Synagogue in Žiežmariai Opens Doors

Synagogue in Žiežmariai Opens Doors

The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Kaišiadorys city municipality invite the public to visit the restored synagogue in Žiežmariai, Lithuania, September 17.

As part of the European Days of Jewish Culture, the LJC is sponsoring the event in Žiežmariai to discuss the public utilization of Litvak heritage sites and the relationship between the local community and this synagogue specifically.

The event will be moderated by Martynas Užpelkis, the LJC’s heritage specialist.

Participants will include LJC chairwoman Faina, Kukliansky, Kaišiadorys mayor Vytenis Tomkus, Lithuanian heritage expert and historian Diana Varnaitė, Kaišiadorys Museum director Olijardas Lukoševičius and others.

The event begins at the synagogue at 2:00 P.M. on September 17.

Mayor Tomkus shared his thoughts in the run-up to this event: “I remember very well the beginning of the project to restore the Žiežmariai synagogue. Although it wasn’t easy, we are glad we didn’t get frightened away and resolutely sought our goal. It wasn’t just the Cultural Heritage Department and the Lithuanian Jewish Community who supported our idea to revive this cultural heritage site important to the whole history of Lithuania, but also a majority of local residents. I thank them very much for this. We here in the Kaišiadorys region are proud to have the preserved and revived Žiežmariai synagogue which is visited by foreign tourists and local residents alike. The restored synagogue does adorn the town, but more importantly it is a living witness reminding us of the large Jewish community who lived here for almost 500 years, and who were brutally exterminated, and whom we cannot forget if we want to know the history of our own town.”

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said she was happy “the work to restore the synagogue was so successful, and such wonderful connections were made with the community in the Kaišiadorys region with whom new projects will continue to be developed, with events organized around this unique building.”

The Žiežmariai synagogue built in the late 19th century is one of only a handful of surviving wooden synagogues in Europe. Once Lithuania hosted around 150 wooden synagogues, but those still standing only number just over a dozen, which constitute the major concentration of wooden synagogues still standing in Europe. Restoration work in Žiežmariai began in 2016. The first wooden synagogue to be restored was in Pakruojis and opened its doors in 2017. The Žiežmariai synagogue was ravaged by fire in 1920 and was rebuilt before World War II. During the Holocaust Jews were locked in the synagogue before being shot in late August, 1941. It was then used as a storehouse for looted Jewish property. There were almost no Jews left after the war and the synagogue continued to be used as a warehouse. After Lithuanian independence from the Soviet Union, the ruined building was returned to the Lithuanian Jewish Community. In 2015 the LJC and the Kaišiadorys regional administration concluded a use agreement under which the synagogue would be renovated and made available for public education, cultural and tourism needs. The state and local government financed the planning for the restoration project and the restoration itself, and the LJC contributed money and consultation as well. Before restoration began, the synagogue was basically saved from destruction by just a handful of local volunteers who cleaned up Soviet-era garbage, boarded up unused windows and escorted visitors.

More about the synagogue here and here.

Event announcement here.