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Virtual Jewish World: Lithuania

Character and Influence on the Diaspora
Spiritual Trends and Leaders
Hibbat Zion and Zionism
Jewish Socialist Movement
In Belorussian S.S.R.
In Poland
In Independent Lithuania
Soviet Rule in Lithuania, 1940–41
German Occupation, 1941–44

War Crimes Trials
After the War
Later Developments

Lithuania (Lithuanian Lietuva; Pol. Litwa; Rus. Litva; Heb. Lita ליטא or ליטה; Yid. Lite ליטע), southernmost of Baltic states of N.E. Europe; from 1940 Lithuanian S.S.R. (for the early period, see also Poland). In 2022, the Jewish population was approximately 2,300.

With the partition of Poland at the close of the 18th century, the territories of Lithuania passed to Russia. Subsequently, for more than 120 years, Lithuania ceased to exist as a political or administrative unit. It was divided into six or seven provinces in which the history of the Jews was similar to that of the Jews throughout Russia. Lithuanian Jewry nevertheless retained its specific character and its influence on Russian Jewry – and on world Jewry in general – extended beyond the boundaries of historic Lithuania. Lithuanian Jewry was particularly oppressed during World War I. The attitude of the Russian military authorities toward the Jews was one of suspicion and hostility; rumors were spread that they were traitors, and the army therefore perpetrated pogroms against them. In the spring of 1915, expulsions of Jews from the provinces of Suwalki, Kovno (Kaunas), Courland, and Grodno began. During the fall of the same year, northern and western Lithuania was occupied by the German army. The population suffered from a lack of food and unemployment. Limited aid arrived from the Jews of Germany and the United States, and a ramified Jewish assistance organization was set up. A network of Hebrew and Yiddish schools, including secondary schools, was established. After the end of World War I, a considerable number of refugees returned to their former places of residence. Lithuanian Jewry was henceforward divided among three states: independent Lithuania, Belorussian S.S.R. (see Belorussia), and Poland.

Character and Influence on the Diaspora

The notion of “Lithuanian” (“Litvak” in Yiddish) to be found in speech, folklore, and Jewish literature in all its languages applies to the Jewish community which developed within the boundaries of historic Lithuania, the region which formed part of the greater Polish kingdom during the 16th to 18th centuries. From the close of the 18th century until World War I, this area came under the rule of czarist Russia and included the provinces of Kovno, Vilna, Grodno, and northern Suwalki, which were essentially of Lithuanian-Polish character, and of Vitebsk, Minsk, and Mogilev, which were Belorussian-Russian in character. A distinction is sometimes made between Lithuanian Jews in a restricted sense (from the provinces of Vilna, Kovno, and the northern parts of the provinces of Suwalki and Grodno) and the Belorussian Jews (“province of Russia”).

At the close of the 19th century, about 1,500,000 Jews lived in this region; they constituted more than one-eighth of the total population. The Jews were mainly concentrated in the towns and villages, where in the main they were in the majority. There were more than 300 communities in Lithuania with more than 1,000 persons, including 12 large communities each numbering more than 20,000 persons: Vilna, Minsk, Bialystok, Vitebsk, Dvinsk (Daugavpils), Brest-Litovsk, Kovno, Grodno, Mogilev, Pinsk, Bobruisk, and Gomel; but even the smaller settlements with only some dozens of Jewish families had a vibrant and full Jewish life.

Both economic and historical factors were responsible for the unique character of Lithuanian Jewry. Lithuania was a poor country, and the mass of its inhabitants, consisting of Lithuanian and Belorussian peasants, formed a low social stratum whose national culture was undeveloped. The Jews who had contacts with them as contractors, merchants, shopkeepers, innkeepers, craftsmen, etc., regarded themselves as their superiors in every respect. Lithuanian Jewry was relatively less affected by the Chmielnicki massacres that devastated the Jews of the Ukraine in 1648–49, and those perpetrated by the Haidamacks during the 18th century. Even when the wave of pogroms swept Russia during the last decades of czarist rule, there were only isolated manifestations of anti-Jewish violence in Lithuania (Gomel, Bialystok). These circumstances gave the Lithuanian Jews a feeling of stability and security, as a result of which they developed no desire to adopt the language and culture of the surrounding peoples.

The Jews of Lithuania maintained their own way of life. They spoke a special dialect of Yiddish – Lithuanian Yiddish – which differed from the Yiddish spoken in Poland and Volhynia mainly in the pronunciation of the vowels (and in certain districts in the pronunciation of the שׁ (shin) as שׂ (sin) or ס (samekh). The world outlook and way of life of Lithuanian Jewry were based on the Written Law and the Oral Law. The Shulhan Arukh and its commentaries guided them in their everyday life. Torah learning flourished among wide circles, and love of Torah and esteem for its study was widespread among the masses of Jews. The Jews who lived in the region bordering Lithuania, the “Poles” in the west and the “Volhynians” in the south, associated specific characteristics with the Lithuanian Jews: a certain emotional dryness, the superiority of the intellect over emotion, mental alertness, sharp-wittedness, and pungency. Their piety was also questioned (hence the popular derogatory appellation for the Lithuanian Jews, “tseylem-kop”). It was also a feature of Lithuanian Jewry that Hasidism did not strike roots in northern Lithuania, while in the provinces of Belorussia, it assumed a different nature and content – the Chabad trend – from the original Hasidism of Ukraine and Poland (see below). Lithuanian Jews were considered the “prototype” of the Mitnaggedim.

Table 1: List of Alternative Names for Jewish Communities in Lithuania

Lithuanian Name

Russian Name

Yiddish Name
































































Lithuanian Name

Russian Name

Yiddish Name


Novoe Mesto






















































































































































Novo Aleksandrovsk












Spiritual Trends and Leaders

Until the 16th century, the Jews of Lithuania were on the outer fringe of European Jewry. During the 16th and 17th centuries, they were influenced by Polish Jewry and adopted its organizational methods (Lithuanian Council; see Councils of the Lands), its educational system, and its mode of learning. The first prominent rabbis who were called upon to officiate in the large Lithuanian communities, such as Mordecai b. Abraham Jaffe, author of the Levushim, and Joel Sirkes, author of Bayit Hadash (the “Bah”), came from outside Lithuania. Solomon b. Jehiel Luria (the Maharshal), who was of Lithuanian origin and promoted Torah learning there for a number of years, acquired most of his education and was mainly active beyond the borders of that country. It was only during the 17th century that leading Torah scholars emerged from the yeshivot of Lithuania. Among them were the commentators on the Shulhan Arukh, Shabbetai b. Meir ha-Kohen (the Shakh), and Moses b. Naphtali Hirsch Rivkes, author of Be’er ha-Golah.However, the personality that symbolized the supremacy of Torah learning within Lithuanian Jewry and determined its character for several generations was that of the Gaon of Vilna, Elijah b. Solomon Zalman, who lived during the second half of the 18th century. He established his own method of study. Its main features were abstention from casuistic methods, close examination of the Talmudic text and accuracy in its interpretation, a comprehensive knowledge of all the sources, and the study of grammar and the sciences, which were essential for a profound understanding of the teachings of the Torah.

