2021 JUNE

The Tatar culture and history in Lithuania

The Tatars settled in the lands of Lithuania more than 600 years ago. They are descendants of the Turkic and Mongol tribes.
Being Tatars of different tribes, the did not preserve their mother tongue. Already in the 16th century the Tatars spoke the languages of the surrounding nations, but retained their national identity and their religion, Islam.
The first Tatar groups came to Lithuania in the first half of the 14th century during the reign of Grand Duke Gediminas. Organized Tatar communities got settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania only in the end of the14th century, under the rule of Grand Duke Vytautas, who in 1397 organized a march to the steppes of the Golden Horde and brought Tatar nomads. The Tatars joined the life of the country. Among them there were very wealthy families. The Tatars settled in the western part of the Trakai and guarded the southern entrance of the town. Achi (Haji) Girejus, the founder of the Crimean khanate and the pioneer of the Girai dynasty, who ruled Crimea from 1443, was born in Trakai.
In the beginning of the 17th century Lithuanian Tatars suffered from religious struggles. In 1609 a crowd of fanatics, who gathered in Trakai for the indulgences, burned down the Tatar mosque. Since then, the number of Tatars in Trakai has greatly decreased, and the mosque has never been rebuilt. The Tatar colonies of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania suffered irreparable losses in 1655–1660 during the war with Moscow. The Tatars massively retreated to Curonia, Podlasie, Volhynia, leaving all movable and immovable property. During18th century the Trakai Tatar community collapsed.
Not far from Trakai, only 18 kilometers away, there is a village with an unusual name of Forty Tatars one of the oldest Tatar settlements in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It is said that Vytautas housed 40 Tatar prisoners in the territory of the present village. This way the village got its name.

It would be logical to assume that both in Vilnius and in the areas around the capital (Forty Tatar Village, Mereslėnai and Nemezis), Tatars settled during the reign of Grand Duke Vytautas (1392–1430). In the beginning of the16th century the Grand Duchy of Lithuania inhabited about 7,000 Tatars and in Vilnius, Lukiskės, the estimated number is about 200.
Since the Tatars were valued primarily as soldiers, in Vilnius they were housed near the Neris river for protection of the city. The Tatars settled in a compact space in the village of Lukiskės. It occupied an area (several hundred meters across and along) that could be defined by arrows fired from an arc. Thus, the Tatars lived outside the city area on the suburbs. Most were housed in poor wooden huts and engaged in agriculture and crafts. The Tatars of Lukiskės formed a peculiar lifestyle focused on maintaining nationality, traditions and religion. Although some noble families adopted Christianity, many Tatars remained Muslims. As soon as they settled in Lukiskės, they started building a mosque. This Muslim house of worship was one of the oldest in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, unfortunately, it was put down in 1968.
At present Vilnius has Tatar Street it is called so because it used led to the Tatar Gate from which the road went to the Tartar suburb of Lukiskės.

Most Tatars living in Lithuania are Sunni Muslims. The mosques are open for worshipers in Nemėzis and the village of the Forty Tartars, in Raiziai and Kaunas. Their holy book is the Qur’an, their priest is called mullah or imam. Lithuanian Tatars gradually forgot their language and speak mostly local languages: Polish, Russian, Lithuanian. The liturgical language is Arabic. The Tatars used an Islamic version of the lunar calendar with a year count from Hijra, 622 AD when Muhammad and his followers withdrew from Mecca to Medina. Their holy day is Friday.
The most important occupation of Lithuanian Tatars was warfare. Tatar soldiers belonged to a higher social class. After settling in Lithuania, the noble Tatars received land and became landowners and conscripts. They had to deliver the prescribed number of soldiers and horses to the ruler of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and had to perform military service for the managed manors.

The Tatar soldiers were excellent riders, they accurately fired bows, guarded cities and protected the borders of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Tatars were valued for their loyalty, keeping their oath, devotion. Many Tatars, having inherited love for horses from their ancestors, worked as chariots. The Tatar chariots were reliable and honest, their services were used by the royal palace, merchants, and the clergy even trusted the transportation of money.
The Tatars also practised other crafts. The traditional craft was leatherworking as well as gardening. In their gardens they grew cucumbers, beets, onions, carrots and other vegetables. Cucumbers grown in Trakai were famous in Vilnius markets.

