Historical Jewish quarter in Varėna

WORTH VISITING:

Until the Second World War, Varėna alike many of this region`s towns and cities was a typical Eastern European shtetl with an active local Jewish community. There were three synagogues, Jewish Folks Bank, Jewish bookstore, religious and secular Jewish schools. Today we are only searching for the traces of shtetl history in Old Varėna.

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BRIEF HISTORY:

Varėna town on the right bank of Merkys river began to develop already in the 15th century. The Jewish community started to settle in this town only at the end of the 19th century when the railway was built nearby this town. Until that only separate Jewish families lived in Varėna.  But the settlement of the Jewish community was quick and fruitful  – at the beginning of the 20th century, Jews have already constituted half of the town`s population and were the main merchants in the weekly markets each Tuesday. During this time young Jewish community in Varėna built its first mural synagogue. Local Jews were mostly merchants, and some of them owned new mills and factories – the one that made cardboard and starch. The most popular factory was the cardboard factory owned by David Jershansky – the majority of Jewish workers from Varėna worked in this exact factory.

It is important to note, that during the interwar period Varėna was considered a resort, so in the summertime, there were many visitors from bigger cities. Local Jews rented living spaces for such vacationers.

Zionist ideology was extremely successful between Jews in Varėna.  Already in 1898, there was a Zionist association with more than 200 members, and the Hebrew language became dominant between Varėna Jews. There was a daily newspaper in Hebrew HaMelitz and secular Jewish kids went to Tarbut school, where they were taught in Hebrew as well. Local Jews had a decent library, where they organized literature and music events. It is notable, that sometimes these events were organized in Lithuanian because a huge part of interested participants were local Lithuanians.

CURRENT SITUATION:

It is quite paradoxical, but the only extant synagogue of three synagogues that existed before the Second World War is the most vulnerable wooden one. It was restored in 1922 and its building can be seen on Basanavičius street no. 14. This synagogue differed from many other synagogues of that time due to its humble decor and massiveness, which is atypical for wooden synagogues.  During Soviet times synagogue building has been used as a cultural centre of the town. After 1990 the building has been privatized and now it is both residential and commercial building.

LOOKING AROUND:

Jacques Lipchitz Memorial Sculpture Park in Druskininkai  (Maironis str. 22) 54.024278, 23.972750

Memorial Museum to Jacques Lipchitz  (Šv. Jokūbas str. 17) 54.020000, 23.972333 (the museum is currently closed for renovation)

Historical Hotel “Central”  (Šv. Jokūbas str. 22) 54.019917, 23.971778

Market square in Valkininkai (Vilnius str. 41) 54.358364, 24.840891

Degsnės village and it`s main street, 54.368744, 24.795652

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