R. Elijah appeared on the Lithuanian scene when winds of change were beginning to blow across that country. In the south, Hasidism blazed a trail, and the disciples of Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezhirech, arrived in Shklov, Vitebsk, Vilna, and other communities, winning over a large following. From the West came the ideas of the Haskalah; these at first were moderate in character and sought to adapt themselves to the old school (like the scholars of Shklov, R. Baruch b. Jacob Schick, or Phinehas Elijah Hurwitz, author of Sefer ha-Berit), but their revolutionary nature was rapidly revealed. R. Elijah’s circle of disciples consolidated against these new forces; they regarded Torah study as a guarantee for the continued existence of the nation in its traditional form and converted religious learning into a popular movement in which the great central yeshivot played a leading role.

The first of these was the yeshivah established by Hayyim Volozhiner in 1803 in the townlet of Volozhin. In its wake, both large and small yeshivot were founded in many towns and villages, as well as kolelim and kibbuzim (“groups”) for young men and perushim (“abstinents”), whose students prepared themselves for the rabbinate through self-instruction (the kibbuz of Eisiskes (Eishishok), near Vilna, was well known).

During the 19th century, large yeshivot were established in Mir, Telz (Telsiai), Slobodka (near Kovno), and other townlets. The personality of Israel Meir ha-Kohen (the Hafez Hayyim) left its imprint on his yeshivah in the little town of Radun, where Torah learning was combined with the study of musar (ethical literature). An attempt to adapt these studies to the spirit of the modern era was made by Isaac Jacob Reines, a founder of the Mizrachi organization, who in 1904 established a yeshivah in Lida where secular studies were taught, and modern Hebrew literature was studied.

During the middle of the 19th century, the Musar movement emerged from within the ranks of Orthodox Jewry. Initiated by R. Israel (Salanter) Lipkin, it endeavored to strengthen traditional Judaism against the dangers of the modern era by fostering the study of ethics. The “Musarniks” established several yeshivot (Keneset Yisrael in Slobodka; the yeshivah of Novogrudok where an extremist, fanatical, and ascetic wing of the movement emerged). Their attempt to introduce this trend into other yeshivot gave rise to sharp polemics from their opponents, who feared that the study of musar would result in a neglect of Torah study.

The yeshivot of Lithuania attracted young men throughout Russia. They trained rabbis and religious communal workers for Jewish communities all over the world. Many who later abandoned traditional Judaism, including H.N. Bialik and M.J. Berdyczewski, were also educated in them. Over the last century, the rabbis of Lithuania became known throughout the Jewish world. They included Isaac Elhanan Spektor of Kovno, Joseph Baer Soloveichik of Brest, Joseph Rozin and Meir Simhah ha-Kohen of Dvinsk, Hayyim Ozer Grodzinski of Vilna, Jerohman Judah Leib Perelmann (“Ha-Gadol mi-Minsk”), Isser Zalman Meltzer of Slutsk, Abraham Isaiah Karelitz (the Hazon Ish), and many others.

Hasidism did not spread through Lithuania to the same extent as in the other parts of Eastern Europe. Only one branch, Chabad Hasidism, struck roots in Belorussia. The descendants and disciples of its leader, Shneur Zalman of Lyady, scattered in many towns and townlets and formed an energetic organization of Hasidism whose influence spread beyond the borders of Lithuania. Their headquarters were in the townlet of Lubavitch. This trend in Hasidism was of a scholarly, philosophical nature. It considered Torah study to be one of the fundamentals of Hasidism, to be combined with the study of ethical and Hasidic works. At the close of the 19th century, the Chabad movement established its own network of yeshivot (Tomekhei Temimim). A more popular branch of Hasidism which developed in the region situated between Lithuania and Volhynia, was centered around the Tzaddikim of the Karlin-Stolin dynasty.

An important cultural factor in Lithuania from the close of the 18th century was the Hebrew press. The first printing presses were founded in Shklov (1783) and Grodno (1788). During the 19th century, Vilna became one of the world’s leading centers for the printing of Hebrew books (of the Romm family and other presses). It was here that the famous Vilna Talmud was printed, as well as a multitude of religious and ethical works, Haskalah, and popular literature in Hebrew and Yiddish.

Although Lithuania played an important role in the preservation of traditional Judaism, it also contributed largely to the movements that shook the Jewish world in recent generations and brought many changes to it. These were Haskalah, the Zionist movement, and the Jewish Socialist movement.


From neighboring Prussia, Haskalah penetrated Lithuania, first to the small border towns and the cities of Vilna and Minsk, and from there to other localities. In Lithuania, Haskalah assumed a particular character. The manifestations of national disavowal and assimilation to other cultures, which left their imprint on Haskalah in Western Europe, as well as in Poland and southern Russia, were absent in Lithuania. Circles of maskilim who adhered to their people and their language were formed. A Hebrew literature that spread Haskalah and its ideas developed.

This literature was not confined to Jewish studies (Wissenschaft) but encompassed every aspect of life. Its exponents were poets such as Abraham Dov (Adam ha-Kohen) Lebensohn, and J.L. Gordon, novelists such as Abraham Mapu and Perez Smolenskin, publicists and critics such as A.U. Kovner, A.J. Paperna, M.L. Lilienblum, and J.M. Pines, scholars in Jewish studies (Joshua Steinberg, E. Zweifel), authors of popular works on general history and geography (M.A. Guenzburg; K. Schulman), and natural sciences (H.S. Slonimski, Zevi Rabinowitz, and S.J. Abramovitsh, known as Mendele Mokher Seforim).

The maskilim assisted the Russian government in its efforts to spread Russian culture among the Jews and cooperated with it in the establishment of a network of Jewish state schools, at the center of which stood the government rabbinical seminary of Vilna. They laid the foundations of both Russian-Jewish literature (L. Levanda) and modern Yiddish literature (I.M. Dick, Shomer (N.M. Shaikevich), J. Dineson, and Mendele Mokher Seforim). They also paved the way for the Hibbat Zion and Zionism on the hand and the Jewish Socialist movement on the other.

Hibbat Zion and Zionism

Lithuania was a fertile ground for the development of Hibbat Zion and Zionism. The Jews of Lithuania had been attached to Eretz Israel by powerful ties since the immigration there of the Hasidim and the disciples of the Gaon of Vilna from the end of the 18th century. Natives of Lithuania such as D. Gordon, in the periodical Ha-Maggid, P. Smolenskin, in Ha-Shachar, J.M. Pines, and E. Ben-Yehuda had already discussed Jewish nationalism and settlement in Eretz Israel in the 1870s. With the inception of Hibbat Zion, the movement spread to many towns and townlets, one of its centers being Bialystok, the residence of Samuel Mohilewer, one of the leaders of the movement. Natives of Lithuania were among the most prominent propagators of the Hibbat Zion ideology throughout Russia and beyond (S.P. Rabbinowitz, Hermann Schapira, and others).