Tatar translators who spoke Arabic were highly valued and well paid. Their services were especially needed in Vilnius when the ruler and his manor stayed in the city. Many Tatars served the aristocrats of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, such as the Radvilas and the Ostrogians. One of the manors of Mikalojus Radvila the Black stood in the Tatar Lukiskės.
According to the data from the last Lithuanian census in 2011 there were 2,793 Tatars living in Lithuania and 1,517 in Vilnius County. The largest Tatar communities are located in Vilnius, Kaunas, Klaipėda, Panevėzys, Vilnius, Alytus, Trakai and Varena districts. In 2017 Lithuanian Tatars celebrated the 620th anniversary of their establishment in Lithuania. 2021 has been declared the Year of Lithuanian Tartar History and Culture.

Lukiskes mosque. Juozapas Ozemblovskis litography, 1840
Lukiškes mosque some time between the 2 World Wars.
Centennial – a traditional Lithuanian Tartar cake with honey and poppies. Lithuanian National Minorities Festival “Here is our birthplace – here is our home” (July 8, 2020). The photo from the archive of the Trakai History Museum.

A copy of the lithograph “Tatars” from G. F. Paul’s book “Description of Russian Nations”. Paris, 1862. From the collection of the history of Trakai




A film

Story Ended in Far Lands

She had to spend most of the summer holidays in grandfather’s farm where they had to speak Tatar Turkish. This difficult holiday, which she never liked as a child, would cause a sweet coincidence years later.

Should we travel back nine centuries to dig into this story a little bit? The middle asia; it is the land where many ancient Turkic and Mongol states had been established successively. But the Turkic nations had to migrate to the West between 6th and 11th centruies, and spread over first the West Asia, East Europe, and later the Middle East. By that time, Genghis Khan (1158-1227) who had founded the Mongol Empire, divided his lands among his sons before his death. The land between Seyhun River and Lake Baikal was given to Jochi, who later founded the Golden Horde State which was a Turkish Mongolian union. Batu Khan, the son of Jochi, expanded his land to the West, and declared its sovereignty in 1242 (*). So he was the real founder of the State. The nation was called the Tatar, although there were diverse Turkic groups living together. Its borders were from the European territories of Russia and the Northern part of Black Sea to the provinces in Caspian and Caucasian region. The borders formed the relationships to the neighbors which were Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Kingdom of Poland, Kingdom of Hungary and Byzantine Empire.

Fig.1. Western Part of the Golden Horde in the late 14th Century [1]

In 1257, Berke Khan, brother of Batu, passed the border to the south and accepted Islam, both for political and economical reasons. Although there were still other Turkic nations who were Christians and Jews, the Tatars were mostly accepted Islam. After the death of Berke, some successors maintained the power, but the throne quarrels started. Because the interference of Timur, who was the founder of another Turco-Mongol Empire, weakened the Golden Horde, it was split to the Kazan Khanate, Crimean Khanate, Astrakhan Khanate, Kipchak Khanate, Nogai Khanate and Sibir Khanate. In addition, the Moscow Principality, which later became the Russian Tsardom, remained independent. During that time, the majority of the population in Crimea consisted of Turks, who arrived there following the collapse of the Khazars. So the Crimean Tatars became the indigenous people of the Crimea.

An independent Crimean Khanate was eventually founded in 1441. In an effort to take control of Crimea, the Khans believed that they had to subdue the Genoese colonies on the Black Sea coast. The continuing conflict with the Genoese and the inner struggles for the throne caused some of the Tatars to ally with the Ottomans. The Ottomans captured Caffa and other Genoese colonies in 1475, and as a consequence, the Khanate became part of the Ottoman Empire [2]. During the reign of Mengli Giray Khan (1466-1514), who accepted the rule of the Sultan Mehmed II (conqueror of Constantinople) in Crimea, became the real founder of the Giray dynasty (1440s-1783) [3].

