(ISJM) The group Jews in East Prussia reports that a permit has been granted by local authorities for the demolition of the former the former synagogue of Žemaičių Naumiestis (Neishtot-Tavrig in Yiddish), a town in Klaipėda county, Šilutė district municipality, located in western Lithuania between Klaipėda and Kaliningrad Oblast. The synagogue was used as a cinema under Communism. It was apparently empty even a decade ago, but still was in adequate condition. It is now empty and neglected. It is not owned by any Jewish community, nor has it apparently been claimed. It is not listed as a historic monument.
"With the Nazi occupation, a ghetto was established in Žemaičių Naumiestis in early July 1941. On July 19 the Jewish men were concentrated in the shulhoyf. Those able to work were sent to the labor camp in Heydekrug (Šilutė), while the others were murdered in Šiaudvičiai. The women and children were murdered there on September 25, 1941." (from Synagogues of Lithuania, Vol ii, p. 394)
A plaque was installed on the synagogue in the 1990s. The Lithuanian text in translation reads: "HERE UNTIL JUNE 22, 1941 WAS SYNAGOGUE WHICH WAS LED BY THE WORLD FAMOUS RABBI J. M. LESINAS (Rabbi Lesin in Yiddish)"
Any plan would require finding not only funds for the restoration, but also a new purpose for the building. In some other Lithuanian towns local museums have utilized former synagogue buildings. This is a small town, however, clearly with limited resources.
Given what I now know of the situation, and my experience from other sites, I propose consideration of a different solution; that the damaged and dangerous roof of the synagogue should be removed entirely (I am not sure if this is the remains of the roof added ca. 1929, or a replacement roof from the Communist period) and that the walls, with their large windows, should then be conserved as a memorial ruin. In time, it would be good to see this integrated into a larger Lithuania Jewish Heritage Memorial route, similar to those beign developed in Poland, the Czech Republic and elsewhere. Presently, most of the attention to Jewish history and culture in Lithuania is focused in Vilnius, and is not dispersed thorough the country, where a number of wooden and masonry synagogue survive (for how long?), and where there are many cemeteries with Holocaust memorials.
southeast. Photo: Vladimir Levin, 2007. CJA Archives
The Žemaičių Naumiestis synagogue could be established as a monument in a memorial park setting, similar to what has recently been done in Nowy Korczyn, Poland, which, in the words of Ruth Ellen Gruber, was" long a "poster child" for a ruined synagogue that no-one knew what to do with," and Dzialoszyce, Poland. Both these projects were described (with photos) earlier this year on Jewish-Heritage-Europe.eu. One can also see an early and more limited version of this type of preservation in Tarnow, Poland, where the masonry bimah of the Great Synagogue has long been preserved in a memorial setting since the early 1990s. In Žemaičių Naumiestis, where other aspects of the Jewish religious compound still survive, it is important to preserve, at the very least, the massing of the synagogue building.
Some type of impermeable ledge can be constructed atop the walls to prevent excessive water penetration into the masonry from above, and a slightly projecting ledge can also help preserve - at least for many years - much of surviving stucco on the walls. This is will cost money - more than the cost of demolition but much less than the cost of a new roof, or of any other type of restoration. At the same time, the potential for conservation the nearby wooden Beth Midrash should be explored.
If authorities allow time for consideration, a proposal for transformation of the building can be prepared and presented.
First, it is a memorial to the history of the Jews of the town, and their fate in the Holocaust. The architecture of the building allows its preservation as a monument - seen from the outside, and as a memorial when viewed from within. Informative historical signage can be attached to the inner walls, in open-air a gallery like setting (new and lasting materials now exist to allow higher attractive weather proof signboard).
Importantly, the synagogue can be linked to other religious buildings in the town recount its multi-cultural history, a lesson very important in 21st-century Europe. Within walking distance of the 1816 masonry synagogue is the wooden Catholic St. Michael Church (1782), a stone Protestant church (1842).