In 1902, the second convention of Russian Zionists was held in Minsk. This was the only Zionist convention to be held openly and attended by the public in the czarist period. From 1905 to 1912, the center of Russian Zionism was Vilna. The Zionists headed the movement for the revival of the Hebrew language and the establishment of modern Hebrew schools (Heder metukkan, “reformed Heder”). The first Diaspora institution for the training of Hebrew teachers was opened in 1908 in Grodno (“the Grodno courses”). The development of Hebrew literature in Lithuania and the activities of Hebrew authors and poets such as Z. Shneour, Yaakov Cahan, and I.D. Berkowitz were closely connected with Zionism.

Jewish Socialist Movement

Lithuania was the cradle of the Jewish Socialist movement. It was characteristic that the Jews of Lithuania found it necessary to publish Socialist literature, at first in Hebrew (A.S. Liebermann and his colleagues) and later in Yiddish. The background to this was the existence of the many thousands of poor and oppressed Jewish workers and craftsmen who did not know Russian or Polish; the maskilim and Socialists were therefore compelled to address them in their own language. From the close of the 19th century, there rapidly developed an ideology in which revolutionary Socialism was allied to fragmentary and propitiatory nationalist formulae, which in practice called for the fostering of secular literature in Yiddish (Yiddishism) and Jewish cultural autonomy, centered on a secular community organization and Jewish schools giving instruction in the language of the masses (Ch. Zhitlowsky). In order to mobilize the Jewish workers for revolutionary activities, the Bund was organized. The Bund rapidly extended its activities into Poland and Ukraine, but its influence was essentially felt in Lithuania. Its emissaries gained adherents among the poverty-stricken Jews of the towns and townlets, created a sense of self-confidence in the Jewish apprentices and workers, and mobilized them into the service of the revolution. The Bund played a major role in the destruction of traditional Judaism and in opposition to Hebrew culture and Zionism.

The influence of Lithuanian Jewry on Russian and world Jewry gained impetus from the middle of the 19th century. The Lithuanian yeshivot attracted students from every part of Russia, as well as from abroad. Religious and secular books from Vilna were sold throughout the Diaspora. Rabbis of Lithuanian origin served many of the world’s communities, and Lithuanian melammedim (teachers of elementary religious studies) were recognized as capable teachers in Poland and southern Russia.

One of the causes of the spread of Lithuanian influence was the dire poverty in the country, which led to a constant stream of emigration toward southern Russia and Poland and later to the countries of Western Europe and America. Wherever the Lithuanian Jews arrived, they brought with them their spiritual heritage and learning and thus contributed toward strengthening traditional Judaism and the forging of closer links among the Jewish people and its culture. They were also prominent among the Jewish populations of Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Large numbers settled in Warsaw and Lodz. They streamed to America and formed a special concentration in South Africa. They also made an extensive contribution to the modern development of Eretz Israel.

Lithuanian Jewry was severely affected by World War I and the revolutions and border changes that ensued, bringing dissolution and economic and spiritual chaos. When the Jews were expelled from Kovno province, many communal leaders and activists there left for the interior of Russia, where they continued their activities. Once the regimes and their borders had consolidated, Lithuanian Jewry found itself divided among states: independent Lithuania, Belorussian S.S.R., and Poland.

In Belorussian S.S.R.

There were some 400,000 Jews living in Belorussian S.S.R. between the two world wars. The authorities adopted a policy of systematic repression of traditional Judaism, the Hebrew language and culture, and the Zionist movement, assisted in this by the Yevsektsiya. During the 1920s, the elements remaining faithful to Judaism still carried on a difficult struggle and maintained clandestine yeshivot and hadarim, Zionist youth movements, and Hehalutz organizations. The Jewish Communists endeavored to provide a substitute for Jewish culture. In Belorussia, there even existed a trend among the Yevsektsiya which attempted to consolidate the national position of the Jews in this region by promoting Yiddish schools, Jewish publishing houses and newspapers, and the establishment of a higher institute for Jewish studies in Minsk which engaged in research on the history of the Jews in Lithuania, their dialect, and their popular culture. These experiments flickered out and were liquidated during the 1930s because the authorities did not support them and the Jewish masses were indifferent to them.

In Poland

After World War I, the majority of the former Lithuanian Jews came within the boundaries of newly independent Poland on the border strip extending from the north of Vilna to the Polesye marshes. They continued to develop independent cultural activities in every sphere. Yeshivot flourished in this region (among them, the great yeshivah of Mir with its hundreds of students and those of Radun, Slonim, Lomza, Kletsk, etc.). Hebrew schools, including secondary schools and excellent training colleges for teachers, founded by the Tarbut organization were concentrated there. The network of Yiddish schools of the Central Yiddish School Organization (CYSHO) was also developed in this area, and in 1925 the Institute for Jewish Research (Yiddisher Visenshaftlicher Institut, YIVO) was founded in Vilna. It became a world center for research into the Yiddish language and the history of the Jews and their culture in Eastern Europe. The Vilna theatrical company (Di Vilner Trupe) was established and a Yiddish press and literature flourished (the Yung Vilner group of poets included Chaim Grade and A. Suzkever). The Zionist and pioneer youth movements expanded in this region. When both independent and Polish Lithuania was annexed by Russia in 1939–40, the Jewish institutions were rapidly liquidated. The German invasion of June 1941 brought the physical annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry.

[Yehuda Slutsky]

In Independent Lithuania

About a year before the end of World War I, on Sept. 18–23, 1917, precisely two years after the capture of Vilna by the Germans, the Lithuanians were given permission by the German occupation force to hold a congress in Vilna to consider the future political fate of Lithuania. The congress put forward the demand for an independent Lithuanian state within its ethnographic boundaries, with Vilna as the capital. The Vilna congress also elected a national council, Lietuvos Taryba, which on Feb. 16, 1918, proclaimed Lithuania an independent state. The Germans maintained their occupation of Lithuania until the end of 1918.


According to the census held on Sept. 17, 1923, the Jewish population numbered 153,743 (7.5% of the total) and was the largest national minority (see Table 2: Jewish Population of Lithuania – Sept. 17, 1923 Census). They formed just under one-third of the total population of the larger towns, 28.7% of the small-town population, and only 0.5% of the village inhabitants. In the following five towns, the census showed the Jewish population to be: In Memel (Klaipeda), which with its district belonged to Lithuania from 1923 to 1939 as an autonomous region, there were 2,470 Jews in 1929. Their number in the Memel region rose as a result of migration from other parts of Lithuania. At the beginning of 1939, shortly before the seizure of Memel by Germany, the territory had about 9,000 Jewish inhabitants. Statistics of 1937 show 157,527 Jews (75,538 males, 81,989 females; or 98% of the total) as having declared their nationality as Jewish, an indicator of the strength of Jewish consciousness among the Jews of Lithuania and the slight influence of assimilation.

