One would be hard pressed to find a city or a town in Lithuania that would not bear signs of Jewish culture. Jews lived in Palanga since the second half of the 15th century. In 1487, the Jewish burial fraternity Chevra Kadisha was already operating in Palanga. Therefore, it can be assumed that the Jewish community already lived in the town. In the 17th century, Jews accounted for the majority of Palanga residents and made every effort to transform the small community into a prospering town.
In 1540, King Žygimantas I Senasis (Sigismund I the Old) granted the Jews the privilege to build the first synagogue and other sacral buildings in Palanga. During the same year, a cemetery was also established. In 1662, 40 Jews (24 men and 6 women) lived in Palanga. In 1693, in Palanga, Jews were granted the rights of town dwellers and were able to buy land, build houses and engage in trade.
In 1738, 13 built-up plots out of 56 in Palanga belonged to Jews. Most of the plots were located in the northern part. In 1739, in the western part of Palanga, five plots were owned by Jews, while four plots were in the eastern part (shops, a house with an inn and a synagogue behind it).
On 21 May 1742, the King Augustus II approved or renewed the right for Jews to reside in Palanga. In 1765, Palanga Qahal (Jewish community) comprised 398 Jews. In 1779–1781, when J. Masalskis took over Palanga eldership, a comprehensive town inventory and plan were drawn up. Three parts of Palanga were described in the inventory: village site – “the old town” and two parts of the town situated on different banks of Rąžė (Ronžė) River, i.e., “Jewish town” on the northern bank, and “town” on the southern bank. 70 plots were registered. Most of the “Jewish town” plots were located on both sides of Klaipeda (Memel) – Liepojos Road. In 1794, 18 plots out of 86 belonged to Jews.
According to the data collected in 1816, more than 30 homesteads in Palanga were owned by Jews. The synagogue, school, bathhouse and cemetery on a hill belonged to the Qahal. In 1817, Palanga had 688 residents, of which 439 (219 men and 220 women) were Jews that did not belong to Palanga estate jurisdiction and paid taxes for the plots to the estate.
In 1850, 729 Jews were registered in Palanga. In 1863, the Jewish Merchants Guild was established. In the second half of the 19th century, the number of Jews increased. In 1897, Palanga had 2149 residents of which 925 were Jews (43%).
As in most Lithuanian cities, in Palanga, Jews engaged in traditional businesses: trading, craft workshops.
At the end of the 19th century, Jews led an active social life in Palanga and around 7 amber stores and workshops were in business. At the beginning of the 20th century and during the inter-war period, the number of businesses increased to 10. A majority belonged to Jews and employed Jewish workers. In addition to amber processing and trade, other social and everyday services were offered in Palanga. Jews were the creators of resort-related businesses, such as rental services, sanatoriums and residential care homes. Such businesses made Palanga the capital of Lithuania’s summer resorts. All workshops, companies and shops were concentrated on the main Vytauto Street.
During the inter-war period, Jews held positions in city administration. In 1933, Palanga was granted city rights, and 11 Jews were elected to the council. A small credit bank led by Jews, a Hebrew elementary school and a religious school (Cheder), as well as synagogues were operating in Palanga. In 1938, a large fire started in Palanga, destroying almost the entire Jewish residential quarter.
In 1941, after Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the massacres of Jews occurred in Palanga. More than 300 Palanga Jews became the victims of a massacre on 27 June and 12 October.
Following World War II, the number of Jews in Palanga declined. In 1970, 31 Jews lived there. 9 years later, only 12 were left. Before the Restoration of Independence, 26 Jews resided in Palanga.
Jewish people were known for their entrepreneurship, promotion of culture; the community made efforts for Palanga to prosper and, during the inter-war period, to become a popular resort. Unfortunately, due to fires and the Soviet occupation, only a small number of memorable signs survived that could testify of the once prosperous Palanga Jewish community.
The route “The Traces of Jewish Heritage in Palanga” will introduce you to Jewish history and culture. You will visit buildings and places that survived or the ones that live only in memory and witness the life of the Jewish community of Palanga. You will also visit memorable Jewish places and other objects. The goal of the route “The Traces of Jewish Heritage in Palanga” is to contribute to the preservation and promotion of Jewish cultural heritage.
A fire that occurred on 10 May, 1938, in the rectory in Palanga destroyed almost the entire Jewish residential quarter located in the eastern part of Vytauto Street: from the former bus station (Kretingos g.) to Žvejų Street. However, several brick houses survived. One such building is a two-storey house standing in front of the former Palanga bus station on Kretingos Street (built in 1923). Before the war, this was a Jewish house and an amber workshop was operating in a building in the yard (Kretingos g. 2). Currently, the National Centre for Public Health is settled in the building (Kretingos g. 4).
