True Lithuania Sights, cities, culture, history and more

Šilutė Town

Šilutė (pop. 20 000) is likely the most intact town of Lithuania Minor and therefore northern East Prussia. Its 2,5 km long tree-lined main avenue was largely spared from the mass Soviet demolitions that ravaged the Kaliningrad Oblast and the churches of Klaipėda.

Šilutė is now regarded to be the unofficial capital of Lithuania Minor since the pro-Lithuanian Klaipėda Revolt captured it but not Tilsit/Tilžė in 1923. While the 1918 declaration calling for the unification of Lithuania Minor and Lithuania Major was signed in Tilsit the later 1923 act of actual unification was signed in Šilutė.

Šilutė became a single entity only in 1910 with the unification of the four villages (Šilokarčema, Žibai, Verdainė and Cintijoniškės, or Heydekrug, Szibben, Werden and Cynthionischken if you prefer the Germanized names). As such the town has several centers. In the east the main street begins at the former market square of Šilokarčema, still an extensive rectangular open area surrounded by pre-war buildings. 1911 yellow truss bridge over the Šyša river and the late 18th century Šiultė manor are nearby.

Large buildings at the former Šilokarčema main square. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Main Lietuvininkų street goes eastwards, connecting Šilokarčema main square to the main square of Žibai. Laid in the 19th century the throughfare still reminds of those days. Large 3-floored detached art nuoveau buildings are partly hidden by its linden and chestnut trees. Among these buildings stands the Lutheran church dedicated to Martin Luther, completed in 1926, known for its interior murals depicting 104 famous historical personalities, among them Biblical figures Noah and Moses, Šilutė's local luminaries H. Scheu and T. Eicke, Roman Emperors Justinian and Constantine, founders of the reformation M. Luther and J. Calvin, and seccular people such as S. Kierkegard and Dante Alighieri. Unfortunately the church is closed outside of mass.

Žibai main square is of irregular layout and a national romantic red-brick builidng now housing a vocational school (1909) is arguably its most impressive one.

Main square of the former Žibai village. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Going further east you will reach the railroad, before World War 1 a trunk route from Karaliaučius/Koenigsberg to Klaipėda/Memel, both still part of Germany at the time. Modest 19th century station building still exists north of the main street but in 2011 the last passenger services to Klaipėda have been cancelled.

Beside the railroad, south of the main street, stands a red-brick Holy Cross Roman Catholic church (1854). Built in a romantic style more typical to Lutheran architecture of the area it is much smaller than its local Lutheran counterpart. This indicates the relative size of the two communities in the pre-WW2 era. Like the rest of Lithuania Minor Šilutė used to be overwhelmingly Lutheran, both Lithuanians and Germans adhering to that faith.

Lutheran communities were largely destroyed by the advancing Soviet armies, this genocide barely mentioned in the history books even today. The extensive Lutheran cemetary in a forest beyond the railroad serves as a powerful compensation for the never-built memorials. Overgrown and eerie, it has no sinlgle grave left undamaged and unransacked by the Soviets. Their metal fences are bent, most inscriptions hardly readible, crosses swaying and never visited as most relatives of the deceased have been murdered or exiled decades ago, leaving nobody to care for what was once a nicely landscaped area of an East Prussian provincial town. And yet unlike most other Lutheran cemetaries in Lithuania's cities and towns this one was not demolished (except for the graves of German soldiers), its hundreds of interesting gravestones and a funeral chapel still available for all to see.

A grave with a cross in Šilutė Lutheran cemetary left between existance and destruction, like hundreds of its neighbors. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

While the main street is interesting and worth a stroll, the districts north and south of it are largely dating to the Soviet occupation.

Šilutė is the hub of the Nemunas Delta region, known for its annually submerged floodplains, bird migration paths and the prime location for boat related activities in Lithuania.

English tourist map of Šilutė.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. Is there not a phone/address directory for Silute/Heydekrug??? If so, can I access it on the internet?

    • The Lithuanian phone directory is available here. You should choose “Šilutės r.” from the drop-down menu and type in the surname you want to search and click on “Ieškoti”. If people with such surname exists (and own phones) in Šilutė and surrounding villages you will get their phone numbers and addresses. It is unforunately not possible to find an online list, you need to search for particular surnames. Also take note that this does not include cell phone owners and today many Lithuanians use only cell phones and no longer have a telephone at home.

  2. Thank you! Curious to know if in the old cemetries there are names on the grave markers? Also, is it possible that the Lutheran church’s in town still have records (births, deaths, marriages) pre-dating the war?

    • You mean if the names are visible on tombstones? In some cases they are. I am not sure whether Lutheran church has records, it may be the best to approach it directly. Additionally many old church records have been moved to state archives where they survive.

      • Hello, i am from Holland but my great great great grandparents came from Lithuania. Johannes Oszkaitis died in Šilutė somewhere around 1870. His son Georg Oszkaitis was born in Mantvydai 16-3-1844
        Do you perhaps know if that name still exists or perhaps a bit different written?

        • Hello, in modern Lithuanian it would be written as Oškaitis. However a Google search finds little, basically just a 1935 telephone book with Johann Oškaitis listed in Saugai (click here). This is a village near Šilutė today known in Saugos so this Johann may have been your relative. There are no modern Google results. As this is Lithuania Minor region it is likely the bearers of this surname have perished in the Soviet genocide there (~300 000 people have been murdered in 1944-1949, others fled westwards; few descendants of the original inhabittants remain in the area).

          • Thank you Augustinas for your reaction, so I think my search ends here, at least for now.

  3. Church records for East Prussia and Memelland can be found in the Latter Day Saints archives. In the USA you can still request the microfilm be sent to branches of the church for viewing. A lot of the church records of Klaipeda, Silute are destroyed after all the wars fought accross the area. Original church records are in Leipzig, I believe, but require a personal visit. I found ancestors from the Stallupönen area, but no luck with Lutheran records for Silute.

  4. Hi Augustinas,

    My name is Shokhin and I am originally from Tajikistan but residing currently in Virginia, USA. Long ago I have worked with Algirdas Stankius, Hydro Engineer from Silute, Lithuania. Frankly, I have lost track of him long ago but would like to find his contact information. Can you give me a hand? You or he can contact me on my email – shasadov@gmail.com or skype account – shohinasadov.

    Thank you and hope to hear from you soon.

    Shokhin


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