Jews found that the Lithuanians had taken cows, horses, wagons, and some of the belongings from inside their houses. The German soldiers marched in the streets. The local Lithuanian population appeared in the streets wearing white armbands, armed and quite happy

Many Lithuanians who had served as government officials, during the period of independent Lithuania, but not under the Soviets, returned armed and became the local authorities. The mayor was Penkauskas, from the village Inkakliai, and Losargis, from Sveksna was an official. Lomsargis from the village Vilkenai was in charge of the police. Penkauskas from Sveksna became head of the Partisans who helped the Germans exterminate Jews. The task that Penkausas saved for himself was To solve the Jewish problem in Sveksna.

Immediately after the German occupation of Sveksna orders were issued against the Jews. They had to wear the yellow band[122], to hand over their radios, bicycles, silver and metal utensils, jewelry, and anything else of value to the Partisans, who were located in what had been The Communist Center. This building belonged to the Jew Shaje Aserovic. They were forbidden to walk on the sidewalks, had curfews, and had to hang a sign on their doors saying Zyda Namas (the home of Jews). The men were dispatched to forced labor, the young people to hard work, and the old people to the streets. The women were sent to scrub the floors in German and Lithuanian institutions and to clean public out-houses. They were allowed to return home to eat in the afternoon and then had to return to their work again until evening. Armed Partisans watched over them. They were beaten if they tried to speak to each other.

By Friday, June 27, all the Jews who had hoped for refuge in the villages had returned to Sveksna. On this Friday, June 27, 1941, the S.S. and S.D. forces, under the leadership of Dr. Scheu (Shau)[123] of Heidenberg, arrived. He had two goals, which were to begin to carry out the process of exterminating the Jews of this strip[124], and to select Jews who would be fit for slave labor in Germany. The Germans, together with the Lithuanian auxiliary forces and Partisans, went from house to house and commanded every Jewish male, from ten[125] years of age and up, to go outside into the street. They were allowed to take a package of clothing with them, and ordered by the Lithuanians to take a tin spoon and dish. About two hundred Jews were rounded up.

The Lithuanians took them to the Synagogue[126]yard and ordered them to stand in line, where they were held under guard. One group at a time, the Jews were allowed to enter the corridor. The SS men sat at long tables, others stood holding heavy braided ropes. The Jews were hit with these ropes. The Jews who were still in the yard were certain that they were hearing the screaming of the Jews who were being hung. The Jews were to hand over their money at the first table, and their watches, wedding rings, and other valuables at the second table. At every possibility, such as if they did not approach a table like a soldier, or did not stand at attention while waiting, or other such reasons, they were beaten with sticks and the ropes until they bled. Meir Shmulevic was covered with blood, and Isaac Markosevic had a wisdom tooth pulled. The Jews were to hand over their certificates and answer questions at the third table. They were all registered. Then the Lithuanian, Doctor Bilunas, from Sveksna, examined them all to see if they were fit for work. He understood that the ones that were not wouldnt live so he declared them all healthy and fit.

There was a smaller corridor behind the large one, which led to the womens section upstairs. The Lithuanian barber Ivanauskas, who was noted as a hater of the Jews, and a Partisan sat here. He cut everyones hair with a haircutting machine, making the sign of a cross in the middle of every head.He also tore off the beards of the religious Jews.

Then the men were ordered to go upstairs to the womens section. The SS soldiers who stood on both sides of the stairs beat everyone cruelly, with sticks. The older people, who were not able to ascend very quickly, got the worst beatings.

Some of the men were ordered to collect all the Torah scrolls, and holy books into a pile, and to burn them. Some were sent to collect the holy books from the Rabbis house and other houses, and to take them to the Jewish cemetery and burn them there.