In the following centuries, the Khanate was a bulwark of the Ottoman Empire against Muscovy and Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth. By the late 15th century, the Ottomans were continuing to give support to Russians and Crimeans against the faction of Poland-Lithuania and the Golden Horde, a policy that reversed the balance of power. The Crimean-Russian alliance gained the upper hand, as a result the Golden Horde collapsed [2]. The Crimean Khanate seized the lands outside the Moscow Knezha, and the Golden Horde was erased from history in 1502.

When the Kipchak Khanate disappeared too, Mengli Giray was less interested in the Moscow alliance. He turned his attention northward, broke the alliance with Muscovy and went over to the Lithuanian side. He made an alliance with Lithuania (the Polish Jagellonian monarchy) in 1512. From this time on, the Crimean Tatars shifted the main direction of their slave raids to the border provinces of the Muscovite State, refraining from looting the Ukrainian lands controlled by the Lithuanian Principality. Since this time, the Crimean looting activity in the Muscovite territory intensified and began the protracted struggle between Russia and the Crimean Khanate [3].

This relationship also caused a mass migration of Tatars to Lithuanian lands during the period of Grand Duke Vytautas (1392-1430). Under Vytautas, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania reached its widest borders and became the largest country in Europe at that time, encompassing all of Belarus, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as parts of Moldova, Poland, Russia and Ukraine. Its ethnic, cultural and religious structure was diverse. A large number of Tatars migrated from Nogai and Crimean Khanates to Lithuania and many Tatar settlements were established. Vytautas wanted to make use of Tatars’ cavalry and combat techniques in his army and encouraged Tatar soldiers to come to his service. Tatars who settled in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were given land and tax benefits in return for military service. In the times when there was no war, Tatars were engaged in cultivation, animal husbandry, leather, trade and transportation. Tatars were also used as translators and intermediaries in the relations between Poland and Ottomans and Crimea, as they were cognates with the Ottoman Turks and shared the same religion and similar language [4].

Although the Crimean Tatars at first have agreed to offer financial assistance to the Ottomans, the case in reality was the opposite. The Ottomans also needed Tatars’ cavalry for their frequent military forays into the Balkan countries and battles with the Poles, Hungarians and Austrians for supremacy there. In terms of trade, the Tatars provided Constantinople with slaves, grain, salt, lumber, fish and meat. The slave trade was particularly lucrative, especially in women.

Fig.2. From Slavery of Tatars as Roxelana Fig.3. Hurrem Sculpture in Rohatyn,
to Throne of Ottomans as Hurrem (Painting in Topkapi Palace) [5]
Fig.3. Hurrem Sculpture in Rohatyn, Ukranie [6]

The closeness of Tatar leaders to the Ottoman dynasty was sealed by the marriage of Ayse Hafsa Sultan to Sultan Selim I and the birth of their son, who became Kanuni Sultan Suleyman I (Suleyman the Magnificent). She was thought to be the daughter of Mengli Giray. In addition, Suleyman married to Hurrem Sultan. She was born in Rohatyn near Lviv, which was a village in the Kingdom of Poland, in 1506. Her name is Alexandra Lisowska (La Rossa or Roxelana, known in Europe). The Tatars had provided her to the Harem of Palace.

Time was changing and the warfare was too. Because of the modern weapons used by the Europeans and Russians and of its bad economy, the Ottomans began to be unsuccessful. One of the results was that the Crimea became independent after a war against Russia in 1774. Later in 1783, the peninsula was finally annexed to Russia. Due to the Russian oppression, the Tatars were forced to immigrate to the Ottoman Empire and other countries. The new wars also caused new expulsions (Crimean War, 1853-1856 and Russo-Turco War, 1860-1863). The Russian invasion was the beginning of the end for Crimean Khanate. In this period, the population majority of Crimea was muslim and the language spoken by the entire population was Turkish. Therefore they mostlly prefered to move to the Ottoman Empire. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the Tatars had to leave their lands in 1920 once more. The life was the same for Tatars during the years under Stalin’s domination. Another migration.

But in the Second World War, the Tatars were recruited in the Russian army service to fight against Germany. The Tatars who were captured by Germans were forced to fight against Russians then. So, after the War, Russia punished and isolated the Tatars by sending them to other parts of Russia.