Jews mainly spoke Yiddish among themselves, but a number of the professional intelligentsia used Russian. Although in time, practically all Jews were able to speak Lithuanian, this did not become their regular spoken language.


The agrarian reforms that the Lithuanian constituent assembly adopted in 1922 also affected the few Jewish owners of farms of over 80 hectares in extent. The Lithuanian government, however, did little to satisfy the claims of Jews who had any rights to the ownership of land. The agrarian reforms only partly satisfied the land hunger of the poor peasants, and in addition to emigration abroad, there was also a considerable migration from the rural districts to the towns. This general process of urbanization came into conflict with the long-established economy of the Jewish inhabitants of the town and shtetl. In this growing economic competition, the administration of the young Lithuanian republic actively took the part of the Lithuanians. To develop an agrarian economy, the government assisted in the formation of cooperatives, which accumulated control of the entire export trade, including the trade in agricultural products. Thus many Jews were deprived of their livelihood.

Table 2. Jewish Population of Lithuania – Sept. 17, 1923 Census


Jewish population

% total population

Kaunas (Kovno)



Panevezys (Ponevezh)



Siauliai (Shavli)



Ukmerge (Vilkomir)



Vilkaviskis (Volkovyshki)




In 1923, there were 25,132 Jews engaged in trade and credit banking, 18,107 in industry and crafts, 4,996 in agriculture, 4,180 in the liberal professions, and 2,348 in transport. Jewish commerce was largely concentrated in small trade, while industry and crafts were mainly carried on in small factories or workshops.

During the early years of Lithuanian national independence, the Jews had a predominant part in the export-import trade. However, shortly before World War II, Jewish participation in the export trade amounted to only 20%, and in the import trade to 40%. In 1923 there were nearly 14,000 Jewish shops and 2,160 non-Jewish shops; in 1936, the respective numbers were approximately 12,000 and 10,200. The majority of Jewish shops were small-scale establishments. Jewish traders were unable to compete with the Lithuanian cooperatives, which enjoyed great privileges, especially in respect of taxation. They increased rapidly and between 1919 and 1925, the number of such competitive enterprises ranged against Jewish trade doubled in number.

About one-third of the Jews earned their livelihood in crafts. There were Jews also in the professions, but their numbers continually decreased, and their places were taken by Lithuanians. At the beginning of 1931, there were 88 Jewish cooperative people’s banks having more than 20,000 members and functioning in conjunction with an association of Jewish people’s banks. The Jewish people’s banks owned a portion of the working capital of the central bank for the support of Jewish cooperatives.


Both open and unofficial measures aimed at ousting Jews from their economic positions led many Jews to emigrate. Between 1928 and 1939, 13,898 Jews emigrated from Lithuania, of whom 4,860 (35%) went to South Africa; 3,541 (25.5%) to Palestine; 2,548 (18.3%) to Latin America; 1,499 (10.8%) to the United States; 648 (4.6%) to Canada; and 602 (5.8%) elsewhere. It is estimated that between 1923 and 1927, at least 6,000 to 7,000 Jews emigrated from Lithuania, and between 1919 and 1941, 9,241 Lithuanian Jews immigrated to Palestine (3.07% of all those who settled there in that period).


In the early period of the republic, Lithuanian policy was concerned that Jewish influence in Lithuania and abroad, especially in the United States, should be exercised for the benefit of their country. In the first Lithuanian cabinet formed in Vilna, there were three Jews, J. Wygodsky (minister for Jewish affairs), Shimshon Rosenbaum (deputy foreign minister), and N. Rachmilewitz (deputy minister of commerce). At the end of 1918, the Germans evacuated Lithuania, and in January, it was occupied by the Bolsheviks. The Lithuanian government then moved from Vilna to Kaunas (Kovno). Wygodsky remained in Vilna, which in 1920 was captured by the Poles under General L. Zeligowski, and the city and district of Vilna became a part of Poland. The other two members of the cabinet accompanied the government to Kaunas, and in 1919 Wygodsky was replaced as minister of Jewish affairs by the Kaunas communal leader and Zionist Max Soloveichik (Solieli).

On Aug. 5, 1919, the Lithuanian delegation to the Peace Conference at Versailles sent to the Comité des Délégations Juives in Paris a letter in which the Lithuanian government guaranteed to the Jews of Lithuania the “right of national-cultural autonomy.” This official declaration made possible the rise and development in Lithuania of institutions of Jewish national autonomy. As a result, there arose a widespread system of legally recognized communities (kehillot). On January 5, 1920, the first communal conference was held in Kaunas with the participation of 141 delegates. A Jewish National Council was appointed and given the task, in conjunction with the Ministry of Jewish Affairs, of administering the Jewish autonomous institutions. Shimshon Rosenbaum was elected head of the Jewish National Council. The minister for Jewish affairs received directives from the National Council and was responsible for it. The National Council conducted widely ramified activity in all areas of Jewish life. During the early years of its existence, it was much occupied with assistance to the Jewish war refugees who had returned from Russia and also with helping immigrants. It obtained financial means from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and other Jewish aid organizations.

A statute concerning the communities was promulgated in March 1920 and recognized the community (kehillah) as a regular, obligatory, public, authorized institution, competent to impose taxes and issue regulations in order to meet the budgets for religious affairs, charity, social aid, educational institutions, and the like. The community was also responsible for the registration of Jewish births. The community administration, the community council, was elected on democratic principles. Every citizen whose documents showed him to be a Jew was automatically a member of the community. Only by conversion to another religion or on proof that his document was invalid could anyone cease to be a member of the kehillah. The second communal congress, which opened in Kaunas on February 14, 1922, was attended by 130 delegates representing all the Jewish communities in the towns and small towns in Lithuania. One of the focal problems of the congress was the question of the Jewish educational system, especially in respect of the school curriculum and the right of the pupils’ parents to determine the ideological spirit of the school.

On the admission of Lithuania into the League of Nations, the Lithuanian government, in May 1922, signed a declaration that Lithuania would fulfill all obligations regarding her national minorities as formulated in the agreement concerning minority rights in the newly established states. On August 1, 1922, the Lithuanian Constituent Assembly accepted the constitution, which assured national rights to the larger national minorities in the country. The years 1919 to 1922 were the golden age of Jewish national autonomy in Lithuania when the political and citizenship rights of the Jews were recognized and confirmed. The end of 1922 and the start of 1923 saw the beginning of the erosion of Jewish autonomy.

