Jews began living in Lithuania as early as the 13th century. In 1388 they were granted a charter by Vytautas, under which they formed a class of freemen subject in all criminal cases directly to the jurisdiction of the grand duke and his official representatives, and in petty suits to the jurisdiction of local officials on an equal footing with the lesser nobles (szlachta), boyars, and other free citizens. As a result, the community prospered.
In 1495 they were expelled by Alexander Jagiellon, but allowed to return in 1503. The Lithuanian statute of 1566 placed a number of restrictions on the Jews, and imposed sumptuary laws, including the requirement that they wear distinctive clothing, including yellow caps for men and yellow kerchiefs for women.
The Khmelnytsky Uprising destroyed the existing Lithuanian Jewish institutions. Still, the Jewish population of Lithuania grew from an estimated 120,000 in 1569 to approximately 250,000 in 1792. After the 1793 Second Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Lithuanian Jews became subjects of the Russian Empire.
The Jewish Lithuanian population before World War II numbered around 160,000, or about 7% of the total population. At the beginning of the war, some 12,000 Jewish refugees fled into Lithuania from Poland by 1941 the Jewish population of Lithuania had swelled to approximately 250,000, or 10% of the total population.
During the German invasion of June 1941, 206,800 Jews were murdered by the Nazis and Lithuanian collaborators. Notable execution locations were in the Paneriai woods (see Ponary massacre) and the Ninth Fort.
Interest among descendants of Lithuanian Jews has spurred tourism and a renewal in research and preservation of the community's historic resources and possessions. Increasing numbers of Lithuanian Jews are interested in learning and practising the use of Yiddish.
The beginning of the 21st century was marked by conflicts between members of Chabad-Lubavitch and secular leaders. In 2005, Chief Rabbi Sholom Ber Krinsky was physically removed from the Synagogue by two men hired by the community's secular leader Mr. Alperovich, who then declared a new Chief Rabbi. (see Chabad-Lubavitch related controversies: Lithuania.)
he Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Lithuania resulted in the near total destruction of Lithuanian Jews[a] living in the Nazi-controlled Lithuanian and Polish territories (Generalbezirk Litauen of Reichskommissariat Ostland). Out of approximately 208,000-210,000 Jews, an estimated 190,000–195,000 were murdered before the end of World War II (wider estimates are sometimes published), most between June and December 1941. More than 95% of Lithuania's Jewish population was massacred over the three-year German occupation — a more complete destruction than befell any other country affected by the Holocaust. Historians attribute this to the massive collaboration in the genocide by the Christian locals, though the reasons for this collaboration are still debated.The Holocaust resulted in the largest-ever loss of life in so short a period of time in the history of Lithuania.
Note d ^ The propaganda line of Jewish Bolshevism was used intensively by Nazis in instigating antisemitic feelings among Lithuanians. It built upon the pre-invasion antisemitic propaganda of the anti-Soviet Lithuanian Activist Front which had seized upon the fact that more Jews than Lithuanians supported the Soviet regime. This had helped to create an entire mythos of Jewish culpability for the sufferings of Lithuania under the Soviet regime (and beyond). A LAF pamphlet read: "For the ideological maturation of the Lithuanian nation it is essential that anticommunist and anti-Jewish action be strengthened [...] It is very important that this opportunity be used to get rid of the Jews as well. We must create an atmosphere that is so stifling for the Jews that not a single Jew will think that he will have even the most minimal rights or possibility of life in the new Lithuania. Our goal is to drive out the Jews along with the Red Russians. [...] The hospitality extended to the Jews by Vytautas the Great is hereby revoked for all time because of their repeated betrayals of the Lithuanian nation to its oppressors." An extreme faction of the supporters of Augustinas Voldemaras, a group which also worked within the LAF, actually envisioned a racially exclusive "Aryan" Lithuanian state. With the start of German occupation, one of Kaunas' newspapers – Į Laisvę (Towards Freedom), commenced a spirited antisemitic crusade, reinforcing the identity of the Jew with communism in popular consciousness: "Jewry and Bolshevism are one, parts of an indivisible entity."
The events that took place in the western regions of the USSR occupied by Nazi Germany in the first weeks after the German invasion, including Lithuania, marked the sharp intensification of the Holocaust.
An important component to the Holocaust in Lithuania was that the occupying Nazi German administration fanned antisemitism by blaming the Soviet regime's recent annexation of Lithuania, a year earlier, on the Jewish community. Another significant factor was the large extent to which the Nazis' design drew upon the physical organization, preparation and execution of their orders by local Lithuanian auxiliaries of the Nazi occupation regime.
The Soviet Union invaded and occupied and subsequently annexed Lithuania in 1940. The German invasion of the Soviet Union, on 22 June 1941, came after a year of Soviet occupation which had culminated in mass deportations across the Baltics only a week before the invasion. The Germans were welcomed as liberators and received support from Lithuania's irregular militia against retreating Soviet forces. Many Lithuanians believed Germany would allow the re-establishment of the country's independence. In order to appease the Germans, some people expressed significant antisemitic sentiments. Nazi Germany, which had seized the Lithuanian territories in the first week of the offensive, used this situation to its advantage and indeed in the first days permitted a Lithuanian Provisional Government of the Lithuanian Activist Front to be established. For a brief period it appeared that the Germans were about to grant Lithuania significant autonomy, comparable with that given to Slovak Republic. However, after about a month, the more independently minded Lithuanian organizations were disbanded around August and September 1941, as the Germans seized more control.
f the main Yiddish dialects in Europe, the Litvishe Yiddish (Lithuanian Yiddish) dialect was spoken by Jews in Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia and in the Suwałki region of northeastern Poland.
