Jewish Community Proposes Cultural Museum in Vilnius Ghetto

Vilnius, June 27, BNS—The Lithuanian Jewish Community is proposing the creation of a cultural museum in the former Vilnius ghetto. There are considerations to include an open-air section beyond a single building housing the museum using modern technology. The LJC presented these ideas to Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius Thursday.

Creative analyst Albinas Šimanauskas, one of the authors of the idea, said they hadn’t decided on a specific location for the museum yet, but there was a proposal to establish it near Rūdininkų square.

“Rūdininkų square, for example, where there is a statue commemorating Tsemakh Shabad, could be the site for a memorial to Righteous Gentiles. It’s a fine square which could host international events, concerts, thematic festivals… this would be a Vilnius Jewish cultural museum exhibiting historical events and cultural phenomena through living story-telling,” he told BNS.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said they are waiting for basic confirmation of the idea from the municipality and will decide on a location for the museum after that.

“We have to make up our minds definitively, wait for the city’s reaction, then there will be public discussion, seeking of funding and so on… It’s important the idea is approved, then we can move forward,” she told BNS. “The municipality must approve the idea for the buildings and the vision, whether it is appropriate or inappropriate for Vilnius, and if not, then there is nothing to talk about,” LJC chairwoman Kukliansky commented.

Šimanauskas said they expect they’re hoping for the city’s support, and also hoping for funding from Jewish individuals and organizations abroad. He said the leadership of the city of Vilnius is interested in the idea presented and supports it.

Mayor Šimašius isn’t commenting on the initial idea so far.

“This wouldn’t be some cupboards, shelves and artifacts, the museum would be aimed at telling a story, at activities, using the latest technologies, some of them completely original… The main idea is a large part of the museum would be the city itself, visitors would visit the main exhibition in a building, then using mobile devices, for example, tablets and smart phones, they would see living history while walking around Vilnius, the public figures, the personalities, documentary material, in 3-D, film material,” Šimanauskas said.

He said this would allow people to see architecture which no longer exists in the former ghetto area, including synagogues, that the exhibition could stretch back to include the times of Gediminas from the 14th century and that there could be separate programs for Lithuanian high school students, foreigners and other visitors.

“At the very least there would be something to read, lots of listening and viewing and interactive participation,” he said.

Šimanauskas reported the museum could be at least partially operational next year. He said it wouldn’t compete with the existing Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, but would complement that institution instead. There are plans to present the idea more broadly next month.

There have been several ideas for a new Jewish museum in Vilnius. Businessman Antanas Zabulis and a like-minded group of people want at least part of the Great Synagogue destroyed during the Soviet era restored, and to establish a museum there. LJC representatives are also considering using one of the buildings currently controlled by the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum as a venue for the new museum.

Vilnius mayor Šimašius and Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis also floated the idea of setting up a Jewish history museum at the Palace of Sports in Vilnius following renovation work there, but rejected their own idea after criticism from international Jewish organizations and the Litvak community.