(JHE) — Archaeologists in recent months discovered elements of the destroyed pre-World War II synagogue complex in Pakruojis, Lithuania, that once had three synagogues anchored by the surviving wooden synagogue (the so-called summer synagogue), which was recently fully restored.
At a presentation earlier this month (that took place in the restored synagogue), archaeologist Ernestas Vasiliauskas, of the Archaeology Center public institution, described the finds, saying that the excavations had established the location and uncovered the foundations of one synagogue, but had failed to locate the small shtibl, or “Tailors’ Synagogue,” that also once stood in the complex.
In the mid-2000s, the Center for Jewish Art at Hebrew University in Jerusalem created an excellent digital presentation about the wooden synagogue in Pakruojis that also illustrates the history of the synagogue and the Jewish presence in the town — including a ground plan of the compound of the three synagogues (one of which, it said, was built of stone), all grouped around a courtyard.
The Archaeology Center said in a Facebook post that “historical, cartographic, iconic material,” had been analyzed to determine the elements of the complex and that “geophysics were performed before the excavations with georadar.”
A report by the Pakruojis regional administration about Vasiliauskas’s presentation said, “It is believed the winter synagogue was destroyed between 1945 and 1950 and the shtibl between 1970 and 1980.”
It quoted Vasiliauskas as saying that:
the wooden synagogue complex built in the 19th century in Pakruojis is unique in Lithuania and blends different architectural styles, including late baroque (summer synagogue), classicism (winter synagogue) and traditional architecture (the shtibl), and was an important part of the cityscape. [Note: the Center for Jewish Art says one of the synagogue was built of stone.]
The wooden synagogue in Pakruojis dates from 1801 and is the oldest preserved synagogue in Lithuania. After World War II it was transformed into a movie house; it was also used as a sports hall, for storage, and then eventually abandoned.
It was reopened in 2017 after a roughly €750,000 project 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 and Norway financial grants mechanism.
The excavations were among several recent archaeological excavations researching the sites of synagogues that were destroyed during (or in this case after) World War II.
The bestknown are the excavations in Vilnius, at the site of the Great Synagogue and Shulhoyf. But there are also other examples, such as in Leer, and Frankfurt, Germany; Wroclaw, Poland, and others.