The streets from the west of Didžioji Street to Dominikonų and Vokiečių Streets were once the thriving heart of Jewish life in Vilnius from medieval times until the Holocaust. During the Nazi occupation of Lithuania, around 12,000 intellectual and unskilled members of the city’s Jewish community were segregated here in what was to become known as ‘the Small Jewish Ghetto’. It was liquidised by the Nazis in 1941.
Following the liquidation of the Little Ghetto, the Nazi authorities constructed the Big Ghetto, which was made up of the Lydos, Rūdninkų, Mėsinių, Ašmenos, Žemaitijos, Dysnos, Šiaulių, and Ligoninės Streets. Around 29,000 were imprisoned there, and they mostly massacred at Paneriai, some 12 kilometres outside of Vilnius.
The Big Ghetto existed from September 6, 1941 to September 23, 1943 when it was liquidated. Since Lithuania regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1941, September 23 has since been declared The Day of Jewish Genocide in Lithuania.
It was not just the Nazis who sought to destroy all traces Jewish life in Vilnius. During the Soviet period, the Soviets bulldozed the Great Synagogue on Žydų Street (in the heart of the Little Ghetto), which had the capacity to hold 3-5 thousand worshippers and was protected by 18 Torah scrolls. The area was also home to the Gaon house of worship, plus the Strašūnas library. The Soviet authorities replaced the demolished buildings with a kindergarten.