Monday, January 25, 2016

Lithuania: Observations on the Vilna Gaon Statue and other Monuments


 Vilnius, Lithunia. Statue of Vilna Goan on site of his house. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

 
Vilnius, Lithunia. Statue of Vilna Goan on site of his house. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Lithuania: Observations on the Vilna Gaon Statue and other Monuments
by Samuel D. Gruber

The center of the Vilnius Jewish tourist route is the site of house of the Vilna Gaon (Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman), the great Talmud scholar and the leader of Lithuania's misnagdim in the 18th century who is still revered by observant Jews for his learning, judgement and piety. For all others, The Gaon has become of symbol for a world of Lithuanian (Litvak) Jewry that is no more.  In truth, already before the Holocaust Vilna's Jews had fractured into many religious, cultural, and political factions, so the Gaon's memory was not celebrated by all. But after the destruction of the Holocaust, when all faction became one: the murdered Jews of Vilna and the Gaon's memory, his name and image, took on sainted, or at least surrogate, status.

In 1997 on the 200th anniversary of the Gaon's death the city of Vilnius and the government of Lithuania helped sponsor a number of commemorative initiatives. For some, there was altruism; for others opportunism, a chance to improve among some Jews and Jewish organizations Lithuania's less than stellar record of Holocaust recognition and education. 
Commemoration of the Gaon was nothing new. On the 100th anniversary of his death there were remembrances and circulation of commemorative portraits for veneration.

Commemorative Portrait of the Vilna Gaon. Lithograph, 1897. Photo courtesy of the William A. Rosenthall Collection, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.

Central to these events was the unveiling of a commemorative plaque on the wall of house next to the one - now demolished - where the Gaon lived. According to Irina Guzenberg, in her Vilnius: Sites of Jewish Memory, A Concise Guide (2013), the plaque was unveiled on September 12, 1997. On the site of the house itself bronze bust of the Gaon on a tall pedestal was installed.

Vilnius, Lithunia. Statue of Vilna Goan on site of his house. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Jewish visitors who flock to this site and to the monument are often perplexed by the work. First, given his devotion to Halacha (Jewish law) and tradition, it is doubtful that the Gaon would have approved of any sculpted portrait, let alone his own.  And then, even if one accepts that the bust is OK - why is the Gaon shown without a head-covering? Surely he never appeared in public this way. In printed portraits of the Gaon he is shown with kippah and even tefillin.

 Cordoba, Spain. Maimonides statue, Tiberiadus Square & Prague, Czech Republic, Rabbi Loew Statue.

Of course, Vilnius is not the first city to erect a statue to a Jewish sage for civic reasons. There is a statue of Rabbi Löw (Maharal) by the Art Nouveau  Ladislav Šaloun on the New City Hall of Prague erected ca. 1910 (photo here) and one of Maimonides in Cordoba installed in 1964. These are all productions of local authorities trying to the right thing. In Prague, the Maharal was a central figure in local history and a character in local lore, hence his inclusion on the City Hall which is located not far from the Prague Jewish Quarter. In the case of Spain, there was no doubt a element of civic pride, but also possibly an accommodation of hoped-for Jewish tourism, too (this seems a little odd, since this was installed in Franco's Spain - so anyone with information on the origins of this statue please let me know).

The Vilnius depiction of the Gaon, by sculptor Mindaugas Snipas, is not in fact a representation of the Gaon at all, but a stylized work based on an earlier, now lost, plaster bust called The Jewish Sage by Teodoras Kazimieras Valaitis (1934-1974). The work also recalls the large bronze heads of Moses sculpted by  was a Lithuanian-born American sculptor William Zorach (1887-1966) in the 1950s. Zorach was born in Jubarkis and emigrated to the United States with his family in 1894.

Moses.  William Zorach, sculptor. Smithsonian Museum.

 Moses. William Zorach, sculptor. located at Cong. Mishkan Israel, Hamden, CT. Photo: Samuel Gruber, 2011

I'm not really bothered by the Vilna Gaon bust and I'd be much less bothered if this single statue didn't loom so large in the Jewish heritage cityscape of Vilnius. For several years after the unveiling of this statue it seemed that local officials felt this was enough recognition of the Jewish past. The city was developing rapidly, the old Jewish neighborhood represented desirable real estate, and the municipality especially had other things on its mind.  Only slowly, and now in the last few years a little more quickly, has the pace of recognizing other spaces and places important to Vilnius's Jewish history and other Jewish individuals central to its history, picked up. 

