Timeline. Through history.

If we don’t understand the past, how can we understand our present and future? To truly absorb, appreciate, and reflect on the country we are visiting, we need to look at pivotal moments in history. Begin your journey through the ages now.

  • Jewish timeline
  • General timeline


  • 9000 First human inhabitation.
    2000 Ancestors of the Balts move to the area.

  • 700 Lithuanian language becomes distinct from Latvian, its closest relative.
    Tribal life and pagan customs continue for many centuries.
  • First Jews arrive, probably traders from the east.
  • 1100 Tribal groupings: Highlanders in east and south west, lowlanders in west.
  • A larger group of German Jews settle in area.


  • 1230 Highlander leader Mingdaugas unites the Lithuanian tribes.
    Mingdaugas creates the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, a powerful state.
    1263 Mingdaugas assassinated.
    Christian invasion by Livonian Order and Teutonic Knights.
    Lithuania fights them off and emerges as one of Europe’s largest countries.
    It includes present-day Belarus, Ukraine, parts of Poland and Russia.
  • Jewish community remains poor and isolated.
  • 1320 Vilnius founded.
    1365 Lithuania Grand Duke Jogalia agrees to be also King of Poland.
    Lithuania becomes last European country to adopt Christianity.
  • 1388 Charter by Grand Duke grants Jews rights and self-rule.
    Community becomes wealthier than Jews in Poland and Germany.
  • 1410 Lithuania, in alliance with Polish Kingdom, defeats Prussian Teutonic Knights.
    Vilnius, with population of 25,000, is one of Europe’s biggest cities.
  • 1495 Jewish position deteriorates with new ruler. Jews expelled from country.
    1503 Jews permitted to return. Community re-establishes itself.


  • 1569 The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth formed.
    Lithuania, the junior partner of a powerful European empire.
    Polish gentry and culture flourish in Lithuania, especially in Vilnius.
    1579 Vilnius University established.
    Nobles enjoy power & privilege: they elect king, control parliament.
  • Jewish population 120,000, Yiddish-speaking, religious, strong ties to Polish Jews.
    1630 Great Synagogue of Vilna (Vilnus) built.
    Lithuania a center of Jewish religious thought and learning.
  • 1654 The Deluge: Commonwealth invaded by Sweden and Russia
  • Jewish economy and infrastructure damaged by wars and instability.
  • 1721 Lithuania population drops by 40% due to wars, famines, and plagues.
  • Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon, recognized as great leader & scholar.
    Develops Lithuania’s legendary yeshiva system and mode of study.
    He leads the misnagdim, the fierce opponents of the Hassidic movement.


  • 1795 Polish-Lithuania Commonwealth ends as lands carved up by rival powers.
    Most of Lithuania now part of Russian Empire. Klaipeda in west goes to Prussia.
    1830 Lithuanian resistance to Russian rule, including from Catholic church.
  • Vilnius (Vilna), the Jerusalem of the North, has 40,000 Jews.
    Extensive commerce, welfare, and education infrastructure in Vilnius.
    Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment), rise of secular Yiddish and Hebrew literature.
  • 1861 Serfs emancipated.
    1863 Lithuanian rebellion against Russian rule fails, Tsarist repression deepens.
    1867 Lithuanians begin migrating to US.
  • 1881 Wave of pogroms in Russian Empire after assassination of Tsar Alexander II.
    Many Lithuania Jews emigrate to US, South Africa, Land of Israel.
  • 1900 Vilnius industrial center, population of 160,000, heavy Polish influence.
  • 75,000 Jews in Vilnius & 100 synagogues (only Choral Synagogue active today).
    Increasing prosperity and professionalisation but most Jews still poor.
    Jewish culture thrives, including Zionist, Bundist, & Communist groups.


  • 1914 World War One: Lithuania part of Russian Empire fighting Germany.
  • Mass expulsion of Jews after rumors of spying for Germany.
  • 1915 Russian forces retreat & Germany occupies all of Lithuania.
  • Remaining Jews suffer famine and hunger but charitable system continues.
  • 1918 Germany defeated. Lithuania declares independence with Vilnius as capital.
    Two-year period of instability and wars against Poland and Communist Russia.
    1920 Poland conquers Vilnius; it remains part of Poland until 1939.
    Independent Lithuania, with Kaunas as capital, stabilizes itself.
    Becomes one of the first countries in world to allow women the vote.
  • A brief Golden Age for Lithuanian Jews with equal rights & thriving community.
    Huge numbers of Jews return from exile in Russia.
    Vilnius, under Poland, remains a key Jewish center, with 80,000 Jews.
  • 1926 Right-wing coup installs authoritarian leader. Political parties banned.
  • Jewish position and communal rights weaken with rise in anti-Semitism.
  • Nazis.
    Soviet Union conquers Vilnius from Poland and returns it to Lithuanian control.
    In return, Soviets demand right to install their troops in Lithuania.
    Secret Nazi-Soviet plans that USSR will conquer Lithuania.
  • Jewish population 160,000: about 7% of Lithuania.


