Photo: Synagogue in Žiežmariai, by Andrejus Tomenko.
An international agreement is already bearing fruit: the United States Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad has collected $10,000, the first tranche to be used for restoration of the second floor, the women’s gallery, of the wooden synagogue in Žiežmariai, Lithuania.
Several months ago Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky and United States Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad director Star Jones signed an agreement to join forces for the restoration of the second storey of the unique wooden synagogue in rural Lithuania. The Commission pledged to find financing for that project and the LJC pledged to insure its smooth implementation.
The synagogue was built in the 19th century but burned down in 1920 and was rebuilt. For the thousand or so Jews of the small town before the Holocaust, the synagogue served as both a house of prayer and school, and the central community meeting place.
In August of 1941 local police and white arm-banders collaborating with the Nazis arrested approximately 150 Jewish women and children and imprisoned them inside the synagogue. They took them the next day several kilometers from town into the forest and shot them on the grounds of the Triliškės manor. The possession of murdered Jews were sent to the synagogue for storage until they were divided up and given to local Lithuanian residents.
The Jewish community was exterminated during the Holocaust and no new Jewish community ever established itself in Žiežmariai. The synagogue continued to be used as a warehouse under Soviet rule. After Lithuanian independence the ruined building was returned to the Lithuanian Jewish Community, which began renovation in 2016 with its own funds and funding from the state and the Kaišiadorys municipality.
Although restoration work was almost completed, funding ran out for the second floor balcony, the traditional women’s gallery. With help from the United States, the LJC intends to complete restoration of the women’s gallery in the next year.
Photo: Star Jones and Fainia Kukliansky agree to join forces for the restoration of the Žiežmariai synagogue, by Laura Stepanauskaitė.