Shavel is a provincial capital in North-West Lithuania. German documents of the first half of the 13th century and the beginning of the 15th century called it Saule. In 1928 Shavel had a population of 21,878. During the period of Lithuanian independence (1918-1940) Shavel was the second largest town in Lithuania. On the eve of World War II (1939) there were 8,000 Jews in Shavel comprising 25% of the total population.
On June 26, 1941 the Germans occupied the town. On June 28 1941, Lithuanians entered Jewish homes and arrested elderly people and murdered them. In the second half of July 1941 the ghetto was set up in the poorer sections of the town. In September 1943 the ghetto was turned over to the SS. When the Red Army began its campaign, most of Shavel’s Jews were removed by train to Germany. When the Red Army freed Shavel there were only 100 Jewish survivors left.
The Jewish community ran charitable institutions and loan societies. The great Bet Mid rash of 1895 was used as a synagogue. There were Talmud classes conducted by well-known rabbis, like Rabbi Shlomo Isaacs and Rabbi Eliahu of Pasvitinys. At the beginning of the 20th century 80% of the 1733 artisans in Shavel were Jewish. Afterwards Jews turned to other professions. Zionist ideology penetrated into Shavel in 1880. The community felt close to Eretz Israel. The “Hazamir” society organized literary and musical events.