Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Pakruojis, Lithuania Wooden Synagogue Restoration to Start Soon

Pakruojis, Lithuania. Synagogue (1801?).  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015.

Pakruojis, Lithuania. Synagogue (1801?).  The distinctive shape of the roof survives. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015.

 Pakruojis, Lithuania. Synagogue (1801?). This was probably the women's door. On the left is where the 2009 fire did the most damage.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Pakruojis, Lithuania Wooden Synagogue Restoration to Start Soon
by Samuel D. Gruber 

(ISJM) The last time I wrote about the wooden synagogue of Pakruojis, Lithuania on this blog was in 2009 after a fire destroyed part of the historic synagogue, probably the oldest, most impressive and best documented of the approximately dozen or so wooden synagogues that survive in Lithuania. Now, as recently reported on Jewish-Heritage-Europe (10/4/2015)  there is big news; restoration of the building will soon begin. I had the pleasure of visiting the building last week - the first time ever that I've been.

 Pakruojis, Lithuania. Synagogue (1801?). Photo ca. 1937.
 
 Pakruojis, Lithuania. Synagogue (1801?). Photo 1930s?

Pakruojis, Lithuania. Synagogue (1801?). Painted ceiling.  Photo 1930s?
 
The Pakruojis synagogue, probably dates from 1801. 20th-century photos survive of its carved bimah, ark and charming wall paintings.  On the Jewish community see Dora Boom's page on Shtetlinks. After the war, from 1944 on, the synagogue served various purposes and in 1954 it was turned into a cinema and a sports hall. It has been empty for a number of years, and is now very deteriorated, though much of the obvious rot is in walls and insulation added during the years of post-Jewish use.

Pakruojis, Lithuania. Synagogue (1801?). Layers of wall  will have to be stripped away to reveal the original boards - and to see what condition these are in and weather any painted decoration remains. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

 
Pakruojis, Lithuania. Synagogue (1801?). Ceiling and wall are not original, but the inserted wall has probably kept the building standing all these years.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
Pakruojis, Lithuania. Synagogue (1801?). Traces of old printed wall paper can still be since affixed to what appears to be the original walls benath later layers. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Restoration of the synagogue will soon begin with a more than €568,000 grant from the Lichtenstein/Iceland/Norway European Economic Area (EEA). The renovation should be completed in 2017, though as always with projects like this, delays should be expected.   Total cost of the project will be € 751,352, according to the EEA. The building will become a children’s library and according to the EEA, the restoration will recreate the murals that once adorned the inner walls of the building.  

200 or more wooden synagogues were  found across eastern Europe before World War I. Some were destroyed, but most survived and many were documented in the interwar years before their wholesale destruction in World War II, usually as part of deliberate eradication by Germans and local collaborators of the Jewish populations and their culture in towns and villages throughout present-day Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.

Lithuania is one of the few countries where an wooden synagogues remain, though all except Pakroukis are fairly simple buildings that probably survived destruction because of their inconspicuous appearance.

From the EEA Webpage:
After restoration of the building, educational and cultural events will be organised in the building, including an exhibition of Pakruojis Jewish culture and history commemorating the Jewish community of Pakruojis that was destroyed in the middle of the 20th century. The project will likewise aims to help address social problems by providing leisure activities and literature for young people, and contributing to job creation during the restoration period.
During the project implementation period, two training session will be organised, providing the local community with useful and valuable insights into the synagogue’s restoration process, research results and its importance to Pakruojis’ history, economy and urban development. A conference promoting tolerance and intercultural dialogue, ‘The uniqueness of Jewish heritage’, was held on 29 September 2015. The conference was open to anyone with an interest in Jewish culture and history.

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