The reactionary clerical groups then standing at the helm of state launched a campaign, at first covertly and later openly, against Jewish autonomy and Jewish interests in general. There were many reasons for this new course taken by the Lithuanians with respect to their Jewish fellow citizens. Once the Lithuanian Republic had found its feet, the Lithuanians no longer felt that they needed the help of Jews either at home or abroad. When the Constituent Assembly, in dealing with the draft constitution, removed the clauses relating to ministries for the affairs of the national minorities and the right of the minorities to use their mother tongue for public matters, the minister for Jewish affairs, M. Soloveichik, resigned from the cabinet. His portfolio was then held for a short time by Julius (Judah) Brutzkus.

On November. 20, 1923, the Jewish National Assembly opened in Kaunas, consisting of delegates elected by the Jewish population by democratic proportional voting. The composition of the newly elected National Council was: General Zionists 11; Mizrachi 10; Ze’irei Zion (Hitahadut) 6; Zionist-Socialist 5; Craftsmen 4; Po’alei Zion Left 2; Folkspartei 2. The Agudat Israel groups, in general, boycotted the elections. In dealing with the national budget for the year 1924, the Lithuanian parliament struck out the provisions for the Ministry of Jewish Affairs. In protest, Rosenbaum resigned from his portfolio in February 1924. The new cabinet, formed in April 1924, included no minister for Jewish affairs. The National Council continued in existence for a short time, but when it met for a special session on September 17, 1924, it was dispersed by the police and subsequently ceased to exist. The democratically organized kehillot were also later dissolved. The government passed a new law for the kehillot, depriving them of their Jewish-national content. The Jews then boycotted the elections to these kehillot, and they were not constituted. Later, as a result of the efforts of the Jewish parliamentary faction, two bodies were formed with limited functions: Ezra (for social aid) and Adass Yisroel (for religious needs). All that remained as remnants of autonomy were the Jewish people’s banks and the Hebrew-Yiddish school system.


The educational system set up in independent Lithuania was one of the most important achievements of Jewish national autonomy. Teachers in the Jewish elementary schools who had teaching certificates approved by the Ministry of Education received their salaries from state funds in common with non-Jewish teachers in the general state schools. The running expenses of the schools were met by city government institutions. The three school systems comprised Tarbut, which was Zionist-orientated; “Yiddishist” schools for the Socialist trend; and Yavneh, the religious traditional schools. The language of instruction was Hebrew in the Tarbut schools, Yiddish in the Yiddishist schools, and Hebrew, and to some extent Yiddish in the Yavneh schools. Each school system was supported by its own political-ideological groups. The Tarbut schools were in the front rank of Jewish schools in Lithuania. Because of the large number of its Hebrew schools of all grades, Lithuania acquired its reputation among Jews as the “second Eretz Israel.” There were 46 Tarbut elementary schools in 1922, 72 in 1924, and 84 in 1932. The Agudat Israel and Mizrachi groups confined their interest to the Yavneh schools. There were also hadarim, talmud torah institutions, and yeshivot. Apart from the celebrated yeshivot in Slobodka and in Telz, there were large yeshivot also in Panevezys (Ponovezh), Kelme (Kelmy), and other communities. The Culture League (Kultur-Lige), founded in 1919, also had its schools, where at first, the moderate Yiddishist elements were represented, but later the Communists set the tone. These schools ignored Hebrew and introduced the phonetic spelling of Yiddish. The Culture League was closed down by the government in 1924, and some of its institutions (elementary schools, evening schools, and libraries) were abolished. Those that survived had no formal central management. However, an illegal organization of Yiddishist schools was maintained in Kaunas. In 1926, the Folkspartei created a Jewish educational association, and some of the Yiddishist schools were under its supervision.

The number of Hebrew and Yiddish elementary schools in Lithuania reached 108 in 1936, having 13,607 pupils and 329 teachers. There were, in addition, Hebrew and Yiddish kindergartens. In the school year 1935/36, there were 60 secondary schools, of which 28 were state schools and 32 private schools. Among the latter, there were 14 Jewish secondary schools. Jewish pupils in Jewish and non-Jewish secondary schools amounted to 18.9% of the total school attendance. There were also Hebrew and Yiddish presecondary schools that provided the first four grades of the secondary school course. The Jewish secondary and pre-secondary schools had to be largely maintained by the parents; the Ministry of Education reduced its subsidy to the Jewish educational institutions year by year. The medium of instruction in the Hebrew secondary schools was Hebrew in all eight grades. There were two secondary schools giving instruction in Yiddish, the Vilkomir (Ukmerge) Reali School and the Kaunas Commercial School.

Kaunas University in 1922 had a student body of 1,168, including “free auditors” or occasional students, among them 368 Jews (31.5%). In 1935 the student body (including occasionals) numbered 3,334, among them 591 Jews (16.4%). A numerus clausus was unofficially introduced in the medical faculty in the course of time, and in 1936 not a single Jewish medical student gained admittance. Because of the difficulties facing Jews trying to qualify in law and the deterioration of prospects in the liberal professions generally, the proportion of Jewish students in the other faculties also fell sharply. Among the 411 professors, lecturers, and other members of the teaching staff of Kaunas University, there were no more than six Jews. The chair of Semitic studies was held by Hayyim Nachman Shapira.


During the democratic period of the independent Lithuanian republic (1919–26), there were four parliamentary elections. The constituent assembly (May 1920–November 1922) included six Jewish deputies, S. Rosenbaum, M. Soloveichik (both Zionists), N. Rachmilewitz, Rabbi A. Poppel (Ahdut, i.e., Agudat Israel), and N. Friedman and E. Finkelstein (both advocates and non-party democrats). N. Friedman was succeeded on his death by S. Landau. There was Jewish representation in parliamentary committees and in the praesidium, and the Jews played their part in drawing up the basic citizenship laws of the young Lithuanian state. Their main task, however, was to safeguard the interests of the Jewish national minority. The Jewish parliamentary faction maintained close contact with the Jewish National Council.

On the basis of the election results for the first parliament (which sat from November 1922 to March 1923), the Jews were entitled to six seats, but because of a deliberately false interpretation of the election law, only three Jewish seats were recognized. The same happened with the Polish representation. The Jewish and Polish deputies, together with the other opposition members, thereupon expressed “no confidence” in the newly established government. The first parliament was accordingly dissolved. In the elections for the second parliament (which sat from May 1923 to May 1926), the Jews and other national minorities formed a nationalities bloc, and seven Jewish deputies were elected: M. Wolf, J. Robinson, S. Rosenbaum, all Zionists; I. Brudny (Ze’irei-Zion, World Union), L. Garfunkel (d. 1976) (Ze’irei-Zion, Hitahadut), E. Finkelstein (Folkspartei), and Rabbi Joseph Kahaneman. For various reasons, there were subsequent changes in Jewish representation. The last democratically elected parliament lasted in all just over half a year, and the coup d’etat of December. 17, 1926, put an end to democracy in Lithuania. Power then fell into the hands of the extremist nationalists (Tautininkai), who introduced an authoritarian regime. The parliament was dissolved in April 1927, and a temporary constitution was promulgated in May 1928, abolishing the most important democratic principles of the previous constitution.

