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Archaeologists expose Torah ark of Vilna synagogue burned by Nazis

The excavation of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Lithuania showing the area of the Torah ark and two flights of stairs destroyed by the Nazis and the Soviets, August 2021. (Jon Seligman/Israel Antiquities Authority)
The excavation of the Great Synagogue of Vilna in Lithuania showing the area of the Torah ark and two flights of stairs destroyed by the Nazis and the Soviets, August 2021. (Jon Seligman/Israel Antiquities Authority)

A joint Israeli and Lithuanian excavation exposes the Torah ark and bimah (raised prayer platform) of the Great Synagogue of Vilna, which had been destroyed by the Nazis during the Holocaust and later razed again by the Soviets, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A school had been built on the premises of the 17th century Vilnius synagogue and its surrounding Jewish communal center, known as the Shulhoyf, which had been burned down by the Nazis. The Soviets in 1956-1957 destroyed what remained.

“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. Still, two impressive staircases, clearly visible in the many images of the synagogue before its destruction, were discovered and are evidence of their existence,” according to Dr. Jon Seligman of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Justinas Rakas, of the Kultūros paveldo Išsaugojimo pajėgos.

“In addition, the excavation of the 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.”

(Hebrew video shows the finds here.)

This morning, the archeologists make another discovery at the site.

“Just this morning, while sifting the soil in front of the aron kodesh, we found a silver yad. The yad is a pointer used to read from the Torah scroll,” the IAA says in a statement.

The silver Yad found this morning at the Great Synagogue of Vilna (Courtesy/Jon Seligman, Israel Antiquities Authority)

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