Lazdijai Synagogue and Beit Midrash

In the 19th century, the town of Lazdijai saw the establishment of a synagogue and a beit midrash, which, together with the rabbi’s house and the Jewish school, formed a shulhof. This shul, located in the very centre of Lazdijai, at the junction of Vilniaus Street and Old Town Avenue, was the most visited place in the community, where people gathered not only to pray, but also to socialize, discuss the news or business matters.

The history of Jews in Lazdijai dates back to the end of the 16th century, but we can only speak of Lazdijai as a shtetl with a full Jewish communal infrastructure in the mid-19th century, when Jews made up 60% of the population. The Jewish residential quarter was localised around the market square, and most often the same houses were used for living and for trade or crafts. It can be noted that in the beginning of the 20th century, the range of activities of the Jews of Lazdijai was very wide – between the wars, the Jews of Lazdijai flourished not only as traders and craftsmen, but also as industrialists – Jews owned 16 of the 17 local factories in Lazdijai, and there was a steady increase in the number of Jewish families engaged in agriculture. However, the local Jewish community was not only concerned with bread, but also with spiritual sustenance. In the inter-war period, the outstanding Lazdijai Jewish Library, with a collection of more than 2000 publications in Hebrew and Yiddish, and the HaKoakh string orchestra, which was an integral part of various festivals, became extremely important cultural institutions of the Jewish community. Although there was no separate Jewish theatre in the town, the interest in theatre was very strong – between the wars, Yiddish-language theatre often came to Lazdijai from Kaunas, and the halls were always packed. In the summer of 1941, the Nazi occupation interrupted this line of life of the Jewish community in Lazdijai, during which the local Jews were killed en masse, and only a few of them survived, and they did not return to Lazdijai after the war.

Today, the former brick synagogue and the Beit Midrash are joined together at Vilniaus Street 6. Both buildings were heavily damaged during the bombing of the town at the end of World War II, but they are still marked on the 1946 plan of Lazdijai. In the 6th decade of the 20th century, the building is still there. In the 1960s, the remains of both buildings were completely reconstructed and merged into a single building, which functioned as a cultural centre and a public library during the Soviet period. In 1994, a youth club, later renamed the Lazdijai Cultural Centre, continued to operate officially on the site.

Information from the Jewish Heritage in Lithuania website: