From Vilnius (the Jerusalem of the North) and Kaunas to Shtetls to Klaipeda, we explore the deep history of Judaism and Jewish culture in Lithuania. Other highlights include Siauliai’s Hill of Crosses, Rumsiskes Open-Air Museum, and Trakai Castle.
Arrive in Vilnius. Assistance and transfer to the hotel. Meet your guide at the hotel. Welcome speech and dinner at a traditional Lithuanian Restaurant with a folk performance.
Vilnius is almost 700 years old and is home to the largest Old Town in all of Eastern Europe. The Old Town, or Senamiestis, is the territory that was once surrounded by a defensive wall. The New City, or Naujamiestis, developed in the 19th century and is home to the new commercial districts and most residences. Our tour of Vilnius will focus mainly on the Old and New cities, as these are major tourist destinations. But we’ll also venture off the beaten path to see different faces of the Lithuanian capital.
Our tour of Vilnius will explore the lives of Lithuanians, Polish, Russians, Germans, Jewish and Tatar populations from the 14th century onwards. The history of Vilnius is deeply connected with the history of Jews in Eastern Europe. In the 18th century, scholar Vilna Gaon made the city his hub for Jewish cultural studies, and in the century afterwards, it became the center of Jewish culture and Zionism in that part of the world.
Our guides will take you to the sights of the Jewish cemeteries, old settlements, central streets, Cathedral Square, Lower Duke’s Palace, Gediminas Hill, Medieval Jewish quarter, Vilna Gaon – the great Jewish scholar; the struggle between “Mitnagdim” and “Chasidim”; City Hall Square, Gates of Dawn, Uzupis district, Taharat Hakodesh Synagogue, and the world-famous printing-house “Widow and Brothers Romm.”
We continue exploring Vilnius, especially the Ghetto where thousands of Jewish were forced to live. Big Ghetto – the courtyard of “Judenrat” and the story of Jacob Gens; the fight of the Ghetto prisoners against the Nazis; Itzik Wittenberg, Abba Kovner and other members of the resistance; Cheap Houses and the story of the labor camp and a personality of Karl Plage. Visit Paneriai Holocaust Memorial.
In the afternoon, we drive out to the countryside for a visit to Trakai, the ancient capital and residence of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania. This 14th-century insular castle houses a museum of Lithuanian history, life and the unique ethnic minority known as the Karaites, a Jewish group were migrated from the Crimea about 600 years ago.
Departure for Kaunas, an interim capital of pre-war Lithuania. En route, we stop at Zezmariai (Zhezhmer), where a remarkable Jewish community settled before the war. Here we’ll see the remains of a wooden synagogue that remained. We’ll pay a visit to the open-air museum at Rumsiskes, which will introduce you to the country folk way of life and tradition in the 18th-19th centuries.
In the afternoon, we have a city tour of Kaunas, including Slabodka, a Jewish settlement and WWII Ghetto, and an old Jewish cemetery. Ninth Fort, the death site of thousands of Jews from Lithuania and other countries; Kovna Synagogue and Children’s Memorial in its court; the house, were Leah Goldberg, the prominent Israeli poetess, had lived; Art Gallery of M.K.Ciurlionis, the outstanding Lithuanian painter and composer; Devil’s Museum with hundreds devils’ statues.
We explore the Lithuania’s beautiful countryside, and explore shtetl life. Jews first arrived in Lithuania from Germany about 700 years ago, and formed a unique culture in the smaller towns and villages, known as the shtetl Jew. We’ll visit some shtetls to feel what Shalom Aleichem, I.B. Singer and other Jewish writers meant to tell us in their books.
Depart for Siauliai. En route, we pay a short visit to Kedainiai, a town where the Vilna Gaon lived and worked and where 3 synagogues have remained. The area is also home to a picturesque citadel of the Radzivill family, one of the most powerful nobility in Late Middle Age Lithuania.
Upon arrival in Siauliai, we embark on a city tour that includes the Villa of Chaim Frenkel – once the richest Jew in Lithuania. We visit the nearby Hill of Crosses near Siauliai, a symbol of Lithuanians’ resistance against foreign rule, iconic for its 250.000+ crosses atop a mound. We visit Telsiai, a pleasant town on a large lake, and cross the market square into the Synagogue Street and see the world-famous Telz Yeshiva. Overnight in Klaipeda.
We explore the seaside town of Klaipeda (Memel in German). It’s a relatively small, but very nicely planned, colorful and kept city. Here, we’ll learn more about the confrontation between Teutonic Knights and Lithuanian pagans, the Prussian duchy, and the region’s annexation to the 3rd Reich.
Drive back to Vilnius.
Destination Management Company JeruLita operates individual private tours as well as small and medium size groups in cooperation with our partners. We will be glad to accommodate you in a private tour or will direct you to travel expert in your country who will register you to the groups we operate.