But some of them could manage to escape, like the grandfather of my university friend. As I listened the story from that old Tatar, he had later escaped from the Russian camp of war prisoners, joined a circus in Romania, travelled as a trapeze acrobat around Europe, came to a small town near Ankara after Turkey invited all the Turks and Turkish origin people. Then he was given a land in that village. But my friend used to spend the summer holidays in grandfather’s farm. Her grandfather obliged all the grandkids to speak Tatar Turkish in that farm. After years, in 1989, when my friend went to Helsinki for a training, she heard the youngsters speaking Tatar language in the tram. She met and talked to them. Both sides understood that they had a similar grandfather story. She was invited for a dinner to their house outside the city. Surprisingly, the Finnish Tatar grandfather remembered the Turkish Tatar grandfather. Both escaped from Russia, one of them to Finland, the other to Turkey.

Today, it is not possible to declare anything about the real population of Tatars in Turkey because they were very well integrated in the local community since 200 years. Their most typical feature, as they differ from Anatolian Turks, is that they have slightly slanted eyes.

Besides Crimean Tatars, there is also another community formed by the Kazan Tatars. Kazan is the capital city of Tatarstan Republic in Russia, where there are 2 Unesco cultural heritage sites: Historic and architectural complex of the Kazan Kremlin and Bolgar historical and archaeological complex. The education has a very high level. Among the other universities there, Kazan University, founded in 1804, is one of the oldest in Russia. In addition, Tolstoy, the writer of Anna Karenina, studied in this university. (Lenin too)

Fig.4. Kazan Kremlin
Fig.5. Bolgar

Tatars enriched the Anatolian culture and contributed to the cuisine. Festivals are held to introduce their traditions to new generations every year. The most common food is “ci borek”, known in Eskisehir, where Tatars had generally settled, that is about 250 km far from Ankara. Ci borek is dough that is filled with minced meat or chese, and that is fried in olive oil.

Fig.6. Crimean Tatar Folk Dance
Fig.7. Ci Borek


(*) The name of my son is Bartu. His name derived from the name Batu into Turkish within years.


[1] Western Part of the Golden Horde in the late 14th Century. https://www.wikiwand.com/de/Goldene_Horde. Accessed on 10.05.2021.

[2] Kirecci, M. Akif, Tezcan, Selim. 2016. The Predicament of the Crimean Tatars, Past and Present. https://dergipark.org.tr/tr/download/article-file/807188. Accessed on 11.05.2021.

[3] Matsuki, Eizo. 2006. The Crimean Tatars and their Russian-Captive Slaves: An Aspect of Muscovite-Crimean Relations in the 16th and 17th Centuries. http://hermes-ir.lib.hit-u.ac.jp/ir/index.html. Accessed on 11.05.2021.

[4] Sahin, Liaisan. 2017. The Conference Titled “Tatars-Muslims in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania: Past, Present, and Future” Was Held on June 27-30, 2017 in Vilnius (Lithuania) and Bohoniki (Poland). Marmara Turkiyat Arastirmalari Dergisi 4 (2017 ): 299-311. https://dergipark.org.tr/en/download/article-file/336192. Accessed on 10.05.2021.

[5] Hurrem Sultan Painting, Topkapi Palace Museum. https://tr.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%BCrrem_Sultan#/media/Dosya:Haseki_Huerrem_Sultan_Roxelane.jpg. Accessed on 13.05.2021.

[6] Hurrem Sultan Sculpture, Rothany, Ukranie. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rohatyn_Roxelana_Jul_2008149.JPG. Accessed on 13.05.2021.


Some information about Jonas Karolis Chodkevicius, who left historical trace in the history of Lithuania, Poland and Turkey (prepared by Bites AEC community on the occasion of the year 2021 to commemorate the memory of J.K. Chodkevicius).

