Discover Jewish heritage with(out) leaving home (Kaunas, Lithuania)
Kaunas Vincas Kudirka Public Library adapted to the quarantine conditions and invited their visitors to try the unusual experience – the interactive and modern map of Jewish cultural heritage. This map allowed people to “walk” around the city and learn more about the Jewish cultural heritage in Kaunas without leaving home. An interactive map in four languages allowed (and still do) people to visit virtually more than 40 cultural monuments, see the unique archival footage, play an interactive game, or take a walk around the city’s heritage sites on their own. This interactive map was announced as the most memorable Kaunas cultural initiative of 2020 because of the impact on different population groups, communities, and adaptation to the pandemic situation.
Kaunas Municipal Vincas Kudirka Public Library was founded in 1925. It is the main library of Kaunas and one of the oldest municipal public libraries in Lithuania, located in the heart of Kaunas – Avenue of Freedom. The library is public legal entity and belongs to Kaunas City Municipality. It consists of the five functional departments and 20 branch libraries, located in the different areas of the city. During the long years of existence, the library has repeatedly changed its premises and name. The library was opened in the current premises in 1960 and 1988 it regained the original name of Vincas Kudirka. Main activities of the library include service of the readers, fund completing, information services, cultural education and project arrangement and implementation. Without a doubt, quarantine had an impact on libraries activities but on the other hand, people used more online services. Today the library has almost 40 000 registered users (approx. 25 percent of which are children). Library organizes cultural events, meetings with writers, exhibitions, various lectures, and courses. Information and consultations are provided by library specialists. It is also one of the most innovative libraries in Lithuania and continually surprises with the new projects and initiatives beyond the provision of the usual library services.
An interactive map (https://www.kaunas.mvb.lt/zydupaveldas/) presents the most important and interesting objects of the Jewish cultural heritage that have survived in the Kaunas city. Kaunas Vincas Kudirka Public Library dedicates the project to commemorate the years of the Vilna Gaon and Lithuanian Jewish history. An interactive map was created during the project “Jewish Heritage in Kaunas” financed by the Lithuanian council for culture. In the webpage of the project, people can choose a simple tour or a tour with the game elements. During this tour, it is possible to “walk” through the streets and courtyards of Kaunas, “enter” the interior of some buildings and learn more about the history of Kaunas Jews who lived in them, created, or designed them. Not only the tour can be found in the webpage, but also a virtual guide with detailed information about all the objects in the map.
The project was partly financed by the Lithuanian Council for Culture in 2020 with 14 000 Eur support as a continuous project “Jewish heritage in Kaunas”. The texts for the map were prepared by architectural historian, guide dr. M. Oniščik. Images of today’s buildings have been supplemented with old photographs from the Kaunas City Museum, the Vilnius Gaon Museum of Jewish History, and the Central State Archive of Lithuania. Partners of the project: Public Institution Sugihara Foundation “Diplomats for Life”, Public Institution “Kaunas IN”, Kaunas Jewish Community, Kaunas University of Technology, Kaunas City Museum. It was expected that a virtual map will not only increase the tourist attractiveness of Kaunas Jewish cultural heritage, but also give citizens the opportunity to get to know the forgotten city in an interactive way. The virtual map has a potential to be developed and today the library is looking for the new ideas to improve the map and to raise the value of the project.
Due to the loss of the city’s memory and the multicultural identity of the city during the occupation period, the monuments of the cultural heritage of other ethnic communities are unknown or seem strange to many citizens. The project aimed to promote a dialogue between the city community on multiculturalism and to promote the forgotten Jewish cultural heritage which is an integral part of Lithuanian culture. At the beginning of the 20th century, Jews were one of the most abundant communities in the Kaunas city, actively participating in the political, cultural, and social life of the city, establishing their own schools, synagogues, hospitals, and orphanages. Today, the Jewish culture of Kaunas is mentioned only by survived buildings. A virtual tour allows not only to look around these buildings and territories, but also take a walk in them using virtual reality glasses. The map is suitable not only for those interested in history, but also for game lovers – those who wish will be able to choose a game version of the route. Different stakeholders contributed to the project, which helped to establish relations for the future projects. The project received a lot of attention from local and national media. As mentioned before, it was announced as the most memorable Kaunas cultural initiative of 2020. Moreover, the library received inquiries and positive feedback from descendants of Kaunas Jews living abroad.
The library has shown that it is able to adapt to changed conditions and offer products that help to “brighten” the daily routine of quarantine. During the first lockdown when everything was closed an interactive map was a good solution for different stakeholders. It is a highly intellectual project, the information gathered is comprehensive and accessible in a variety of audio-visual formats and well adapted to quarantine conditions with the potential to be continuously updated and improved in the future to increase project impact and dissemination.
- “Interaktyvus žydų kultūros paveldo žemėlapis kviečia pasivaikščioti po Kauną neišeinant iš namų”, Kaunas Vincas Kudirka Public Library (April 8, 2020), https://www.kaunas.mvb.lt/biblioteka-kviecia-po-kauna-keliauti-neiseinant-is-namu
- Evaldas Činga, “Discover Jewish heritage in Kaunas (New Virtual Guide)” (January 5, 2021), https://welovelithuania.com/en/discover-jewish-heritage-in-kaunas-new-virtual-guide/
- Kaunas City Municipality Administration, “Išmanus žemėlapis kviečia pažinti Kauno žydų kultūros paveldą” (December 29, 2020) http://www.kaunas.lt/kultura-turizmas/119158/