[Yiddish, Vilne, Vilna] - The capital of the
Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and of present-day Lithuania. The city was
known as "Jerusalem of the North", and became one of the most important
Jewish religious and cultural centers.
In 1527, it was granted the privilege de non tolerandis Judaeis,
forbidding Jews from settling there. Despite these restrictions, in the
mid-sixteenth century, Jews were active in Wilno, and many Jewish
customs collectors, money-lenders and merchants even lived there. In
1551, Jews were granted the right to live on property belonging to the
boyars, which led to the quick growth of Jewish settlements.
The first mention of an organized Community there dates back to
1568. Shortly thereafter, a synagogue was established. On the basis of
the privilege granted by Wladyslaw IV in 1633, Jews could be engaged in
all fields of trade, and were allowed to work as publicans and
craftsmen. They were granted permission to build a new masonry
During this period, about 3,000 Jews lived in Wilno (about 20% of
the city's total population). The Jewish Community gained a dominant
position in the Sejm of Lithuanian Jews. The city became one of the most
important centers of Talmudic studies. Among its leading scholars were
Rabbi Elijahu ben Szlomo, a Talmudist, supporter of religious
rationalism and the study of lay subjects, and a staunch opponent of
As the result of the third partition of Poland,
Wilno was annexed to Russia. In the nineteenth century, it became an
important center for the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah), lay culture as
well as the cradle of political life. In 1897, the Bund party was
founded in Wilno, and Jews were active in the Polish Socialist Party,
founded by J. Pilsudski. This group in particular was popular, for
example, among the students of Wilno's Rabbinical School. The Lithuanian
independence movement supported the Zionist conference that was held in
Wilno in December 1918. Two Zionist activists, J. Wygodzki and
(1855-1941) and S. Rosenbaum (1860-1934) were members of the first
After the First World War, Wilno once again became part of Poland.
As revenge for their alleged collaboration with the Lithuanians, the
Polish army launched a pogrom against Wilno's Jews in April 1919 when
the Polish occupation of the city began.
During the interwar period, Wilno remained an important center for
political life. Many political parties were active there, including the
Bund and Folkists. Wilno became a center for Yiddish-language culture,
including literature, the press, and art (Jung Vilne), as well as
academic life (Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institute, 1925-40).
In 1800, approximately 7,000 Jews lived in Wilno; by 1897, this
number had risen to almost 64,000 (41.5% of the city's total
population); in 1921, it was 46,500 (36%), increasing in 1940 to about
In 1939, the city was occupied by the Red Army.
After the Germans entered in 1941, Lithuanian fascist organizations
(Szaulisi) massacred Jews. In September 1941, the Nazis created two
ghettos in Wilno that were liquidated two years later; their residents
were deported to the death camp at Majdanek, as well as to Estonia and
the labor camp in Ponary. A Jewish partisan movement cooperated with the
Red Army detachments that were active in the Wilno region.
After the Second World War, the city was annexed to the Lithuanian
Socialist Soviet Republic. At that time, there were still over 10,000
Jews living there. Most of them became completely assimilated, and many
A renaissance of Jewish cultural and religious life has currently
been underway in independent Lithuania, primarily among young people. A
synagogue still operates there (built in 1903), as well as a Jewish
museum, school and other cultural institutions. At the cemetery in
Zarzecze, some of the gravestones have been moved from the old cemetery,
including that of Eliyahu ben Shlomo.