Choral Synagogue of Vilnius

Pylimo g. 39, Vilnius, Lithuania

Jewish Community of Vilnius

Pylimo g. 4, Vilnius 01117, Lituanie

Museum of the Gaon of Vilnius

Naugarduko 10/2, Vilnius

Yiddish Institute of Vilnius

Vilnius University, Universiteto gatvė, Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius Ghetto map

Rūdninkų gatvė 18, Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius Chabad

Bokšto gatvė 19, Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius Center for Jewish Culture

Mėsinių gatvė 3a/5, Vilnius, Lithuania

Romain Gary Statue

Paminklas Romain Gary, Jono Basanavičiaus gatvė, Vilnius, Lithuania

Shoah Museum of Vilnius

Pamėnkalnio gatvė 12, Vilnius, Lithuania

Paneriai Memorial

Agrastų gatvė 15, Vilnius, Lithuania

Choral Synagogue of Vilnius © Kontis Šatūnas – Wikimedia Commons

The capital of Vilnius, once known as the “Jerusalem of the east” has few Jewish monuments today. However, in the last few years, the Museum of the Gaon of Vilnius has made significant efforts to promote the city’s Jewish culture and heritage.

The Shulhof, the large 3000-seat synagogue built in 1630, was partly destroyed by the Nazis in 1941. The remains of the synagogue were razed after the war by the Soviets, who constructed a building complex on its former location. The current  synagogue, located at 39 Pylimo Street, is a modern building of no particular interest. The Jewish community of Lithuania today numbers around 5000 members and publishes a newsletter entitled Jerusalem of Lithuania, with articles in English.  The community’s institutional buildings are concentrated on Pylimo Street: the administrative offices at number 4 also house the Israeli Center for Art and Culture.

Apart from the renovated remains of the former ghetto -you can find an engraved marble map of it at the main entrance of the ghetto-  the major monument of interest is the Gaon of Vilna’s tomb. In the recent past, the gaon’s tomb was located in the Jewish cemetery of Shnipishok (a district in the city, also called Snipiskis), to the north of the Neris (Viliya) River. It is now to the northwest of the former ghetto in the Dembovka cemetery, known by the name Saltonishkiu and close to Virshulishkes and Sheshkines. The exact site of the gaon’s tomb is uncertain, since, under the Communist regime, the gaon’s corpse was exhumed and reburied with others, including that of Count Potocki, a Polish nobleman who converted to Judaism. The remains of another cemetery on Zaretchna Street still exist.

Museum Gaon of Vilnius. Photo by Christian Michelides – Wikipedia

The Chabad center, managed for more than fifteen years by the American rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky is a very lively and dynamic cultural and religious gathering.

The University of Vilnius now houses an interesting research center on stateless cultures that includes a  department of Jewish and Yiddish studies.

The new Center for Jewish Culture offers activities, an information center, an exhibition space, a coffee place and a virtual museum of the Jewish Vilnius on the website.

While continuing your visit of the Jewish Vilnius, you’ll meet, at the corner of J. Basanaviciaus and Mindaugo streets, the statue of a little boy looking up. This child is Romain Gary, born Roman Kacew, who lived a few steps from here (Basanaviciaus 18). The statue evokes an anecdote from The Promise of Dawn when the young hero attempts to eat his leather shoe to impress a fellow little girl.

Housed in what was once a Jewish theater, you can visit the  Museum of the Gaon of Vilnius. which hosts other museums under its jurisdiction. In a green wooden house, the Shoah Museum of Vilnius offers information on the history and culture of the Lithuanian Jewish community, the Litvaks in Yiddish. The majority of this community was assassinated during the Second World War. The museum is not afraid to talk about Lithuanian collaboration in those dark times and leaves no aspect of the topic untouched. One unusual section is the Malina, a ghetto hideout video and audio installation in which real diary entries can be experienced.

Museum Gaon of Vilnius. Photo by Christian Michelides – Wikipedia

Also part of the Gaon Museum, the Paneriai Memorial commemorated the 70000 victims, more than half of them were Jewish, assassinated on this site by the Gestapo, the SS, and the Vilnius Special Squad between July 1941 and 1944. A small museum displays copies of archival photographs – the images are extremely hard to watch.

Inside the Gaon Museum, you can visit the Samuel Bak Museum, which was inaugurated in November 2017. This Jewish artist, born in Vilnius in 1933, was with his mother the only survivor of his family of the Vilnius ghetto. After wandering from transit camps to displaced refugees camps, they finally emigrated to Israel in 1948. He studied at the Bezalel Academy of Art, before moving to Paris, Rome, and then he finally settled in the USA. He came back to Vilnius for the first time in 2001.

To conclude on the great extension of the Gaon Museum, we should also mention that the Jacques Lipchitz Museum is currently closed for renovations, but will resume its activity in a near future. Two museums are also under construction: The Museum of the Litvaks Culture and Identity, and the Museum-Memorial of the Shoah in Lithuania and the Vilnius Ghetto.