A sculpture of doctor Zemach Shabad in Vilnius


There is a visually attractive sculpture of doctor and Vilnius society figure of the first half of the 20th century, Zemach Shabad, in Mėsinių street in Vilnius. It is a meaningful initiative both in an artistic and ideological way. Visualization of the doctor, who takes care of a girl and her little kitty, reflects the story, that Zemach Shabad was an inspiration to a well-known fictional character – doctor, who helped all the animals (written in 1925 by K. Chukovski). And the localization of this sculpture in the hear of Vilnius Oldtown, where he also lived for a while, give a sense due to his devotion and love to this city.

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Zemach Shabad was born on the 5th of February in 1864, in Vilnius. He spent almost all his life in his hometown, but he changed his living places constantly –  he lived in the current streets of Pylimo, J. Basanavičiaus (Pohulanka), Domininkonų and Gediminas avenue. Zemach grew up in a family of a tradesman and went to Vilnius Jewish gymnasium. In 1881 he went to study medicine in Moscow. This short period of his studies and practice after them, as well as his forced exile for participating in the revolutionary events of 1905, were the only episodes in Zemach Shabad life, where the cultural and political landscapes of Vilnius were not the dominant ones.

Multiperspective work in the society was an ordinary phenomenon of the doctors of the 19th-20th centuries, but it in no way diminishes what Zemach Shabad did for the improvement of Vilnius citizens’ lives. The most intensive period of his activities in Vilnius started in 1912 when he began his work in Vilnius Jewish hospital.  However, it was by far not his only activity. He established a Vilnius department of Jewish health organization (OZE), which became essential to Jewish life in interwar Vilnius: it organized health education and charity related to health matters of the local Jewish community. They established a Jewish orphanage, dispensary for school children and health-improving institutions for the smaller children, they supported schools` cafeterias and appointed school doctors as well. These were essential changes in the healthcare system in Vilnius. Also, while working in Vilnius Jewish hospital Zemach Shabad initiated the opening of the first X-ray cabinet in this hospital – he did significant research on tuberculosis and developed its treatments in the region.

Next to his medical practice and work in society Zemach Shabad was also a politically active person. From 1919 until his death in 1935 he was a member of Vilnius city council and for a quick minute, he was also an official leader of Vilnius Jewish community. He belonged to the local Jewish “Folks” party and was a great enthusiast of using the Yiddish language in all spheres of life. That is one of the reasons why Zemach Shabad was one of the first supporters of establishing YIVO – a Yiddish research institute – in Vilnius, in 1925. He helped his son-in-law Max Weinreich with the first steps of establishing the institution and finding supporters. Although he apparently did not have time to participate in YIVO activities as well, Z. Shabad made his contribution to the improvement of medical terminology in Yiddish.

At the beginning of 1935, Zemach Shabad died unexpectedly from a blood infection, which was a consequence of the injured leg.  His sudden death shook Vilnius citizens – his funeral procession was attended by more than 30 thousand people. He was first buried in Jewish cemetery in Užupis, but when this cemetery has been demolished his tombstone and remains were transferred to the new Jewish cemetery on Sudervė road. This cemetery is open and that is where one can visit the grave of Zemach Shabad.


Zemach Shabad, who was considered by historian Simon Dubnov a patriarch of Jewish culture in Vilnius, was honored with his sculpture in the city for the first time already in 1936. Sculptor S. Šmurla created a monument for him right after his death in the yard of children`s dispensary in Vilnius, which was established and curated by Z. Shabad. There was a short note engraved in Yiddish next to the sculpture – „Zemach Shabad. The Great children friend”. During the later Nazi occupation, this monument was demolished, but due to the personal initiative of the Polish yard`s keeper, a part of his bust was saved and passed on the Vilnius Jewish museum after the war. Now, this part of the previous sculpture belongs to the Vilna Gaon museum of Jewish history in Vilnius. The second sculpture of Zemach Shabad was erected in Vilnius already in independent Lithuania – in 2007 on the crossroads of Mėsinių and Ašmenos streets. This is a work by sculptor Romualdas Kvintas, where he represents Zemach Shabad with a girl and a kitty. There are more places related to the memory of Zemach Shabad in Vilnius – in 2014 next to the previous Mishmeres Khoilym Jewish hospital on Kaunas street (now – Mykolas Marcinkevičius hospital, Kauno str. 7/2), where Zemach Shabad worked for a while, the memorial plaque to his work has been presented.


Historical Jewish quarter, 54.679532, 25.285090

Jewish street, 54.679532, 25.285090

The place of the Great Synagogue and shulhof (jid. shulhoyf) (Žydų g. 3), 54.679901, 25.284511

The mausoleum of Vilna Gaon and his family (Jewish cemetery, Sudervė road, 28), 54.712898, 25.234477

A sculpture to Vilna Gaon (Žydų g. 3), 54.680137, 25.285079

Choral synagogue Taharat ha–Kodesh (Pylimo g. 39), 54.676070, 25.281575

Užupis synagogue (Užupio g. 36), 54.681471, 25.298633

Pohulanka (dab. J. Basanavičiaus gatvė), 54.680145, 25.276134

A sculpture of young boy as Romain Gary (sculpt. Romualdas Kvintas) (J. Basanavičius g. 14a.), 54.680145, 25.276134

The place of YIVO institute and its memorial plague (Vivulskio g. 18), 54.678840, 25.265085;

The place of old Jewish cemetery in Šnipiškės (Olimpiečių g. 1a), 54.690243, 25.291117

Jewish cemetery in Užupis (Olandų g. 22), 54.688106, 25.307748

The printing house of widow Rom and Rom brothers (A. Strazdelio g. 3), 54.675534, 25.292128

The writings in Žemaitija street (Žemaitijos g. 9, 54.677785, 25.281711) and in Saint Steponas street (Šv. Stepono g. 5, 54.674636, 25.281765)

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