Kaunas

Jewish Kaunas

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Litvaks—Lithuanian Jews—are believed to have arrived in the Kaunas region at the start of the 15th century, originally settling in the nearby shtetl of Slobodka (today’s Vilijampolė neighbourhood) just over the river from Old Town and the location of the wartime Kovno Ghetto. By the time of the Nazi invasion in June 1941, the city’s Jewish population numbered over 30,000 inhabitants. A vast and often forgotten amount of the city’s interwar architecture was built using Jewish expertise and/or money, a contribution to the success of the newly independent country that was rewarded with the destruction of almost the entire Litvak civilisation during the Holocaust. Kaunas’ Jewish population is tiny today, its two ageing communities constantly at war with each other. All that’s really left are a handful of buildings, memorials and memories.

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