Once in the womens section, the men were ordered to stand in line, and do exercises. This was in order to insure that they would not rebel, and to tire them out. While doing these exercises they were beaten. Naphtali Ziv was chosen, because of his sportsmans appearance, as the leader. He was ordered to do complicated exercises and everyone was forced to follow after him. Whoever succeed in doing the exercise, or had no strength to continue, was beaten until he lost his senses. Then cold water was poured on him, and the exercise was started again. This went on for three hours. The old and the weak were forced to continue to participate.

In the early evening the Germans began another game. They took groups down to the yard, had them stand in the middle and shot above their heads. Afterwards they said they did this in order to strengthen The Jewish fear. They were especially cruel to the old Jewish Rabbi, Shalom-Isaac Levitan.

It was hot outside, and inside it was stifling. The Jews were thirsty. The SS soldiers brought in a bowl of water and played with their hands in it. They did not give any of the Jews permission to drink.

At about six PM the wives were told that they could bring dinner to their husbands. The Partisans received the food from the women. They kept the best of it for themselves.

Throughout the night the Germans thought up similar games. They almost always chose the old rabbi as the scapegoat. At two A.M. one German called upon the Rabbi to lecture about acting wisely and obeying. The wounded and sore Rabbi mumbled something about being G-d fearing.

Later that night, the men were allowed to lie on the floor and go to sleep. The SS soldiers that were guarding them spoke loudly of what tortures were planned for these Jews for the next day. Different men were woken up at different times during the night, and then ordered to hand over their weapons and were beaten.

The next morning the SS soldiers woke up Rabbi Levitan and ordered him and a few others to collect all the hairs and to burn them. He explained to them that he would not fulfill the order because he wanted to keep the Sabbath. The SS soldiers hit him with their browning pistols and once shot over his head. Then he was ordered to stand with the palms of his hands facing downwards. They placed the hairs on top of his hands and ordered Moshe Mant to collect the hairs from the floor. They then lit a piece of paper and light the hairs with this. Moshe was forced to continue holding the hairs in his hands.Moshe was then ordered to mix the burnt remains with the burnt remains of the Torah scrolls, which were still quite hot. While doing so he showed Rabbi Levitan a piece of a Torah scroll, which was not burnt. What was written on it was Remember what Amalek did to you.Afterwards they beat the Rabbi and Moshe and led them to the yard. The SS soldiers fired a few shots in the air, and this caused the other men who were still upstairs to believe that the Rabbi and Moshe had been murdered. Afterwards they were rushed upstairs, and the Rabbi was bleeding.

Two trucks arrived in the yard, with planks hanging from the sides. The SS soldiers sent all the young and the healthy men from upstairs to the trucks. While running (or flying) down stairs, they were to jump into the trucks without touching the planks. Two German soldiers stood on either side of every step with heavy sticks in their hands, and hit the Jews as they descended. Whoever had the bad luck of their feet touching a step got hit two additional times. The young ones went down first, and tried to jump, all the stairs at once, so that they wouldnt get hit. Only a few managed to do so. Rabbi Levitan got hit many times, many others were bleeding. The two trucks were high and whoever did touch the planks was beaten. These two transports[127], each with thirty men, went to the Work-Camp Varsmininkin[128], near the town of Heidekrug. They were sent into the barracks which had previously housed war prisoners from France and Belgium. The remaining men[129] were taken to other Work Camps. A total of 120 men[130] were sent that day from Sveksna.

These men were examined by a doctor and given injections. After all of the official business was taken care, some were sent to Pikaten work camp, and some were sent to Silwen work camp, which were both nearby.[131] The Jews were treated as merchandise and were traded.[132] Dr. Shau was in charge and under him were a few other SS officers, one of whom was his brother.[133]

That Friday, the women and children were kept locked in their homes, under the supervision of the Lithuanian armed guards. These Lithuanian Activists guarded in the streets and shot at anyone who tried to go out. On that Friday four women and one man were murdered. They were brought to in the Jewish cemetery[134], and buried in a common grave.

