Jewish Heritage Europe

Heritage & Heritage Sites

GENERAL

Jewish Cultural Heritage in Lithuania

A  document from the Ministry of Culture’s Cultural Heritage Department that summarizes existing Jewish built heritage all around the country.

Jewish East Prussia

Web site about Jewish history, life & heritage in East Prussia (now divided among Lithuania, Russia & Poland)

Let’s Explore Jewish History and Heritage in Lithuania

A downloadable PDF guide to some of the Jewish heritage sites in Vilnius, Kaunas, Kedainiai, Siauliai, and Joniskis, as well as in some other places.

LitvakSIG – Lithuania-Jewish Special Interest Group (JewishGen)

Lots of links, info, images, videos, etc. Interactive map with links to information on shtetls all over the country.

CEMETERIES & MASS GRAVES

International Jewish Cemetery Project page on Lithuania

Various information on hundreds of cemeteries and mass grave sites.

Lithuanian Jewish Cemetery Catalogue

Ongoing project by a non-profit Lithuanian organization called Maceva to digitally document all Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania, posting photographs, epitaphs and other information an online database. NOTE: Searching the database requires a paid contribution.

Lithuanian Holocaust Atlas

A web site, including an interactive map, dedicated to the documentation of 227 sites of mass execution and mass burials of Jews killed in the Holocaust. The project was launched in 2010 by Vilna Gaon National Jewish Museum in Vilnius and the Austrian Verein Gedenkdienst organization. (A book of the Atlas was published in 2012).

Lo-Tishkach Preliminary Report on Lithuanian Jewish Cemeteries

Download from here the PDF copy of Lo-Tishkach Foundation’s Preliminary Report on Legislation & Practice Relating to the Protection and Preservation of Jewish Burial Grounds in Lithuania. The report includes historical background as well as practical information and legislation.

SYNAGOGUES

Photo exhibition of Lithuanian Judaica and Synagogues

Material from the archives of the Lithuanian photo journalist and ethnographer, Balys Buracas (1897-1972).

Postcards and Other Pictures of Synagogues in Lithuania, Past and Present

An online exhibit from the Museum of Family History

Preserved Wooden Synagogues in Lithuania

Photos of wooden synagogues documented by the Center for Jewish Art. (Some have been renovated since the photos were taken.)

AEPJ Route of Wooden Synagogues

Information essay about wooden synagogues in eastern Europe, with photo documentation of some of the surviving examples, most of which are in Lithuania.

INDIVIDUAL SITES

NOTE: You can find material on many Jewish heritage sites in Lithuania by using the links above. Here below, we provide information on some major sites and sites that have their own web resources.

VILNIUS 

Once the Jerusalem of the North, a center for Yiddish culture and later the site of a notorious World War II ghetto, Vilnius — pre-war Yiddish Vilna — had around 100 synagogues and prayer houses before the Holocaust.  Today there are only a few surviving sites of its long and important Jewish history. Memorials and plaques mark most vanished sites.

Synagogues

Choral Synagogue

The Moorish-style Choral Synagogue (designed by architect Dovydas Rozenhauzas and inaugurated in September 1903),  is one of only two synagogues still serving a religious purpose in Lithuania (the other is in Kaunas).

World Monuments Fund page on the Choral Synagogue

Gėlių st. Synagogue

Gėlių st. 6

Built between 1817 and 1833 on the site of a wooden building which once belonged to the merchant Zavel Peisakhovich. The synagogue was restored many times and greatly expanded in the second half of the 19th century. It operated until 1940. After World War II it housed storage facilities and apartments, and from 1990 on was abandoned.

The Jewish community took it over in 2013, and restoration work began in 2015.

Great Synagogue and Shulhoyf site

Built in the 1600s in Renaissance-Baroque style, the Great Synagogue anchored the Shulhof, a dense complex of alleyways and other Jewish community buildings and institutions including twelve synagogues, ritual baths, the community council, kosher meat stalls, the Strashun library, and other structures and institutions. The Nazis  ransacked and torched the synagogue and its complex in World War II, and the post-war Soviet regime torn down the ruins and built a school on the site.

Archaeological excavations of the Great Synagogue since 2016 have uncovered mikvaot and other features.