However, following the dispute between the Hasidim and the Misnagdim, in which the Lithuanian academies were the heartland of opposition to Hasidism, "Lithuanian" came to have the connotation of Misnagdic (non-Hasidic) Judaism generally, and to be used for all Jews who follow the traditions of the great Lithuanian yeshivot whether or not their ancestors actually came from Lithuania. In modern Israel Lita'im (Lithuanians) is often used for all Haredi Jews who are not Hasidim (and not Hardalim or Sephardic Haredim). Other expressions used for this purpose are Yeshivishe and Misnagdim. Both the words Litvishe and Lita'im are somewhat misleading, because there are also Hasidic Jews from greater Lithuania and lots of Lithuanian Jews who are not Haredim. The term Misnagdim ("opponents") on the other hand is somewhat outdated, because the opposition between the two groups has lost much of its relevance. Yeshivishe is also problematic because Hasidim now make use of yeshivot as much as the Litvishe Jews.
ETHNICITY, RELIGIOUS CUSTOMS AND HERITAGE From Wikipedia
The characteristically "Lithuanian" approach to Judaism was marked by a concentration on highly intellectual Talmud study. Lithuania became the heartland of the traditionalist opposition to Hasidism. Though outnumbered and named "misnagdim" (opposers) by the Hasidim, the Lithuanian traditionalists believed that their standard Rabbinic Judaism predated Hasidism and was Judaism in its original and authentic form. Differences between the groups grew to the extent that in popular perception "Lithuanian" and "misnagged" became virtually interchangeable terms. However, a sizable minority of Lithuanian Jews belong(ed) to Hasidic groups, including Chabad, Slonim (Hasidic dynasty), Karlin (Pinsk) and Koidanov. With the spread of the Enlightenment, many Lithuanian Jews became devotees of the Haskala (Jewish Enlightenment) movement in Eastern Europe pressing for better integration into European society, and today many leading academics, scientists and philosophers are of Lithuanian Jewish descent.
The most famous Lithuanian institution of Jewish learning was Volozhin yeshiva, which was the model for most later yeshivas. Twentieth century "Lithuanian" yeshivas include Ponevezh, Telshe, Mir, Kelm, and Slabodka, which bear the names of their Lithuanian forbears. American "offspring" of the Lithuanian yeshiva movement include Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yisrael Meir HaKohen ("Chofetz Chaim") and Beth Medrash Govoha ("Lakewood") as well as numerous other yeshivas founded by students of Lakewood's founder, Rabbi Aharon Kotler.
In theoretical Talmud study, the leading Lithuanian authorities were Chaim Soloveitchik and the Brisker school; rival approaches were those of the Mir and Telshe yeshivas. In practical halakha the Lithuanians traditionally followed the Aruch HaShulchan, though today the "Lithuanian" yeshivas prefer the Mishnah Berurah, which is regarded as both more analytic and more accessible.
In the 19th century, the Orthodox Ashkenazi residents of the Holy Land were broadly speaking divided into Hasidim and Perushim, who were Lithuanian Jews influenced by the Vilna Gaon. For this reason, in modern-day Israeli Haredi parlance the terms Litvak (noun) or Litvisher (adjective), or in Hebrew Litaim, are often used loosely to include any non-Hasidic Ashkenazi Haredi individual or institution. Another reason for this broadening of the term is the fact that many of the leading Israeli Haredi yeshivas (outside the Hasidic camp) are successor bodies to the famous yeshivot of Lithuania, though their present-day members may or may not be descended from Lithuanian Jewry. In reality, both the ethnic makeup and the religious traditions of the misnagged communities are much more diverse.
The Lithuanian Jewish population may exhibit a genetic founder effect. The utility of these variations has been the subject of debate. One variation, which is implicated in familial hypercholesterolemia, has been dated to the 14th century, corresponding to the establishment of settlements in response to the invitation extended by Gediminas in 1323, which encouraged German Jews to settle in the newly established city of Vilnius. A relatively high rate of early-onset dystonia in the population has also been identified as possibly stemming from the founder effect.
(The borders of Lithuania have seen many changes, including a period when it was linked to Poland. See Videos)
Lithuanian Jews or Litvaks are Jews with roots in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia and the northeastern Suwałki region of Poland). The term is sometimes used to cover all Orthodox Jews who follow a "Lithuanian" (Ashkenazic and non-Hasidic) style of life and learning, whatever their ethnic background. The area where Lithuanian Jews lived is referred to in Yiddish as "Líte."
Lithuania was historically home to a large and influential Jewish community that was almost entirely eliminated during the Holocaust. Before World War II, the Lithuanian Jewish population was some 160,000, about 7% of the total population. Vilnius (then Wilno in the Second Polish Republic) had a Jewish community of nearly 100,000, about 45% of the city's total population. There were over 110 synagogues and 10 yeshivas in Vilnius alone. Between 60,000 - 85,000 of those enlisted in Poland's independent army prior to the German invasion identified themselves as Lithuanian Jews'.
Out of approximately 208,000-210,000 Jews, an estimated 190,000–195,000 were murdered before the end of World War II (wider estimates are sometimes published), most between June and December 1941. More than 95% of Lithuania's Jewish population was massacred over the three-year German occupation — a more complete destruction than befell any other country affected by the Holocaust
About 2,000 Jews were counted in Lithuania during the 2005 census.