Oldest Wooden Synagogue in Pakruojis Opens after Renovation

The renovated wooden synagogue in Pakruojis, Lithuania, was opened to the public on May 19.

Jews settled in Pakruojis in the 1710s. The majority were merchants and they contributed heavily to the growth of the local economy. The growing Jewish population affected the growth of the town and its social life. In 1787 and 1788 the town suffered large fires. Only 5 of 42 Jewish homes survived. The Jewish population grew right up until World War I. In 1939 there were 120 Jewish families living in Pakruojis.

Footage by Skirmantas Jankauskas for lzb.lt

Pakruojis teacher Janina Mykolaitienė recalls the Jews who lived there:

“The Jewish rabbi lived in a house on Vyauto street. I remember his slight wife with the sad face and his daughter Shanele, with whom we were friends. Shanele was very calm, a good brown-eyed girl with curly hair. I shared my bread with her and she shared Jewish bagels with me. Sometimes her mother used to invite me inside, lift me up in her arms and ask me to flip an electric switch. After that job of mine they always treated me to something.”

The restored wooden synagogue on the banks of the Kruoja River dates from 1801. It is the oldest surviving synagogue in Lithuania today. The synagogue operated until World War II when the Pakruojis Jewish community was murdered en masse. After the war the synagogue became a recreation club, and later a cinema. The building was also used as a sports gymnasium for some time. The synagogue caught fire several times and the fire caused much damage to the building. The Pakruojis Regional Administration and the Lithuanian Cultural Heritage Department went to great efforts to protect the synagogue and to make sure it didn’t collapse.

The Pakruojis Regional Administration and the Lithuanian Jewish Community signed a use agreement for the synagogue on January 21, 2011, on its administration and adaptation for public use.

An tripartite agreement for financing the renovation and adaptation of the synagogue was signed on June 26, 2014. The project was carried out from July, 2014, till April, 2016. It was executed by the Pakruojis Regional Administration with financing from Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein under the European Economic Area and Norway financial grants mechanism. The project resulted in the renovation of the synagogue building, restoration of paintings and the interior and an exhibit on the history of the Jews of the Pakruojis region.

The project administration group included Birutė Vanagienė (project director), Gintaras Makauskas (assistant director), Mindaugas Veliulis (project coordinator), Laimis Svidras (procurement) and Rita Ačienė (project accountant).

The restored building will be transferred for use by the Pakruojis Regional Administration Juozas Paukštelis Public Library which will house a children’s literature section here as well as hosting concerts and other cultural events.

The opening ceremony for the restored wooden synagogue was filmed and a portion of the footage can be viewed above.

Deputy Norwegian ambassador Turid Kristin Lilleng, deputy Israeli ambassador Efrat Hochstetler and director of the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture’s EEA Financing Program Dalia Stabrauskaitė participated at the ceremony.

The EEA and Norway financial mechanism program administrators and the restorers from Opus Optimum invite you to take a look around the oldest wooden synagogue in Lithuania. Using surviving photographs the unique and primitive 19th century style of paintings on the interior vaults were restored authentically and even the original wallpaper was restored.