Since 2007 a number of commemorative plaques have been installed on buildings throughout the city remembering a number of important Jewish individuals including politicians, writers and artists.  Most of these are plaques and have been installed in cooperation between the Jewish Community of Vilnius and the local government. Most are illustrated and described in Guzenberg's guidebook.

Vilnius, Lithunia. Statue of Vilna Goan on site of his house. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Vilnius, Lithuania. Plaque commemorating the Vila Gaon on the bulding next to he site of his house. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015 
While it recognizes Jewish history, it should be remembered that the Vilna Gaon bust is just one of many patriotic and nationalist sculptures that adorn modern Vilnius, some even dating to the Soviet era, such as the large bronze seated figure of Lithuanian novelist Žemaitė (1845-1921), whose real name was Julija Beniuševičiūtė-Žymantienė. Since Lithuanian independence there has been an ongoing effort to install more sculpture to celebrate Lithuanian national themes, including language and art. So, in this context, including the Vilna Gaon in a sculptural cityscape of Lithuanian nationalism is a notable step. Any such "integration" has not been the case at Vilnius's so-called Museum of Genocide Victims, where before 2011 there was no mention of genocide of Jews.  In the unique language of the Vilnius museum, the term Genocide is used only to refer to the Soviet repression of ethnic Lithuanians, not the German and Lithuanian fascist killing of the city's Jews. A new book expected out this week in Lithuania, may address this still "hidden history."

Lithuanian novelist Žemaitė (1845-1921) (Julija Beniuševičiūtė-Žymantienė).
Bronze sculpture designed by Algimantas and Vytautas Nasvytis, and sculpted by Petras Aleksandravičius (1970)

In Vilnius there is one other free standing bronze sculpture with a Jewish theme; this a 2007 statue commemorating 19th-century Jewish doctor and community leader Tzemahk Szabad (1864-1935). This was sponsored by the Litvak Foundation and is situated in the Old Town at Mesiniu and Dysnos Streets, near where Szabad was born, and carries the inscription: "In Memory of Doctor Tzemakh Shabad and Vilnius Jewish Community."

Shabad was an important man in his time. He was a leading physician, scientist, leader of the Jewish community and active in Vilna and Polish politics. Born in Vilna but educated in Moscow, he was a force for progressive medical and social action and in many ways his active secular life was an alternative to that represented by the Vilna Gaon. The real popularity of this statue in Vilnius, however, apparently has nothing to so with Szabad's Jewish credentials, but is because he was the inspiration of a Dr. Doolittle type character in a well-known children's book.

Szabad was, in fact, previously commemorated in the public monument in with a portrait bust at the TOZ (agricultural) colony of Pospieshki. The monument is illustrated in Letzer Ran's Jerusalem of Lithuania.  I don't know where this colony was/is, and it is doubtful the monument survives.

Vilnius, Lithuania. Statue of Doctor Tzemakh Shabad, 2007.

Pospieshki, Russia (?). Doctor Tzemakh Shabad monument at TOZ Colony, after 1935. Photo: Letzer Ran, Jerusalem of Lithuania, vol 1, p. 137.

Since the 1990s there have been many statues erected in Eastern European secular Jewish heroes - Shalom Aleichem, Franz Kafka and others. I'll address these in another post.

 






Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Belarus: Jewish Traces in Chaim Soutine's Home Town of Smilovichi

Smilovichi, Belarus. Former synagogue. Photo: Jewish Heritage Research Group (2004)

Belarus: Jewish Traces in Chaim Soutine's Home Town of Smilovichi 
by Samuel D. Gruber   

Last week I posted about the School of Paris painter Chaim Soutine (1893-1943) on the occasion of his birthday. I've been asked if there are any Jewish traces still in the Belarus village of Smilovichi (Smilavichy) which Soutine left behind forever when he headed for Paris in 1913. 

I've never been to Belarus, but a quick internet search (see below for how to do this) shows that there are Jewish traces still identifiable in the town - or at least there up through 2009. 

