Vilnius should establish World Litvak Museum, restore YIVO institute

The Vilnius Great Synagogue
Foto: DELFI

Vilnius has been suggested to establish the World Litvak Museum and restore a Jewish research institute, as well as pay tribute to the memory of Jews who contributed to the restoration of Lithuania's statehood in the government building.

The ideas were presented by history professor Alvydas Nikžentaitis at a conference held at the parliament on September 25.

In his words, the museum chronicling the history of Jews in Lithuania should be set up in the territory of the former Great Synagogue in central Vilnius.

"The primary objective would be restoring the Great Synagogue – he place where Jews gathered together to discuss their key issues, regardless of their stances. In my opinion, this is where the World Litvak Museum should be established," the researcher of the Lithuanian Institute of History said.

"It would not be just about the Litvaks who are no longer alive but could also honor the most prominent Litvak descendants. I imagine it could be similar to the NBA Hall of Fame where Lithuanians and Jews would every year select the people who have made the biggest contribution to world culture," said Nikžentaitis.

The Vilnius Great Synagogue on central Vokiečių Street was one of the key Jewish centers between late 1500s and the Holocaust. Damaged during World War II, the synagogue was razed to the ground by the Soviets in 1950s.

An elementary school has been built on some of the territory of the former synagogue, with archeological excavations made there over the past five years.

Discussions about establishment of a Jewish museum have been in the air in Lithuania for years. Supporters of the idea say we should follow the Polish example where a Museum of the History of Polish Jews has been built in the former territory of the Warsaw Ghetto. A large part of the exhibits also tell about the life of Jews in Lithuania.

In Nikženaitis' words, the Jewish research institute YIVO, which operated in the Lithuanian capital in the interwar period, could also return to Vilnius. The institute currently operates in New York, where a large part of the rescued archives was moved after the war.

"I suggest giving serious thought to restoring the international Jewish institute here in Lithuania, with participation of YIVO representatives, possibly a branch of the YIVO institute," said the professor.

Nikžentaitis also suggested honoring the memory of Jews in the government building on Gedimino Avenue, which used to accommodate facilities of Jewish self-government.

"Names of Jews delegated to the Lithuanian council and Jewish ministers could be put on the building. We should also discuss honoring soldiers of Jewish origin who have been awarded the Order of Vytis," he added.

Jews settled in Lithuania back in 1300s, and the capital of the Great Duchy of Lithuania, Vilnius, was an important center of Jewish culture since 1700s, often referred to as the Jerusalem of the North.

The Jewish history in Lithuania was severed during the Nazi Germany's occupation of Lithuania during World War II – over 90 percent of Lithuania's pre-war Jewish population of more than 200,000 was annihiliated.

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