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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.


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.


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.


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.

800px Great synagogue of vilnaThe Great Synagogue of Vilna which once stood at the end of Jewish Street (I-2), Vilnius, Lithuania, was built between 1630-1633 after permission was granted to construct a synagogue from stone. Standing on the spot of an existing synagogue built in 1572, the site had first been used to house a Jewish house of prayer in 1440.

The synagogue was partly destroyed by the Soviets during World War II. The ruined synagogue and the whole “schulhof” complex which had grown around it were demolished by the Soviet authorities from 1955 to 1957 and were intentionally replaced by a basketball court and a kindergarten to effectively prevent any future initiatives to rebuild a cultural monument.

Three original pieces from the Great Synagogue of Vilna survived the destruction quite miraculously and are now on display at the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum: a door of the Holy Ark, a reader’s desk, and a bas-relief with the Ten Commandments.1024px Vilnius Synagogue

In 2011 Lithuanian PM Andrius Kubilius and Vilnius Mayor Artūras Zuokas announced plans to restore the synagogue, after successful archaeological exploration of synagogue ruins in the same year. The Vilnius Great Synagogue memorial is planned to be finished around 2018. In 2014 Israeli president Shimon Peres was invited to join the board, together with Lithuania’s former President Valdas Adamkus, Lithuanian PM Algirdas Butkevičius and the prominent architect Daniel Liebeskind for the restoration project. The original location of the Great Synagogue was pinpointed by ground-penetrating radar in June 2015 beneath the modern school building, with excavations set to begin in 2016.

Jewish cemetery vilniusHistory of the three Jewish cemeteries in Vilnius of which only one remains, the new Jewish cemetery opened in Šeškinė district near Sudervė Cemetery. "The oldest and the largest Jewish cemetery was established in Šnipiškės (Yiddish: Shnipishok) suburb, now in Žirmūnai elderate, on the opposite bank of the Neris River than Gediminas Tower in the 15th century. It was closed by Tsarist authorities in 1831. It was destroyed by the Soviet authorities in 1949-1950 during the construction of Žalgiris Stadium. The Palace of Concerts and Sports (Lithuanian: Koncertų ir sporto rūmai) was built in 1971 right in the middle of the former cemetery. In 2005, apartment and office buildings were built on top of another part of the site, incurring condemnation from international Jewish organizations and resulted in a motion being passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008, condemning Lithuania for its "failure to protect the historic Jewish cemetery in Vilnius." In August 2009 Lithuanian government reached agreement with Jewish organizations on the boundaries of the cemetery and granted it protected status. Buildings already on the site will not be demolished. 

 With the help of foreign diplomacy only a few graves of famous people such as the Gaon of Vilna were moved here in a concession to the community. This new Jewish cemetery was actually opened just before the war and nowadays, especially on Sundays, is a place where Jewish people visit the graves of their beloved and you can meet interesting locals. The Gaon’s grave attracts visitors from many countries who leave notes of supplication by the graveside. Gravestones are covered in the writing of many languages including Yiddish, Lithuanian, Russian, Polish and English.

The Vilnius Yiddish harbors no illusionabout reconstructing pre-war Jewish life in Lithuania or any other East European country. Rther, it aims to make noteworthy contributions to Yiddish culture and East European Jewish studies internationally. It does this by concentraiting on activities that are best carried out in thepre-war Yiddish homeland and complement, rather than duplicate, the work of its sister institutions elsewhere.

The Vilnius Yiddish Institute is situated in Vilnius University's History Faculty, where it occupies a two-level headquarters in the four-century-old campus in the heart of the Old City, a stone's throw from the spot where the Gaon of Vilna lived out his life immersed in his studies.




The Jewish cultural centre is the public institution, which the main aim is to offer information about rich Jewish heritage to citizens and guests of Vilnius because Jewish culture it is Lithuanian culture as well.