According to the testimony of Meir Ladon[135], one of Sveksnes survivors, other Jews, mostly from Maclitinian and Luicova were brought to Heidekruk in the beginning of July.[136] The Jews worked mostly in agriculture, in the brick factory[137], in the yard, for neighboring farmers, and other tasks.Then there were about one thousand people in these camps. There were also Polish people here. They received many beatings when they did not work well.[138] Dr. Scheu was in charge of the camp.

The prisoners worked from morning until evening. The work was hard but bearable. The Jews grew accustomed to the conditions in the camp. There was enough food. They were brought warm clothing in the winter. There was a cold shower. They did know a bit about the war. Sometimes they saw German newspapers. The guards told them about the murdering of Jews and about mass murders.

Those who worked in agriculture slept in rooms where they worked. There were also eight women and some Poles who worked there. The Poles, who were Jew-haters, showed it. Guards were not present when they slept. Valter[139] was a commander there. He treated them reasonably well. Sometimes the supervision became more serious, and the SS soldiers treated some Jews badly. Then even bribing couldnt help. Sometimes when they were sent to work at another job in the camp, or if there was a new SS officer, they were beaten.[140]

In the middle of August[141] the first selection took place. The older ones or those who complained of being sick were chosen. They were told that they were being sent back to Sveksna. Meirs father was among those taken away. The next day the SS soldiers returned and brought sacks full of clothing with them. These were to be distributed among the workers. Meir and his friends worked as cooks, and they were given first choice. Meir found his own leather jacket, which one-day earlier he had given to his father, among these clothes. It was clear that everyone who had been taken was murdered. It is possible that they were all murdered at a killing site in the village of Saudvicai, which is near Niishtut-Tarvig, and buried there[142].

The Jews tried to work as well as they could so that they would not be chosen for the selection. They heard from the guards that there was to be another one. They tried not to show if they were sick, and to continue working[143]. Naphtali Ziv was on a pile of dead people, but a Nazi guards saw he was moving a bit and moved him away.[144] There were two more selections in October and November of 1941. Then they were also told that those who were taken would be returned to Sveksna. Nothing was known about what happened to these people. After a while, it became known that they were also taken to the village of Saudvicai.[145] They were also murdered and buried there.

In a place where some worked, which was near Heidekrug, Jews from these camps sometimes met with Lithuanians from Sveksna, who knew about the fate of the Jews who remained there. This way they heard about the fate of their families. The Jews had been gathered together and confined to one street, Zydu Gatve (The Street of the Jews), which then became the local ghetto. This population of the Jews that remained, was made up of women and children, a few males[146] who had succeeded in hiding in June, or were not then present in the town. They were subject to starvation and abuse. The men were selected as the administrators (firzarger) of the ghetto. The women were sent to do forced labor. No more details are known.

On the first day of Rosh HaShanna (5702), September 22,1941[147], they were taken from the ghetto to the forests near the villages Inkakliai and Raudishkiai. They were murdered on the left side of the road, by Lithuanian Partisans, and buried there. In the Lithuanian Small Encyclopedia, it is written that the German fascists murdered hundreds people in this area during the war.According to the testimony of Benjamin Yankelowitz[148] they were buried in a common grave. The local population took the gold teeth from the bodies. The grave was discovered after the war. Afterwards this was covered with cement and a monument was set up.

There was another selection in Heidekruk, in August 1942.[149]

Then there was a rumor that the Russians wanted to free them. Then they were watched over very well. They had been in this work camp for two years and one month.[150] There were almost one hundred who survived the Heidekrug (Silute) work camp. An order was given to transfer them to another place, and they were taken from there towards the end of July 1943. They heard that they were being taken to Aushwitz, but did not actually know what Aushwitz was. The trip was by foot and by train and took a long time, almost two weeks.