Jonas Karolis Chodkevicius (1560–1621)


Some information about dances in Lithuania and dancing heritage of CHEST partner countries in Lithuania (By Lukas Grigalavičius (a dance teacher at Bites AEC in Vilnius)


Lithuanian folk dances are a part of the artistic creation of the Lithuanian nation, a legacy of traditional choreography, which consists of lyrical, household or humorous dances and dances in a circle. The vast majority of them are meant for entertainment, but there are also interesting ritual dances that are associated with the calendar, work and wedding ceremonies. Many of them are widespread throughout Lithuania, but others are typical only in certain ethnographic regions. Folk dances glorify their own land, express the character of the nation, history, faith, way of life, even the surrounding nature.

The oldest written knowledge of the Baltic tribal rite dances reaches us from various travellers, starting with the 10th century. The oldest form of dance is thought to have originated in religious rites. It was walking in a chain, walking around fields and holy places, rhythmically jumping or squatting according to the song being sung, using various tools of the respective ritual (flowers, bread, drink, fire, incense). The sacrificial function itself was a kind of a religious dance. Over time, the rites lost their religious meaning and eventually became a way of entertainment.

The most unique and richly described is the Lithuanian wedding choreography. As in other regions,
there were some dances with the meaning of “first dance”. The data on them is very diverse, but it
can be noticed that here the parents or their substitutes started their first dance much less often than
in other regions. In some regions, such a dance was danced by a bride with some other important
wedding participant. In other regions, the father started dancing with the bride, and then the bride
danced a “farewell dance” with everyone in turn.

In some regions, the “first dance” had its name. For example, the Primary dance (LT Pradėtinis)
was danced around Taurage: it was first danced by the newlyweds and followed by other
participants of the wedding suite. The dance was danced twice – after the ceremony at the house of the matron of honour and later at the bride’s house, each time after a ceremonial passing around the table.
Another name of the “first dance” – Flower Dance (LT Gėlių tancius) – is mentioned in the district
of Taurage. The bride would attach flowers to the groom’s chest, and they would start dancing (according to any music). Then the bridesmaids attached flowers to their partners’ (bestmen’s) chests and went dancing with them.

In 1643 the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King Vladislav Vaz of Poland established a theater, in which, in addition to operas, performances of the Royal Ballet (1654) and Ballet during the coronation of King John III (1676) were performed. They were built and performed mainly by Italian and French artists, Polish courtiers also enjoyed dancing them. At the end of the 18th century A. Tyzenhaus, a state figure of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, established a ballet school in his manor in Grodno, where the children of the surrounding serfs studied.
The 7th International Folklore Competition Festival “Ring of the Sun”, which lasted six days in Lithuania, was won by guests from Portugal. Grupo Etnográfico de Areosa is a Portuguese ensemble of traditional dances, music and songs that preserves and spreads the traditions, rites and customs of the Viana region. Throughout the festival, the ensemble surprised the audience with cheerful traditional dances, music, activity, fun and colourful, self-made national costumes, which have not changed since the 19th century.

Turkey is a huge country, famous for the abundance of ethnic regions, gourmet cuisine, hospitality, it is the only capital of the world located on two continents. One of the representative accents of the country is national dances, which are famous all over the world. Due to the political and historical circumstances, Turkish folklore is not solid, it has been influenced by various nations that have lived in the country since ancient times. Each nation has brought a part of its culture and customs not only into everyday life, but also into dance floors, so the spectators of the “Ring of the Sun” can see different styles of dance from all over Turkey.
Turkish dance groups regularly participate in the International Folklore Competition Festival “Ring of the Sun”. This year the country was represented by the Association of Youth and Sports Club of the Folk Dance Community of Bahcesehir University. The 32 best dancers, musicians, teachers and make-up artists were entrusted to represent the university that is called the “Heart of Istanbul”.






A Few Pre-Journey Words

This story is about the route of coffee. There must be various routes regarding its transition to Poland, Lithuania, Portugal and Turkey. There must also be different routes to other countries that are not included on this journey. The characters tried the taste of coffees in famous cafes of our cities. Some of them visited this article from different ages, one coffeehouse owner from 1640, one soldier from 1826, one poet from 1902 who had family ties to Poland, and one waiter from 1968 who has frienship tie. They met in the same year, 1959. But later, the waiter returned to his own age, traveled from Lisbon to Vilnius, having a stop in Bialystok.

