Buildings of the Jewish Community
There are several sources of information concerning
the buildings of the Jewish community, including the recollections
diagram provided by George Birman, the town drawing in the Gorzd Memorial Book,
aerial photos #157
and #158 dated January 16, 1945, the 1923
plans posted by the Gargzdai Museum, a German
from 1939, recollections of Gargzdai residents set forth in
the Memorial Book and elsewhere, and whatever may be learned from
present conditions on the ground or in satellite photos on maps.lt
Earth. Aside from the 1945 aerials, only two photos
are known to exist of any of the buildings:
a) A photograph of the aron kodesh (ark) in
one of the buildings in Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, The Annihilation
of Lithuanian Jewry (Brooklyn: The Judaica Press, Inc.,
1995), p. 195;
b) Mr. Birman, who returned in April 1945,
following his escape from Kedahnen labor camp, took a photo which
now appears to be the ruins of the new stone Beit Midrash. The
picture is posted online at the site of the United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum, in the collection relating to George
8, picture at upper left. (At USHMM website, picture can be
magnified with mouse scroll wheel). Because Mr. Birman did not
identify the building in the photo, study is necessary to now
identify it. Due to the extensive destruction, the photo offers
little guidance as to the building's original appearance.
The pictures in the town diagram near the front of the Gorzd Memorial Book give some idea of the design of the buildings before their destruction:
The aerial photos reflect conditions after a devastating fire in 1939, and battles in June, 1941 and October, 1944. Presumably further destructive efforts were aimed against the buildings during the Nazi occupation. The Gorzd Memorial book, published in 1980, reflected the memories of those who had left prior to 1941 and in most cases much earlier. They probably worked without any maps or photos. The configuration of the buildings did not remain constant over the years, and various sources may reflect different time periods. Given all these sources of uncertainty, it is inevitable to find conflicting memories and interpretations. Nonetheless, there are remarkable areas of agreement.
Exhibition at the website of the Gargzdai
Museum contains plans of the synagogue complex,
LCVA, f. 1622, ap. 4, b. 1086, dated 1923 (at Virtual
Exhibition webpage, click on plan at bottom of page to
enlarge). The plans consist of large architectural
drawings of the new synagogue (a floorplan, elevations and
cross-sections), together with a smaller plot plan (1/5
the scale of the larger drawings) showing the location of
several buildings within the synagogue complex. These
labelled as the existing synagogue, the new synagogue,
and the existing rabbi's residence and four
The aerial photograph #157 of Gargzdai, aligned to true north, with synagogue plans superimposed, is shown below in Illustration 3:
best match between the plans and aerial applies only
to the large building. As for the existing
synagogue, see discussion below at Illustration 22.
The rabbi's residence and classroom were evidently
constructed in a different place than shown in the
Janina Valanciute writes in Gargzdu miesto ir parapijos istorija (Vilnius 1998, ISBN 9986-23-047-0) that the new stone synagogue was not completed until 1928. There could have been considerable variation from the 1923 plans.
day satellite photos show that the area formerly
occupied by the new synagogue shown in the 1923
plans is now a grass-covered area and basketball
court. The author has been told by two
residents, in 2001 and 2008, that a wooden home to
the west of the grass-covered area is at the former
location of the synagogue. The resident speaking in
2008 indicated that this synagogue had been made of
brick. Its location is consistent with the
building which former Gorzd resident George Birman
labelled Tiferet Bachurim in his Town Plan, and
which Birman also said was made of brick. Birman had
the benefit of Aerial #157 when making his diagram.
|Likely location of Tiferet Bachurim on 1945 aerial||George Birman town plan (portion)|
George Birman told the author that in the 1930's there were four buildings of the Jewish community in this area: a Beit Midrash (made of wood), a Shul (made of white masonry), a Tiferet Bachurim (for teenage boys, made of brick), and the rabbi's residence/school. His Town Plan indicates that the Beit Midrash was the building farthest to the east, while the Shul was to its southwest. The Gorzd Memorial Book (Illustration 1 above) shows the two labeled buildings in a similar configuration to that shown in the Birman diagram. The diagram in the Gorzd Memorial Book indicates that the Beit Midrash is the larger rectangular building with the arched windows, which looks similar to the building shown in the 1923 plans, and the building to its southwest is labeled "Shul." The building which Mr. Birman labelled "Bet Midrash" on his town plan was the newer building, which was made of masonry, while the building he labelled "Shul" was the older building, made of wood. It is highly likely that he simply misspoke when he described the building materials of the Shul and Beit Midrash.
After construction of the new Beit Midrash, the old Beit Midrash building was used by Tiferet Bachurim:
"The beys-medresh [house
of study and prayer], which had for generations been the
center of general community matters, lost its “political”
character during the era of independent Lithuania. The
entire social life of the Jewish youth was moved over to
the party locales .... Only a small group of "tieferes
bochurim" [f/n] who studied" tanakh [Torah,
Prophets and Writings] and the commentaries every day,
retained the beys-medresh for
[f/n] 'Crown of Youth', a religious study group for older boys and young men."
|Looking west towards
location of old synagogue and Tiferet Bachurim (2009)
Wooden house identified by two residents as site of former synagogue
Photo taken from basketball court
|Looking north towards
likely site of Tiferet Bachurim (2009)
Street running east-west identified by resident in 2008 as Synagogue Street
|Looking east on
(yellow rectangles inserted for privacy)
order to place this building on the 1945 aerial,
one can align the aerial with a modern map at openstreetmaps.org,
and adjust the items in a graphics program until they
correspond. Top of the map and photo is towards
Note: Building identified by residents as former synagogue is marked #14 on openstreetmaps.org map.