The main function of the Jewish cultural centre is to collect and offer the information about Jewish heritage, to organise cultural events, exhibitions and initiate the coming of cultural sites in Vilnius and other cities and towns. One more centre’s function is to inform city guests about all touristic tours and places in Vilnius and the whole country, which are related to Jewish heritage. Also, tourists could get information about massacre sites in Lithuania. Moreover, Jewish cultural centrespreads information about Vilnius and Lithuania                                                        .

Communicating with Litvaks from all around the world collect and share information about the unique culture of Litvaks, who contributed to the development of world history.

In the Jewish cultural centre, you can find a required and useful literature and audio and video clips.



The establishment of the Jewish community dates back to the seventeenth century, when Kristupas Radvila officially allowed Jews to take up residence in the area of the Old Market. As the number of Jews increased, it became the most densely populated part of the city, and the spiritual-religiuos centre of the community started to form. In 1655, a wooden synagogue together with a hospice and a ritual bathhouse was mentioned as having been located on the northern outskirts of the Old Market's place gradually became part of the Jewish ghetto and in the middle of the seventeenth century, it began to be referred to as the Jewish Market. The buildings in the Jewish block were mostly wooden, so fires were a common phenomenon. Despite the damage of the fires, over 400 Jewish owned houses existed in Kėdainiai during 1867-1877.

Elijahu ben Šlomo Zalman (1720-1797) the future expert of the Talmud, also known as the Vilna Gaon (genius), spiritually matured in Kėdainiai.

At the end of the nineteenth century, 61% of Kėdainiai's residents were Jews engaged in different trades. In 1899, the Jewish craftsmen there consisted of 85 shoemakers, 45 tailors, 35 bread makers, 22 carpenters, 17 bricklayers, 8 blacksmiths and 35 headwear makers. In 1923, 7,342 people lived in Kėdainiai, of which 2,499 were Jews (34% of the total population).

In July 1941, the Jews of Kėdainiai, Šėta ir Žeimiai were forced to abandon their homes and were taken to a closed ghetto established by the Nazis. On 28 August 1941 in Daukšiai village, the Jewish communities of Kėdainiai, Šėta and Žeimiai were murdered - 2,076 Jews in total. Thus, a Jewish community that had existed in Kėdainiai for 300 years was destroyed.

A rabbi, the publicist of one of the establishers of the "Love of Zion" movement, Moshe Leib Lilienblum (1843-1910) was born in Kėdainiai and Iseris Mošė Rubinas (1871-1957), one of the pioneers of the Yiddish press in the USA, was born in Kėdainiai.

Situated near Vilnius Paneriai was where the “Holocaust by bullets” was carried out, making it the largest murder site in Lithuania and one of the largest in Eastern Europe. Over a period of three years, from July 1941 to July 1944, members of the Nazi Security Police and Security Service killed approximately 100,000 people – includind some 70,000 Jews – in the forest located near the Paneriai train station. The history of the “Jerusalem of Lithuania”- the Jewish community of Vilnius which had thrived for more than 500 years – was brutally terminated in Paneriai. Other victims of the Paneriai Massacre included Soviet prisoners of war, communists, members of the Polish anti-Nazi underground, Polish intellectuals, Lithuanians, and Romani.

Before World War II, Paneriai was a cozy, quiet suburb of Vilnius where locals liked to spend their summers. In early 1941, the Soviets began to install a fuel storage facility for military use not far from the settlement. Approximately 5-7 large, deep pits were dug out for the fuel reservoirs; trenches were dug between the pits for pipes that were supposed to connect the reservoirs. When Vilnius was occupied by the Nazis, this so-called “base” was selected for mass murders because of its strategic position and infrastructure.

paneriu memorialinis muziejus3In 1944, the Vilnius Jews who survived made efforts to preserve the memory of the Hollocaust victims in Paneriai. The first commemorative events began to be held at the murder site, and a monument to the Jews murdered in Paneriai was erected in 1945 with funds collected by the community. The Soviets tore this monument down in 1952 and replaced ir with a Five-pointed star obelisk dedicated to “the victims of fascist terror”. A small museum was opened in Paneriai in 1960. The memorial site was reconstructed in 1985. The site includes the death pits, the trenches used to store victims, and several memorial monuments.

