The history of Jews in Merkinė is a perfect illustration of the development of Lithuanian civil understanding in the beginning of the 20th century. Jewish community in Merkinė raised brave citizens, which were ready to fight for young independent state of Lithuania. Although nowadays this small town of southern Lithuania does not present many signs of not so long-gone local Jewish community, it is worth to read at least some short stories about Jewish past here and then take a walk in this shtetl using Your knowledge and imagination as a tool for recreating it`s dynamic life before the Second World War.
Archival documents of the last years of the 18th century mention, that Jews of Merkinė had already established a synagogue, study house and cemetery, – all the necessary elements for well-functioning Jewish community. At the end of the 19th the number of Jews in Merkinė increased rapidly and Jews have owned most of the houses around the market square and in the main streets of the town. Jews were active both in trade and in craftsmanship, there were a lot of Jewish-owned small shops, businesses, mills or even small factories in Merkinė. Jewish community had separate schools, library and many communal organizations – one of the most famous was their fire brigade, which also had it`s own orchestra. In the fights for Lithuanian independence in 1918-1919 there were three brave Jewish soldiers from Merkinė – later they have received awards for their loyalty and courage by president A. Smetona. Local Jews were not only brave in fights – they were brave in thinking outside the box as well, so the interwar town did not lack innovations. The most famous of them being water tower, which was initiated and developed by A. Z. Raizneris, and which supplied running water for the daily needs of Merkinė citizens. Another brave man born and raised in Merkinė was David Elijah Stone (1889-1952), who emigrated to USA, worked as a lawyer and acted as a politician and Zionist. In 1919 m. he initiated the recognition of Lithuanian Independence in the Congress of USA. In1938 D.E.Stone has been awarded the IIIrd grade Gediminas Medal by president A. Smetona – this was (and still is) a special honor.
Before the Second World War there was a complex of three prayer houses in Merkinė: it consisted of synagogue, smaller beit midrash and prayer and study house. The prayer and study house, which has been built at the very end of the 19th century, is the only one out of three still partly extant to-this-day.
Jewish prayer and study house in Merkinė, Seinų str. 14, 54.163518, 24.183466
Merkinė ethnographic and genocide museum, Dariaus ir Girėno sq. 1, 54.162914, 24.185286
The Old Jewish cemetery of Merkinė, 54.159587, 24.189645