They arrived in Auschwitz on August 2, 1943.Among them, there were about twenty from Sveksna. Immediately after their arrival there was a selection. They were taken to an open lot, at the entrance to the camp. The ones who were sent to the right were sent to the camp. The ones who were sent to the left were sent to busses, which went to the crematorium. They then did not actually know although they sensed what was happening.[151] About one hundred of them were murdered. They went to work in Birkenau, which was a few kilometers away. They worked at fixing the train tracks. They were given enough food for their guards understood that this was very difficult work, so therefore they were able to give some food to older men. They got used to seeing the crematorium.[152]

About a month later, together with other prisoners from Auschwitz, they were taken to Warsaw, in order to remove the ruins of the ghetto. The ghetto was quite filthy. They also cleaned the rooms of the Nazi soldiers. The Nazi soldiers took them to bathe a few times. They were taken there naked. It was quite cold and the water was cold. They thought that they were being taken to be killed. There were quite a few Ukrainians there who were very cruel; and the Jews were quite scared of them. They got used to seeing wagons piled with dead, but there was always hope. There were still a few Jewish families who were in hiding in the bunkers, and they occasionally came out to look for food, for they were starving[153]. In his Testimony, Meir Ladon[154] wrote that they worked there in 1943-1944.[155] Because of the bad sanitary conditions there many died in a typhus plague.

In the summer of 1944, after they had been there about a year, the ones who remained were taken from Warsaw. They heard that the Russians were approaching and that there were Partisans nearby. They were being taken, by a round about route, to the Dachau Concentration camp. The brother of Meri Ladon was sent back to Aushwitz.[156] The others walked for a few days, perhaps a week. They reached a place called Vizel, in Poland. They dug to look for water. They reached Katowitz. Then they were taken by train in the direction of Dachau. On the train they were given water to drink, from a hose. They finally reached Dachau. Some were thrown with the dead. They were there for about a month, in July-August 1944.[157] They were taken from there to a camp called Valdblager. There the houses were underground Then they were taken to a camp called Muhldorf, near Munich where they worked for a few months, building an underground airport. [158] Here they felt hunger for the first time. They were being starved. The camp was bombed a few times. In April 1945, about six thousand men were taken from this camp.[159]

Then they reached Feldamfing, near Munich. At this point, there was a change in the attitude of the Nazi soldiers towards them, for they knew that the end was near. One day, about a week before the end of the war, they were taken on a train, as if to kill them by the thousands. The train conductor decided he would not kill them and just took them back and forth. The Nazi soldiers stayed with them until the end.[160] Towards the end the Nazi soldiers burned their official certificates, changed their clothing, and said that the war was over. Some tried to escape and ran in the direction of the forest near the camp. Then they rounded up all the prisoners, which then numbered about two thousand men.[161] The Americans arrived and captured the camp. The eighteen that remained from Heidkrug,[162] from Sveksna and the area, were freed in the spring of 1945. [163]


After the War monuments were put up in the two places of the murders, on the Common Graves, of the Holocaust victims from Sveksna.[164] These Monuments are where the Jews were murdered.One Common Grave is near the village of Saudvicai, which is near Niishtut-Tarvig. The other is near the villages Inkakliai and Raudishkiai, about six kilometer from Sveksna, on the left side of the road. There are pictures of them, taken on the visit of Benjamin Yankelowitz, one of the survivors of the Holocaust, who visited these sites[165]. The Testimony of Meir Ladon contains pictures of the Memorial Service at the Common Grave site, and the building of the fence around it.[166]

In April 1960, there was an announcement on the media asking for people who had known Dr. Scheu. Meir Ladon went to the Police Station in Rechovot, Israel, and gave witness against him. Dr. Scheu was then arrested in West Germany. [167]

