Šiauliai

 

Šiauliai is a large city in northern Lithuania. It is the seat of the surrounding district of Šiauliai and has been the capital of the Šiauliai district since 1994. It has the status of a township, so it has an elected mayor and city council. Šiauliai is an important business location, transport hub, seat of a university and a Catholic diocese.

 

History

13th to 19th centuries
In chronicles of the Knight of Swords, Šiauliai is mentioned as Soule, Saulia and Saulen as early as the 13th century. The city's founding date is September 22nd, 1236, the day of the so-called Sun Battle or Battle of Schaulen (Lithuanian Saulės mūšis), on which Lithuanian-Samaitic associations inflicted a devastating defeat on an army led by the Livonian Brotherhood of the Sword near today's city. In the two following centuries, Šiauliai was considered the capital of the "Sun Country", as the area was called at that time.

The year 1445 has been passed down as the year the first wooden church was built in the city center, which was replaced by today's brick building in 1625. In 1589, Šiauliai was granted Magdeburg town charter and served as the administrative center of an area (Lithuanian Didieji Šiauliai) that included a royal estate with 6000 farms and neighboring settlements such as Joniškis, Radviliškis and Meškuičiai.

Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Šiauliai was devastated several times by major fires. Looting by Swedish troops, the outbreak of a plague epidemic and another looting by soldiers of the Napoleonic army during the Russian campaign in 1812 also had a negative impact on the city's development. Towards the end of the 18th century, the city played an important political role as the administrative center for thirteen districts in the area.

With the settlement of Silesian weavers in the late 18th century, Šiauliai became a center of the textile industry. The construction of a road connection between Saint Petersburg and Königsberg in 1839 and the railway line between Liepāja (Libau) and Kaišiadorys, each running through the city, promoted the development of further branches of industry and the rise of Šiauliai to an important trading town and the economic center of northern Lithuania. The Choral Synagogue, built in 1871, was destroyed in World War II.

The last major fire disaster in 1872 marked the end of the wooden architecture that had prevailed in Šiauliai until then. The rapid reconstruction was followed by the establishment of further industrial companies in the silk, wool, leather, cigarette and chocolate industries. Beer breweries also emerged. In 1897, Šiauliai was the second largest city in Lithuania after Kaunas with more than 16,000 inhabitants.

A Jewish community had existed in the city since the 17th century. With a Jewish population of 56% in 1909, Šiauliai was considered an important Jewish center.

The early 20th century
During the First World War, Šiauliai and its surroundings were the scene of the Battle of Schaulen between April and June 1915. On April 17th, the historic city center and around 85% of all buildings in the city area were devastated by the war. As a result, German troops occupied Šiauliai.

The period after the war and Lithuania's declaration of independence was a period of reconstruction and economic expansion. In addition to five new leather and shoe factories, wool processing and weaving businesses, a furniture factory and the Gubernija brewery were established. In 1938, Šiauliai accounted for 85% of Lithuanian leather production, 60% of shoe production, 75% of linen and 35% of chocolate production. Šiauliai remained the second largest city in Lithuania between the two world wars.

The second World War
German occupation and persecution of the Jews
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union and thus also of Lithuania, which it occupied, from June 22, 1941, around 1,000 Jews fled into the interior of the Soviet Union. On June 26, 1941, the city was occupied by Wehrmacht troops, the beginning of a reign of terror for the population. In the following two weeks, Germans and Lithuanians murdered 1,000 Jewish residents in anti-Jewish riots. Then a civil administration was set up under the Reich Ministry for the occupied eastern territories. An area commissioner - comparable to a German district administrator - was appointed to represent Schaulen, in this case Hans Gewecke. Under his aegis, the establishment of a ghetto in the districts of Kaukazas and Trakai began on July 25, 1941. While 1,000 Jewish residents were deported to Žagarė, about the same number fled to the city's ghetto from the surrounding cities and towns, so that at the end of 1941 around 4,500 to 5,000 people were living in the ghetto. Until September 1943, the ghetto population had to do forced labor for the Germans, including building the Zokniai airport. From September 1943 the ghetto was converted into a concentration camp. On November 5, 1943, a "cleanup" took place in which 574 children and old and disabled ghetto residents were deported to an extermination camp.

 

On June 22, 1944, the Red Army began Operation Bagration and completed it victoriously by August 20, 1944. When she approached Šiauliai in July 1944, the remaining residents of the ghetto were taken to the Stutthof concentration camp, where most of them were murdered. About 500 Jewish residents of Šiauliai, less than 10% of the pre-war Jewish population, survived.

The time after the Second World War
Eighty percent of Šiauliai was destroyed during the war. The Soviet POW camp 294 existed in the city for German POWs.

After 1945 it was rebuilt as a modern city. Today Šiauliai is an important administrative center.