Why waiter? I inspired. I had worked in Europe in 1989-1991, and spent some time in a factory in Zurich. Although my workplace was not a cafe, I was also charged to go and buy the needs of coffee machine in the department, because I was the youngest.

Please read the words by sharing my imagination and considering that the history with names, places and dates are true, that the poem translation is mine, that the waiter borrowed two poems, and that I laced the reality a little bit with my fantasy. Cultural heritage is conveyed to generations through the places or monuments, and traditions, literature or history. Although these subjects are connected at certain points to each other, the cultural heritage may change during its acquisition by new and other generations. But it is obvious that there are connections.

Read more……

2020 JUNE

SYMPHONY of STRUGGLE (by Hakki Bilgen)

There was a huge and hoary area covered with lofty and snowcapped mountains, bleak and delightful plains, verdant and lonely meadows, divided by somber and gliterring rivers, royal and rutted pave roads, furthest and unfortified borders, and surrounded by divine and European seas.

In a far city behind borders of that area, a man was watching the Bosphorus with satisfaction because he thoroughly carried out all the orders. When tasting a vodka in a seaside tavern, his hand found a pen in pocket of his redingote diffusing its splendour, grabbed a paper from deerskin twany messenger bag, and wrote.

Through my hands

Like the nets drawn from the sea,

Life gets on me.

With all her surprises like a game of hide and seek

With her traps

Out of the great seas

Life gets on me.

Meaningless words,

Chest of lost inquiries

Says nothing if not openned.


Getting on me with her nets

Like fictional homes

Like pretending words.


What left in sea

As hands pull your nets

Think the caught, the lost

Or the unfinished in nets

What collected in your hands.

Summary of the extinct sea

Life, as you perceive,

Declines and disappears like a game of sun and moon….

Read more in file Symphony…..

2020 MAY

In Lithuania the year 2020 has been declared the year of Vilnius Gaon and Lithuanian Jewish history, so on January 27, 2020 Bites AEC community took part in the educational tour of the Tolerance Center and got acquainted with the history of Jews. As a result of the tour students were given a task to find out Jewish history in CHEST partner countries. Due to the quarantine the task was done as a part of a project for distant learning in Bites AEC “Let’s get to know the history of the Jewish people”. The feedback of the task results is presented in this overview. As a continuation of the project and the year of Jewish history in Lithuania Bites AEC community is planning to visit former Jewish places of residence outside the boundaries of Vilnius and the feedback will be presented on the CHEST WordPress blog page.

The history of the Jews in Lithuania

Vilnius is called the Jerusalem of Lithuania According to legend, the first to name the city like taht was Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821). Based on his impressions Europe discovered the least assimilated Jews in Poland and Lithuania. It is the city of Judaism, the city of publishing Jewish books and periodicals, the city of Jewish artists, revolutionaries, drummers and Zionists, one of the largest centers of Jewish religious, cultural and political life in Europe.

the Jerusalem of Lithuania

Throughout the world, Jewish writers and artists around the world felt the need to stay in Vilnius, to feel its spirit and to draw inspiration for their work.

In 1633, the construction of the Vilnius Synagogue (later renamed the Great) began, and the historic Jewish Quarter, the main space of religious life in the city, was formed in the city center. Over time, the number of Jews in the city grew, Jewish craftsmen, merchants, and intellectuals flourished. In 1897, Vilnius had a population of 154,532, of whom 61,847 were Jews (40%).

Vilnius Synagogue

In the Jewish world, Vilnius was famous for having the only Jewish Scientific Institute (JIVO), as well as the University of Jerusalem, established in 1925. JIVO has accumulated the largest library and archive in the world on the life of Eastern European Jews in Vilnius. XX a. In the 1930s, the world’s first Jewish gymnasium was opened in Vilnius.

