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Jewish heritage

ghetto2 1The Large ghetto was located between Rūdninkų, Mėsinių, Ašmenos, Žemaitijos, Dysnos, Šiaulių and Ligoninės streets. There were about 29 thousand people locked in this gehetto. The council (judenrat) of the Large ghetto was established in the palace of Oginski in Rūdninkų street. Furthermore, this ghetto held few Jewish partisan centres, also a theatre was opened, in 1942. This ghetto was finally closed in 23rd of September, 1943. After the ghetto was closed Jews, still capable of working, were sent to work camps, all others – to Maidanek death camp.


3759 9Žagarė (Zhager in Yiddish) had one of the oldest Jewish communities in Lithuania. There was a continuous Jewish presence in Žagarė from at least the16th century until October 1941. In its heyday Zhager was known as a city of Torah and wisdom; it produced famous scholars, writers, and rabbis. Chachmei Zhager they were called: the wise men of Zhager. As Josef Rosin notes, while quite a small town Zhager "produced a long line of erudite men, intellectuals, writers, researchers and public figures who were well know in the Jewish world."

For much of its history, the Jewish community comprised a very significant share of Žagarė's total population. In 1766, 840 Jews lived in Žagarė. The Jewish population grew to over 2,200 in 1847, and to approximately 5,500 in 1897 when they constituted 60 percent of Žagarė's total population. By1923, at the tail end of the brief Golden Age of Lithuanian independence, there were about 2,000 Jews in Žagarė, 40 percent of the overall population. By the beginning of World War II the number of Jews declined to about 1,000; most were shopkeepers, artisans, or vegetable gardeners. Today there are approximately 3,000 people in Žagarė; the only surviving Jew,  Isaac Mendelson, died in 2011.


old townThe Jewish quarter was formed in the Old Town. According to 1784 census there were around 5000 Jews in Vilnius at that time; according to 1897 census Jews constituted 38.8% of town's population (64,000 Jews). After WWI their number somewhat decreased, in 1923 55,000 Jews lived here (33.3% of town's population), and on the eve of WWII, in 1939, Jews made up 27.9% of town's population which was around 60.000 people.

Stripped of the right to construct buildings, Jews set up a synagogue in the palace of Duke Slushka; later the famous Great Synagogue of Vilnius was built. Religious thought began developing very intensively. Forty prominent rabbis lived in Vilnius in the second half of 17th century, although there were only 2500 Jews here at that time. And in 18th century the great genius Gaon of Vilna emerged. Since then Vilnius became a recognized spiritual center. It was called Jerusalem of Lithuania.

In order to pacify the predominantly poorer Jewish quarter in the Vilnius Old Town and force the rest of the more affluent Jewish residents into the new German-envisioned ghetto, the Nazis staged – as a pretext – the so-called Great Provocation incident. On 6 September and 7 September 1941, the Nazis herded the remaining 20,000 Jews into the parameters of two ghettos by evicting them from their homes, during which 3,700 were killed. The area designated for the ghetto was the old Jewish quarter in the centre of the city.


Kauno getas 2007 06 08The Kovno ghetto was a ghetto established by Nazi Germany to hold the Lithuanian Jews of Kaunas during the Holocaust. At its peak, the Ghetto held 29,000 people, most of whom were later sent to concentration and extermination camps, or were shot at the Ninth Fort. About 500 Jews escaped from work details and directly from the Ghetto, and joined Soviet partisan forces in the distant forests of southeast Lithuania and Belarus.

The Nazis established a civilian administration under SA Major General Hans Kramer to replace military rule in place from the invasion of Lithuania on June 22, 1941. The Lithuanian Provisional Government was officially disbanded by the Nazis after only a few weeks, but not before approval for the establishment of a ghetto under the supervision of Lithuanian military commandant of Kaunas Jurgis Bobelis, extensive laws enacted against Jews and the provision of auxiliary police to assist the Nazis in the genocide. Between July and August 15, 1941, the Germans concentrated Jews who survived the initial pogroms, some 29,000 people, in a ghetto established in Vilijampolė (Slabodka). It was an area of small primitive houses and no running water which had been cleared of its mainly Jewish population in pogroms by Lithuanian activists beginning on June 24.

The ghetto had two parts, called the "small" and "large" ghetto, separated by Paneriai Street and connected by a small wooden bridge over the street. Each ghetto was enclosed by barbed wire and closely guarded. Both were overcrowded, with each person allocated less than ten square feet of living space. The Germans continually reduced the ghetto's size, forcing Jews to relocate several times. The Germans and Lithuanians destroyed the small ghetto on October 4, 1941, and killed almost all of its inhabitants at the Ninth Fort. Later that same month, on October 29, 1941, the Germans staged what became known as the "Great Action." In a single day, they shot around 10,000 Jews at the Ninth Fort.s l1000

The ghetto in Kovno provided forced labor for the German military. Jews were employed primarily as forced laborers at various sites outside the ghetto, especially in the construction of a military airbase in Aleksotas. The Jewish council (Aeltestenrat; Council of Elders), headed by Dr. Elkhanan Elkes, also created workshops inside the ghetto for those women, children, and elderly who could not participate in the labor brigades. Eventually, these workshops employed almost 6,500 people. The council hoped the Germans would not kill Jews who were producing for the army.

In the autumn of 1943, the SS assumed control of the ghetto and converted it into the Kovno concentration camp. Wilhelm Göcke served as the camp's commandant. The Jewish council's role was drastically curtailed. The Nazis dispersed more than 3,500 Jews to subcamps where strict discipline governed all aspects of daily life. On October 26, 1943, the SS deported more than 2,700 people from the main camp. The SS sent those deemed fit to work to Vaivara concentration camp in Estonia, and deported surviving children and the elderly to Auschwitz.

On July 8, 1944, the Germans evacuated the camp, deporting most of the remaining Jews to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany or to the Stutthof camp, near Danzig, on the Baltic coast. Three weeks before the Soviet army arrived in Kovno, the Germans razed the ghetto to the ground with grenades and dynamite. As many as 2,000 people burned to death or were shot while trying to escape the burning ghetto. The Red Army occupied Kovno on August 1, 1944. Of Kovno's few Jewish survivors, 500 had survived in forests or in a single bunker which had escaped detection during the final liquidation; the Germans evacuated an additional 2,500 to concentration camps in Germany.


7159 11A memorial dedicated to the children of the ghetto who perished in the "children's Aktzia". The memorial to the estimated 50,000 Lithuanian Jewish children killed durig the Holocaust can be found at the rear of the building, complete with 37 stone tablets showing in which towns and cities they lost their lives and just how many of them died in each one. Behind the synagague is a memorial to the children murdered at the Ninth Fort. 

From 1942 births were not permitted in the ghetto and pregnant women faced death. However a number of babies of ages from about 9 months to 15 months were smuggled out of the Kovno Ghetto to willing Lithuanian foster mothers.

Half-day tour to Trakai

Trakai (4 hours tour) is one of the oldest Grand Duchy of Lithuania residence and capitals. Trakai is the second capital of Lithuania.

Tour to Kernave

Kernave village (4 hours tour) located on the banks of the river Neris (35 km from Vilnius) has been known as the capital of Lithuania before Trakai and Vilnius. 

Country life museum in Rumsiskes

Country life Open Air Museum of Lithuania (6 hours tour) is a unique and one of the largest (195 ha) open-air ethnographic museums in Europe.

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