  • 1940 Soviets occupy Lithuania and incorporate it into USSR.
    38,000 Lithuanians including political and social elite deported to Russia.
    Many others killed as Soviets ruthlessly assert control.
  • Jewish national activity prohibited. Many Jews flee Soviet rule.
    But Jews from Nazi-occupied Poland flee to Lithuania. Population now 250,000.
  • 1941 Nazis betray their Soviet allies, invade USSR, and occupy Lithuania.
    Germans are welcomed as liberators by many Lithuanian nationalists.
  • Even before German occupation complete, Lithuanians begin pogroms.
    Nazis, with Lithuanian assistance, carry out mass shootings of Jews.
    Most of country’s Jews killed by end of year, including at Ponar Forest.
    1942 40,000 Jews remain in ghettos and labor camps.
    “Not Like Sheep to the Slaughter”: Abba Kovner leads ghetto fighters.
    1943 The ghettos liquidated. Jews sent to death or labor camps.
  • 1944 Germans retreat. Lithuania again incorporated into USSR.
  • Over 90% of Lithuania’s Jews killed in Holocaust, one of the highest rates.
    Many survivors leave country, including for Palestine.


  • 1944 Soviets resume killings and mass deportations of Lithuanian nationalists.
    475,000 Lithuanians, including Jews, killed during World War Two.
    Lithuanian guerrilla warfare against Soviets begins. Will last until 1952.
    1948 31,917 Lithuanians deported to Siberia and far east in single night.
  • Jewish communal and religious life severely restricted.
    Communists authorities downplay Jewish aspect of the Holocaust.
  • 1953 With death of Stalin, mass arrests diminish and some freeing of culture.
  • 1959 Jewish population 24,672. 69 % speak Yiddish as mother tongue.
  • 1970 Soviet-planned urbanization. Half country lives in towns, was 28% in 1950.
    1974 Opposition to Soviets, including in Catholic Church, both open & underground.
  • Several thousand Jews allowed to emigrate, mainly to Israel.
  • 1987 USSR under Gorbachev permits greater Lithuanian freedom of expression.
    Lithuania at heart of push for independence from USSR.
    1989 Gorbachev allows elections. Non-communist nationalists win.
    Hands across the Baltics: Huge, non-violent independence protests.
    Total population 3.7 million. Will diminish in following years.
  • Jewish population dropped to 12,312. 35% native-Yiddish speakers.


  • 1990 Lithuania becomes first Soviet satellite to declare independence.
    1991 USSR refuses to accept. 13 Lithuanian protesters killed by Soviet troops.
    Communist rule in USSR collapses. Independence achieved.
  • Migration continues. By 2004, fewer than 4,000 Jews in country.
  • 1992 Democratic elections: Ex-Communists surprisingly triumph.
    1993 Last Russian soldiers leave country.
    1994 Old Town of Vilnius named UNESCO World Heritage Site.
    1995 Independence blues: Corruption scandals, unemployment, 1000 % inflation.
  • Lithuanian President visits Israel to apologize for country’s role in Holocaust.
  • 1997 Large-scale privatization and economic reforms launched.
    2000 The Baltic Tiger: One of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
    2004 Lithuania joins EU and NATO.
    2009 Economy badly affected by global economic crisis.
    Dalia Grybauskaite elected first woman president.
  • 2017 Publishers destroy book that discusses Lithuanian collaboration in Holocaust.
  • 2018 Lithuania rated 36th most democratic nation out of 167.
  • 893 Lithuanians have been honored by Israel for saving Jews during World War Two.
  • Today Population 2.8 million, down from 3.7 million in 1989.
    84% ethnic Lithuanian, 7% Poles (mainly in Vilnius), 6% Russian.
  • Jewish population: 3,600, mainly in Vilnius and Kaunas. 0.1% of total population.
    Two active synagogues, including Choral Synagogue in Vilnius.






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