Before the WW2 Vilnius was known as Jerusalem of Lithuania and was the most important educational and cultural centre for the Jewish people. Today the old town is still full of sites reminding the Jewish history in Vilnius. You are welcome to join our Jewish tour (it runs every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday at 10 AM starting at the Town Hall) to explore the most important sites with our knowledgeable guides. However, If you are not able to join us or decide to see the places on your own, these five recommendations could be useful!
The area of small ghetto covers the Gaono, Žydų, Stiklių and Antokolskio streets and has many signs reminding about the Jewish life. The neighbourhood is one the first places where Jews settled down in Vilnius. In the 17th century this area became more famous because of the glass market and generally was known as the Jewish quarter. During the Nazi occupation the historical Jewish quarter was made into the Small Ghetto where about 11 000 Jews were kept for two months until October 1941. While wandering around in those cozy narrow streets you would see the memorial plates dedicated to the Ghettos and the Greater synagogue, you would also find a monument to Vilna Gaon, a plate written in Hebrew and Yiddish on the Jewish (Žydų) street and would get a feeling of how Jews lived in Vilnius before the WW2.
The Choral synagogue is a building from 1903 and it surprisingly survived the WW2. Nowadays it serves for the needs of the local Jewish community and is the only active synagogue in Vilnius. The synagogue is located on Pylimo str. 39 and is normally opened every day from 10 till 14 o’clock (except Shabbat - Saturday). The entrance costs 1 EUR. The Mauritanian-style synagogue is easy to notice as it differs from the other surrounding buildings.
Monument to Zemach Shabad
Zemach Shabad (1864 - 1935) was a Jewish doctor who was active not only in the health care, but also in education, charity and other social activities. He is also often called the prototype of Doctor Aibolit (Rus. Доктор Айболит) – the main character in the Russian children’s book. That is why the monument is showing the doctor with a girl and a kitten in her hands. The monument is located on Rūdninkų str, in the territory of Big Ghetto, but it makes you leave the sad history of the WW2 behind for a while as the doctor is kindly smiling and the nose of the kitten has become a spot for making wishes. So don’t miss the chance to meet the great doctor and touch the nose of the kitten!
Vilna Gaon state Jewish museum has two separate departments in Vilnius: Holocaust exhibition (Pamėnkalnio str. 12) and Tolerance center (Naugarduko str. 10/2). The Holocaust exhibition covers the most important details from the WW2 Jewish history: the establishment of Ghetto, resistance in the Ghetto and the saving of Jews. The museum also teaches people how the Soviet government treated cultural heritage and historical Jewish sites. While the Holocaust exhibition gives you much information about the Jewish tragedy during WW2, the Tolerance center covers more of the cultural side. A part of the museum is dedicated to a famous Litvak artist – Samuel Bak – and there you will also find a permanent exhibition “A rescued child of Lithuanian Jews talks about Shoah”. Visiting both museums would guide you well through the historical and cultural sides of Lithuanian Jews. More information about the museums and opening hours you will find here: www.jmuseum.lt
These memorial plaques (stolpersteine) were installed in Vilnius by Gunter Demnig – the famous German architect and artist who is the founder of this international project which is already in 18 European countries. In Vilnius we have 8 memorial plaques and every stone commemorates Jewish people who lived in Vilnius before the WW2. You can find these plaques on Rūdninkų, Vokiečių, Vilniaus, Islandijos and Vasario 16-osios streets. Every stone shows the name of the person, dates of birth and death and just makes you stop for a while.
Are you interested to learn more about Jewish comminity and sites in Vilnius? Check out our other articles here.