The synagogue complex in Joniškis, Lithuania, features two immediately contiguous synagogues. The White Synagogue was built in 1823 according to the late classicism style and later remodeled with features of the Romantic style. The Red Synagogue is a Neo-Gothic red brick building built in 1865. The synagogues, which served as a center of Jewish life in the town until before World War II, are surrounded by residential buildings that largely obscure them from view. This awkward setting is one reason for their survival, both during World War II and in the Soviet era, when would-be vandals passed right by them without realizing they were there. It is for this reason that the Star of David on the façade of the Red Synagogue is the only one remaining on the exterior of a historic synagogue in Lithuania.
The buildings were abandoned following World War II and reused for various purposes which left them in a state of serious disrepair. The Red Synagogue was used as a warehouse and an apartment was built into one corner of the building, while the White Synagogue was converted into a gymnasium.
Support from the Jewish Heritage Program
World Monuments Fund became involved at the site through our Jewish Heritage Program, and supported initial restoration works at both buildings. Work was carried out between 2004 and 2006, and included the removal of inappropriate additions—showers for the gymnasium, the apartment in the Red Synagogue—and the patching of major holes and openings. The roof of the White Synagogue was replaced, the false upper-level façades on the sides of the building were restored to their original configuration, and the building’s foundations were waterproofed. Work on the White Synagogue led to the discovery of evidence for earlier phases of the building, which were documented.
Since Lithuania gained its independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the residents of Joniškis have developed a strong community interest in documenting and learning about the history of their town and the region, including its Jewish history, despite the almost total loss of its Jewish population. The Joniškis project has been successful in attracting the interest and support of a largely non-Jewish population in restoring Jewish buildings, retaining their Jewish character, and interpreting their history to the public.