Copies of documents and photographs related to the history of Paneriai are on display in the small museum.



The aron -kodesh in Jurbarkas' synagogue and a fragment
of the bimah. 
Photo by V. Ramanauskas (1936)

The Baroque wooden synagogues, with high, staged roofs, which stood in small towns did not survive, either. The volume of these synagogues and their exterior forms had similarities with several types of buildings of Lithuanian folk architecture: manors, barns, granaries. The facades of these synagogues were vivified by open galleries or balconies, supported by columns. Low annexes were sometimes crowned with pyramid-shaped apexes imitating small towers. The carved edgings of windows, cornices, planking of doors ( ) Lithuanian folk literature. Especially impressive were synagogues in Vilkavishkis, Jurbarkas, Shaukenai, Valkininkai.

In Baroque synagogues the bima stood in the middle of men's hall or in the center among the columns. It was a construction of light, reticulate forms, similar to a pavilion, canopy or small chapel. The forms of Aron-Kodesh often resembled the Catholic altar - several tapered periods. The details of the decor of Aron-Kodesh were characteristic to Jewish art symbols, flora and fauna motives, the Ten Commandments, the crown.

Two synagogues in Kedainiai.
Photo by M. Rupeikiene (1996)

Two synagogues in Kalvarija.
Photo by M. Rupeikiene (1998)

The volume of Baroque stone synagogues is more compact, interior forms simple, with very few elements of décor. The buildings of two Baroque stone synagogues in Kedainiai and Kalvarija survived till our days.

The oldest wooden synagogues in Lithuania that survived till our days were built in the age of Classicism. Their volume is more integral and their forms simpler than those of Baroque wooden ones. The volume of a Classical synagogue in Pakruojis remained unchanged, however, its windows are boarded up, and the interior completely destroyed.

A synagogue in Pakruojis.
Photo by M. Rupeikiene (1999)

The Lithuanian folk architecture had influence of the exterior of this synagogue, whereas the interior was dominated by the elements and symbols of décor characteristic to Jewish art. Exceptionally splendid was Aron… The bima was octagonal, constructed under the principle of an open "bower". Synagogues in Tirkshliai and Seda (later rebuilt) were most probably built in the epoch of Classicism. The building of an old wooden synagogue, built either in the age of Classicism or Romanticism, still stands in Zhiezhmariai.

Quite a few stone synagogues were constructed in the age of Romanticism (1830-1860). Now one of them stands in Kaunas, on Zamenhof street, another - in Krekenava.


gaono paminklas2_thumb Jews were gradually creating Vilnius, formed in their residential neighborhood. The Nazi occupation, it formed the small ghetto (Stiklių, Gaono, M. Antokolskio, Jewish Streets), in which violence whip around 11 000 Jews. Little Ghetto liquidated by 1941 October 21 date, but it had all Jews - were killed.

The Small ghetto was between Stiklių, Gaono, Antokolskio and Žydų streets. There were more than 12 thousand Jews jailed there. Many of them were classed as intelligentsia, hard workers and unemployable persons. The were some old architectural relics restored in this getto, iclunding several houses in Stiklių and Gaono streets. In Žydų street there were objects like a large synagogue, Gaono house of pray, the famous Strašunas library and some other buildings for religious purposes.

All these buildings were destroyed by the government of the Soviet Union. The only thing left to remind the old synagogue is a memorial for Gaonas built there. The Small ghetto was closed in 21st of October, 1941.


The University of Vilnius, one of the oldest and most famous establishments ofhigher education in Eastern and Central Europe, was founded in 1579. Functioning for a long time as the only school of higher learning in Lithuania, it was a preserver of cultural and scientific traditions, and has played a significant part in the culture life not only of Lithuania, but the neighboring countries as well. During more than four centuries of its existence, the University os Vilnius has seen periods of growth and decline, revival, and closure. The University is a unique witness to the history of the Lithuanian state.

