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Small Ghetto

Vilnius, Lithuania

These streets were included in the medieval Jewish quarter, which was west of Didžioji Street, and reached as far as Dominikonų and Vokiečių Streets. During World War II the so-call Small Jewish Ghetto operated there for a short time (Stiklių, Gaono, Antokolskio, Žydų Streets), where about 11-12 thousand people lived, mostly intellectuals, unskilled workers and people unable to work. The Small Ghetto survived until the year 1941.

The Great Synagogue was built in Žydų Street (did not survive) which housed about 3–5 thousand praying people and was protected by 18 Torah rolls. Next to it there was the Gaon House of Worship, a famous library of Strašūnas and other buildings of the Synagogue courtyard for religious purposes. The Soviet occupation destroyed all that completely.

Today a kindergarten stands in place of the Great Synagogue, next to it a monument to Gaon is built, in the place where his house used to stand. Narrow and winding streets with transverse arcades have retained their original appearance; some ancient architecture has survived or been restored: first of all houses in Stiklių and Gaon Streets.

The Big Ghetto of Vilnius existed from 6 September 1941 to 23 September 1943 (Lydos, Rūdninkų, Mėsinių, Ašmenos, Žemaitijos, Dysnos, Šiaulių,Ligoninės Streets). There were around 29,000 Jews in the Big Ghetto; most of them were killed in Paneriai. Rūdnininkų St. 18 marks the place of the main entrance into the Big Ghetto; this is indicated in a memorial plaque bearing the plan of the ghetto. The quarter between Ašmenos, Dysnos and Mėsinių Streets is the first quarter of historical Vilnius to be under reconstruction. At present, the Jewish Culture and Information Centre is operating here. Between 1921 and 1951, the present Žemaitijos Street was named after M. Strashun. The books collected by Matityahu Strashun laid the basis for the largest Judaism library in Europe, which was established in Vilnius in 1892. The library itself was destroyed together with the Great Synagogue. Following the restoration of Lithuania’s independence, the day of elimination of the Big Ghetto of Vilnius (23 September) was declared the Day of the Jewish Genocide in Lithuania.

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