Buildings of the Jewish Community
are several sources of information concerning the buildings of the
Jewish community, including the recollections and town
diagram provided by George Birman, the town drawing
Gorzd Memorial Book (Image 12), the Jan.
16, 1945 aerial photos, the 1923
synagogue plans posted by the Gargzdai Museum, a German
firemap from 1939, recollections
of Gargzdai residents, and whatever may be learned from present
conditions on the ground or in satellite photos on Wikimapia
Earth. Aside from the 1945 aerial, no photos are known to
exist of any of the buildings, with the exception of one photo of the
synagogue ark. (A photograph of the aron kodesh
(ark) appears in Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, The Annihilation of
Lithuanian Jewry (Brooklyn: The Judaica Press, Inc., 1995),
p. 195.) The small pictures in the town diagram in the Gorzd memorial
book give some idea of the appearance of the buldings.
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
Area 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
are labelled as the existing synagogue, the new synagogue, and the
existing rabbi's residence and four classrooms. A good
starting point for locating the various buildings is to try to find on
the aerial photo, the new synagogue shown in the building
plans. It is possible to achieve a good match between the
exterior of the building with ruins shown on the aerial
photo. (The match in size was achieved using the scaling
information on the plans, and without trying to duplicate the size of
the structure in the aerial photos.) If the plans are reversed east to
west, there is also a remarkable match with an interior wall.
The aerial photograph #157 of Gargzdai, aligned to true north, with synagogue plans superimposed, is shown below:
best match between the plans and aerial applies only to the large
building. As for the existing synagogue, the plans may show
additional smaller building or building addition, rather than the main
synagogue itself. The
rabbi's residence and classroom were evidently
constructed more to
the southwest and smaller than shown in the plans.
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.
Present 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 bulding which former Gorzd resident George Birman labelled Tiferet Bachurim in his Town Plan, and which Birman also said was made of brick.
|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. There are small drawings of the Shul and Beit Midrash in the Gorzd Memorial Book, posted by the New York Public Library (Image 12). This page in the Gorzd memorial book 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. 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.Photographs below, taken 2009, show general area where synagogue complex was probably located.
towards location of old synagogue and tiferet bachurim (2009)
Wooden house indentified by two residents as site of former synagogue
towards likely site of tiferet bachurim (2009)
Street running east-west identified by resident in 2008 as Synagogue Street
east on SynagogueStreet (2009)
(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 move the maps until they correspond. Top of the map and photo is
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. A slightly different comparison of the map and aerial, covering a larger area, is 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 Figure 1 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, Figure 1 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
Synagogues, Institute of Polish
Architecture of the Polytechnic of Warsaw (1959), pp. 23, 28; Wooden
- Bet Tfila.
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 upper floor.
Above: Animation showing in sequence 1) portion of Aerial 158;
2) same portion of Aerial 158 enhanced by unsharp mask, 3)
Plans of Gargzdai synagogue/Beit Midrash, reversed from east to west,
superimposed on likely location
Animation showing 1) portion of Aerial 158; 2) Plot plan for Gargzdai
synagogue/Beit Midrash with two modifications: a)
from street to building adjusted to reflect distance figure shown on
plans; b) plans
of building (reversed from east to west) superimposed on plot plan
Animations may not be visible with some browsers or operating systems)
white square (at tip of blue arrow) show the remnants of ark and steps
leading to it?
For information on Sveksna synagogue, see:
another recent photo
KehilaLinks page for Sveksna
Another Kaunas building (likely another of the city's 36 pre-war synagogues), shown in an aerial photograph on an undated postcard, also resembles the Gargzdai plans.
Photo may be looking west along present day Kestucio gatve. Building may be on present day Gedimino g. Can any reader confirm that a synagogue existed in this location?
Jewish Synagogues of Lithuania at JewishGen
(Zemaiciu Naumiestis) at JewishGen
Wooden synagogues of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Identification of Features on Aerial Photo | Aerial Photo of Gargzdai