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Ghetto in Merkinė, Lithuania

Merkinė is a city in the Alytus county of Lithuania, where a significant Jewish community lived. In the interwar period, there were seven Jewish primary schools in the city, a Jewish bank with 325 depositors. Jews owned over 140 shops, five pubs, one inn, a brick factory, and craft workshops.

After the Soviet occupation, ten of the richest Jews from Merkinė were deported to Siberia along with their families. By the beginning of the Nazi invasion, according to historians, more than 300 Jewish families of at least 1,000 people lived in the city.

German troops took control of Merkinė on June 23, 1941. Together with local residents, the soldiers burned down several Jewish houses and ransacked Jewish-owned shops.

In the first weeks of the occupation, the Nazis focused on finding the communists and their sympathetic townspeople. In mid-July 1941, on suspicion of collaboration with the communist government, the Germans detained 18 people, including 3 Jews, 14 Lithuanians and 1 Russian.

Among the suspects, the new government turned out to be a local 84-year-old rabbi. He managed to escape, but the Nazis took 50 Jews hostage, stating that they would be shot if the rabbi did not appear. The rabbi surrendered and was brutally killed. His remains are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Merkinė.

In early September 1941, all the Jews of the city were herded to the synagogue area in the ghetto. They were divided into two groups of 300 and 400 people. One remained in the synagogue area; the other was placed in a local prison. The Nazis said they would take prisoners to work. The invaders were making a selection. The first to be taken were men under the age of 40 and taken away in an unknown direction. The next day, the same fate awaited the young women.

Merkinė became a point where the Nazis brought Jews from the surrounding settlements. On the night of September 10, the Nazis surrounded the ghetto. Detachments of the local police took part in the extermination aktion. Also, eyewitnesses reported that two cars with soldiers in Lithuanian and German uniforms from Alytus arrived in the city.

The Jews were led into a pine grove behind the Jewish cemetery, beaten along the way. The prisoners were forced to undress; their hands were tied and driven into ditches, and then shot. The executioners divided the belongings of the killed among themselves. During the extermination aktion, it is estimated that 223 men, 355 women and 276 children were killed.