First we find a former synagogue (see above), probably built in the later 19th century, that is now (or was recently) a sewing factory. There are also old wooden houses which were part of the Jewish shtetl, and as in many towns in the region, these remain in use. The house of Soutine's father Zalman Soutine, was apparently located on Minskaya Street (now Republican Street). There is a Jewish cemetery, and a monument marking a mass grave from the Holocaust.

Smilovichi, Belarus. Former houses occupied and/or owned by Jews. Photo: Jewish Heritage Research Group (2007).

Smilovichi, Belarus. Former houses occupied and/or owned by Jews. Photo: Jewish Heritage Research Group (2007).

Smilovichi, Belarus. Former houses occupied and/or owned by Jews. Photo: Jewish Heritage Research Group (2007).

Smilovichi has recently reclaimed Soutine and there is now a permanent exhibition installed  at the Art Center for Emerging Artists about his life and art, titled “Spaces of Chaim Soutine.”  The exhibition is comprised of two spaces. The first is about his family origins asnd his early life and studies. The second is set up as a Parisian cafe decorated with reproductions of paintings by Soutine and other School of Paris  artist.  You can read about it here

In 2014, there was also talk of building a monument to Soutine in Smilovichi. I don't know whether this has been done.

There were no works by Soutine in Belarus until 2012, when the Belgazprombank bought his Les Grands Pres a Chartres for $400,000.
The Jewish cemetery, can be seen below in photos also from the JHRG.  Additional pictures of the Jewish Cemetery can now be seen in the genealogy section on the web site of Barry Hantmann at http://www.hantman.net/geneology/smilovichi/smilovichi.htm

Mr. Hantmann also includes a picture of a monument that stands next to a mass grave of Jews killed by Nazis. The mass grave is not near the cemetery. 

Smilovichi, Belarus. Jewish cemetery. Photo: Jewish Heritage Research Group (2007).

 
Smilovichi, Belarus. Jewish cemetery. Photo: Jewish Heritage Research Group (2007).

The best way to search for Jewish sites like this is to stop first at jewish-heritage-europe.eu, which will then lead you to other pages listing known Jewish heritage sites in all countries of Europe. So for Belarus, go here, and then there are links for the online lists and photos compiled by Jewish Heritage Research Group which was created in 2002 by several Jewish organizations in Belarus. Comprised of a local team of historians, genealogists, guides and others actively engaged and interested in Belarus Jewish heritage activities the group carried out documentation of Jewish heritage sites around the country and produced a map. It has also restored Jewish cemeteries in Mir, Rakov, Druja, and Gorki and it is engaged on synagogue restorations projects.

The JHRG has a comprehensive web site with links and resources, including a BLOG and clickable lists of heritage sites. It also forms part of the general Jewish Belarus web site.
Les Grands Pres a Chartres
Read full text at: http://eng.belta.by/culture/view/monument-to-chaim-soutine-to-be-built-in-smilovichi-4438-2014
If you use BelTA’s materials, you must credit us with a hyperlink to eng.belta.by.
Until recently there were no paintings by Chaim Soutine in Belarus. In 2012 Belgazprombank bought his work Les Grands Pres a Chartres at the Christie's auction for $400,000.
Read full text at: http://eng.belta.by/culture/view/monument-to-chaim-soutine-to-be-built-in-smilovichi-4438-2014
If you use BelTA’s materials, you must credit us with a hyperlink to eng.belta.by.
Until recently there were no paintings by Chaim Soutine in Belarus. In 2012 Belgazprombank bought his work Les Grands Pres a Chartres at the Christie's auction for $400,000.
Read full text at: http://eng.belta.by/culture/view/monument-to-chaim-soutine-to-be-built-in-smilovichi-4438-2014
If you use BelTA’s materials, you must credit us with a hyperlink to eng.belta.by.
Until recently there were no paintings by Chaim Soutine in Belarus. In 2012 Belgazprombank bought his work Les Grands Pres a Chartres at the Christie's auction for $400,000.
Read full text at: http://eng.belta.by/culture/view/monument-to-chaim-soutine-to-be-built-in-smilovichi-4438-2014
If you use BelTA’s materials, you must credit us with a hyperlink to eng.belta.by.

