Fire destroys wooden synagogue in Lithuania

ROME (JTA) — Fire partially destroyed a historic wooden synagogue building in Lithuania.

Sunday’s blaze seriously damaged the roof, ceiling and walls of the former synagogue in the village of Pakruojis, destroying about one-third of the building. The cause of the fire was not immediately known, but news reports said arson was suspected.

Townspeople were reported as saying that the bench outside the building was a drinking hangout for local youths, and that this was the third time that local youths had attempted to set fire to the building in the past two years.

The synagogue, built in about 1801, was the oldest of the dozen or so wooden synagogues to survive in Lithuania. Long abandoned, it was used as a cinema and sports hall in the 1950s. Originally it had an ornate interior, with colorful wall paintings and a richly carved ark and central bimah.

Last year, art historians raised an alarm about the building, noting that planking had been removed from one wall and that fire was a danger as homeless people frequently sheltered there.

Many ornate wooden synagogues stood in Eastern Europe before World War II, but all were destroyed by the Nazis. The only ones to survive were a few outwardly simple buildings, such as that in Pakruojis.

To see video of the damage, go to www.balsas.lt/video/250621 .

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