National Vilnius Gaon Jewish Museum

The National  Vilnius Gaon  Jewish Museum is an institution which cherishes Jewish culture and history in Lithuania for a long time already. It includes several subdivisions, working now of which are the Holocaust exposition in Vilnius, the Memorial Paneriai Museum and two centers of Tolerance in Vilnius. Visitors there are able to get acquainted with the tough history and cultural aspects of Jewish nation.

The first Jewish museum was established in 1913 in Vilnius by a group of Jewish history dabblers. However, the museum then worked only until the First World War. It was regenerated in 1919. After Poland annexed Vilnius the association of Jewish history and ethnography moved to Kaunas. It established a very similar Jewish museum in 1931 in Kaunas where more than 3000 exhibits, 6000 books and more than 100000 documents were exposed there already before the Second World War broke up.

In 1925 a Jewish Theatre museum was established in Vilnius in Jewish Education Institute. Development of cultural and educational expansion was stopped by Soviets in 1940. Despite repressions, institutions were trying not to give up and continued the cultural and creative works. The hardest times for the museum as well as for all Jewish nation was the Second World War. Jewish intelligentsia was working on Jewish culture and history preservation even in terrible living conditions in ghettos where the Atmosphere was always filled with death menace. In 1941 Nazis started destroying Jewish cultural heritage, but the so called “twenty” – 20 prisoners of Vilnius ghetto – were trying to save as much relicts as it was possible besides they were appointed to help for destroyers. When in 1944 Nazis were expelled from Vilnius, the only one Jewish museum was In Soviet Union was regenerated in Vilnius. The museum became kind of information center for Jews from all over the Soviet Union.  Hundreds of letters questioning for relatives and friends who may have survived the genocide reached the Museum every day. The museum then was dedicated to save the Jewish heritage, to collect historical information and to organize expositions. However, in 1949 the Museum was liquidated and reorganized into museum matching Soviet standards. The exhibits were scattered among various institutions then. Only 50 years later the Jewish Museum was re-established in Vilnius which was named the National Vilnius Gaon Jewish Museum.

Nowadays the National Vilnius Gaon Jewish Museum implements the mission to spread the tolerance in society, save cultural valuables of Jewish nation and to remember the historical facts. In tolerance centers in Vilnius there are an exhibitions displayed showing the talented potential of Jewish nation destroyed by Nazis, many art works of Jewish painters, stands telling the main historical facts of Jewish nation. In the Holocaust exposition visitors are able to see the exhibition called “Catastrophe” . Paneriai Memorial Museum is located in the place where mass massacres of Jewish nation were held. The authentic atmosphere, many photos, documents and relicts of those terrible events create the horrible unit of past. Visitors are able not only to see the exhibitions, but also to look around the authentic places where Jewry was killed and where their bodies were burnt.

It is well known that Jewry is a very talented, clever and rational nation. However,  it suffered the  brutal destruction by Nazis. Visiting some of National Vilnius Gaon Museum subdivisions  would be a very informative, but sad experience.