To my knowledge, there has not been the detailed documentation of Jewish buildings in Belarus, with measured drawings, extensive photographic documentation, and building document searches, as has been the case in neighboring Lithuania, but this would certainly be a worthy multi-institutional project. Since most of the surviving formerly Jeiwsh owned or occupied buildings will never return to Jewish use, it would be valuable at least to record them for posterity before they are further changed or demolished altogether.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Happy Birthday Chaim Soutine (1893-1943)!

Chaim Soutine. Beef and head of veal, 1923. Photo: Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris

Chaim Soutine, "The Houses" (Les Maisons), oil on canvas, 1921. Photo:  Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris

Happy Birthday Chaim Soutine (1893-1943)!
by Samuel D. Gruber  

It was only recently that I learned that I shared a birthday (January 13) with Chaim Soutine, one of my favorite painters. (Actually, though it is accepted that Soutine was born in 1893, the actual date is uncertain, but January 13th is frequently cited).

Soutine's colorful, messy, exuberant, thickly-laid, sometimes tortured, and wildly convulsed canvases are among the most purely painterly art works of the 20th century. Where Picasso was cool, Soutine was hot. Where Modigliani (Soutine's best friend) was dispassionate, Soutine was emotional. Where Chagall used narrative and symbols, Soutine's works tended toward the iconic: a face, a side of beef, a row of tilting houses.  His energetic, sometimes manic brushwork jumps from the canvas, often entirely independent of the subject, and for this he is often considered the forerunner of Abstract Expressionism. Certainly Soutine always used subject - even if he did not need it.  Though he looked back Rembrandt, there could not be De Kooning or Krassner if there had not been Soutine, and not Francis Bacon, either.

 
Chaim Soutine. Portrait of Oscar Miestchaninoff. Oil on canvas, 1924

Soutine is always claimed as a Jewish artist, but as with his Parisian predecessor Camille Pissaro, there is not much point looking for anything specifically Jewish in his work - other than the fact that he was an outsider, like many artists in Paris in the 1920s and 30s. Stanley Meisler, in his recent book Shocking Paris: Soutine, Chagall and the outsiders of Montparnasse (Palgrave, 2015) makes it clear Soutine didn't like to look back to his impoverished roots in a large religious shtetl family in the Pale of Settlement. He was born in Smiliovichi, a small town of about three thousand near Minsk in Belarus. Soutine is sometimes called Lithuanian, since that part of Belarus was once part of greater Lithuania. Culturally, when he escaped the oppressive parochialism of his home, it was to Minsk (Belarus) and Vilna (Lithuania) until he finally found some unstable stability in Paris and the south of France for many years.

"When you live in a dirty hole like Smilovichi, you cannot imagine that cities like Paris exist," Soutine is reported to have told a friend (Meisler, p. 9). Unlike Chagall, for whom his early life amid Jewish rituals, customs and language provided an endless source of nostalgia and interpretation, Soutine took his inspiration from artists of the past, what he saw with his own eyes, and his emotional state. Still, most of Soutine closest friends were other Jewish artists, especially in his early years in Paris.  Soutine didn't speak or write about his art, and much of what we know of his life is anecdotal and told years after the events. So unlike interpretation of the work of many of his contemporaries, almost all analysis of Soutine's oeuvre must, the end, be personal, subjective and mostly ahistoric.  
 
Chaim Soutine. Portrait of Paulette Jourdain, ca. 1928. Photo: Modigliani Soutine et leurs amis

 Chaim Soutine. Le groom, 1928. Photo: Modigliani Soutine et leurs amis

One really needs to see Soutines's work up close in person to catch their energy, power and sometimes joy  In America, that means going to the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. But on New Year's 2013 in Paris I had the joy of seeing Chaim Soutine: Order out of Chaos (L'Ordre du Chaos) at the Orangerie Museum at the Tuileries which combined its own paintings - mostly from the collection of Soutine's art dealer Paul Guillaume (many of which you can see here) along with many loans from American museums other than the Barnes. Since the Barnes is especially strong on Soutine's early career, this exhibit has a marvelous selection of his paintings from after 1922, including those of animal carcasses and many works from his stay in the south of France in Ceret in the Pyrenees. His landscapes from this period are wild and twisted and have been called "apocalyptic." To me they more recall of frenetic energy of Van Gogh's late work, but they also recall the near contemporary work of the German Jewish painter Ludwig Meidner, though I don't think the two artists knew each others' work. It is mostly the tenor of the times and Soutine surely knew other German expressionist work.

