Capital of Lithuania Minor | True Lithuania
True Lithuania

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 multiple 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. A new addition in the area is the Wall of Šilutė history (Klaipėdos street), where the history of the town is displayed as a series of public artworks.

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

Main Lietuvininkų street goes eastwards from there, connecting Šilokarčema main square to the main square of Žibai. Laid in the 19th century the thoroughfare still reminds of those days. Large 3-floored detached art nouveau 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 secular people such as S. Kierkegaard and Dante Alighieri. Unfortunately, the church is closed outside of mass.

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

The 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 canceled.

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 the 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 cemetery in a forest beyond the railroad serves as a powerful compensation for the never-built memorials. Overgrown and eerie, it has no single grave left undamaged and unransacked by the Soviets. Their metal fences are bent, most inscriptions hardly legible, 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 cemeteries 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 cemetery left between existence 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.

Šilutė wall of history near Šilokarčema main square. This particular scene says that in 1944, merely seven locals remained alive and in Šilutė after the Soviet forces occupied the city. The current inhabitants of Šilutė are largely descendants of those who populated it after the war and have no relations with the pre-war Lutheran inhabitants of Šilutė. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

English tourist map of Šilutė.

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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 – or skype account – shohinasadov.

    Thank you and hope to hear from you soon.


  5. My mother, Auguste Jurksaite, lived near Silute with her parents Jurgis and Agute Jurksaire and her sister Anna Bendicks, brother-in-law Johann Bendicks and nephew Erwin Bendicks, in the 1920-40’s. I am trying to find out what happened to Anna and her family as my mother lost touch after the war when she (my mother) went to England and the family returned to Lithuania from a displaced persons camp in Lubeck. My mother said they lived on a farm and originally the family came from Butkelen near Taurage.

    • First thing I would note would be that their names were likely changed (if they stayed in Lithuania), because those are Germanized names that were generally dropped after 1945. Anna would have likely became Ona, Johann – maybe Jonas, Erwin – perhaps Edvinas. Surname Bendicks would have likely turned into Bendickis. Of course, no one can be 100% sure.

      Butkelen is now known as Butkeliai probably. However, that village was destroyed by Soviets and replaced by a borough of multistorey apartment blocks (of the same name).

      • Thank you for this information. It’s March 2017 now and I’ve only just seen your reply. I’m going to pursue the search for my mother’s family using the new names you suggested.

  6. My great-grandfather, Jonas Siksnius, lived in Silute, Lithuania. Apparently, he had owned a saddle making business and spoke 14 languages. He’d immigrated to Scotland, then to the USA and finally to Nova Scotia, Canada in either the late 1800s to early 1900s. Unfortunately, he never left any names of his remaining family in Silute. I do know that he had agreed to an arranged marriage with Barbara Nausedaite; and they remained married until her death. Are either of these family names familiar to anyone? Thanks.

  7. researching my family history fron the passenger list said they came from Jnlewday tried finding it on google but to no avail can u help please

    • Such placename doesn’t exist in Lithuania, nor does any similar placename.

      I assume, however, it was probably written down by the immigration workers or such who just heard the name spelled by illiterate immigrants and wrote it down as they heard in English?

      So, then Jnlewday could very well be Šilutė, which is spelled as She-Loo-Teh, and thus could be heard as Jen-Lew-Day too, perhaps.

  8. My father was a prisoner of war at Heydekrug from June 1943 to July 1944. If I were to visit the locality is there anything of the old POW camp to be seen or any other records/memorial to the many men that were imprisoned at the camp covering this period? I would be interested in any records which emain about the camp, the effects on the resident community and any other information relating to this camp during the WWII.

    • There is a former concentration camp for POWs in Pagėgiai, not too far from Šilutė. It is called “Oflager 53” and now serves as a museum. There is no such museum in Šilutė itself but the POWs typically lived in camps rather than in towns/cities. It is possible he lived in “Oflager 53” actually and just mentioned Heydekrug/Šilutė as the closest town of such size.

      • Augustinas very many thanks for responding. My father was an RAF officer and was transferred to Heydekrug from Stalag Luft 3 Sagan to Stalag Luft 6, Heydekrug, arriving 16th June 1943, almost exactly 75 years ago. He was evacuated in July 1944 because of the advancing Russian army.
        I am aware that at Sagan there is a museum and a large scale model of a typical prisoners hut. I was keen to know if there is anything similar to remember the prisoners detained at Heydekrug.
        I look forward to hearing if there is any other information you can provide.
        Very many thanks, regards Paul

        • Yes, there is a museum at the place of the Stalag Luft 6 as well. It is known as “Macikai concentration camp” now (“Macikų koncentracijos stovykla”), as it is in Macikai village ~2 km from Šilutė itself. The same territory that was used as Stalag by Nazi Germany was also later used as a Soviet POW camp for German prisoners (after 1944) and even later (1948-1953) for the imprisonment and genocide of Lithuanians by the Soviet occupational regime (365 people were killed on this site then, 70 of them children), so that period is also covered.

          A link to the museum page:

  9. How can I find my grandfather he was in world war 2 he died in a prison camp his name is Harmon sticklus born November 26 1911

    • There are various possibilities of search in Lithuanian archives which we can offer. It depends on what you want to find, however. Is it his grave? Or is it any information about him?

  10. I am studying my mother in law family Bertulese . Lived in large farm in place referred to as Pasiechen or similar . Near Heydekrug I think .I am translating diary during war years. Really interesting. Any help ? I cannot find Pascischen . I would like to visit what was family home. They would sell peat. They were often iced in during winter.

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