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Sejny


Tourist Attractions
The listed urban complex in the shape of the letter X; the church of the Visitation of the Most Holy Virgin Mother Mary, with a cloister (1610'1619), remodelled in 1760, with a Rococo decor; inside the church there is a figurine of the Holy Mother and Child (ca 1400), which is famous for miracles; the 19th-century crest-house architecture on the eastern side of the main square; the Town Hall (1840); the Classicist bishops' palace from the first half of the 19th century, now a post office.
Sejny, although part of the Podlasie administrative province, is in fact very much apart of the Vilnius region. Jews arrived in Sejny in the 17th century. In this idyllic little town, which brings summer holidays to mind, aparticularly large influx of Jews took place after 1770, when the Dominicans who then owned the town invited Jewish artisans to come in order to help the town to compete with neighbouring Krasnopol. To make the place more attractive, in 1778 the Dominicans built asynagogue (since replaced by the existing one). The idea for this unusual undertaking came from Prior Bortkiewicz. As Polujanski wrote in his Roaming around the Augustow District, quoted from Rakowski: "In order to bring Jews to Sejny and with their help enliven trade thereabouts, he built amagnificent synagogue to which the people of Israel gladly came and by widening the scope of their trading contacts they contributed to the decline of fairs and commerce in Krasnopol. In gratitude to their benefactor, prayers for Bortkiewicz were said in the synagogue each day". Nevertheless, the Sejny community was aperipheral one. However, it played an important role as acentre of the Haskalah for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Jewish settlement kept increasing here until it reached arecord level of 72% of the population in the middle of the 19th century. Later, for economic reasons, an equally rapid decrease took place. Poverty was so great that the local Jews could not afford the upkeep of the synagogue and many emigrated. In this way Sejny became a "temporary stop" for one generation on its way from east to west. In 1931 only 819 Jews lived here, which was some 24% of the population. They mostly traded in farming products and fruits of the forest. Some of them also worked as craftsmen or had jobs connected with the Augustów Channel. In November 1939 they were deported to Lithuania and later murdered by the Germans who invaded the territory in 1941.


The "Pogranicze" (Borderland) Foundation is avery active cultural institution located in Sejny. It was established in May 1990 by Krzysztof Czyzewski. In January 1991 the Borderland of Arts, Cultures and Nations Centre came into being. The cultures of the national minorities living in the borderlands are the focus of its activity. There are several permanent organisations based at the Foundation: the Documentation Centre of Borderland Cultures, the Class of Cultural Heritage, the Sejny Theatre, the Klezmer Band, the "Papuciarnia" Gallery and the Borderland Publishing House (the publisher of the book Neighbours by Jan Tomasz Gross, to mention but one). Other activities take the form of cyclical projects, such as: "Czlowiek Pogranicza" (Borderlander), "Pamiec starowieku" (Memory of Ancient Time), "Spotkanie innego" (Encounter with the Other), the Central-European Forum of Culture, "Camera Pro Mineritate". Jewish themes are approached here on very many levels: the Klezmer Band gives regular concerts and the Sejny Theatre's repertoire includes The Dybbuk, aplay by Sh. An-ski. The Centre for the Documentation of Borderland Cultures collects books, films, musical recordings, photographs and old postcards. It also publishes the cultural magazine "Krasnogruda".


A miniature model of multi-cultural Sejny, prepared by children at the Pogranicze Center, photo

The White Synagogue and Yeshivah
Moses Becalel Luria played the leading role in the construction of this synagogue. During the Second World War the Nazis turned it into afire station. It was used later as agarage, then acommunity co-operative storehouse and later afuel depot. The renovation works (1978-1982) brought the period of destruction to an end and the original exterior of the synagogue was restored. It is abuilding with three naves, rectangular in shape (19m by 25.5m). The recess for the aron ha-kodesh has remained, as have four richly shaped pillars between which the bimah once stood.

The blue and white building by the synagogue, now the premises of Fundacja Pogranicze (the Borderland Foundation), is the former yeshivah from the mid-19th century. It was built by Moses Yitzhak Avigdor. It also contained the kahal and Hebrew High School of Tuvie Pinkas Shapiro. The building was the main centre of the Haskalah for the entire Grand Duchy of Lithuania. During the period of Communist rule it served as afactory manufacturing footwear and this is how it got its nickname papuciarnia (slipper-house).
The building is administered by the Borderland Foundation, which runs the Centre named the Borderland of Arts, Cultures and Nations. Ul. Pilsudskiego 37, phone: +87 5162765 or 5162189; e-mail: fundacja@pogranicze.sejny.pl. Visitors are welcome between 10am and 4pm. The key is in the office of the Foundation (at the beginning of 2002 the Foundation was in the process of moving offices to the building adjacent to the former yeshivah).

The White Synagogue, photo



The Sejny Klezmer Band
The band was formed in 1995 during preparation for the staging of The Dybbuk by Sh. An-ski, as its members were playing a group of wedding musicians. Their performances delighted the audiences so much that they decided to start out on their own. They gradually built up a repertoire of traditional horas, shers, doinas and bulgars, being inspired by the works of Dave Tarras and Naftule Brandweine. The band polished its act at folk dance parties organised in fire stations and barns in villages on the River Bug and in Belarus around Grodno and Lida, as well as in Drohobych in Ukraine. Eventually, the band were invited to the Cracow Festival of Jewish Culture, where its members started to collaborate with the famous klezmer musician David Krakauer. The result was the music workshop The Musicians' Raft, attended by such masters of the genre as Dave Krakauer himself as well as Michael Alpert, Stuart Brotman, Jeff Warschauer and Deborah Strauss. The band is led by Wojciech Schroeder and the instruments are: the double bass, mandolin, drum, clarinet, accordion and viola. There is also a female vocalist. All concerts start at 7pm in the White Synagogue; tickets cost 10-15 zl. For dates contact the Borderland Centre.

Other Monuments of Jewish Culture

If you are looking for alittle nostalgia, take astroll on the right side of ul. Pilsudskiego in the direction of the church, where you will find some small houses with no modern conveniences. They were once inhabited by poor Jews. Old cobblestone paving has also withstood the passage of time unscathed. In one of the buildings you will discover acharacteristic gate, in another alittle shop. After a walk around the Town Hall in the market square you should go along ul. Ogrodowa, the best preserved old street in town.
Very little has remained of the Jewish cemetery. It used to occupy ahill overgrown with pine-trees and situated on the road to Augustów, atwenty five minute walk from the town centre (just past the modern-looking building at ul. 1 Maja 43 but on the opposite side). At present you will find here over adozen complete matzevot from the 20th century as well as some broken ones.

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