The book you hold in your hands is a translation of the study “Lietuvos žydai. Istorinė studija”, which was published in Lithuanian in 20121. It presents a research of Lithuanian Jewish history and culture till the first decade of the twenty first century. This Historical study is an attempt by an international group of scholars from Lithuania, Israel, the United States of America and Germany to link different approaches towards the history of the Jews in East-Central Europe which in so far did not have many points of contact. It also aims to create an integral picture of the social, economic and cultural history of the Jews in Lithuania during the course of more than six hundred years.

One of the central objectives of this study is to find out how ‘Lithuanian’ the identity of the Jews who lived in Lithuania was during different historical periods. To put it in simpler terms, the editors of the book set out to discuss whether, historically, the Jews perceived Lithuania only as a temporary or transitional place in their existence, and were not interested in issues of political identity; whether their relationship with the political formation (Lithuania) was important to them; or whether they felt they were part of a larger political formation, such as Poland (which encompassed all the lands of the Commonwealth of the Two Nations), the Russian Empire, or the Soviet Union. By choosing this cross-section for consideration, the community may more accurately be described as ‘Jews residing in Lithuania’ in certain historical periods, or ‘Lithuanian Jews’ in other periods. We can talk of ‘Lithuanian Jews’ when, from a political and civic point of view, they first of all identify with Lithuania; in all other instances, they are ‘Jews in Lithuania’. It is not always easy to describe this identity phenomenon and the changes in it. In particular, sources from the period of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania contain extremely scarce information about this aspect of the identity. It is also evident that the projection of the identity of a non-dominant group (and the Jews have been such a group during all historical periods) depended to a large extent on the attitudes and policies of the dominant group.

In the study, the history of Jews in Lithuania begins with the late 14th century, when the already organised Jewish community of Brest, seeking a legal basis for its activities, secured in 1388 a privilege from Vytautas (in Polish Witold) the Great, which was the first of its kind in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and continues up to the establishment of prototypes for the modern Jewish community against the background of the weakening Soviet regime in the 1980s. The book takes a chronological and problem-oriented approach, and aims to consistently reveal the political, social and cultural processes that took place in Lithuanian society and the Jewish community in different periods, and their mutual relationships over the course of history. The history of the Lithuanian Jews adheres to the traditional periodisation of the history of Lithuania: the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Lithuania as part of the Russian Empire, the independent Republic of Lithuania between the two world wars, the Second World War, and Soviet Lithuania.

We extend our sincere thanks to individuals and institutions that helped us to collect illustrations and kindly allowed us to use them. We thank the administration and the staff of the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, the Aušra Museum in Šiauliai, the Petersburg Judaica Centre for Jewish Studies, the Lithuanian State Central for their assistance in the search for historic images.

The Editors

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Lietuvos žydai. Istorinė studija, edited by Vladas Sirutavičius, Darius Staliūnas, Jurgita Šiaučiūnaitė-Verbickienė, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 2012. This research and translation were funded by two grants (No. PMK-03/2010 and LIT-8-7) from the Research Council of Lithuania. This book was translated and edited from Lithuanian into English by Diana Bartkutė Barnard and Joseph Everatt.

The History of Jews in Lithuania

From the Middle Ages to the 1990s

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