On the other side of the street, a plot once occupied by Palanga bus station (Vytauto g. 94) belonged to Jews before the great fire. After the fire, the Ministry of Interior bought this plot, and the construction of the first brick bus station in Lithuania commenced in 1938 (finished in 1939). The author of the project – V. Lvovas.
One of the buildings that belonged to Jews and survived the fire is located at Vytauto g. 57, in front of Palanga Central Square. In 1929–1930, the house was built by brothers Motelis and Geršonas Kanai and Juozas Vilktrakis. The building was occupied by the Kanai family amber shop, and the other part was rented: a hairdresser’s, a footwear shop, manufactory stores were all lessees here. J. Vilktrakis was engaged in the food trade. Apartments for Jews and an amber workshop were set up on the second floor.
Various amber items were made in the workshop: earrings, beads, bracelets and other jewellery. Experienced and young craftsmen, pupils, including women, worked in the workshop. Amber goods made by them were so popular, they were exported to many European countries, including America, and later, to Russia, which became the largest market. In 1937, Palanga residents Kanai brothers won a prize in the International Exhibition of Craft and Arts in Paris and were awarded silver medals.
In 1938, after the great fire of Palanga, the northern part of the city burned down, but this building was one of the few surviving. Until today, the building remains almost unchanged and its history reminds of the Jewish house that once stood.
It is difficult to give a number of how many synagogues were in built in Palanga, as different sources indicate different construction dates.
There is evidence that in 1540, Jews were granted the privilege to build the first synagogue in Palanga. In 1738, a church stood on one side of the main street, and on the other side, north of the church – iškala (synagogue).
Architects Dr. Marija Rupeikienė and Antanas Rupeika claim that in 1863, a wooden synagogue was built in Palanga. After the church burned down, the Great synagogue was built in 1880. In 1900, two more synagogues were built (most likely brick). In 1939, Palanga city plan drawn up shows two brick buildings of different size – the Great and the Minor synagogues.
The Minor synagogue stood north of the Great synagogue and was significantly smaller. The areas of synagogues were 20x17 m2 and 14x13 m2, respectively. Both synagogues were red-brick structures, decorated with plaster details. The exterior was dominated by Neo-Romanesque architecture elements.
Most synagogues in Lithuania were destroyed during World War II and post-war years. None of the synagogues in Palanga survived, the last was destroyed during the Soviet times. A grocery store was built in place of the former synagogues. A shopping centre is still in operation in this location.
To summarize, it can be said that most information about synagogues of Palanga can be found about the Great and the Minor synagogues, therefore, their exact locations could be determined.
This three-storey house built in 1940 belonged to Jews. Residential apartments were set up there. From the 1940s, the Executive Committee of the Council of People’s Deputies of Palanga operated in this building; from 1995 till 2015 – Palanga city municipality administration. Two one-storey brick garages and yard buildings belong to the object. The total area of the buildings: 675.43 m2.
Around 1935, S. Levijas established the first lemonade production plant in Palanga. A wooden house once stood at J. Basanavičiaus g. 5A from 1926 on, and it is believed that the lemonade production plant was there. The building did not survive, and in its place, an entertainment space for children was established.
The water used for lemonade production was taken from a 270m-deep artesian well. Currently, an impressive sculpture to commemorate the first well of Palanga stands in this place (J. Basanavičiaus g. 1, in front of Kurhauzas (Kurhaus)). The metal sculpture-fountain portraying four fresh-water fish surfacing from the depths is by Klaipeda resident artist Vytautas Balsys. The sculpture features engraved words by A. de Saint-Exupéry about the importance of water to the existence of life.
Around 1926, Eta Gutmanienė obtained permission from the city council to build a power plant in Palanga. The Palanga power plant was built in J. Basanavičiaus Street in 1920s–1930s. Eta Gutmanienė became the owner. The building (near the present-day restaurant “Molinis ąsotis” (“Clay Pitcher”) was a one-storey red-brick structure (10x5 m2) with arched windows and doors. In 1937, E. Gutmanienė sold the power plant to Palanga city municipality for 37,000 litas. The building has survived, but the exterior was reconstructed and significantly changed. At present, catering services are provided in the building.
In 2013, a wooden bridge over Ražė River in Palanga near J. Basanavičiaus Street was dedicated to Josifas Brodskis, a Russian Jewish poet and Nobel prize winner. The bridge was decorated with an information board with memorial signs (sculptor Mindaugas Šnipas).
J. Brodskis was fond of two Lithuanian cities: Vilnius and Palanga. He visited the resort twice: in 1966 and 1968. After becoming fascinated by Palanga, the poet wrote several poems reflecting the scenery of the seaside and famous resort locations. A poem in his cycle of poems “Lithuanian Divertissement” is dedicated to Palanga.
