Remains of Great Synagogue of Vilna which was destroyed by the Nazis and Soviets are unearthed

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Stunning elements of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Lithuania that were thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis and Soviets have been unearthed in a recent excavation of the religious site. One of the most spectacular discoveries is a pair of impressive stairs that are seen in photographs taken when the synagogue was active.


Stunning elements of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Lithuania that were thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis and Soviets have been unearthed in a recent excavation of the religious site.

Archaeologists uncovered remains of the ark and bema, a raised platform for praying, along with a silver ‘Yad’ pointer that was used during Torah readings.

A previously undocumented ‘terrazzo’ floor that forms a sun pattern was found in front of the ark, but one of the most spectacular discoveries is a pair of impressive stairs that are seen in photographs taken when the synagogue was active.

Dr Jon Seligman, who led the Israeli-Lithuanian excavation, said in a statement: ‘Hundreds of years of Jewish life in Vilna was destroyed during the Holocaust, and the Great Synagogue was looted and burned by the Nazis and later by the Soviet authorities.’

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Stunning elements of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Lithuania that were thought to have been destroyed by the Nazis and Soviets have been unearthed in a recent excavation of the religious site. One of the most spectacular discoveries is a pair of impressive stairs that are seen in photographs taken when the synagogue was active.

The Great Synagogue of Vilna is one of the oldest and most significant religious sites of Eastern European Jewry and is known as the ‘Jerusalem of the North.’

It was built in the 1600s, but later burned by Nazis during WWII and then destroyed by Soviets in 1956.

Archaeologists have been working at the site for six years and previously uncovered a table where the Torah was read from.

The recent excavation revealed the stunning mosaic floor, two staircases and massive pillars that supported the synagogue’s roof.

Pictured are the staircases inside the synagogue before it was destroyed

The Great Synagogue of Vilna is one of the oldest and most significant religious sites of Eastern European Jewry and is known as the 'Jerusalem of the North'

The Great Synagogue of Vilna is one of the oldest and most significant religious sites of Eastern European Jewry and is known as the ‘Jerusalem of the North.’ It was built in the 1600s, but later burned by Nazis during WWII and then destroyed by Soviets in 1956

Archaeologists have been working at the site for six years and the recent digs uncovered the staircases

Archaeologists have been working at the site for six years and the recent digs uncovered the staircases

The team also found a Torah ark that holds the Torah scrolls and the bimah, which refers to a raised platform with a reading desk in a synagogue.

Nazis occupied the area in 1941, forcing Jews into two ghettos and conducted mass killings.

By the end of the year, about 40,000 Jews were massacred at a killing site constructed in Ponary forest, which is located outside Vilnius.

And during this time, the Nazis also burned parts of the Jewish temple. 

‘When we arrived to excavate the Aron Kodesh and the Bimah, from which generations of Jews read the Torah scroll for 300 consecutive years, it became clear, unfortunately, that the core of the synagogue had been greatly damaged by Soviet destruction,’ Seligman said.

Archaeologists also found a Torah ark that holds the Torah scrolls

Archaeologists also found a Torah ark that holds the Torah scrolls

A previously undocumented 'terrazzo' floor that forms a sun pattern was found in front of the ark

A previously undocumented ‘terrazzo’ floor that forms a sun pattern was found in front of the ark

‘Still, two impressive staircases, clearly visible in the many images of the synagogue before its destruction was discovered and is evidence of their existence.

‘The excavation of Bimah was completed including the entire façade of the Bimah and the complete remains of one of the four huge pillars that supported the roof of the Great Synagogue.’ 

According to Eli Eskozido, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, ‘The recent discovery of magnificent parts of the Great Synagogue shows the potential for further excavation of the site, in anticipation of the exciting possibility of displaying the remains of the future.

Teams are using ground-penetrating radar to pin-point precise remains of the Great Synagogue since excavations began in 2015.

The bimah, which refers to a raised platform with a reading desk in a synagogue, was also found among the remains

The bimah, which refers to a raised platform with a reading desk in a synagogue, was also found among the remains

Teams are using ground-penetrating radar to pin-point precise remains of the Great Synagogue since excavations began in 2015. Most impressively was the discovery of a priceless Hebrew stone inscription (pictured) in 2019 that dates back to 1796

Teams are using ground-penetrating radar to pin-point precise remains of the Great Synagogue since excavations began in 2015. Most impressively was the discovery of a priceless Hebrew stone inscription (pictured) in 2019 that dates back to 1796

Since then, archeologists have uncovered coins, tiles and fragments of ritual baths.

Most impressively, however, was the discovery of a priceless Hebrew stone inscription in 2019 that dates back to 1796.

According to the text, it was donated by two brothers, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Shmuel, in memory of their mother, Sarah, and their father, Rabbi Chaim, who had emigrated from Lithuania to Eretz Israel and settled in Tiberias.

It was from this table that the Torah was read to the congregants for about two centuries, until the burning of the synagogue during the Holocaust, in the early 1940s, and its final destruction by the Soviets a few decades later.



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