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Yad Vashem The Jerusalem of Lithuania: The Story of the Jewish Community of Vilna

The Interwar Period

Parties, Movements and Organizations

  • Group photograph of members of the "Hechalutz Hamizrachi" kibbutz in Vilna
  • Year photo of the "Reishit" organisation in prewar Vilna.
  • Mr. Aranawski with a group of "Chalutzim" - Jewish pioneers, in Vilna, 1937.
  • Members of the "Hashomer Hadati" directorate in Vilna, July 1938.
  • The house in Vilna where the first congress of the Lithuanian Communist Party took place, 1918.
  • Members of the Beitar youth movement, 18/03/1933. Their names are listed on the reverse.
  • Reverse of the photograph members of the Beitar youth movement in Vilna
  • Chava Kamenman–Mirkin

Between the two world wars, Jewish political and youth movements in Vilna blossomed as never before. The Bund and many Zionist parties were active in the city, and dozens of training kibbutzim were founded in Vilna and its surroundings. They had more than 1,000 members, many of whom emigrated to Eretz Israel.

"Tzeirei Tzion" established an agricultural cooperative, published a magazine, ran a restaurant, clubhouse and library, and collected donations.  In 1925, it wrote to the committee of Hapoel Hatzioni in London: "The Zionist-Socialist Tzeirei Tzion union is pretty courageous: we have in our region 44 sites with some 2,000 members. Praise to those that work more actively on behalf of the Zionist funds… the pioneering aliya is made up almost exclusively by our members. The public, political, economic and cultural efforts that have taken up much space in our region, have also taken place mostly at the hands of our union."

"Poalei Tzion Z"S (Zionist-Socialists)" took under its wing the "Hechalutz (Pioneer)" movement, but nevertheless did not exert much influence over the local workers, although it was more successful with the educated sector. Many of its members hailed from the Yiddish educational network ZBK and Shul Kolt.

Also active in the city were the "Poalei Tzion Smol (Left)," the Zionist-Socialist Union that drew many of the educated Hebrew speakers, and branches of the Zionist-Socialist youth groups "Hechalutz," "Hashomer Hatzair," "Gordonia" and others. 

Agudath Israel
Agudath Israel in Vilna worked to uphold ultra-orthodox education and religious practice, and also made practical efforts to promote emigration to Eretz Israel. In 1921, a conference of dozens of rabbis from over 40 cities and towns was held in Vilna at the initiative of Rabbi Hayim Ozer Grodzinski. Among the guests was the "Chafetz Chaim." Participants discussed activities in support of the yeshivot, the safeguarding of Sabbath, and the strengthening of religious practice. The former goal drew other rabbis who were members of Mizrachi. The Yeshiva Council, whose headquarters were in Vilna, was also an important financial institution that published the journal of Agudath Israel. When Agudath Israel began to work for aliya and Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel, many rabbis left the Zionist faction and joined Agudath Israel. Agudath Israel established a training group and a fund to support Jewish settlement in Eretz Israel.

The Democratic Party
The small Democratic Party operating in Vilna was a satellite of the Bund. It stood for Jewish secular nationalism in the Diaspora, without territory but centred on the Yiddish language. The party established a union for Jewish settlement in Poland in order to cultivate Jewish agricultural settlement around town centres. JCA, the Jewish Colonization Association founded by Baron Maurice de Hirsch, supported the activities of the party, but its settlement ideas were never realized.

The Territorialist League
In 1934, the Territorialist League was founded in London, with the aim of finding a territorial solution for the Jews in Europe. In 1935, a branch of the League was established in Vilna, which ran a clubhouse and lectures. The Territorialist scouting youth in the city –"Sperber" – published booklets during 1935-1937 and held summer scout camps attended, among others, by young poets Abraham Sutzkever and Hirsh Glik of "Jung Vilna." A group of League members established an agricultural farm, where they worked in manual labour. Among their slogans was: "Will it – and 'Freiland' (Free Land) will no longer be a dream."

Jews in the Communist Party
The Communist Party was secretly operational in Vilna, as its activities had been outlawed. Most of its members were Jewish, and thus too were the majority arrested every year by the Polish authorities in advance of the May Day marches. The communist youth organized demonstrations, distributed propaganda and raised communist flags. Dozens of Jews were arrested and tried, and some were sentenced to years of imprisonment. Communist newspapers were banned and their editors arrested.

The exhibition was made possible through the generous support of Mr. Nehemia Burgin in memory of his dear and beloved parents, Holocaust survivors Zlata (Zehava) Burgin and Yehiel Burgin of blessed memory.