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The Vilna Ghetto or Vilnius Ghetto was a Jewish ghetto established by Nazi Germany in the city of Vilnius in the occupied Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (now Vilnius, Lithuania), during the Holocaust in World War II. During roughly two years of its existence, starvation, disease, street executions, maltreatment and deportations to concentration camps and extermination camps reduced the population of the ghetto from an estimated 40,000 to zero. Only several hundred people managed to survive, mostly by hiding in the forests surrounding the town, joining the Soviet partisans,or finding shelter among sympathetic locals.
The Jewish population of Vilnius on the eve of the Holocaust was probably more than 60,000, including refugees from the German-occupied Poland, and subtracting the small number who managed to flee onward to the Soviet Union.
The area designated for the ghetto was the old Jewish quarter in the center of the city. While Vilna never had a ghetto per say except for some very limited restrictions on the movement and settlement of Jews during the Middle Ages, the area chosen by the Nazis for their ghetto was predominantly and historically inhabited by Jews. The Nazis split the area into two ghettos with a non-ghetto corridor running down Deutschegasse.
The Vilna Ghetto was called "Yerushalayim of the Ghettos" because it was known for its intellectual and cultural spirit. Before the war, Vilnius had been known as "Yerushalayim d'Lita" (Yiddish: Jerusalem of Lithuania) for the same reason. The center of cultural life in the ghetto was the Mefitze Haskole Library which was called the "House of Culture". It contained a library holding 45,000 volumes, a reading hall, archive, statistical bureau, room for scientific work, museum, book kiosk, post office, and sports ground. Groups, such as the Literary and Artistic Union and the Brit Ivrit Union, organized events commemorating Yiddish and Hebrew authors and put on plays in these languages. The popular Yiddish magazine Folksgezunt was continued in the ghetto and its essays were presented in public lectures.
The Vilna Ghetto was well-known for its theatrical productions during World War II. Jacob Gens, the head of Jewish police and the ruler/dictator of the Vilna ghetto, was given the responsibility for the starting of this theater. Performances included poetry by Jewish Authors, dramatizations of short stories, and new work by the young ghetto people.
The Ghetto Theater was a great source of revenue and had a calming effect on the public. A total of 111 performances had been given by January 10th, 1943 and a total of 34,804 tickets were sold. The theater was renovated to accommodate a bigger audience and create a better-looking theater for the public eye. This theater permitted the non-Aryan race to display their power through plays and songs; for instance, one of the songs that was sung was called "Endurance."
The last theatrical production, Der mabl meaning The Flood, was produced by the Swedish dramatist Henning Berger and opened in the summer of 1943, in the last week of this Ghetto’s existence. This play, set in an American saloon during a flood, featured a group of people who banded together during a time of danger and need.
Joseph Sobol's play Ghetto recounts the last days of the Vilna Ghetto theater company