Web site of project to excavate the foundations of the Great Synagogue

Article by Sergey R. Kravtsov on the architecture and history of the Great Synagogue

Jewish Cemeteries

There is one currently operating Jewish cemetery in Vilniius and traces of two others.

Active Jewish Cemetery

Sudervės kl. 28
Vilnius 07191, Lithuania

The only Jewish cemetery still operating in Vilnius. The remains of the Gaon of Vilna were re-interred in an ohel here after the Old Jewish Cemetery was razed under the Communist regime.

Užupis Jewish cemetery

Olandų street

This vast cemetery, founded in 1830, had around 70,000 of burials. It was razed in the 1960s and essentially used as a quarry for building material. Its stones were used to build stairways and other construction around the city. Some of these stairways and structures have been dismantled and the gravestones and fragments are being returned to the cemetery site. But others still remain in place.

Some of the gravestones (which has been used to build a grand stairway to the Trade Union headquarters) were returned in the 1990s and used in 2004-2006 to build a commemorative monument. The Lithuanian Culture Ministry designated the cemetery as a state protected heritage cultural object on August 6, 2016 and work has been under way to clean up, signpost, and commemorate the site with a new memorial.

Read an article by Samuel D. Gruber about the history of the cemetery

Old Šnipiškės Jewish Cemetery

Founded in the 15th century, the cemetery was closed in 1830 and demolished by the communist authorities in the late 1940s. At the time, the grave of the Gaon of Vilna was moved to the cemetery currently used by the Jewish community, and installed in a large ohel.

A modernistic Sports hall was built atop part of the cemetery. The cemetery site now is a grassy park-like area, with paved pathways going through it and the now-derelict Sports Hall in the middle. Part of the cemetery also lies beneath a roadway that runs along the bank of the Neris River.

Two monuments designate the area as the site of the Old Jewish Cemetery.

Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum

The museum displays exhibits in several locations, including the “Green House” Holocaust exhibition.

Memorial in the Paneriai (Ponary) forest

This vast memorial outside the city, commemorates where tens of thousands of Jews and others were murdered under the German occupation in World War II. It is also administered by the Vilna Gaon museum.

 – – – –

Litvak World web site

Information on the excavations at the Great Synagogue and Ponary sites, and an online map of pre-WW2 synagogues in Vilnius

Jono David has extensive photo documentation of Jewish sites in Vilnius:

Choral Synagogue, Jewish Cemetery at Seskine, the former synagogue at Geliu st. 6, the Green House Holocaust exhibit annex of the State Jewish Museum, and various other monuments and buildings

 Gallery of photographs of Vilnius Jewish quarter before World War II

Virtual Jewish History Tour of Vilnius

JONIŠKIS

Synagogues

Two 19th century synagogues — the  so-called “White Synagogue” and “Red Synagogue”  — stand next to each other in the center of this town in northern Lithuania, forming one of the country’s most important Jewish heritage complexes.

Restored White Synagogue, Joniskis, Lithuania. Photo: EEA

Both have been renovated and restored for cultural use, managed by the Joniskis culture and history museum. Renovation of both synagogues was carried out with major funding from the EEA and Norway Grant program, as well as financing from the World Monuments Fund, Lithuanian Heritage Protection Department and the Joniškis municipality.

The scalloped-roofed White Synagogue (so-called because it outer walls are plastered white) was built in 1823 and turned into a Jewish school and function hall when the neo-Gothic, red brick Red Synagogue was built in 1865. The complex was declared a Cultural Heritage Object by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage in Lithuania in 1970 despite the neglect and misuse of the buildings.

During the Soviet period, the Red Synagogue was used as a metal foundry, a youth club and as residential housing. Both synagogues underwent fitful renovation work 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.

Following this, the synagogue — including its interior fittings and decoration — was reconstructed and restored with funding from a European Economic Area (EEA) and Norway grant that was used in conjunction with funding from the Lithuanian Heritage Protection Department and from the Joniškis municipality. 

The Red Synagogue was rededicated as a cultural space in 2014. And the EEA  also provided funds to rehabilitate the White Synagogue, which was rededicated in July 2017.

JHE post about restoration of the Red Synagogue

World Monuments Fund page on Joniskis synagogues

Jewish Cemetery

There is a small, semi-ruined Jewish cemetery a few kilometers north of town, just off the A12 road toward the border..

