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2016-10-11 Back to list

The Synagogues of Kaunas

As Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism, starts on the evening of October 11th, we decided to talk a little bit about the history of synagogues in Kaunas.

Before the holocaust, there were more than 35 Jewish houses of prayer in our city; the first known was demolished in 1716 but soon rebuilt. The number of the synagogues can be easily explained by the fact that, for example, in 1897, more than 25 thousand Jewish people lived in Kaunas; that was 35% of the total population (71 thousand). In 2011, around 300 Jewish people lived in Kaunas.

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The Choral Synagogue; Photo from litvakworld.com

The Choral Synagogue (E. Ožeškienės st. 13) is right now the only functioning synagogue in Kaunas. The construction of the synagogue was funded by a local first-guild merchant Lewin Boruch Minkowski (a street in Aleksotas is named after his two sons, Oskar Minkowski and Hermann Minkowski) in 1871. The building of Baroque Revival style was completed in 1872. 

The altar of the synagogue is, as claimed by numerous visitors, one of the most beautiful in the entire Jewish world. A memorial to the estimated 50,000 Litvak children killed during the Holocaust can be found at the rear of the building. You can visit an exposition of rabbi portraits on the second floor of the synagogue. Concerts are sometimes held in the synagogue, too. 

Screen Shot 2016 10 10 at 15.42.46The Choral Synagogue; Photo by Katy AM/Wikipedia Commons

What is the fate of the rest of the synagogues, you ask? The stories are quite different. None of the wooden synagogues have survived until today. Some of the brick buildings can still be visited, at least from the outside. 

In September’2016, a project called ‘The Kaunas Requiem’ took part in an abandoned New Šančiai Synagogue (Sodų g. 36) built in 1929. A plan to turn it into a community center has been announced but is not yet concrete (read our interview with the initiator of the project, Richard Schofield, here). 

14212075 1635776106712501 3395769297937038120 nNew Šančiai Synagogue; Photo by International Centre for Litvak Photography

The Žaliakalnis Synagogue (Vaisių st. 30) was converted into a loft-style photography studio a few years ago and can be visited upon request.  

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The Sinagoga Studio 

‘The Butchers Synagogue’ on M. Daukšos st. 27 is now the ceramics and textile workshop of Vilnius Art Academy Kaunas Art Faculty. The Hasidic Synagogue on Gimnazijos st. 6 was also owned by Vilnius Art Academy once, but the building is now abandoned.  

800px Sinagoga Dauksos 27 A

The Butchers Synagogue; Photo by Wikimedia Commons

The Neviazh Kloyz (L. Zamenhofo st. 7), built in 1850, was converted into a restaurant and a museum during the Soviet occupation. It was later renovated and is now functioning as a conference hall and an institute. In a synagogue on Birštono st. 14, there’s now an an auto repair shop. A yoga studio can be found in a synagogue on Gedimino st. 26B. The Kaunas District Archives are also located in a synagogue - the address is Maironio st. 28A.

The Jewish heritage in Kaunas, of course, needs a lot more time and space in order to be presented orderly. We'll definitely get back to it in our blog. For now, G'mar Hatima Tova! 

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