The Jewish Memorial in Paneriai

The Holocaust brutally ended the active and comprehensive life of Lithuanian Jerusalem: on 6 September 1941 the Vilnius ghetto was established and it thrived until 23 September, 1943. Prisoners founded the Ghetto Theater in the ghetto for spiritual resistance. Most of the Jews in Vilnius were killed in Paneriai, where a memorial is set up. After Lithuania regained its independence, the cultural heritage of the Jews began to be immortalized, the Vilnius Gaon Jewish Museum was opened, and the construction of monuments and memorial plaques in memory of the famous Jews began. Of the large pre-Holocaust community in 2011, there were only left 2,012 Jews in Vilnius.

The Vilnius Gaon (1720–1797) is considered one of the most famous Talmudists of all time. His tomb is considered a sacred place.

Such famous Jews were born in Vilnius as the world-famous violinist, virtuoso Jascha Heifetz (1901–1987), one of the founders of JIVO, a doctor, an active activist of the Vilnius Jewish community Cemach Sabad (1864–1935), one of the most famous twentieth-century. Brazilian artist Lazarus Segall (1891–1957), one of the most famous in the 20th century.

Chaim Grade (1910–1982)

Chaim Grade (1910–1982), a prominent French writer and diplomat, Romain Gary (1914–1980), the first Yiddish writer of fiction in the Yiddish language, Aizik Meyer Dick (1814–1893).

Lithuanian Jews also lived in other cities of the country: Kaunas, Kėdainiai, Šiauliai, Joniškis.

The history of the Jews in Turkey

The history of the Jews in Turkey covers the 2400 years that Jews have lived in what is now Turkey. There have been Jewish communities in Anatolia since at least the fifth century BCE and many Spanish and Portuguese Jews expelled from Spain by the Alhambra Decree were welcomed into the Ottoman Empire in the late 15th century, including regions now part of Turkey, centuries later, forming the bulk of the Ottoman Jews.

A placard from c. 1910 depicting prominent Turkish jews

Today, the vast majority of Turkish Jews live in Israel, while modern-day Turkey continues to host a modest Jewish population.

During the Third Reich, Turkey provided refuge for Jewish intellectuals. Today the Jewish community is rapidly shrinking, but those who are left can recall a long tradition of Jewish culture in the country.

Turkey was a relatively safe place during the Third Reich – not only for those Jews like the Keribar family, which had lived there for generations. Émigrés from German-speaking regions also found refuge there, mainly intellectuals and academics.

As specialists, they were in demand in the young Turkish republic. Founded in 1923, it was desperately in need of skilled workers to build the state and universities based on the Western model.

The Jewish Museum in Istanbul is a symbol of Jewish-Turkish relations

During the Third Reich, 69 Jews from Germany and Austria occupied high-ranking positions in Turkey as professors or state advisors. Others worked as lecturers or assistants.

Together with their families who came to join them, between between 500 and 600 Jews found legal exile in Turkey. Among them were prominent figures such as lawyer Ernst Eduard Hirsch who significantly influenced the judicial system in Turkey, financial theorist Fritz Neumark, as well as literature professors Erich Auerbach and Leo Spitzer.

Over time, a top German university was created in Istanbul with revolutionary seminars and readings, even on the issue of sexuality.

The history of the Jews in Portugal

A plaque in Lisbon, Portugal, commemorates the “Lisbon Pogrom,” or the “1506 Easter Slaughter,” when a crowd of Catholics killed some 2,000 New Christians who were accused of being Jews.

Archeological evidence suggests that Jews have lived in what is now Portugal since Roman times. There was an influx of Jewish settlement after anti-Jewish riots and persecutions spread throughout Spain in 1391, driving large numbers of Jews across the border. During this period Jews made important contributions to Portugal’s economic, cultural and scientific life; but at the same time major social tensions began to develop between Jews and Christians.

In 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain expelled from Spain any Jew who refused conversion to Christianity. Again, many fled to Portugal, where eventually where King John II granted them asylum in return for payment. However, the asylum was only temporary, after eight months, the Portuguese government decreed the enslavement of all Jews who had not yet left the country. In 1493, King John deported several hundred Jewish children to the newly discovered colony of São Tomé, where many of them perished.

Following John’s death in 1494, the new king Manuel I of Portugal restored the freedom of the Jews. However, in 1497, they were converted to Christianity. They publicly followed Catholic rituals but maintained some Jewish religious and cultural practices in the privacy of their own homes.