The Vilnius Yiddish Institute, housed in Vilnius University's history department, is a living testament to Vilnius's Yiddish heritage. In fact, the worl'd  first Yiddish academic institute was formed in this very city. The Institute states it "harbors no illusions about reconstruction prewar Jewish life in Lithuania" but concentrates on keeping the Yiddish literature and traditions alive by complementing the unique work of other world-centers. The University has a substantial Judaica collection and the Institute is embarking on a vast documentation program of a pre-war Jewish life in the region as well as cultural projects.


zydai2za The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum is a national, government-financed institution that collects, conserves, investigates, restores and exhibits the historical, material and spiritual heritage of Lithuanian Jews, traditional and modern Jewish objects of art and documents and objects connected with the Holocaust.


2009-07-03 vilnius-6 Between 1941 and 1944 brought the SS butchers and their helpers in the Lithuanian forest of Paneriai about 100 000 people, most of them Jews. A in its simplicity all the more depressing memorial to the four shooting trenches reminiscent of the mass murder.


The Tolerance Center of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum is located in a building which has long been in Jewish hands. Originally, back at the end of the 19th century, the Association of Cheap Jewish Cafeterias set up an operation where those with no means of support could eat for free or for a nominal price, on the corner of Aguonu and Naugarduko Streets in Vilnius. In 1910 the interior of the building was reconstructed and a large philharmonic hall was set up inside. After World War I a professional Jewish theatre operated here and cultural and social events by other organisations were held.

The building was transferred to the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum in 1989

The mission of the Tolerance Center is to contribute to the dissemination of the Litvaks' unique cultural, artistic and historical heritage and the cultivation of public respect for the cultures of ethnic minoraties, thus propagating the ideas of tolerance.

The center displays permanent and temporary exhibitionrelated to Litvak history and culture, and also holds conferences, lectures, film screening, concerts and educational pragrams. The permanent " Lost World" exhibition tells about the cultureand art of the Lithuanian Jews. Another exhibition entitled "A Rescued Lithuanian Jewish Child Tells about the Shoah" relates the stories of 48 Jewish children who survived the Holocaust; the stories are richly illustrated with photographs from personal archives and video intervies. 

The Holocaust exhibit provides an overview of the history and culture of Lithuanian Jews, beginning with their arrival in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and ending with a detailed depiction of their annhalation n the mid-20th century.

240px-kedainiai12._2007-05-06 The new synagogue was built in the middle of the 19th century. It was built by the town’s richest tailor I. Vilneris. It is a two-story building. Men would pray on the first floor and women on the second floor. Two memorial tables in Lithuanian and Hebrew were placed on the wall of this synagogue in memory of the great Jewish religious thinker Gaon Elijahu of Vilnius. The old Kedainiai synagogue stands at the same place.

Since 2002, a multicultural centre has been operating in the synagogue with an exposition on the community of Kėdainiai Jews and the Holocaust. Many cultural events, music concerts as well as exhibitions and seminars are held in the centre.

sugiharos-namai Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986) was the Japanese Vice Consul to Lithuania in Kaunas for a brief period between 1939 and 1940. Together with the acting Dutch Consul Jan Zwartendijk he saved thousands of Jews over s short three-week period in 1940 by issuing visas against orders to get them out of what was at the time Soviet-occupied Lithuania and away to safety and a new life. 

The museum’s exposition consists of Sugihara’s family room, where information about his life is provided, and his workroom with a few authentic belongings of the diplomat. Information about the fates of the rescued people is provided in the room of the rescued.

zd Kaunas Jewish Comunity Center the focal point of the remaining members of the city’s once large and diverse Jewish community.

Baltic Highlights



Jewish Heritage tour Lithuania

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“Lithuanian beekeeping” Tour

Beer road



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walkable vilnius 150x150px


Vilnius is a great place for pleasant strolls. It is green, full of cultural diversity and cozily compact. So compact, that in just a few dozen steps from the gallery, you find yourself in a park, followed by a baroque church, and off to the castle after a cup at the local cafe. Thus, in a short time you get to not just see, but also hear, touch, taste and tune into the soul of the city.

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