Soutine died in 1943. He escaped Nazi round-ups and lived on the run in France until his he died at age 50 after an emergency operation.

Any time is a good time to reacquaint oneself with the art of Chaim Soutine. So, Happy Birthday!

Chaim Soutine. The little Pastry Cook, ca. 1922-1923. Photo: Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris

Chaim Soutine. Landscape, ca. 1922-1923. Photo: Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris


Friday, January 8, 2016

Lithuania: Vilnius's Choral Synagogue

Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2015


Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue. Historical marker outside fenced area on Pylimo Street. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2105
 
Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue. Interior. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2015

 
Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue, int.  Photo: Historic postcard from V. Likhodedov, Synagogues, p. 216

Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue. Detail of Aron-haKodesh. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2015

Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue. Women's Gallery.  Photo: Samuel Gruber 2015
Lithuania: Vilnius's Choral Synagogue
by Samuel D. Gruber

A few weeks ago I wrote about the fate of the former City or Great Synagogue of Vilnius that was damaged during World War II and subsequently demolished and for which excavation plans are now made.  For those who do not know Vilnius, it is important to know that not far from the site of the old City Synagogue and the Shulhoyf is the impressive and still extant and active Choral Taharat Ha-Kodesh Synagogue at 39 Pylimo Street, erected by the “progressive” congregation of the maskilim outside the old Jewish neighborhoods (and subsequent Nazi-imposed ghettos). This location is one reason for its survival. 

Today, the Choral Synagogue is the sole functioning synagogue in Vilnius and one of only a small number of recognizable synagogue buildings in a city, known as The "Jerusalem of Lithuania," that held  approximately 160 synagogues and prayer rooms before the Holocaust. The building underwent significant repairs from 2008-2010. These were sponsored by the Jewish Community of Vilnius with support from the Jewish Heritage Program of the World Monuments Fund and other donors. Substantial work was done on the roof, dome, windows and the entire exterior water handling system and many repairs to unseen sections of the building. 

(For an excellent 360 degree view of the prayer hall and other views, perfect for arm-chair travelers,  see synagogues360.org)

The synagogue occupies an ample lot on a major street just outside the historic center, but is very much part of Downtown Vilnius today. Despite its origins, the synagogue now is the home of a congregation that follows a traditional Litvak Orthodox minhag (liturgy). The main change to the worship space has been the addition of a free standing bimah set in front of the previously combined bimah and Ark platform.

 
Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue before 1941. Photo from Letzer Ran, Jerusalem of Lithuania, I, p. 113 
 
Despite strong opposition from traditional religious authorities, by the mid-19th century the maskalim congregation was well established and obtained official permission for a synagogue, which was inaugurated in May 1847 in the presence of the provincial governor. This synagogue, or congregation, however, had no permanent home and moved several times to different houses. The Taharat Ha-Kodesh differed greatly from other Vilnius kloyzn especially because of its emphasis on orderly prayers and a neat appearance. The prayers were accompanied by a choir; and the synagogue in its various homes was commonly referred to as the Choral Synagogue (khor-shul in yiddish). Special attention was given to regular preaching, at the beginning in German and since the late 19th century – in Russian.

According to the authors of Synagogues in Lithuania, N-Z (p. 254):
The establishment of a maskilic synagogue open to the public was a clear political, ideological and cultural statement, which showed the maturity of the Haskalah movement and its readiness to advance to the public space and to confront directly the conservative circles of the Jewish community. Soon after the establishment, the idea to build a separate building for the synagogue was articulated; however, as a Hebrew newspaper complained in 1867, “it costs much money".
There was on-going discussion about building in a new Temple in the 1870s an through the 1880s (no doubt inspired in part by similar efforts in other major cities in Germany, Austro-Hungary and Poland). A design by architect Mieczysław Strebejko in 1877 for  a separate building on Novaia (today Islandijos) Street, in a Neo-Gothic style, included a "spacious prayer hall with a Torah ark combined with a bimah on the northeast and a women’s gallery on three other sides. But the project was not carried out (eventually the Talmud Torah school was built on that plot in 1891). [See Synagogues in Lithuania, N-Z, p. 254]

Various quarters served the congregation including a new synagogue  in a rented house on Politseiskaia (today Arklių) Street, inaugurated in 1886. This, however, is described as a “narrow and short house, the women’s section is like a chicken coop;" hardly the modern and urbane image to which the adherents of the Haskalah Movement aspired. 

