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Alternate names: Ukmergė [Lith], Vilkomir [Yid, Rus], Wiłkomierz [Pol], Wilkomir [Ger], Ukmerģe [Latv], Vilkmergė, Ukmergės, Valkemir, Vilkamir, Russian: Вилькомир. װילקאָמיר-Yiddish. Town name changed from Vilkmergė to Ukmergė in 1918. 55°15' N, 24°45' E, 41 miles NE of Kaunas (Kovno), 45 miles NNW of Vilnius (Vilna). 1900 Jewish population: 7,287. ShtetLink.  History.  [October 2000]

Vilkomir was established in the early 13th century on the hill nearest the river Sventoji to guard the roads that passed through to Vilnius and Riga. Jewish settlement began in the 13th century, perhaps even late in the 12th century with the Jews involved in timber and as bargemen and traders of grain and linseed oil. The river Sventoji divdes the town two parts: the new town and where the poorer neighborhood was located. Prince Zigismund (1505-1548) granted Magdaburg rights and decreed two weekly market days, Wednesday and Friday, and an annual market on June 29. By 1665, 622 Jews lived under the patronage of the Princedom of Zamut, who gave permission to build the first synagogue called "River Crossing" and sanctioned the cemetery. The Chevra Kadisha then restored old tombstones, some 300 years old for which a register had been kept. The Jews lived at the "River Crossing" on streets "Egypt", "Bath", etc. Gentiles lived mainly on the Kaunas road in a different section of the town.The river used by sailboat traffic with a guild had a strict rules about sculling and navigation from 1589 to 1792. The rules applied to the merchants who had had storerooms on the river banks. In 1766, 716 Jews (and by 1797 6,088 Jews) lived in the entire Vilkomir region. During the 19th and 20th centuries, rocks appeared in the water with the lowering water level so only flat-bottom barges could operate. Napoleon's army passed through in 1812 but bothered no one. In 1842 Vilkomir was part Kovno guberniya. In 1864, Vilkomir with 4,561 Jews had two synagogues and 12 minyans. In 1878, a fire on market day burned down the entire town. The Jewish Councils of Kaunas and Memel collected 25,000 rubles to help the victims. The town was completely rebuilt with wider streets and a fire brigade. The Boatman's Guild ceased to function; the town never again was the important commercial center as before. The 1897 census showed 7287 Jews (53%). Before World War I, 900 Jewish farmers in Vilkomir and the surrounding area included those in the small village of Laibiskes (Leibishuk), 6 km away on the road to Jonava, where dozens of Jewish families had their own synagogue and a friendly estate owner. Other villages had Jewish innkeepers, builders, blacksmiths, metalworkers, tailors, and tinsmiths. They purchased motorized vehicles at the beginning of the 20th century. By 1914, 10,000 Jews lived there. During WWI, the Russians expelled the Jews except for Dr. Katzenellenbogen, whom they wanted to remain as the official military doctor; he declined and left with the rest of the Jews, most to Russia or Vilnius and its surrounds and then to Vilkomir. Later, the Russians evacuated the town, setting many homes on fire, destroying the bridge, and robbing many. German planes added to the destruction with many inhabitants killed or gone. During occupation, the Germans built a narrow road connecting Vilkomir and Jonava. In 1918, the Germans evacuated the town as the Red Army approached, but the Polish Army also tried to takethe town. Suspicious of the Poles for their prior rule, Jewish self-defence groups sent a delegation to the Red Army, asking them to take back the town which they did from January to about July, 1918. Many Jews escaped to Gulevan in neutral territory. In 1919, Lithuanian authorities took over. The Jews, fed up with Bolshevik rule, welcomed the Lithuanians promising equal rights, but shortly, riots began with one Jewish death and two buried alive in Seta with no cause [reinterred in Vilkomir), and many wounded. Then, life became normal when the Lithuanian authorities gave the Jews complete religious, economic, and civil rights. The Jews evacuated to Russia began to return. After the Poles took Vilna, thousands of refugees were welcomed by the Vilkomir Jews Lithuanian authorities gave them temporary citizenship. Hundreds of Vilkomir Jews volunteered for the Lithuanian army. Jews captured a large majority of the vote in mayoral and town council elections,. By 1921 the Jewish population was 7,000, then 8,000 out of 15,000 total in 1935. Their contribution to commerce was substantial. Convoys of Jewish traders often passed through the town on the roads to Vilnius, Kaunas, Petersburg and Warsaw. Their large storerooms exported timber and linseed to Germany. Jewish merchants were regular guests at Konigsberg, Danzig and Stettin Commercial Exchanges. They owned flour mills with a guild of Jewish millers in the 19th century. They owned the brick burning kilns centralized on Egypt Street; workshops producing clay products; and some were textile shops. The majority of grocery and hardware stores were owned by Jewish merchants. Until the 1930s, water was pumped from the river or wells without any water pipes in the town. The Jewish Folksbank branch opened in 1920 and by 1929 had 593 depositors. Two private banks also existed. The town had twelve prayer houses, many minyans, and the Great Synagogue built 300 years previously. The 1935 Jewish population was 8,000. [March 2009]

CEMETERY: All tombstones arere gone. Source: Henry & Marion Bernstein.

