VILNIUS - The tragic history of Vilnius' Jewish community will be commemorated by a new center that aims to remind the city of the contribution of its once-strong Jewish population.
Vilnius was once known as the "Jerusalem of the North," and was home to nearly 220,000 Jews before World War II. Today only 4,000 remain in Vilnius 's nearly 95 percent of the community were evacuated or executed during the Holocaust.
On Sept. 24, a crowd of more than 100 people gathered in the old Jewish ghetto in the Old Town for the opening ceremony of the Jewish Culture and Information Center.
Director Algis Gurevicius told The Baltic Times that the center would explore the history and culture of the Litvaks 's old Jews of Lithuanian descent.
"Many people do not know what happened in the Litvak culture. When our country separated, we had no information about the Jewish culture," Gurevicius said.
"We hope to gather information from around the world and we will take everything we know from the last days of Jewish life in Lithuania for the center."
The First Deputy Chairman of the Parliament Ceslovas Jursenas said the new Jewish center is a place to reflect upon the fate of Holocaust victims.
"We can say it is a catastrophe of the Jewish people but our catastrophe, too. We [Lithuanians] lost a part of ourself, our education, culture and art. We need to remember the victims and honor them," Jursenas said.
The ceremony attracted officials from Israeli cities, along with diplomats and local government representatives.
Chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Simon Alperavicius said the goal of the center was to reveal "the truth, and only the truth."
He also said that 2009 will mark an important year between Vilnius and in Tel Aviv. In April 2009, Tel Aviv will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
"It will be possible to discuss joint events for the Vilnius Capital of Culture in 2009. The ties are very close between the countries because as you know, Vilnius is called the 'Northern Jerusalem,'" Alperavicius said.
At least one of the visitors to the event said he is looking forward to seeing what will be inside the place when all the preparations are finished.
"It's empty right now, so I will wait for the beginning of the work. It has to have a lot of activity and information. Now, it's just a name," said historian Ilya Lempertas.
The cultural institution was established by the Jewish Community of Lithuania, the Vilnius Jewish Community, and the Vilnius city government at a cost of 300,000 litas.