J. Brodskis was born on 24 May, 1940, in Leningrad (Saint Petersburg). Due to his dissident views, he was forced to flee the Soviet Union in 1972. He went to the USA, where he worked in various universities as a guest professor. In 1981, the poet moved to New York. In 1987, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in Stockholm. The poet died on 28 January, 1996, and was buried in San Michele cemetery in Venice, a city he loved.
In 1941, a pioneer camp was opened in Palanga. Children were accommodated in recreational buildings. The pioneer camp consisted of a considerable percentage of Jewish children. The boys lived in a two-storey house, the girls were accommodated separately. Children were overseen by teachers and supervisors (senior students, Komsomol members). Children used to play, go to the beach, swim and collect amber pieces. However, recreational activities only lasted for two weeks. On 22 June, 1941, on the first day of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union, Palanga pioneer camp suffered damage. The children were taken in groups out of the city towards Latvia. The fate of the children varies. Some were stopped by Wehrmacht units and returned to Palanga, others were evacuated deeper into the Soviet Union. Children returned to Palanga were confined in one of Palanga synagogues, together with Jewish women and other Jewish children.
The sculpture “Mergaitė” (“Girl”) by V.A. Vertulienė stands on Vytauto Street near Palanga Summer Reading Hall of Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania (architect V. Daninskis). The sculpture is dedicated to commemorate the Palanga Pioneer Camp that suffered during the first days of World War II. During the Soviet times, this sculpture was named “Pionierė” (“Pioneer Girl”).
The Old Jewish Cemetery of Palanga was located at the edge of the park of Tiškevičiai family, near the entrance. The place is now called “Jaunimo kalnelis” (“Youth Hill”). The sculptural composition “Šaulys” (“Sagittarius”) created by Steponas Šarapovas according to the triptych “Zodiac Signs” by M. K. Čiurlionis stands on the hill.
Burials in the cemetery ceased in 1892 onwards (before the establishment of Tiškevičiai Park). Soil layers under the cemetery were found to be more than 200 years old. According to analogues, it is believed that tombstones (matzevah) were decorated with symbols of Jerusalem temples, Decalogue and other Judaism symbols.
On June 22, 1941, after Third Reich military forces occupy Palanga; on June 26, all jews in the community were arrested and held in two synagogues. Women, children and the elderly were confined in one synagogue, men and boys in the other. On 27 June, 1941, men and boys (13 years old and over) were separated and taken towards the park territory. 111 Jews and people of other nationalities accused of supporting the Soviet regime were shot in the southern part of Birutės Park, behind Birutės Hill. Based on the historical research by the Lithuanian Genocide and Resistance Research Centre, there were 95 members (93 men and 2 women) of the Jewish community of Palanga rural district among those killed, as well as 16 non-Jewish people, who were mostly Lithuanians.
In July 1958, the location of the massacre was unearthed, and the remains of the victims were moved to the civil cemetery of Palanga city. A monument was built at the site in memory of the victims.
In 1989, a monument – a large stone – was built in the symbolic massacre location in memory of the victims. The actual location of the massacre was several hundred meters away, in the territory of villa “Auska”. Lord G. Janner marble slab (stele) was built in Birutės Park, indicating the direction of and distance to the symbolic location of the Jewish massacre. Lord G. Janner (1928–2015) was a famous British public figure, politician, barrister, chairman of Jewish organizations. He headed the programme of non-governmental organization with the goal to mark all Jewish massacre locations in Lithuania and install road signs to these locations.
After Palanga was ravaged by a fire in 1830, the old burial registration books were destroyed (the oldest burial fraternity books date back to 1487). Since 1831, funeral registration began in the new Jewish cemetery in the outskirts of town. 10 various-sized granite and concrete tombstone monuments (matzevah) in the cemetery with engraved Hebrew inscriptions survived.
In 1991, a memorial monument marking the location of the old Jewish cemetery was built. On 4 September, 2008, the cemetery was registered in the Cultural Property Register of the Republic of Lithuania (unique object code – 32235).
In 1958, the remains of 111 Jews and people of other nationalities shot on 27 June, 1941, in the south part of the park were reburied in the civil cemetery of Palanga town. This decision was made by Palanga town Executive Committee of the Council of People’s Deputies of the Lithuanian SSR, in accordance with Resolution No. 610 of Lithuanian SSR Council of Ministers. The burial site is in the western part of the cemetery, near the main entrance to the cemetery from Vytautas g.
* Different information about amber workshops is found in sources. Usually, their location is on Vytauto Street. However, the numbers of houses on this street have changed more than once, therefore, data for determining the exact location of workshops is insufficient.
In 1850, Moricas Bekeris (1830–1901), originally from Gdansk, came to Palanga. In Memel (present-day Klaipeda), the businessman concluded a partnership agreement with German F. W. Stantien, the owner of an inn, in which he stayed, and established a branch of the company Stantien & Becker in Palanga in around 1858 m. In all likelihood, this partnership built the foundation for the development of the amber business in Palanga.
