A Yiddish elementary textbook written by Judel Mark, a former teacher at the Ukmergė college, famous pedagog and Yiddish linguist. After the war in emigration Judel Mark edited a twelve volume defining dictionary of Yiddish Language

The most developed area of Jewish culture, which remained unchanged after the liquidation of the autonomy, was education. The situation was somewhat paradoxical - although the spoken language was Yiddish, almost all newspapers, and certainly all dailies were published in Yiddish, the language of teaching in schools was mainly Hebrew. In different periods the number of Jewish primary schools in the country fluctuated from 110 to 130. Approximately 85% out of about 16.000 pupils attended Jewish schools, others - Lithuanian. In one fifth of Jewish schools children studied in Yiddish, in the remaining 80% - in Hebrew. There were 22-26 secondary schools, only two of them Yiddish (and since 1933 functioned only one - Kaunas commercial school, which later became the Sholom Aleichem college). The curriculum was taught by qualified teachers, many of them were PhDs. Jewish youth also graduated Lithuanian colleges. Jews constituted a large portion of university students, at the end of 1920s up to 25%. When admission of Jews to universities was restricted, their numbers decreased. In 1939 only 360 Jewish students remained out of the total number of 3860.

Dr. Nachman Shapiro. Portrait by Ester Lurje. Kaunas ghetto

unique phenomenon was the Department of Semithology at the University of Kaunas (since 1930 Vytautas the Great University). The Department was established together with the University in 1922. At the outset there were plans to set up three Departments of Judaic studies (the mentioned one, the Department of Yiddish Language and Literature, and Department of Jewish History), however, when the autonomy was limited, only one remained. Still it was the first (and until 1934 the only) Department of Judaica in the Baltic states, as well as one of few in Europe. Practically the Department began its work at the beginning of 1926 when its Head became Dr. Nachman Shapira, a son of A. D. K. Shapira, the Chief rabbi of Kaunas and Lithuania. The Department trained teachers for Jewish schools. In 1932 the decree of the President of Lithuania conferred to Dr. N. Shapira a degree of the Associate professor. N. Shapira was a prominent scholar. He wrote a lot of scientific articles, several monographs. His "Modern Hebrew Literature" (I part) was simultaneously published in Kaunas and Tel Aviv (in 1940). The second edition was published in already independent Israel in 1967. Due to the death of the author in Kaunas ghetto in 1943 the book remained unfinished.


However, not only tolerance and benevolence toward Jews were characteristic to the inter-war Lithuania. There were also phenomena, which poisoned Jewish lives - the outbursts of anti-Semitism. For example, in 1923 in Kaunas during one night the Jewish signboards of shops, doctors', lawyers' offices were painted over with tar. Later this was repeated in Shiauliai and elsewhere. Dr. Jonas Basanavitchius, Professor Jonas Jablonskis, other eminent figures, academicians decisively condemned these acts. When the Nazi came into power in Germany, the anti-Semitic moods in Lithuania intensified.

After the 1926 coup Jews were blocked out from state institutions. Expelled from society's elite Jews engaged in trade, so called free lance occupations. As Hitler gained strength, the enrollment of Jews in the university faculties of medicine, law was restricted. University students organized uproarious anti-Semitic demonstrations; the majority of the faculty condemned them, but demonstrations continued. With the growth of economic competition, Lithuanian businessmen employed anti-Semitism, announced the boycott on Jewish shops, a slogan "Lithuania for Lithuanians"; newspaper "Verslas" ("The Business") published pogrom anti-Jewish articles, which resembled the style of the Nazi press. The President A. Smetona denounced anti-Semitism, however, as his power weakened, even the semiofficial organ "Lietuvos aidas" began publishing anti-Semitic articles.


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Jews in Lithuania, Vilnius, 1999-2000