Map from OpenStreetMap © OpenStreetMap contributors. copyright information for openstreetmap.org
This type of comparison is inexact, and different attempts can result in different alignments, even far enough apart to align different buildings. Slightly different comparisons of the map and aerial are shown farther below on this page.
Portion of Aerial #158 (January 16, 1945, from www.wwii-photos-maps.com) showing synagogue area. North is at the top.
For animation showing the relationship between photos #157 and #158, see here.
1) new Beit Midrash, made of masonry (yellow arrow),
2) old shul, made of wood (green arrow) (?),
3) Tiferet Bachurim, made of brick, at site of former Beit Midrash (dark blue arrow), and
4) rabbi's residence and school (light blue arrow) (??)
The Gargzdai plans show an interior wall and women's gallery. The interior wall has been added in Illustration 3 above to the west interior of the largest building. This internal wall matches features on the aerial photo.
The large architectural plans show the internal wall (and women's gallery on the second floor) on the right-hand side of the plans, and two exterior doors on the lower right corner. (The two doors are probably separate entrances for men and women. Sergey Kravstov, "Synagogue Architecture in Lithuania," in Synagogues in Lithuania, supra, p. 53; Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka, Wooden Synagogues, Institute of Polish Architecture of the Polytechnic of Warsaw (1959), p 36.) The floorplan would not necessarily show north at the top, but the accompanying plot plan shows the exterior doors to be at the southeast corner of the building. The women's gallery could not be on the east side, because the aron kodesh (ark) was traditionally placed on the eastern wall. The women's gallery would commonly be on the west side, over the vestibule. Thus, Illustration 3 assumes that the plans somehow were drawn in a mirror image of how the building was actually constructed. Perhaps the person originally drawing the plans had not been told of the traditional orientation towards the east. A path on the ground, shown in the photo, leads to where an entrance would be located, if the entrances were at the southwest corner, not the southeast corner as shown on the plot plan.
For reference to the aron
kodesh on the east side
of Lithuanian and Polish synagogues,
and/or the women's gallery on the west
side, see Kravstov, supra, p.49-50;
Levin, supra, pp. 36-37; Marija
Rupeikiene, "The Sacral Heritage of
Jewish Culture," in A. Jomantas, ed., Jewish
Cultural History in Lithuania,
Department of Cultural Heritage under
the Ministry of Culture, Versus aureus
(2006), ISBN 9955-699-47-7, at pp. 158,
159, 160, 163, 164; Alois Breier, Max
Eisler and Max Grunwald, Holzsynagogen
in Polen [Wooden
Synagogues in Poland] (1934), p.63;
Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka, Wooden
of Polish Architecture of the
Polytechnic of Warsaw (1959), pp. 23,
The plans for the Sveksna synagogue
(constructed 1928) are highly similar to
the Gargzdai plans. The Sveksna
plans show the ark on the east wall, and
the women's gallery on the west side
Animation showing at 3 second intervals:
Notes: High resolution scan of Aerial #158 was obtained from U.S. National Archives.
Small white dot at upper right corner of synagogue building, and several less bright dots NW of the bright dot, may be airborne barrage balloons. No dots appear here in Aerial #157, photographed a moment before.
Does white square (at tip of blue arrow) show the
remnants of ark and steps leading to it?
In comparing the Sveksna elevation with
Aerial #158, the base of the steps to the ark
in Sveksna is of similar size to the white
square at the east wall shown on Aerial #158.
Animation showing at three second intervals:
Note: the Sveksna plans do not show dimensions, so the above animation was creating assuming the Sveksna synagogue is approximately the same length as the Gargzdai synagogue/Beit Midrash. The Gargzdai synagogue plans show its length to be 21.5 m, while the Google Earth measuring tool shows the Sveksna synagogue building (existing at the time of the satellite photo) to have a length of approximately 22 m.Comparison with current map and satellite photo suggests this centerpoint of the eastern wall of the new Gargzdai synagogue/Beit Midrash, now may lie near the southeastern corner of basketball court, at the far side of the court shown below. (Yellow rectangles in photo hide individuals for privacy.) Standard international width for a basketball court is 15 m., a measurement which is confirmed for this court using the Google Earth measuring tool. Therefore, if this placement of the building is correct, some of the building (approximately, the women's gallery and area beneath it) may have been at the location of the grass in foreground, but the major portion of the building may have been on the present day basketball court.
For information on Sveksna
synagogue, which is similar to the
Gargzdai plans, see:
KehilaLinks page for Sveksna
Index of Jewish Art, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, "Synagogue in Sveksna"
restored synagogue building on 7
L. Zamenhofo St., Kaunas (first
constructed in 1850), pictured at
bears a resemblance to the plans
of the Gargzdai synagogue. The
restored synagogue is pictured in
Rupeikiene, p. 157, and discussed
on p. 163. It is also described in
Another of Kaunas' thirty-six pre-war synagogues, shown in an aerial photograph on an undated postcard, also somewhat resembles the Gargzdai plans.
Jewish Synagogues of Lithuania at JewishGen
Naumiestis) at JewishGen
This page updated 3/22/19