KALTINIENAI

Wooden synagogue

4 Kraziu gatve
75452, Kaltinenai

Designed by Kazys Kralikas and built around 1938, it has a rabbi’s house attached to it. Used for prayer only until 1941, it served as an agricultural storage after WW2 and has stood abandoned since the 1990s.

Digital Presentation of the Wooden synagogue and rabbi’s house

A project of the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

KALVARIJA

Today on the border with Poland, this little town has a former Jewish communal complex. Though ruined, it is one of the most intact Jewish compounds surviving in Lithuania — located on Sodų Street.

JHE Coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber at the Old Synagogue in Kalvarija – the town her great-grandfather came from

Great Synagogue

Built in 1795-1803 to replace an 18th century wooden synagogue;  it was used as a warehouse after World War II, and its roof collapsed in the mid-1990s and today stands as a ruin.

Beit Midrash

Built in 1865, it was also used as a warehouse in the Soviet period and has been partially restored.

Between these two buildings is a red brick school, marked with a star of David, that dates from the turn of the 19th-20th centuries. Nearby the remains of a mikveh also still exist, near the river. A remnant of the Jewish cemetery also remains.

Jewish Cemetery

A small part of the once sprawling Jewish cemetery still survives — but most of the site has been built over or otherwise razed.

Kalvarija Jewish Cemetery Project

Website created by Ralph Salinger that includes a map of the surviving part of the cemetery; photographs of all the gravestones showing their epitaphs; a list of people buried there, with position of grave and dates. There is also a section on the synagogues, with pictures.

Article by Samuel D. Gruber discussing the gravestones at the Kalvarija cemetery

KAUNAS (KOVNO)

The second-largest city in Lithuania, with a rich Jewish history. Before WW2 it had more than three dozen synagogues. Today, its Choral Synagogue is one of only two functioning pre-WW2 synagogues in Lithuania. There are several other former synagogues and Jewish buildings. The WW2 Jewish ghetto is memorialized, as are the Tsarist era-forts where Jews were killed in the Holocaust remain. The Ninth Fort, the main killing ground, is a museum-memorial.

Synagogues

Choral Synagogue

Ozeskienes 13

Built in 1871, the synagogue has a towering façade, topped by a dome. A pillar-like memorial in the yard behind commemorates the 1,600 – 1,800 children killed at the Ninth Fort.

Sinagoga Studio

30 Vaisių Street
Tel: +370 693 00290
Email: sinagogastudio@gmail.com

Dating from around 1900 and retaining some of its architectural features, the synagogue has been transformed into a center for  contemporary arts and photography. It is owned by the Jewish community.

The large Hasidic Kloyz, built in 1880, stands in poor repair at 6 Gimnazijos Street. For years it housed sculpture studios for the Vilnius Academy of Arts.

The  former Neviazher Kloyz synagogue, a small square building with arched windows is at Zamenhofa 7. It was restored for use as a conference and cultural center. but still maintains some of its structural details.

The former Butcher’s Synagogue is in a courtyard at 27a Mikalojaus Daukšos Street. Built in the second half of the 19th century, it has in recent years been converted into studios for the Vilnius Academy of Arts.

A former 19th century Beit Midrash at the corner of Birštono and  Puodžių Streets was at least until recently used as an auto repair garage.

The 19th century Naḥalat Israel Kloyz at 26b Gedimino Street has been remodeled and houses offices.

The red-brick, 20th century former New Šančiai Synagogue (Beit Midrash) at 36 Sodų Street was used as bakery in Soviet times but (at least until recently) stood empty and in poor condition.

Jewish Cemeteries

Vilijampole/Slobodka Jewish Cemetery

Founded in the 17th-18th centuries and the oldest Jewish cemetery in Kaunas, it was largely destroyed during the Soviet period but still includes a number of gravestones. It has undergone recent clean-up with new fencing and informational signage installed in 2016.

See Facebook photo galleries HERE and HERE

Old Žaliakalnis Jewish cemetery

Opened in 1861 and closed in 1952, the cemetery is on the Lithuanian Heritage Registry and is a state-protected site, but it has been long neglected and also subject to vandalism. It has been undergoing clean-up and restoration since the Municipality of Kaunas signed a cooperation agreement in 2015 with Maceva, the NGO devoted to documenting and maintaining Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania, regarding the care, maintenance and restoration of the cemetery. This has included a full documentation of the 6,000 gravestones.

