The Jewish Museum, as an institution concerned with Jewish culture and traditions, has a long tradition in Lithuania . The first Jewish museum was established in Vilnius (then Vilna) in 1913 through the efforts of the Society of Lovers of Jewish Antiquity. The activities of this society and museum were interrupted with the outbreak of the First World War. In 1919, noted Jewish writer Sholom Zanvil Rapoport (better known under the pseudonym of Sh. An-sky) revived the society, renamed the Lithuanian-Belorussian Society for Jewish History and Ethnography. The Jewish Museum was re-established in 1920 and named posthumously after Sh. An-sky.
When Vilnius was occupied by Polish troops that same year, the Jewish History and Ethnography Society continued its work in Kaunas, the interim Lithuanian Capital. In 1931, the Society finally established a Jewish museum, similar to its predecessor in Vilnius. On the eve of the Second World War, the Museum housed over 3000 objects and 6000 books, as well as other valuable items, such as letters, memoirs, and pinkasim (Jewish Community’s chronicles). In addition, there were more than a hundred thousand documents, photographs, newspaper issues, etc. Original texts of the privileges (charters) granted to Jews by the Grand Dukes the late Middle Ages, were considered the most valuable museum item.
With the annexation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union in 1940, the museum was placed under the supervision of the People's Commissariat (Ministry) of Education and lost its independent status. In May 1941 the museum was handed over to the Soviet Lithuanian Academy of Science.
Another Jewish museum was established in Polish Wilno (as Vilnius was then called) in 1925. It was known as the Theater Museum of the Institute for Jewish Research, or YIVO. Uma Olkienicka was the director of the museum. The collection was centered around the personal archives of well-known actress Esther Rochl Kaminski. The researchers of YIVO continued to collect material and planned to establish various Jewish museums dedicated to education, art, ethnography, sports and literature.
Address: Lithuanian Jewish Community Centre Pylimo str. 4 Vilnius;
Green House Pamenkalnio str. 12 Vilnius.