Historical Jewish Quarters in Zarasai


Zarasai was a birth place of a world-famous painter Jehuda Pen, who was born in the 19th century, studied painting in Saint Petersburg and  later established an art school in Vitebsk. This art school was a first artistic home for many famous artists at the beginning of their paths, one of them being world-famous modern painter and graphic artist Marc Shagal. J. Pen was his first painting teacher. The great work of Jehuda Pen and its students is constantly celebrated in Zarasai with exhibitions of their works, which make this town in Eastern Lithuania an oasis of both lakes and modern art.


In the 1890s there were about 3000 Jews in Zarasai, it constituted approximately half of all town`s inhabitants. About one third of Zarasai Jews worked the land and the rest of them were tradesmen and craftsmen. During the interwar period a majority of town`s surroundings went away to Poland (after it adhered Vilnius region), and that meant losses for the local economy. Two thirds of Jews were migrating to the bigger industrial cities, but those who left successfully developed their businesses further. In the 1930s Zarasai, in the city center there were 95 local Jewish craftsmen and 40 out of 50 local shops belonged to Jews as well. It is worth mentioning a local printing house, where during the interwar period local weekly newspaper “Zarasų kraštas” (en. “Region of Zarasai”) was being published, a professional photo-atelier owned by M. Botvinikas, where one could buy the first radio sets in Zarasai and also the attraction for the interwar citizens of Zarasai – carbonated water workshop owned by  A. Pitelis.


In the 19th century Zarasai there was a spitzol, mikveh and wooden synagogue, which last mural version built in 1860 is extant to this day and known to locals as the great beit midrash. At the end of the 19th century wooden prayer house was built in a close distance to the mural synagogue and citizens of Zarasai called it the small beit midrash. It`s building is also extant to this day and helps us to remember local Jewish history, even though it is being used as an apartment house and we can only admire it from the outside.


The small beit midrash (Bajorų str. 14), 55.731922, 26.242103

The great beit midrash (Sinagogos str. 3), 55.734225, 26.243228

Monument commemorating the victims of Holocaust, 55.706000, 25.983000

Printing house established by Kovneris, and later administered by D. Šteiman and E. Rozman  (Šiaulių str. 28), 55.736211, 26.244233

The old Jewish cemetery (Šaltupė alley), 55.738353, 26.235517

Jewish cemetery at Kauno street, 55.717250, 26.231653

Photo-atelier of Moisiejus Botvinikas (Sėlių str. 23-24), 55.732106, 26.247086

Carbonated water workshop  owned by Abelis Pitelis G (Sėlių sq. 2), 55.730917, 26.244598

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  • Frederick K. Zahrt
    2021-01-27 at 5:36 am  -  Reply

    Wonder if my family has Jewish roots. My ancestors came here from Kwadis, Lithuania in l. Their name was Anton Martin, Mintinkers or Martinkus. They arrived in Baltimore and New York . Anton was born around 1872 0r 1877. He arrived in Baltimore in October of 1905 on the ship, Cassel. He was a Coal Miner in the Spring Valley, Illinois, vicinity and may have been incarcerated at one time, as he may have been a violent man. He and his wife had about 6 children. My dad was the last and was given up for adoption when he was 1 year old.

    • Based on the provided information, it’s unlikely that your ancestor “Anton Martinkus” was Jewish as the surname “Martinkus” is very distinctively Lithuanian.

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    2024-01-25 at 2:56 pm  -  Reply

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  • David Bermeister
    2024-03-02 at 2:52 pm  -  Reply

    My great grandfather avraham josef ichilchik was a jewish studies teacher and scribe. He owned a wooden house in Zarasai. Unfortunately we do not know the house address or where and how he died. We do know that his first wife Etel died in Zarasai, but we do not know where she is buried. Any advice on how to get more information will be greatly appreciated. I will be visiting Zarasai in August 2024.

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