There was a trial of four Nazi Criminals who took part in the murdering of Jews in the Heidekrug area on April 27, 1964, in Aurich (near Hamburg), Germany. The Nazis were Dr. W. Scheu, F. Jagst, Walter Allistsat[168], and Otto Bastian. Jews, who were survivors of Heidekrug, from all over the world were invited to participate as witnesses. All expenses were paid for the trip, personal expenses on account of the journey, expenses while there, as well as the loss of earnings. They were asked to list the reasons which hindered them from appearing at the proceedings.[169] Zalman Yavenlovitz, Naphtali Ziv[170] and Yitchak Markosevic[171] went to this trail as witnesses. The trial took three weeks. Two Nazi soldiers came as witnesses for Dr. Scheu. When they saw Zalman Yavenlovitz there they were shocked, for they recognized him and couldnt believe that he was still alive. Zalman Yavenlovitz also recognized them and gave testimony against them, and therefore they also got a sentence, even though they were not, at first, on trial.[172] The Nazi Criminals stated as their defense that they were SS soldiers and were carrying out their orders. The lawyer at the proceedings told the Jews how to manage to say what was important. Each one of these Nazi Criminals received a ten-year sentence.[173]There is a file in Yad Vashem which contains the verdicts of such trials.[174] As far as Walter goes, the Jews said good things about him, and explained how he helped them, and this surprised everyone.[175]

There are two testimonies of witnesses in the Library-Archives of Yad Vashem. I found the Testimony of Meir Ladon[176], and the combined Testimony of Moshe Ment[177], Yitchak Markosevic[178], Naphtali Ziv[179], and Meir Smulovic [180]. The testimonies of Benjamin Yankelowitz and of Meir Ladon are used as reference in Jewish Lithuania. Unfortunately the actual testimony of Benjamin Yankelowitz could not be found. The Video Testimony of Zalman Yavenlovitz appears in Yad Vashem. He came from Taurage, near Sveksna, and went through the war together with the men from Sveksna. The testimony of Ment, Markovitz, Ziv, and Smulovic includes a list of names of all the Lithuanians who helped the Nazis in Sveksna.[181]

In the Sveksna file in the Lithuanian Archives there are a few letters and postcards dated 1944-7. They were sent by a survivor, L. Ziv,[182] who was then in Vilna, to a Gita Zilberman[183] in Tel Aviv. They are written in Yiddish, and in bad condition, so that it is almost impossible to read them.[184] The relevant information was that the writer only knew of a few people of Sveksna who were alive after the war.[185]

There is apartial list of holocaust victims in the Taurage area, which also includes some names from Sveksna. It is written in Lithuanian. This list was put out by the Russian Government.[186]

A shop, which was once owned by a Jewish man, was used as a residence for an old Jewish lady in 1999. It seems that she was the one Jew remaining who lived in the town, but she died recently.[187]

The Synagogue in Svekskna still exists. It wasnt destroyed, but now it is empty.

Today the town has a neurological hospital[188], a high school, a mill, a lumber mill, as well as other industrial and business enterprises. Since 1950 it has been the district center.

There are quite a few exotic birds in Sveksna. People who are very devout birdwatchers go there to see them.[189] They enjoy their stay in the Vikenu Maluanas Hotel[190] while they are there.

There is a local branch of the Silute Museum in Sveksna.[191] The museum is located in one of the park buildings.[192] The director of the Museum in Silute had the local schoolchildren, in Sveksna, do a project about the Jewish History in this region.[193] The subject was Jewish schoolchildren.[194] These local schoolchildren had an exhibition on this in the Synagogue building in the summer of 2002. The section of the Lithuanian Government, which is in charge of educational change, and which includes lectures about the Holocaust, financed this. There is a special foundation there for this type of program.[195]

As of now, Sveksna does not yet have a JewishGen website, however, Ken Solomon would like to create one.[196]












170,000 /- region 1,500,000


153,743 /- 7.5%




168,00 [200], 145,000[201], 40,000[202]


24,672 / -0.9%


24,000 /-0.8%





















420[206] /534[207]




974, (about 800)[208]








200 families












@ 500, 519[210], 110-115 families[211]


















Restaurants and Taverns



Clothing, Fur, Textile



Leather and Shoes



Medicine and Cosmetics



Electrical Appliances, sewing machines






Heating and Animal Feed







Sveksna was a small place in the Jewish world that was in Lithuania. It seems to me that in relation to its population, many important Rabbis and people did originate t

about the author
Esther Herschman Rechtschafner