MASS GRAVES: On June 25 , 1941 when the town was conquered by the Germans, many Jews who had fled from places to the East were trapped here. Many Lithuanians immediately went wild, attacked Jewish homes, destroyed and senselessly murdered Jews like the 80 year-old chemist by tying him to a wagon with a whild horse harnessed and a doctor shot leaving the hospital. When the two German soldiers shot by stray bullets were buried in the main square at the centre of the town, the Jews were blamed. German soldiers entered the Jewish Hospital and forcibly rounded up the doctors and nurses. They arrested the rabbis, lawyers, and public figures. All were violently taken to the local jail. Then, they were force marched to a large sandy plot adjoining one of the Christian cemeteries and brutally murdered. The police were sadists, using scissors and hachets to murder Jews. In that first week, 200 Jews were arrested on charges of cooperating with the occupying communists. On Friday, July 4, those 200 were transported to Pivona Forest adjoining the village of Pasalina, 3 km from Vilkomir, and murdered and buried. In the middle of July, Lithuanians stopped twelve Jewish girls in the center of town, brutally tortured them, and then murdered them. In early August, the Germans moved all the Jews to a ghetto, not fenced but guarded, in the poor Christian neighborhood between Bolnick and Nikukar Lanes leading to the Secutanai River (Unteren Wasser). Daily Jewish males and young women were taken for all sorts of forced labor like sewage ditch digging. The Germans humiliated them at every chance. Honored and aged Jews were taken to clean street gutters and public toilets. On August 8, the Germans collected a large number of young women and marched them with the men to Pivona Forest, to murder and bury them in ditches next to the underwear factory. In August young men and women were transported to this forest from the surrounding towns and villages of Sirvintos, Balninkai, Alanta, Musninkai, Bagaslaviskis, Giedraicia, Sesuoliai, Kukliai, Vidiskiai, Siesikai and Jonava. The great massacre of the Jews took place in the Pivona Forest on September 5. The only people now remaining in the Ghetto were old and sick, and women and children, but at dawn on September 26, the Ghetto was surrounded by the armed guards and cruelly attacked by Germans and Lithuanians. They were told that they were being taken to a work camp where all the other Jews of Vilkomir were being held and that they would be sorted out, with all families together with children and parents reunited. At 9 a.m. the Jews were force marched to Pivona Forest, forced to undress completely and then shot by the Germans with light machine guns. A number of Jews had fled Vilkomir and hid at some farms and in the forests. None escaped. After the war, survivors searched Pivona Forest for the mass graves. The grave was not easy to find in the high weeds. After much clearing, they found only three large graves where human bones were scattered. According to farmers of the area who assisted, a long and wide channel dug by the Germans led up the slopes of a hill. Lack earth to cover all the bodies made the Germans drag some of the bodies to the hill edge and covered them there with a thin and loose fill washed away by rain and scavenging or grazing animals. The survivors of Vilkomir collect the bones of victims of Pivona, especially on Tisha b'av,and bury them in a common grave. The surviving Jews of Vilkomir approached the municipal authorities to build a monument, but the authorities refused so these Jews collected money and in 1950 built their own monument in the middle of the three common graves that were in a semi-circle in a flat open space. Today, the Lithuanian law requires that all burial sites be marked at their expense. When a Jewish Museum was opened in Vilnius by some individual Jews, items that had been owned by the Jews of the communities of Lithuania were exhibited. The survivors of Vilkomir submitted a Soviet list of victims and 12,000 residents of the town. The entire Museum was closed; and the list of Vilkomir Jews disappeared together with many of the other exhibits. [March 2009]

Pine forest of Pivonija, about 4 km from Ukmerge; 177-178; pic. # 315-318; source: US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad

BOOK: The Popular Massacres of Lithuania, Part II, include the following mass graves:Pivona Forest 4 km SE of Vilkomir. Dates -  August 1, August 19, and September 5, 1941. Number who perished - 6,354 and a farm adjoining the prison 5 km from Vilkomir in the direction of the town of Sesuoliai (Zsasalova). Date - 10 July, 1941. Number who perished - 83 men and women.

Last Updated on Friday, 12 November 2010 12:33
 
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