The social and economic contrasts existing between the Lithuanians and Jews influenced their relationship and aggravated antisemitism. Economic antisemitism found its most conspicuous expression in the organization of Lithuanian traders and workers known as the Verslininkai (“skilled workers”). The organization was formed in 1930, and its slogan was “Lithuania for Lithuanians.” Its attitude toward the Jews became increasingly aggressive, and although there were no pogroms in Lithuania as in Poland and Romania, anti-Semitic demonstrations occurred from time to time. The Jewish press played a great part in the struggle of the Jewish population for national political rights. Lithuanian Jewry, though small in number, published a number of newspapers and periodicals which helped to form Jewish public opinion both at home and abroad.

Soviet Rule in Lithuania, 1940–41

The U.S.S.R.-German Pact of August 23, 1939, brought Soviet dominance to the Baltic area. On Oct. 10, 1939, the U.S.S.R. and Lithuania concluded an agreement in Moscow for “the transfer of Vilna and the Vilna province to the Lithuanian Republic and mutual assistance between the Soviet Union and Lithuania,” which came into effect on the following day.

With the incorporation of Vilna, the Jewish community of Lithuania grew by about 100,000. Previously the 160,000 Lithuanian Jews constituted 7% of the population, but with the annexed portions, they totaled more than a quarter of a million, about 10% of the total population of the enlarged country. The number of Jewish refugees from Poland grew considerably (to 14,000–15,000) in the following months. About 10,000 stayed in Vilna, and the rest in Kovno (Kaunas) and other places. About 5,000 refugees managed to emigrate from Lithuania. The Lithuanian Jews made every effort to assist refugees.

On June 15, 1940, Soviet troops crossed the Lithuanian border, and a “people’s government” was established on June 17, which included two Jews, L. Kogan, minister of health, and H. Alperovitch, minister of commerce. On July 14, “elections” to the People’s Sejm (“parliament”) took place. Five Jews were among the deputies elected. On August 3, the Supreme Soviet acceded to the Sejm’s “request” to become the 16th Soviet Republic. Shortly afterward, the provisional Lithuanian government was replaced by a soviet of people’s commissars. All industrial and commercial enterprises, private capital, and larger dwelling houses were nationalized, and a new agrarian reform was carried out. All social groups and organizations, general as well as Jewish, had to cease their activities, with the exception of those belonging to the Communists (who had been illegal until the Russian invasion), and the press (again excepting the Communist newspapers) was closed down. A wave of arrests swept over the country.

At the same time, a considerable number of Soviet officials entered Lithuania. Many of the former owners of the nationalized houses, firms, and factories were forced to settle in the provinces. The effect of the introduction of Soviet rule on the Jewish population was particularly strong. The new Communist regime was in urgent need of experience and abilities possessed by the Jewish intelligentsia, so Jews were given prominent positions in the economic, legal, and administrative apparatus. At the same time, although the nationalization of all important branches of the economy applied equally to all citizens, irrespective of their ethnic origin, large segments of the Jewish population were affected with special harshness. A total of 986 industrial enterprises were nationalized, of which about 560 (57%) belonged to Jews; of 1,593 commercial firms nationalized, no less than 1,320 (83%) were owned by Jews. Jews were also strongly hit by the nationalization of houses and bank accounts.

The phase before the German attack on Lithuania was marked by deportations to Siberia. In the spring of 1941, the Soviet security services compiled lists of “counter-revolutionary elements” and submitted secret reports on those listed, which also included Jews in the following categories: leaders and journalists of various Zionist political groups; leaders of the Bund and Bundist journalists; leaders of Jewish military and “fascist” formations – e.g., of the Jewish veterans of Lithuania’s war of independence, of the Jewish war veterans, of Betar, the Revisionists, and their affiliated bodies.

In mid-June 1941, one week before the German-Soviet war, many people, including Jews, were hastily deported as politically unreliable to Siberia and other parts of Soviet Asia. They were interned in forced labor camps and set to work in coal mines, wood cutting, and other heavy labor. Some of those deported were tried for “crimes” committed prior to the Soviet occupation. Although large numbers of Jews were also among the deportees, Lithuanian anti-Semites alleged that the deportations were the result of Jewish revenge on the local non-Jewish majority, carried out by “Jewish” security officers in charge of the deportations.

German Occupation, 1941–44

The entire country was occupied by the Germans within one week, so that only a handful of Jews managed to escape into the Soviet interior. Lithuania, called Generalbezirk Litauen, was included in the administrative province of the Reichs Kommissariat Ostland, which also included the other Baltic republics, Estonia, Latvia, and Belorussia. Hinrich Lohse was appointed Reich Commissar of Ostland, with headquarters in Riga. The Generalbezirk consisted of three districts: the Šiauliai (Shavli) district, the Kaunas (Kovno) district, and the Vilna district. Adrian von Renteln, the commissioner general for Lithuania, had his seat in Kaunas (called Kauen by the Nazis). The Germans also established a local administration composed of pro-Hitler elements. Lithuanian “councilors general” (a sort of minister) were appointed, headed by Petras Kubiliūnas, a former general in the Lithuanian army.

On Aug. 13, 1941, Lohse issued secret “provisional regulations” to the general commissioners of Ostland specifying how to deal with Jews pending the application of the “final solution“ of the “Jewish question“ in Ostland. These orders applied to all the Jews in Ostland – former citizens of Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Baltic states, and other parts of the Soviet Union. There were special instructions for the treatment of foreign Jews and persons of mixed parentage. The commissioners general were required to register all the Jews under their regional jurisdiction and to issue compulsory orders to them to wear two yellow badges (one on the chest and one on the back). Jews were prohibited from moving from their house or place of residence without permission from the district or city commissioner; using the sidewalks; using public transportation; residing in spas; visiting parks and playgrounds, theaters, cinemas, libraries, museums, or schools; owning cars or radios. Ritual slaughter was also prohibited.

Jewish doctors were permitted to treat only Jewish patients; pharmacies owned by Jews were turned over to Aryan pharmacists; Jews were not permitted to function as veterinarians, lawyers, notaries, bank officials, or commercial agents, nor could they deal in real estate or freight forwarding. All Jewish property was confiscated. Persons holding Jewish property had to report to the German administration, which dealt with its confiscation. Only the bare necessities of furniture, clothing, and linen were left in Jewish possession, and an allowance of no more than 20 pfennig (about $0.05) per day per person was permitted to the Jews.

