Progress Report: Restoration Work on Lithuanian Synagogues

Wooden Synagogue in Žiežmariai Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Faina Kukliansky, the Chair of the Jewish Community in Lithuania, has sent us a progress report on efforts to preserve and restore several synagogues, including three of the 14 wooden synagogues remaining in the country.

The Jewish Community working with the municipalities of Pakruojis, Kaišiadorys and Mažeikiai to preserve three wooden synagogues — those in Pakruojis, Žiežmariai and Seda.

Lithuania is probably one of the only countries in Europe that still has wooden synagogues — 14 altogether. All of them are fairly simply buildings that probably survived destruction by their relatively nondescript appearance.

Pakruojis synagogue, dating from 1801, is the oldest and most valuable. It suffered severe damage in a fire in 2009. The Jewish Community has secured 140.000 litas (€40,500) from the Lithuanian national budget and 30.000 litas (€8,700) from the Pakruojis district municipality for restoration work. Moreover,  a long term lease contract with Pakruojis district municipality was signed in 2010.

Ms. Kukliansky discussed cooperation with the Kaišiadorys District Municipality regarding the preservation of the wooden synagogue at Žiežmariai on at a meeting October 23 with the Mayor of Kaišiadorys, the deputy minister of Culture, and representatives of the Department of Cultural Heritage and the local community. She hopes that, as in Pakruojis, a long term lease contract will be signed with Kaišiadorys District Municipality.

Applications for support from the European Economic Area’s Financial Mechanism support for the preservation of both synagogues – Pakruojis and Žiežmariai — will be submitted later this year, she said.

Almost no Jews live in or near Pakruojis or Žiežmariai and the Lithuanian Jewish Community does not have sufficient financial resources  for the restoration of former synagogues, Ms. Kukliansky said. Thus, these sites are to serve as venues for various educational and cultural activities.

The only condition from the Jewish Community’s side, she said, is that the synagogues are to be restored and that they will retain a Jewish identity. It is expected that restoration of the synagogue in  Žiežmariai and its opening to the public will attract more tourists to the town, as it is situated on the main Vilnius-Kaunas highway.

The fate of the wooden synagogue in Seda is less secure.

Ms. Kukliansky reports that the Jewish Community has had to initiate the urgent dismantling of the building, which was partly ruined and in dangerous condition, with a high risk of collapse. Intact parts of the synagogue building are now in storage, to be used  to rebuild the Seda synagogue at a future date.

In addition to the wooden synagogues, the Jewish Community of Lithuania is also currently taking measures to preserve two masonry synagogue complexes: the former synagogue in Geliu street in Vilnius, which is owned by Vilnius Religious Jewish Community, is in very bad condition (see photos here), and the complex of two former synagogues in Kalvarija.

Ruined synagogue in synagogue complex in Kalvarija. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

“We have applied for funding from Lithuanian national budget to reinforce synagogues in Vilnius and Kalvarija and to undertake primary conservation works to preserve the buildings for further restoration,” Ms. Kukliansky reports. “The applications are now being processed and the answer is expected later this year. In parallel the Jewish Community of Lithuania is following the procedures to register plot of land around the complex of Kalvarija synagogues, which will allow local municipality getting involved in a reconstruction and maintenance of the buildings on a basis of a long-term lease.”

 

 

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