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Use our multimedia maps, and explore the family pictures, archival material, and personal stories of 21 Jewish Holocaust survivors to get a unique insight into Europe’s rich Jewish heritage, and to discover sites of Jewish life in towns in Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania.
Beginning in the 19th century, Vilnius was a hub of Jewish scholarship and thought. Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (1720-1797), more commonly known as the Vilna Gaon or the Genius of Vilna, was a famous Jewish scholar specializing in Jewish law (“halakha”), kabbalah, and the Talmud. The Vilna Gaon became one of the first well-known Torah scholars of Vilnius. He set a precedent for many other Lithuanian Jewish scholars, inspiring movements that impacted the entire Ashkenazi Jewish world.
During his lifetime, the Vilna Gaon was considered the most influential Jew in Lithuania. He was given the title “Gaon,” meaning “genius,” because of his extensive knowledge of the Torah and other Jewish texts. He established a school of thought that attracted some of the sharpest minds of the Jewish world. He died at age 77 and was initially buried in the Snipiskes Cemetery, demolished during the Soviet occupation. He has since been reburied in a new cemetery outside of Vilnius, in Šeškinė.
The white building in the photo once belonged to the Vilna Gaon’s wife, who owned a store within. Their family home was located just a few minutes away from here.