Finally,  a house and an empty plot were bought in 1899 at 35 zaval’naia (today 39 Pylimo) Street, in order to build there the permanent synagogue; meantime, the temporary synagogue moved there.
 
Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue. Facade as seen on historic postcard from V. Likhodedov, Synagogues, p. 217
Vilnius, Lithuania. The administrators of the Choral Synagogue on the bimah (no date). Photo: L. Ran, Jerusalem of Lithuania, Vol. I.
In 1901, architect Aleksei Polozov presented a design for an opulent choral synagogue, but in the end the synagogue was built following to a simpler plan by Jewish technician Daniel Rosenhaus. Polozov only supervised the construction. The cornerstone was laid on April 23, 1902. The first service in the synagogue was held on Rosh Ha-Shanah in September 1903, and the official inauguration ceremony was celebrated during the Hanukkah holiday three months later, in December 1903.

Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue. Invitation to groundbreaking, 1902. Photo from L Ran, Jerusalem of Lithuania, 1, p. 113
The new building had 350 seats for men and 200 for women, central heating and electric lighting. The building costs amounted to 45,000 rubles, and the Torah ark was donated by D. Lipski..However, the northeastern street façade of the synagogue was completed much later, in 1914 – as seen on pre1914 photograph.

The congregation was never large. In 1933, there were only118 regular worshipers - a small number given Vilnius's still large Jewish population.

The overall style of the building is Moorish, but with a Neo-Classical central window. This mix is not unusual for European synagogues - especially Progressive "Temples" at the end of the 19th century. The building tries to combine a dignified civic monumental with the more particular Moorish (or Oriental) features by-then recognized as Jewish.

The main northeastern façade of the synagogue, facing Pylimo Street, is designed as an arched recessed portico, set between pylons and lateral low annexes, and beneath a gable surmounted by the Tablets of the Law. Inside, the vestibule and staircases precede the prayer hall; the direction towards the southeastern Torah ark is perpendicular to that of the entrance. The spacious first floor prayer hall is surrounded on three sides by women’s galleries. 

Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue. View of women's gallery. Today, for most services women can sit in the very back of the ground floor space behind a curtain (mechitzah), seen in the lower right of this photo.. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2015

The Torah ark is  preceded by a domed canopy decorated with colonettes, dentiled cornice and crenelation, all of which are set within a semicircular ambulatory. While certainly informed by previous examples of Moorish synagogue design, this small domed structure is essentially a transformation of the traditional four-column central bimah common Polish and Lithuanian synagogues from the 17th through the 19th centuries. Its form and decoration may also derive more directly from Ottoman shrines and covered pulpits known to travelers first-hand in this period.

A pulpit for a preacher – a distinctive feature of a “progressive” synagogue – is situated in front of the ark. 

Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue. Interior. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2015

Today, a bimah is fenced by a metal parapet and situated in the midst of the pews. The first floor of the ambulatory served the choir. Four massive piers support the central cupola, while the women’s galleries and the choir rest on Alhambra-inspired columns. The hall is well lit by the large arched windows and by the skylight in the cupola, glazed with a Star of David design. 

Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue. Receipt for paid seat, 1918. Photo from L. Ran, Jerusalem of Lithuania, 1, p, 113
 
There are several plaques - some taken from other synagogues. One was made after 1945 and includes the prayer in memory of the Jews who perished in the Holocaust as well as yahrzeit dates for the 125 Jewish communities in Lithuania.

 Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue. Plaque on facade. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2015

 
 Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue. Stair to women's gallery with ornate wrought iron rail.. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2015

Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue. Upstairs vestibule and door to women's gallery. Note mosaic floor and high ceilings. This is not like a "chicken coop" as an earlier women's section was described. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2015
 
Vilnius, Lithuania. Choral Synagogue. Interior. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2015

For further reading:

Cohen-Mushlin, et al, Syngogues in Lithuania, N-Z: A Catalogue (Vilnius: Vilnius Academy of Arts Press, 2012)