Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lithuania -- update on fire damaged Pakruojis wooded synagogue

Fire-damaged north-facing side of the Pakruojis synagogue, Summer 2009.

A correspondent has written in with an update (and photos) on the historic wooden synagogue in Pakruojis, Lithuania, that was damaged by fire a few months ago. Many thanks for sending the pictures and for this vivid and thoughtful description:

We were shown the synagogue by a guide from the local tourist office, who was very helpful and spent much of the afternoon showing us the sights of Pakruojis. He said that there was a local feeling that the fire was started by teens - the building on the plot adjacent to the synagogue, which looked like a private dwelling, had also been set on fire at some point. It was evident from our tour that several buildings of local historical importance are sitting empty and unsecured, for example the old printing press, and the outbuildings of the large manor house have suffered several fires in the past. Pakruojis has the feel of a place which has experienced a long period of decline and does not have the public funds available to restore or even protect their historical buildings. The regeneration which we did see, which is taken place on the manor house, was the result of private investment. My feeling is that there will not be any local attempt to save the synagogue, as there are other more pressing financial needs in this challenged area, but that this was not because it is a building with a Jewish history - other buildings of local importance are equally threatened by fire and dereliction. Having said that, there is a local strategy in place to try and attract more tourists to the area - so who knows?

The site on which the synagogue stands looks over the river and was the first street in Pakruojis. This street, which is better described as a lane, runs along the side of the river, and so is hidden from the view of the current main street of Pakruojis and has little through traffic. It's a lovely spot, but is also very secluded - a great place for kids to hang out and get up to mischief... There is a bench next to the synagogue, where a street drinker was sitting as we were looking around the synagogue in the middle of the day. It is now also possible to walk into the synagogue through the hole in the east side, which is how we took the pictures of the interior.

As you will see from the photos, it seems that there is damage from at least two separate fires, one on the east side, and a larger one on the north side. The photo of the damage to the north side shows about two thirds of the length of the building - you can see the undamaged portion of the north side from another picture which shows the northeast corner - it was difficult to get a shot of the full length of the north side as the river (and at various points, the street drinker!) stood behind us.
Pakruojis wooden synagogue, east-facing exterior. Summer 2009.

Pakruojis wooden synagogue, interior. Summer 2009

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