Historical Jewish quarter in Balbieriškis


If you want to escape from traditional Jewish routes and discover the alternative side of Litvak heritage – Balbieriškis is an excellent choice. It might be that you will be the lone tourist in this small town, and you will have an opportunity to you can discover the town’s Jewish past without any distractions.

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Jews settled in Balbieriškis at the beginning of the 18th century, when local dean Stanislaw Piotrowski, for the amount of 30 złotys, leased the local inn, as well as the rights to sell and produce alcohol. At that time, Balbieriškis was known for its weekly markets, a place where local traders would gather to sell their goods. It is known that as early as 1740, the Jewish community already had a synagogue. It is not surprising, as it is known that in the middle of the 18th-century community already had 500 members, and this growth continued into the 19th century, as in the 1850s about 1240 Jews lived in Balbieriškis, which consisted about 70 percent of the town’s total population. 

Jewish businessmen from Balbieriškis were well known. Notkus Kaganas owned the largest leather factory in all Suvalkija region, while Jovelis Gurvičius had a distillery.  What is unique is that the Jews of Balbieriškis, during the interwar years, engaged in farming, just as their Lithuanian neighbors. Their children, after graduating from Tarbur primary school, attended the same public school with Lithuanian kids. That shows that the relationship between the Jews and Lithuanians existed, and it testifies that Jews and Lithuanians had an opportunity to learn about each other.


On Vilnius street, about 20 shops from 25 belonged to the local Jews. Few buildings survived the fire of 1944, and now they remind us about the town’s  Jewish past. Gotlibas and Zingeris shops were on Vilnius street, as well as Lyberis’ wool carder, Eižikas Leibovičius’ house, and photographers’ Chaja’s house.

Once in former S. Nėries street, two wooden synagogues stood and in 1937, the construction of the brick synagogue had started. Luckily, this synagogue survived, however, during the Soviet times, the building was heavily reconstructed and was used as a cultural house, agricultural office, savings bank, and now the former building of the synagogue is completely abandoned. 

On the outskirts of the town, you can find the territory of the old Jewish cemetery. After World War 2, most macevas were taken from the cemetery and used as a building material, later this territory was used as a pasture for cows. In 1990, after Lithuania restored its independence, the cemetery was fenced and the memorial plaque was placed on the cemetery gates.


Historical Jewish Quarter in Prienai

Historical Jewish Quarter in Birštonas

Historical Jewish Quarter in Alytus

Synagogue of Alytus (Kauno str. 6, Alytus)

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  • Dorothy J. Rose
    2021-03-04 at 10:52 pm  -  Reply

    Is there any information about a Wilansky family? Auguste Wilansky(1833-) sent his two sons Heshel and Hyman(1861-1943) to Germany around 1880 where they worked as watchmaker/jewelers. I don’t know if Auguste was a watchmaker/jeweler or if that was possible. Information about “artisans” is vague. Hyman marries(1885) a German woman, Sara Baer, and is recruited by the Elgin Watch Company from Chicago, Illinois, USA.(1887). Was it likely that this marriage was arranged before Hyman went to Germany? Hyman seemed fairly well educated and lists his birthplace as Balbieriskis, Kovno, Lithuania on two documents. Where would I go to find more information about daily life Balbieriskis in that era?

  • Scott Hagensee
    2022-03-02 at 6:32 pm  -  Reply

    Hello, my name is Scott Hagensee.
    I live in Portland, Oregon and I grew up in Chicago,Illinois.
    My great-grandmother was born in Balbieriskis,Lithuania.
    Her name was Marijona Abramovich.
    I have a great deal of history about my great-grandfather, but absolutely nothing about my great-grandmother..
    One of my cousins journeyed to Lithuania and worked with an archivist in Vilnius. She only exists as a “possibility” to them.
    I don’t have much faith in Vilnius archives.
    I come up a small percentage European Jewish in my DNA list.
    Could she be one of the 70% Jewish?
    My Lithuanian family is no help.
    Thanks, Scott

  • Sage Marmet
    2022-03-04 at 8:01 am  -  Reply

    I see that you mentioned Jovelis Gurvičius as a distillery owner in this post. I am a direct descendant of him, and I am wondering where you found this information about him and what other information you may have. Thank you.

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