See Facebook photo gallery from 2011

Aleksotas Jewish Cemetery

Minkovskiu gatve, Aleksotas district

The only active Jewish cemetery in Kaunas, believed established after the Holocaust. It is well-maintained with about 1,000 graves, as well a what is noted on memorials as burials of Holocaust victims who died in the Kaunas ghetto.

Ninth Fort: memorial and museum at site where tens of thousands of Jews and others were killed in World War II

Ninth Fort, summary

Virtual Jewish History Tour of Kaunas (Kovno)

YIVO Encyclopedia entry on Kaunas

KEDAINIAI

Two surviving synagogues stand next to each other on the Old Market Square. They were use as warehouses after the war and restored after 2000.  Today they form a cultural complex.

Senoji rinka 12
Kėdainiai, LT-57247
Tel:  (8-347) 51778

Kedaini, Lithuania — restored synagogues, used as culture centers

Small (Winter) Synagogue

Built in 1837, it now houses a branch of the Kedainiai Regional Museum that opened in 2002 as a multicultural center. Its sanctuary is now used for concerts, lectures and exhibitions, and in the former women’s gallery, is an exhibition on Jewish history and the Holocaust, with a small display of Judaica and a map and model that locate Jewish buildings in the town.

Large (Summer) Synagogue

Built in 1784, the synagogue was remodeled during the Soviet era and houses an art school

There is another former synagogue at Smilgos g. 5A, Kėdainiai (GPS 55.287111, 23.979561) — used as a warehouse/shop, it as a plaque commemorating the fact that the Vilna Gaon spent time as a young student in Kedainiai.

Jewish Cemeteries

There are two Jewish cemeteries, just outside town on Lakštingalų street and nearby Kanapinskio street. The old one, founded in the 18th century, was destroyed;  no tombstones remain but there is  a commemorative monument in the fenced field. A few hundred meters away, a later cemetery preserves several hundred tombstones and is fenced and well maintained by municipal authorities.

There is a Holocaust mass grave, with a monument, in the forest outside town on the way toward Dotnuva, commemorating where more than 2,000 Jews were murdered. (GPS: Latitude: 55.299083    Longitude: 23.960350)

Video of Jewish Cemetery, with drone footage and close-ups

PAKRUOJIS

The synagogue, dating from 1801, is the oldest and most valuable of the wooden synagogues in Lithuania. It was transformed into a movie house after the Holocaust and eventually abandoned.  The building suffered severe damage in a fire in 2009. A major restoration began in 2015. The roughly €750,000 project was carried out over nearly three years by the Pakruojis Regional Administration, with more than €568,000 in financing from Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein under the European Economic Area (EEA) and Norway financial grants mechanism.

Photo: Pakruojis municipality web site

The synagogue reopened in May 2017. The restoration used old photos to recreate the whimsical polychrome images on its walls and vaulted ceiling. The building is to house a children’s literature section of the Juozas Paukštelis Public Library and also host concerts and other cultural events. An exhibit tells the history of the Jews of the Pakruojis region.

Digital Presentation of the Wooden Synagogue

A project of the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. It illustrates the history of the synagogue and the Jewish presence in the town — noting that there were once three synagogues in Pakruojis. It also includes striking photo documentation of the synagogue made in 1938, showing the painted decoration on the ceiling and the carved ark and bimah — and it puts these all together in a digital recreation of the building, inside and out, showing the architectural and artistic features.

Video of the Rededication:
 

 
Jewish cemetery
 
Located on the road toward Linksmuciai, the cemetery includes a couple dozen gravestones enclosed by a blue wooden fence, and a memorial to the destroyed community. The fencing does not appear to enclose the entire original extent of the cemetery.
 
There is a Holocaust memorial in the Morkakalnis forest at the mass grave of 300 local Jews. (GPS – Latitude: 55.973450    Longitude: 23.883533)

ŠEDUVA

The impressive “Lost Shtetl” memorial complex, officially dedicated in October 2015, encompasses four sites in and around the small town of Šeduva. These include the restored Jewish cemetery and newly-commissioned monuments by Lithuanian sculptor Romas Kvintas that mark three sites in the area — in the Liaudiškiai and Pakuteniai forests –  where, in the summer of 1941, local Jews were taken to be killed by Nazis and their Lithuanian accomplices and were buried in mass graves. There is also a commemorative sculpture in the village.

