WORTH TO VISIT:
Historical Jewish heritage in Prienai has been revisited and once again remembered during past few years. It is an optimistic sign, which allows us to talk about renewal of mental maps of Lithuanian shtetls through their rich heritage. Prienai has been obliterated by war, fires and Soviet neglect of local heritage – thus this town is far from the historical postcard, which suggest classical presentation of Jewish heritage; this town`s heritage comes alive through the memories of local people, who narrate about multicultural life in Prienai until the Second World War, which includes both Lithuanian Catholic church, German kirche and Jewish synagogue. This historical landscape is a birthplace of extravagant “father” of German boxing – Faivel Damski. This Jewish fellow, born and raised in Prienai shtetl, emigrated to Germany after the First World War, and there he and his group of friends established German Boxers Union, which achieved legalization of boxing matches in the country, and raised popularity of boxing in Germany to the roof.
Jews began settling in Prienai already during the 16th century. Their numbers in town were constantly changing depending on historical circumstances. The majority of local Jews were traders and had an auxiliary farm or rented land from local Christians and then sold farm goods such as milk and its products. Traditionally there have been even three market days during the week in Prienai and Jewish traders were the main participants of these markets. During the second half of the 19th century almost 1500 Jews lived in the town, but after exiles during the First World War only 650 Jews returned to Prienai. Nevertheless, the decrease in numbers of local Jewish community members did not meant the decrease in their activities in town – Jews of Prienai contributed to the economic growth of the township, they were active in local politics and were elected to Prienai town council. Prienai Jewish children as elsewhere in Jewish communities were usually given the opportunity (and the task) to go to learn to the cheder, and during the interwar period in Prienai Jewish children could attend newly established secular schools – either in Hebrew or in Yiddish language. The wooden building of previously secular Yiddish school is preserved to this day in Janonis str. and now it is being used as an apartment building.
It is worth mentioning very successful and popular brewery “Goldberg” in Prienai. It was owned by Lazar Goldberg, who had established this brewery already in 1868 in the outskirts of the town. During the interwar period this brewery was bought by Benicijonas Šakovas and made it to the most profitable and widely known enterprise in Prienai. Unfortunately, the impressive buildings of the brewery were bombed in 1944 by Germans fleeing to the West, and during the Soviet period the bus station of Prienai was built in the previous place of the brewery.
Until the middle of the 20th century two synagogues were standing in Prienai – the wooden one built in the 18th century and a bit later built mural prayer house. The wooden synagogue did not withstand challenges of Soviet atheism – as an redundant building it has been demolished by the Soviet government order. The extant mural Prienai synagogue (Vytautas str. 25) has been built next to the old wooden synagogue in 1903, and was functioning as a prayer house for a severely short period of time – until 1944. After that Soviet military unit has been settled in the building and in 1956 the synagogue building has been transferred to the local Building association. In the 1970s the building has been renovated, and auxiliary building was added next to it, and then it was reestablished for it`s new life not as a synagogue, but as a apartment building. It is being used as such to this day.
Until the Holocaust the majority of Prienai Jews have lived in Vytautas and J. Brundza streets, but all their buildings have been destroyed by enormous fire in Prienai just right after the Second World War.
Today the place of the old Jewish cemetery in Kaunas street is only marked by a remembrance monument, and the fence of previous Jewish cemetery after the Second World War became the actual foundation for newly build houses of people in Prienai.
Historical Jewish quarters of Darsūniškis
Historical Jewish quarters of Balbieriškis
Historical Jewish quarters of Kaišiadorys
Wooden synagogue of Žiežmariai