Jewish Heritage Europe

Red Synagogue in Joniškis, Lithuania restoration completed

Red Synagogue, Joniškis, in 2006 — before collapse


Good news from Lithuania.

Restoration work has been completed on the interior of the sanctuary of the so-called Red Synagogue in Joniškis (Yanishok), Lithuania, one of two side-by-side 19th century synagogues in the town that form one of Lithuania’s most important Jewish heritage complexes — a complex declared a Cultural Heritage Object by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage in Lithuania in 1970 despite the neglect and misuse of the buildings.

Interior of restored sanctuary of the Red Synagogue, Joniškis, Lithuania. Photo: Jewish community Lithuania

During the Soviet period, the Red Synagogue was used as a metal foundry, a youth club and as residential housing. It underwent fitful restoration (along with its “sister synagogue”, the so-called “White Synagogue” next door) in the 1990s and 2000s, funded in part by the World Monuments Fund. But the Red Synagogue’s roof was damaged by a wind storm in 2004, and then, in late December 2007, the entire eastern wall of the building collapsed. The collapse and lack of a roof led to severe water damage of much of the interior.

Red Synagogue in Joniškis after the late December 2007 collapse of the eastern wall
Red Synagogue in Joniškis after the late December 2007 collapse of the eastern wall

According to a statement on the web site of the Jewish community of Lithuania, (and, in Lithuanian, on the web site of the Cultural Heritage Department of the Culture Ministry) “The plan is for the synagogue to open its doors to the public in 2015 and for it to house a permanent museum exhibit.”  The White Synagogue  next door will “host concerts and other exhibits.”

The Red Synagogue is already, however, used for some events.

In September, for example, several events were held in the building as part of national Holocaust memorial observances. These included: an exhibition called “Fostering of the Jewish Historical Memory in Joniškis,” which included photographs showing, among other things, the process of restoration and maintenance of the two synagogue in the Jewish cemetery. There were also a lecture on  “The Preservation and Acknowledgment of Jewish Historical and Cultural Heritage in Joniškis;” a presentation about the “preservation and future vision of Joniškis synagogues“ and a presentation on the “actualization and popularization of the Jewish heritage in Joniškis district. “

Financing for the latest stage of the restoration of the Red Synagogue came from a European Economic Area (EEA) and Norway grant that was used in conjunction with funding from Lithuanian Heritage Protection Department and from the Joniškis municipality.

Historical imagery was used to restore the ceiling and ceiling and wall decor.  Door and window frames, a wooden statue of a girl and the balcony were also restored using visual documentation, as was the Ark of the Torah.

 “This synagogue is exceptional not just because it is part of a synagogue complex, which is rarely seen, but also because even when it was in disrepair it still drew the community, and it was the venue when possible for events, including especially popular concerts by jazz musicians. The synagogue under construction was a significant part of city culture, and its restoration was a matter of concern for the entire Joniškis community,” Diana Varnaitė, director of the Lithuanian Heritage Protection Department, was quoted as saying in the statement.


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