The memorial, costing about €3 million, took more than two years to bring to fruition. There are plans to open a state-of-the-art Jewish museum across from the cemetery.

See the JHE article, with pictures, about the memorial

Lost Shtetl Web Site

ŠIAULIAI

Former leatherworks and mansion (now a museum) of the industrialist Chaim Frenkel; former synagogue.

Frenkel mansion – Aušros Museum

Vilniaus St. 74
Šiauliai
Tel./fax: +370 41 52 69 33
Email: rastine@ausrosmuziejus.lt

The sumptuous former mansion of Chaim Frenkel and his family, built in 1908, now houses a  museum, which also includes a permanent exhibition on local Jewish history, including that of the Frenkel family. The museum also includes a collection of drawings by the artist Gerardas Bagdonavicius, who depicted synagogues and Jewish scenes in the 1930s.

Former Frenkel Factory Synagogue

Vilniaus g. 68
Šiauliai
GPS 55.924907, 23.332515

Chaim Frenkel had the small rectangular synagogue made of yellow brick with red brick decorative elements, including the frames of the arched windows, constructed around 1914 for the workers in his leather factory, located down the street. In Soviet times, it was used as a gym, and the interior structure was destroyed. From 1994 it has been used as a chapel.

TIRKŠLIŲ

Synagogue

Juliaus Janonio gatve 15a

Small, simple wooden synagogue, dating from the late 19th century, which was listed in 2015 on the Cultural Heritage Department of the Culture Ministry’s Register of Cultural Properties.

The  Lithuanian Synagogues Catalogue, edited by Aliza Coen-Mushlin, Sergey Kravtsov, Vladimir Levin, Giedrė Mickūnaitė, Jurgita Šiaučiūnaitė-Verbickienė (vol. 2; pp 187-191), describes it thus:

a rectangular log structure on a masonry foundation, elongated on an east-west axis, 13.19 m long, 11.95 m wide and about 9.50 m high above the foundation. The log walls are reinforced with vertical posts and sided with vertical planks. There were two entrances, in the northern and western façades (Figs. 4, 5), however it is not clear which was the main one. The exterior clearly shows the interior division of space into a lofty prayer hall and a two-storey western part with a vestibule and first-floor women’s section. The interior partitions have not survived, and today the interior is a single space. The interior was lathed and plastered. Today, the plaster is largely lost; where it survives, traces of blue painted frieze can be seen. 

VILKAVISKIS

The small town in southern Lithuania was severely damaged during World War II and almost totally rebuilt. Most Jewish sites were destroyed; the new Jewish cemetery (used from 1875-1942)  is just about the only physical trace that remains. There is also a mass grave site where local Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.

Jewish Vilkaviskis web site

Links and resources on the Jewish history of the town, with an ample section on the New Jewish Cemetery, including a map of the cemetery and photographs of the approximately 180 surviving gravestones (out of an estimate 5,000 burials). There is also a map of the town, showing where the elaborate wooden Great Synagogue, the Old Jewish Cemetery, Jewish old age home and other sites once stood. Other pages have photos and other material about the Great Synagogue and other sites that were destroyed.

ŽEMAIČIŲ NAUMIESTIS (Neishtot-Tavrig in Yiddish)

Disused synagogue dating from the early 19th-century.  The building was damaged in World War I, when much of the town was burned, and rebuilt in 1919 (including a new roof). During World War II local Jews were gathered there in 1941 ahead of deportation to their execution and labor camps. The synagogue is not owned by a Jewish community and is in poor condition in danger of collapse.

Read the JHE post about the possible demolition of the synagogue

ŽIEŽMARIAI

Wooden synagogue

The synagogue probably dates from the latter half of the 19th century — and then was rebuilt after a fire in 1918. It long stood abandoned and in decaying condition — but restoration began in 2017. It includes a prayer hall with 18 windows (one of them combined with a door). Once restored, there are plans to install a museum of local Jewish history.

See Lithuanian TV report. (There are a couple of ads before the report.)

 
 
 
 
 
 

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