Jews first settled in Vilnius in the 16th century. At that time, in order to settle in the city, each of them had to obtain individual consent of the king. In 1551, due to such a consent granted by the king Sigismund II Augustus, two Jews were allowed to settle in Vilnius and become traders. The first information about a well-organized Jewish community comes from the year 1568. In the middle of 17th century, Vilnius had at least 3 000 Jewish citizens, who escaped the Moskal invasion of 1655.

In 1690, within the walls of the city, there lived 227 Jewish families; however, a similar number of families settled outside the city, in the so-called baronial jurydyki (Polish singular: jurydyka - settlement right outside a royal city, governed not by municipal authorities but by a private owner). According to the census conducted in 1795, a hunder years later, the city of Vilnius had around 3600 Jewish tax payers. As the general number of citizens amounted to 17 500, Jews accounted for 20% of the dwellers.

During the next few decades, the number of Jewish citizens increased. According to the estimations by Ignacy Chodźko, in 1830 Vilnius was inhabitetd by 50 000 people, including 30 000 Jews. In the next 60 years, the Jewish population doubled. According to a census of 1897, the city had 63 831 Jewish citizens, who accounted for 40% of all the city's inhabitants (the total number being 154 500 people).

During the First World War, the number of citizens of Vilnius decreased. According to the census of 1916, conducted by Germans, Vilnius was inhabited by 74 466 Poles (53.7%), 57 516 Jews (41,5%), 2 909 Lithuanians (2%), 2 219 Russians (1,5%), 611 Belorussians (0,5%), 880 Germans (0,5%), and 193 people of other nationalities (0,1%). The total number of citizens amounted to 138 794 people.

However, the censuses conducted by Polish authorities in the interwar period showed that in 1921, the Jewish community consisted of 46 559 members (36%) and in 1931 - of 54 596 members (28%).

In the years 1941 - 1944, most of the Vilnius Jews were murdered by the Nazis. Among the people killed in Ponary, there were more than 50 000 Jews from Vilnius. After the war, only 6000 Jewish citizens came back to the city. Then, some of them emigrated to Poland, Israel, and the U.S. Accoding to the census of 1951, at that time Vilnius had only 5500 Jewish inhabitants, who accounted for 3% of all the citizens. Nowadays, the Jewish population in Vilnius amounts to 5000 people.

 

Year Total Numberof Citizens Jewish Citizens Jewish Citizens (%)
1796 17 500 3 500 20%
1890 109 808 63 698 58%
1916 138 794 57 516 41,5%
1921 129 330 46 559 36%
1931 195 071 54 596 28%
1951 179 300 5 500 3%
1970 372 100 16 491 4%
2010 546 733 5 000* 0.1%

 

* an estimated number

Bibliography:

  • The Second National Census from the 9th of December 1931: Apartaments and Households, the Population, Occupations - the City of Vilnius. Warszawa. 1937.
  • Encyclopaedia Judaica. Second edition. Vol. 20. [ed.] Fred Skolnik, 2007, p. 528-533
  • Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland and other Slavic Countries. Vol. 13. p. 492 - 522.


 

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