Finally, the regulations provided for the concentration of the Jews in ghettos, where food and other necessities were supplied to them only insofar as no shortage resulted for supplying the general population. Inside the ghettos, the Jews were permitted “autonomy” in their affairs, subject to the supervision of the regional commissioner, and had their own Ordnungsdienst (“police force”). The ghettos were sealed off from the outside world and put under the guard of auxiliary police recruited from among the local population. Able-bodied Jews were put on forced labor inside or outside the ghetto. Private persons or enterprises utilizing Jews in forced labor paid the regional commissioner directly. The commissars general were authorized to issue orders based on these regulations.


The Einsatzgruppen (Action Units) played a major role in the destruction of the Jews in the occupied eastern territories, including Lithuania. Einsatzgruppe A was attached to the Northern German army and operated in the Baltic states and the Leningrad area. Details of the murder of the Jews in Lithuania are contained in some of the 195 Einsatzgruppen reports regularly submitted to the RSHA (Reichssicherheitshauptamt) in Berlin from the end of June 1941 to April 24, 1942. The following is an extract of these reports:

…a detachment of Einsatzkommando 3, assisted by a Lithuanian Kommando, has carried out actions in the following towns: Raseiniai, Rokiskis, Zarasai, Birzai, and Prienai. These executions bring the total number to date of persons liquidated by Einsatzkommando 3 (with the assistance of Lithuanian partisans) to 46,692… (Report No. 88, Sept. 19, 1941).

Important data on the extermination of Lithuanian Jewry is contained in a report by SS-Brigadefuehrer Stahlecker, commander of Einsatzgruppe A. The report, covering the activities of his group on the northern Russian front and in the occupied Baltic states, dates from the beginning of the war against Russia until Oct. 15, 1941. On June 23, 1941, Einsatzgruppe A joined the German forces on the northern Russian front. By June 25, Stahlecker, with a detachment of the Einsatzgruppe, reached Kovno, which was taken by the Germans the previous day. The following is an extract from his report:

…In the very first hours after the entry of German troops, local antisemitic forces were organized, despite the considerable difficulties involved, to carry out pogroms against the Jews. The security police received appropriate orders and were, in fact, prepared to solve the Jewish problem by all available means and with the utmost severity. It seemed desirable, however, that at least in the beginning, the extraordinarily harsh means [to be employed] should not be recognized for what they were, for that would have caused concern even in German circles. On the surface, the impression had to be created that it was the local population that had initiated the anti-Jewish measures as a spontaneous reaction to their oppression by the Jews for many years and to the Communist terror to which they had been exposed in the recent past.

…Partisan groups formed in Lithuania and established immediate contact with the German troops taking over the city. Unreliable elements among the partisans were weeded out, and an auxiliary unit of 300 men was formed under the command of Klimaitis, a Lithuanian journalist. As the pacification program progressed, this partisan group extended its activities from Kovno to other parts of Lithuania. The group very meticulously fulfilled its tasks, especially in the preparation and carrying out of large-scale liquidations.

…As the Baltic population had suffered from the Jews and the Communists during the Bolshevik occupation, it was to be expected that they would take their own measures against those of their [Jewish and Communist] enemies remaining in their midst. It was the task of the German security police to ensure the speedy completion of this goal. Furthermore, evidence had to be created in order to prove, at a later stage, that it was the local population that had squared their own accounts with the Jews and the Communists. The orders given by the German sources had to be concealed…
In Lithuania, the initiative was taken by the Lithuanian partisans. On the night of June 25–26, the partisans in Kovno, under the command of Klimaitis, staged a pogrom in which 1,500 Jews were killed. Several synagogues were burned down or otherwise destroyed, and a Jewish neighborhood of 60 houses went up in flames. The next night, an additional 2,300 Jews were rendered harmless in the same manner. Kovno has served as a model for similar actions in other parts of Lithuania…
…Pogroms, however, could not provide a complete solution to the Jewish problem in Ostland. Large-scale executions have therefore been carried out all over the country, in which the local auxiliary police was also used; they cooperated without a hitch….
…Simultaneously with the executions, ghettos had to be established. There were 30,000 Jews in Kovno. After the first pogroms and killings, a Jewish committee was formed, mainly to organize the transfer to the ghetto… In the establishment of the ghettos, the security police were in charge of police matters, while the newly established ghetto administration [the Judenrat] was responsible for the provision of forced labor, food supplies, etc.

Appendix No. 8 of Stahlecker’s report is contained in Table 3: Jews Killed in Lithuania, giving the number killed by Einsatzgruppe A in Lithuania (up to the end of October 1941).

Table 3. Number of Jews Killed by Einsatzgruppe A in Lithuania (Up to the End of Oct. 1941)





Kaunas (Kovno) (and vicinity)




Siauliai (and vicinity)




Vilna (and vicinity)




Grand Total





A map drawn up by Einsatzgruppe A to show the number of Jews killed in the Baltic states up to the end of December 1941 indicates that 136,421 Jews were murdered by that date in Lithuania (excluding Vilna), with 16,000 Jews remaining in the Kovno ghetto and 4,500 in the Šiauliai ghetto. A comparison< of these figures with the Stahlecker report reveals that in this area alone, 56,110 Jews were killed in the last two months of 1941.


Most of the Jewish communities in the provinces were totally destroyed in the period from August to September 1941. Many communities were wiped out by sudden attacks, and not a single person survived to tell the story of their martyrdom. The sparse material available conspicuously points to the active participation of Lithuanians from all walks of life, side by side with the Germans in the slaughter. Most of the Lithuanians who took part in the murder of Jews fled to Germany in the summer of 1944 when the Soviet army liberated Lithuania. After the war, they were classified as Displaced Persons and were aided as Nazi victims.

At the first conference of liberated Lithuanian Jews in Germany, held in Munich in April 1947, a resolution was adopted on the “Guilt of the Lithuanian People in the Extermination of Lithuanian Jewry.”


There were among the Lithuanians a few individuals who, in the face of the Nazis, extended a helping hand to the Jews, despite the mortal danger to which they thus exposed themselves. In Kovno, those who helped the Jews included E. Kutorgienė, P. Mažylis, the writer Sofija Čiurlionienė, the priest Paukštys, the nun Ona Brokaitytė, and the opera singer Kipras Petrauskas. In Vilna, Ona Simaitė was of the greatest help, while in Siauliai, the daughter of the lawyer Venclauskas, the poet Jankus, the priest Lapis, and former mayor Saneckis were among those who distinguished themselves in aiding the Jews.

