In the 20th century the attempts to create a museum of Jewish culture in Vilnius have been made three times. The first one was made in 1913. The museum existed up to the beginning of World War II, displaying rich collection of Jewish folklore, periodicals, books and documents. The unique collection of the first Jewish museum was destroyed during the World War II. In 1944, those who survived established the second museum to preserve what was left of Judaic culture and to embalm the memory of those who had been tortured and murdered in fascist concentration camps. But in 1949, the museum was closed by soviet authorities, carrying out a policy of anti-Semitism. Throughout the Soviet period, the existence of a Jewish museum or any Jewish institution in Soviet Lithuania was impossible. And only forty years later after the "Perestroika" reforms, in 1989, the third Jewish museum was opened in Vilnius.
Rich museum's collection can be divided into four main parts:
- Collection of ceremonial and historical artifacts, composed of various objects used in Jewish religious rituals and articles of daily life, dating from 18th to 20th century.
- Collection of photographs of cultural monuments, outstanding persons, important social and cultural events and everyday life.
- Collection of fine arts consisted of sets of paintings, graphics, sculpture and textile. The museum owns many art works by artists M. Band, M. Mane-Katz, I. Kulvianskij, B. Michtom, S. Efron, M. Katz, L. Mergashilski, E. Lurje, A. Jacovskis, B. Bindler, M. Percov, H. Skliutauskaite, M. Levitan-Babiansdkiene and others.
- Collection of writings and printings.
Today the Museum holds permanent exhibitions on the genocide of Jewish nation until the World War II, Holocaust, history of the forgotten Ghetto Theater and Lithuanian Synagogues.
In 1997 on the occasion of the 200h anniversary of the death of the famous Gaon of Vilnius Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (1720-1797) the museum was given his name. The Gaon was not only spiritual head of Lithuanian and Russian Jewry, but of all Jewish communities in Eastern and central Europe. He devoted his life to the study of Jewish sacral and law texts, introduced innovative methods of Talmud study and attempted to restore Jewish law to its original rational meaning with the help of critical commentaries. About seventy books, in which he had touched upon a great variety of topics, were published after his death.
Address: Pylimo St., 4