F. W. Stantien was considered the strategist of the entire company, while M. Becker took care of the sale of extracted amber. From 1860 till 1890, 75 tons of amber per year on average were extracted from the bottom of the Curonian Lagoon, along Juodkrante. Amber materials were a popular item in the entire Kuršas Governorate. The company became incredibly profitable. Hundreds of workers were hired, and they installed as many new machines as they needed. 22 steam shovels were used in the amber mines, and a team of 600 people operated the equipment. Amber items from the company’s branch in Palanga were supplied to the Russian Empire, Armenia, Persia and Palestine.
At the end of the 19th century, the company Stantien & Becker went to Prussian companies. Until World War II, all Palanga manufacturers belonged to the Prussian government, which used to control the distribution of amber materials. Fortunately, an agreement concluded between M. Becker included an entry that Palanga manufacturers, who bought amber from him, could continue the supply of amber from the Prussian government. In this way, M. Becker succeeded in saving the amber masters of Palanga.
In 1860, an amber processing company was established by Taueris and Buršteinas and stayed in business till 1891. Jewellery, religious attributes, boxes were made in the company. Local amber collected on the seashore as well as brought from Juodkrante was processed in workshop.
In 1890s, more amber workshops were established. In 1889–1891, 7 people worked in the “Koorpus” workshop, and items worth 6,700 golden rubles were manufactured annually.
In 1888–1891, 40 people worked in Šlezingeris and Josifovičius amber company, and items worth 20,000 golden rubles were manufactured annually.
In 1892, the Gutmanas and Reinusas workshop was opened. At the end of the 19th century, the workshop employed approx. 110 workers; the annual worth of items made in the workshop amounted to 30,000–60,000 golden rubles.
In 1893, Kameneckis’ company was opened. It employed approx. 50 workers, and items worth 30,000 golden rubles were manufactured annually.
At the beginning of the 20th century, L Fridmanas’ amber shop operated in Palanga. Items from the amber workshop in Klaipeda were brought to this shop.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Levijas and Basas’ amber workshop was opened. The workshop accepted private orders, and various amber jewellery items were made.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Rubelis and Levinas established an amber workshop. Lithuanian amber brought from Juodkrante was processed in it. The workshop engaged in amber jewellery production and accepted orders.
On May 10, 1938, Palanga was ravaged by an enormous fire, which had serious consequences both to the residents of Palanga and to the future development of the resort. It is believed that the cause of the fire was the chimney of the rectory building. The fire started in the morning, at about 11 o’clock. Due to the strong wind, the flames spread to nearby houses, engulfing Vytauto, Kretingos, Turgaus, Pirties, Jūratės, Maironio, Malūno streets, later turning to Old Palanga. The northern part of Palanga city ravaged by the fire is marked by a dashed line.
The fire destroyed almost all of the Jewish residential area, which was in the eastern part of Vytauto Street, from Kretingos to Žvejų Street.
As is mentioned in inter-war press, the view after the fire was frightening: “At 16 o’clock, while walking on Vytauto Street, you could see only chimneys and furnaces. The remaining beams were still smoldering. Brick buildings without roofs, without windows. Only their damaged walls stand testaments of the tragedy. Vytauto Street looked like the ruins of excavated Pompeii” .
A great number of Palanga residents’ houses, the entire trade and industrial centre of Palanga, shops, bars, workshop buildings burned down, most of which belonged to Jews and their families.
 Palangos gaisras. Vakarai. 1938 05 11, Nr. 108, p. 2.; Liepsnų jūra Palangą užliejo nepaprastai greitai. Lietuvos aidas. 1938 05 12, Nr. 210, p. 1.; Kaip sudegė Palanga. Diena. 1938 05 15, Nr. 20, p. 9.
On 17 February 2017, Palanga and Eilat, Israel’s seaside resort, became cities-partners. A friendship and collaboration agreement was signed by Palanga mayor Šarūnas Vaitkus and Eilat mayor Meir Itzhak Halevi.
The friendship with Eilat, the resort of Israel, is very important to Palanga, as Jewish and Lithuanian nations are united by history, and the Jewish community that resided in Palanga was one of the engines of the town’s economy.
We would like to express our gratitude to the Professional guide from Kaunas Chaim Bargman and to Jūratis Viktoras Liachovičius (1946-2017), the director of Palanga Resort Museum.
Published by: Palanga tourism information center
Collected by: Mindaugas Surblys
Designed by: Gitana Dainiūtė
Photos by: Mindaugas Surblys, Palanga public library Local history fund, Palanga city municipality Department of Culture, Palanga Resort Museum, Kretinga Museum, Poland National Library, S. Žulkus collection, A. Kijauskas family album, Z. Kazėnas