War Crimes Trials

On December 20, 1944, the Soviet press published the “Declaration of the Special Government Commission Charged with the Inquiry into Crimes Committed by the German-Fascist Aggressors in the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.” This lengthy document also includes a report on the mass murders committed at Ponary, near Vilna, and at the Ninth Fort near Kovno. In its final chapter, the declaration lists a substantial number of Nazi war criminals responsible for the murders carried out in Lithuania during the German occupation. The list includes Von Renteln, commissioner general for Lithuania; Wysocki, chief of police in Lithuania; Fuchs, chief of the security police and the SD; Ditfurt, commandant of Vilna; Weiss, chief of the Vilna prisons; Kramer, city commissioner for Kovno; Lentzen, Kovno regional commissioner; Gewecke, Šiauliai regional commissioner; Buenger, Gestapo chief in Kovno; Goecke, commandant of the Kovno concentration camp (formed of remnants of the ghetto; in the fall of 1943 the Kovno ghetto was turned into a concentration camp). Lithuanians who collaborated with the occupying power are not listed at all.

In addition to the major Nazi war criminals who were tried by the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg and the Einsatzgruppen commanders tried by the U.S. Military Court at Nuremberg (case no. 9), a number of Nazi criminals who had had a hand in the destruction of Lithuanian Jewry were tried by the U.S. Military Courts at Dachau and elsewhere. After the war, some trials also took place in Soviet Lithuania. On the whole, however, only a small number of the criminals were brought to account, as most of them succeeded in evading trial. Notable among the trials was the trial at Ulm, Germany (April 28–September 1958) against a group of Einsatzgruppen who, in 1941, murdered 5,500 Jews in various places near the German border. The accused were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment.


Lithuania was liberated by the Soviet army in the summer of 1944 (Vilna on July 13, Šiauliai on July 27, Kovno on August 1). The Jewish survivors consisted of several hundred Jewish partisan fighters and a few families and children who had been hidden by gentiles. Jewish refugees who, at the beginning of the war, escaped to Soviet Asia also began to make their way back.

At the beginning of 1945, when Soviet troops liberated the Stutthof concentration camp, several hundred Jewish women from Lithuania were listed among the survivors, and when Dachau was liberated by the Americans, some Lithuanian Jewish men were found alive there. Both the women and the men had been deported from Lithuania in the summer of 1944, 80 of whom found their deaths in German concentration camps.

OF the 220,000 Jews who lived under Nazi occupation, only about 8,000 survived. Most were from the larger communities, such as Vilna, Kovno, and Shavli where they had been kept alive in ghettos to do forced labor.

Some of the survivors returned to Lithuania, but the majority stayed in the Displaced Persons (DP) camps established after the war in Germany, Austria, and Italy. Later, they were joined by other Lithuanian Jews who had escaped from Soviet Lithuania via the Jewish underground escape route (see Berihah). When the DP camps were dissolved, the Lithuanian Jews settled in Israel, the United States, and other countries overseas together with other Jewish DPs.

After the War

The 1959 Soviet census report indicated the Jewish population of Lithuania at 24,672 (11,478 men and 13,194 women), constituting less than 1% of the total population (2,880,000). Of these, 16,354 Jews lived in Vilna, 4,792 in Kovno, and the rest in other urban areas. At the time the census was taken, 17,025 declared Yiddish as their native tongue (the highest percentage in all the areas where the census was taken), 6,912 Russian, 640 Lithuanian, and 95 specified other languages.

In the academic year 1960/61, there were 413 Jewish students at institutions of higher learning (1.67% of the total Jewish population of Lithuania). Lithuania was one of the centers from which pressure came to establish a revival of Jewish cultural life after the war. The Soviet authorities eventually agreed to establish an amateur Yiddish theater group there.

For details on Jewish life in the postwar period, see Vilna, Kaunas.

[Joseph Gar]

Later Developments

Lithuania seceded from the U.S.S.R. in August 1991. In 1979, the republic’s Jewish population was recorded at 14,700, and in 1989 as 12,400. In 1988-89, the Jewish birthrate was 7.5 per 1,000, and the mortality rate was 17.8 per 1,000.

In 1989, 780 Jews (743 of them from the capital Vilnius (Vilna)) emigrated. Immigration to Israel amounted to 2,962 (2,355 from Vilnius) in 1990 and to 1,103 in 1991.

There was no state anti-Semitism in Lithuania. In 1990, Emanuel Zingeris, an activist of the Lithuanian national front Sajudis and now co-chairman of the Jewish Culture Association of Lithuania, was elected as a deputy to the Supreme Soviet of Lithuania. The other co-chairman was Lithuanian-Jewish writer Grigorii Kanovich (who writes in Russian but whose basic theme is Jewish life, particularly of the past, in his region).

A Jewish museum has been opened in Vilnius and a monthly newspaper, Litovskii Ierusalim (“Jerusalem of Lithuania”), appears in Yiddish, Russian, Lithuanian, and English. September 23, the day the Vilna ghetto was destroyed, has been set aside to commemorate the mass murder of the Jews of Lithuania. A memorial complex, where annual public meetings are held, has been built at the site of mass executions at Ponary. A Jewish guide to Vilnius has been published. In November 1991, a Council of Jewish Communities of Lithuania was established. Due to the small number of Jews remaining in the country, the majority of the numerous Jewish organizations registered in Lithuania have no more than a few members and scarcely function, and according to one local activist, “There are no Jews, there are just Jewish representatives.”

On June 1, 1992, an air route was opened between Vilnius and Israel.

[Michael Beizer]

In March 1993, a presentation of the Judaica Center of the Vilnius University took place. The event was attended by Prof. Israel Gutman from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Prof. Yitzhak Warszawski from the Sorbonne, and Rabbi Rene Sirat from Paris.

There were three Jewish periodicals in Lithuania in 1993, all published in Vilnius, including “Jerusalem of Lithuania,” which continued to appear; its editor was Grigorijus Smoliakovas.

The Holocaust memorial in Paneriai (Ponary) near Vilnius was vandalized in 1993. Jewish cemeteries were desecrated in Vilnius and Kaunas. A number of anti-Semitic articles appeared in the Lithuanian press. A common topic in such publications has been the theory of “dual Holocaust”; according to it, Jews are as equally responsible for the deportation of Lithuanians to Siberia in 1940–early 1941, as are Lithuanians for the massacre of Jews in 1941–43. Anti-Semitism, with accompanying vandalism, remained a constant factor in Lithuania into the 21st century.

By 1993, there were an estimated 6,000 Jews in Lithuania, with some 900 leaving for Israel in 1992–93. (See also *Latvia.) Today, approximately 2,400 Jews remain. Efforts were being made to strengthen the Jewish community structure, with Chabad and other parties active.

[Daniel Romanowski (2nd ed.)]

In August 2020, Lithuania banned affiliates of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah from entering its territory.


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Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
Cnaan Liphshiz, “Lithuania bans Hezbollah-affiliated persons from entering its territory,” JTA, (August 14, 2020).
Efraim Zuroff, “The Slaughter of Lithuanian Jews,” Jerusalem Report, (June 26, 2023).