Jews have lived in Lithuania for hundreds of years. Historically, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania extended over vast territory and formed a union with Poland from the 14th century until the partitions of Poland in the late 18th century. At that time Lithuania came under Russian rule and formed part of the Pale of Settlement and then became independent country after World War I. The Nazis occupied Lithuania in 1941 and, aided by local collaborators, killed about 95 percent of the Jewish population. Following World War II, Lithuania was incorporated into the Soviet Union.
For centuries until the eve of the Holocaust, Vilnius, “the Jerusalem of Lithuania”, was one of the world’s major Jewish centers — of religion and learning as well as social, political and cultural movements. Jews also lived in many other towns, cities and villages around the country. Today, there are about 200 Jewish cemeteries around the country; most of them totally abandoned. There are also about 200 sites where Jews were murdered during the Holocaust and buried in mass graves, most of them in forests or other hard to find locations. Synagogue buildings exist in a number of towns and villages; many have been converted for other use, some are in ruins, and some have been restored for cultural use in recent years. About a dozen simple wooden synagogues — among the very few that survived World War II — still stand in Lithuania; most are unmarked and in poor condition.
There are efforts by the Lithuanian Jewish community, as well as grassroots initiatives, to document and preserve Jewish cemeteries, synagogues and other heritage sites.
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