Everyday life of Jewish refugees in Vilnius, 1939

Photo series by Bolesława and Edmund Zdanowscy

“Jewish war refugees in Vilnius Synagogue are thanking God for allowing them to flee to Lithuania and escape from atrocities of the war.” Photo by Bolesława und Edmund Zdanowscy, 1939 © M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, ČDM Ta-4690(85)

“Jewish war refugee youth in Vilnius Synagogue during a class of the Holy Scripture.” Photo by Bolesława und Edmund Zdanowscy, 1939 © M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, ČDM Ta-4690(84)

“Jewish war refugees in Vilnius synagogue during a mass.” Photo by Bolesława und Edmund Zdanowscy, 1939 © M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, ČDM Ta-4690(83)

“When you take a look at such a poor man, your heart can’t help telling you that he more than everyone else deserves sympathy and assistance. There are more than a few poor young sufferers – our institutions, among which the Committee for the Support of the Vilnius Region is among the leaders, are taking care of their clothing and nutrition.” Photo by Bolesława und Edmund Zdanowscy, 1939 © M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, ČDM Ta-4690(25)

“The youngest war refugees in Vilnius require motherly care, they require a doctor’s supervision; here one such small refugee is shown in the orphanage where the doctor is examining her.” Photo by Bolesława und Edmund Zdanowscy, 1939 © M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, ČDM Ta-4690(24)

“War refugees are performing a check-in. The photo was taken during an extremely cold spell; that is why the iron stove in the corner of the room is shown – there the refugees are snuggling up.” Photo by Bolesława und Edmund Zdanowscy, 1939 © M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, ČDM Ta-4690(23)

““A room which is ready for war refugees to sleep. Wooden plank beds, on some of them, straw mattresses have already been laid. For the bunk beds on the right, mattresses are being procured immediately. With the thousands of refugees rushing in, not everyone could have been provided a comfortable bed with a mattress – others had to satisfy themselves with the premises and ‘beds’ that are shown here.” Photo by Bolesława und Edmund Zdanowscy, 1939 © M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, ČDM Ta-4690(20)

“Long queue of war refugees in Vilnius used to wait in various institutions where they were provided support. Still, not everywhere is (was) it possible to do the necessary things urgently; hence sometimes long queues in front of various institutions still used to get to be seen. The refugees seen here have come to a food center where they are given support in products. Some of them have small suitcases while others brought small bags, baskets and vessels.” Photo by Bolesława und Edmund Zdanowscy, 1939 © M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, ČDM Ta-4690(12)

“Rows of war refugees in the premises of Vilnius Municipality. In Lithuania they found shelter and assistance even though many of them did not expect this.” Photo by Bolesława und Edmund Zdanowscy, 1939 © M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, ČDM Ta-4690(11)

“Jewish war refugees in their dormitory during the lunch time.” Photo by Bolesława und Edmund Zdanowscy, 1939 © M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, ČDM Ta-4690(82)

“Female residents at the Orthodox Jewish war refugee dormitory are having lunch.” Photo by Bolesława und Edmund Zdanowscy, 1939 © M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, ČDM Ta-4690(81)

“Inside the kitchen of a Jewish refugee dormitory.” Photo by Bolesława und Edmund Zdanowscy, 1939 © M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, ČDM Ta-4690(80)

“Pre-school age kids of war refugees at the table during lunchtime. I wonder what is inside these small heads of theirs, most probably still remembering that merely a few months ago they used to have lunch in their parents’ homes yet now, upon being separated from their families, and in some cases after losing them, the kids have to seek shelter and food among the people they do not know … How sad are the eyes of the girl who is the first from the right.” Photo by Bolesława und Edmund Zdanowscy, 1939 © M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art, ČDM Ta-4690(65)

This is a series of digitized photographs taken at the end of 1939 by the Polish couple Bolesława and Edmund Zdanowscy in facilities for refugees in Vilnius.

In a series of photographic projects, the Zdanowscys captured the mood in Vilnius in the 1930s and 1940s. These pictures give an insight into everyday situations in Vilnius refugee care facilities, such as health care, food and the synagogue. They also show the Jewish refugees preparing for emigration to Palestine. Among other things, they can be seen in front of banners of the political-orthodox movement Agudat Israel. The annotations that the Zdanowscys wrote on the photographed scenes can be read in the captions.

It is uncertain whether the people in the photos managed to emigrate: their fates are largely unknown.

All photos by Bolesława and Edmund Zdanowscy, 1939 © M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art

Photo 1, Synagogue: ČDM Ta-4690(85)

Photo 2, Synagogue lessons: ČDM Ta-4690(84)

Photo 3, Synagogue service: ČDM Ta-4690(83)

Photo 4, Child: ČDM Ta-4690(25)

Photo 5, Medical examination: ČDM Ta-4690(24)

Photo 6, Registration: ČDM Ta-4690(23)

Photo 7, Dormitory: ČDM Ta-4690(20)

Photo 8, Queue: ČDM Ta-4690(12)

Photo 9, Queue in front of the municipality: ČDM Ta-4690(12)

Photo 10, Men having lunch: ČDM Ta-4690(11)

Photo 11, Women having lunch: ČDM Ta-4690(81)

Photo 12, Kitchen: ČDM Ta-4690(80)

Photo 13, Orphanage: ČDM Ta 4690(65)

Search