Shaaré Tikvah synagogue in Lisbon

The Jewish community was slowly accepted back into the country from around 1800. A series of statutes and decrees granted them specific rights, such as the maintenance of places of worship and cemeteries, and the keeping of registers of births, deaths and marriages. During World War II, neutral Portugal established a strict visa policy. But Portuguese consuls in several countries disobeyed directives from Lisbon and issued visas to refugees, allowing thousands of Jewish refugees to enter the country. Most notable of these consuls was Aristides de Sousa Mendes, in Bordeaux. Lisbon then served as a base for the operations of Jewish organizations in and beyond the Iberian Peninsula.  Following the revolution in Portugal in 1974 and the ensuing political unrest, about half of Portugal’s Jewish population migrated to Israel, Brazil, Canada and the USA.

Today the Jewish population of Portugal numbers fewer than 1,000, some two-thirds of whom live in Lisbon. The last Converso community can be found in the mountain village of Belmonte, where many have reconverted to the Masorti or conservative form of Judaism.

The history of the Jews in Poland

In 1939, 3.5 million Jews lived in Poland.. In most cities, they accounted for the majority, while in Warsaw Jews accounted for 30 percent. of the entire population. After the Second World War and the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis and their successors, only about 300,000 Jews remained in Poland. More than 90 percent of them emigrated to the United States or Israel. Today, throughout Poland, with 38 million. population, there are only 25 thousand Jews.

But young Poles across the country are trying to rediscover the Jewish past of their country. Festivals take place every year in Krakow and Warsaw, where young people of the year dance to klezmer music and taste traditional Jewish dishes.

A festival in commemoration of Jewish past

A Jewish ghetto was established in the Muranov quarter of Warsaw until the Second World War. A monument to those who died in the ghetto has now been erected here. This place was closed and hundreds of thousands of people lived in difficult conditions. Many of them were taken to death camps from a nearby train station. The Warsaw ghetto was the largest in Europe, with a population of up to 450,000. people. 1942 July 22 the transportation of Warsaw Jews to death camps in Treblinka began, where about 320,000 people died. Most residents of the Warsaw ghetto were deported and killed. 1943 In April, only about 50 thousand people lived there. Then an uprising ensued, after which the ghetto was finally destroyed and all its inhabitants killed.

A monument to those who died in the ghetto

The tragic history of Polish Jews is told in the Ringelblum Archive, which was stored in the Warsaw Ghetto. And only because of this archive is it known what the occupation looked like. The collection of the material began in the autumn of 1940 until 1942. These are drawings, photos, a lot of documents. The archive was hidden by a 19-year-old who wrote a kind of will, burying documents, saying, “What we couldn’t scream out to the world.”

Only about 10,000 Jews survived the Warsaw ghetto and three of the 26 archive creators survived. The archive group relied on trust. They were teachers, messengers, writers, historians, all working together.

Today, the Museum of Polish Jewish History is located in Warsaw, where you can get acquainted with the millennial history of the life of the Jewish nation in this country. It is a modern museum where stories from the Middle Ages to the present day are told in 8 galleries.

the Museum of Polish Jewish History

The Warsaw Zoo made a special contribution to rescuing Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. The director of the zoo Jan Zabinski together with his wife Antonina and son Ricard lived in a villa on the territory of the zoo. With the outbreak of World War II, the zoo was badly damaged and eventually closed, but the Zabinski family remained and found a way to rescue about 300 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto and hide them in the zoo. After the war, the zoo was restored, and Zabinski was given the title of Righteous Among the Nations, which is given to Jews who helped people during the war. During the war, Antonina Zabinska wrote a diary, according to which the book “The Wife of a Zoo Caretaker” was published in 2007. This book describes a true story of how the Zabinskis hid many Jews in their homes at the risk of their lives. According to the book, a film was made in 2017. The Zabinski family villa, which housed many Jews during the war and now stands in the Warsaw Zoo, houses a museum that tells the stories of this family and the Jews who hid here.


2019 October. An article about CHEST kick-off meeting in Bialystok on adult education platform EPALE