[Yiddish, Vilne, Vilna] - The capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and of present-day Lithuania. The city was known as "Jerusalem of the North", and became one of the most important Jewish religious and cultural centers.
In 1527, it was granted the privilege de non tolerandis Judaeis, forbidding Jews from settling there. Despite these restrictions, in the mid-sixteenth century, Jews were active in Wilno, and many Jewish customs collectors, money-lenders and merchants even lived there. In 1551, Jews were granted the right to live on property belonging to the boyars, which led to the quick growth of Jewish settlements.
The first mention of an organized Community there dates back to 1568. Shortly thereafter, a synagogue was established. On the basis of the privilege granted by Wladyslaw IV in 1633, Jews could be engaged in all fields of trade, and were allowed to work as publicans and craftsmen. They were granted permission to build a new masonry synagogue.
During this period, about 3,000 Jews lived in Wilno (about 20% of the city's total population). The Jewish Community gained a dominant position in the Sejm of Lithuanian Jews. The city became one of the most important centers of Talmudic studies. Among its leading scholars were Rabbi Elijahu ben Szlomo, a Talmudist, supporter of religious rationalism and the study of lay subjects, and a staunch opponent of Chasidism.
As the result of the third partition of Poland, Wilno was annexed to Russia. In the nineteenth century, it became an important center for the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah), lay culture as well as the cradle of political life. In 1897, the Bund party was founded in Wilno, and Jews were active in the Polish Socialist Party, founded by J. Pilsudski. This group in particular was popular, for example, among the students of Wilno's Rabbinical School. The Lithuanian independence movement supported the Zionist conference that was held in Wilno in December 1918. Two Zionist activists, J. Wygodzki and (1855-1941) and S. Rosenbaum (1860-1934) were members of the first Lithuanian government.
After the First World War, Wilno once again became part of Poland. As revenge for their alleged collaboration with the Lithuanians, the Polish army launched a pogrom against Wilno's Jews in April 1919 when the Polish occupation of the city began.
During the interwar period, Wilno remained an important center for political life. Many political parties were active there, including the Bund and Folkists. Wilno became a center for Yiddish-language culture, including literature, the press, and art (Jung Vilne), as well as academic life (Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institute, 1925-40).
In 1800, approximately 7,000 Jews lived in Wilno; by 1897, this number had risen to almost 64,000 (41.5% of the city's total population); in 1921, it was 46,500 (36%), increasing in 1940 to about 80,000.
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Text from Alina Cala, Hanna Wegrzynek and Gabriela Zalewska:
"Historia i kultura Zydow polskich. Slownik",
In 1939, the city was occupied by the Red Army. After the Germans entered in 1941, Lithuanian fascist organizations (Szaulisi) massacred Jews. In September 1941, the Nazis created two ghettos in Wilno that were liquidated two years later; their residents were deported to the death camp at Majdanek, as well as to Estonia and the labor camp in Ponary. A Jewish partisan movement cooperated with the Red Army detachments that were active in the Wilno region.
After the Second World War, the city was annexed to the Lithuanian Socialist Soviet Republic. At that time, there were still over 10,000 Jews living there. Most of them became completely assimilated, and many eventually emigrated.
A renaissance of Jewish cultural and religious life has currently been underway in independent Lithuania, primarily among young people. A synagogue still operates there (built in 1903), as well as a Jewish museum, school and other cultural institutions. At the cemetery in Zarzecze, some of the gravestones have been moved from the old cemetery, including that of Eliyahu ben Shlomo.
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