One would be hard pressed to find a city or a town in Lithuania that would not bear signs of Jewish culture. Jews lived in Palanga since the second half of the 15th century. In 1487, the Jewish burial fraternity Chevra Kadisha was already operating in Palanga. Therefore, it can be assumed that the Jewish community already lived in the town. In the 17th century, Jews accounted for the majority of Palanga residents and made every effort to transform the small community into a prospering town.
In 1540, King Žygimantas I Senasis (Sigismund I the Old) granted the Jews the privilege to build the first synagogue and other sacral buildings in Palanga. During the same year, a cemetery was also established. In 1662, 40 Jews (24 men and 6 women) lived in Palanga. In 1693, in Palanga, Jews were granted the rights of town dwellers and were able to buy land, build houses and engage in trade.
In 1738, 13 built-up plots out of 56 in Palanga belonged to Jews. Most of the plots were located in the northern part. In 1739, in the western part of Palanga, five plots were owned by Jews, while four plots were in the eastern part (shops, a house with an inn and a synagogue behind it).
On 21 May 1742, the King Augustus II approved or renewed the right for Jews to reside in Palanga. In 1765, Palanga Qahal (Jewish community) comprised 398 Jews. In 1779–1781, when J. Masalskis took over Palanga eldership, a comprehensive town inventory and plan were drawn up. Three parts of Palanga were described in the inventory: village site – “the old town” and two parts of the town situated on different banks of Rąžė (Ronžė) River, i.e., “Jewish town” on the northern bank, and “town” on the southern bank. 70 plots were registered. Most of the “Jewish town” plots were located on both sides of Klaipeda (Memel) – Liepojos Road. In 1794, 18 plots out of 86 belonged to Jews.
According to the data collected in 1816, more than 30 homesteads in Palanga were owned by Jews. The synagogue, school, bathhouse and cemetery on a hill belonged to the Qahal. In 1817, Palanga had 688 residents, of which 439 (219 men and 220 women) were Jews that did not belong to Palanga estate jurisdiction and paid taxes for the plots to the estate.
In 1850, 729 Jews were registered in Palanga. In 1863, the Jewish Merchants Guild was established. In the second half of the 19th century, the number of Jews increased. In 1897, Palanga had 2149 residents of which 925 were Jews (43%).
As in most Lithuanian cities, in Palanga, Jews engaged in traditional businesses: trading, craft workshops.
At the end of the 19th century, Jews led an active social life in Palanga and around 7 amber stores and workshops were in business. At the beginning of the 20th century and during the inter-war period, the number of businesses increased to 10. A majority belonged to Jews and employed Jewish workers. In addition to amber processing and trade, other social and everyday services were offered in Palanga. Jews were the creators of resort-related businesses, such as rental services, sanatoriums and residential care homes. Such businesses made Palanga the capital of Lithuania’s summer resorts. All workshops, companies and shops were concentrated on the main Vytauto Street.
During the inter-war period, Jews held positions in city administration. In 1933, Palanga was granted city rights, and 11 Jews were elected to the council. A small credit bank led by Jews, a Hebrew elementary school and a religious school (Cheder), as well as synagogues were operating in Palanga. In 1938, a large fire started in Palanga, destroying almost the entire Jewish residential quarter.
In 1941, after Germany attacked the Soviet Union, the massacres of Jews occurred in Palanga. More than 300 Palanga Jews became the victims of a massacre on 27 June and 12 October.
Following World War II, the number of Jews in Palanga declined. In 1970, 31 Jews lived there. 9 years later, only 12 were left. Before the Restoration of Independence, 26 Jews resided in Palanga.
Jewish people were known for their entrepreneurship, promotion of culture; the community made efforts for Palanga to prosper and, during the inter-war period, to become a popular resort. Unfortunately, due to fires and the Soviet occupation, only a small number of memorable signs survived that could testify of the once prosperous Palanga Jewish community.
The route “The Traces of Jewish Heritage in Palanga” will introduce you to Jewish history and culture. You will visit buildings and places that survived or the ones that live only in memory and witness the life of the Jewish community of Palanga. You will also visit memorable Jewish places and other objects. The goal of the route “The Traces of Jewish Heritage in Palanga” is to contribute to the preservation and promotion of Jewish cultural heritage.