Kaunas Jewish Gymnasium with the Lithuanian Language of Instruction: A Construct of Confrontation between Germans and Jews

  • Benediktas Šetkus
Keywords: Jews, Germans, gymnasium, students, Kaunas, Ministry of Education


The present study is aimed at exploring the reasons for founding Kaunas Jewish Gymnasium with the Lithuanian language of instruction as well as its wider historical context. The article is based on the materials found in the collections of the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Lithuania and available at the Lithuanian Central State Archives; the periodical publications of that time were also made use of. The article draws the reader’s attention to the fact that in the period after the First World War, when the independent state of Lithuania was founded, ethnic minorities were provided with a possibility of establishing their own national schools. Those schools were also attended by students of other nationalities, including Lithuanians. However, that was not typical of Jewish schools, which were attended exclusively by Jewish children. When the German gymnasium was established in Kaunas, it was attended by more than a hundred of Jewish children and a smaller number of children of other nationalities. The tuition fee was the same for all, irrespective of the nationality. However, the situation changed in 1925: the school-supporting society passed into the hands of Germans and issued the regulation that children of other nationalities should pay over three times more. The parents of the students, who were mostly Jews, objected to that regulation though they were not in the capacity to change the discriminating situation. Thus the children continued to attend the gymnasium, and their parents were made to pay the high tuition fee. When national socialists came to power in Germany with their leader Adolf Hitler in the position of the chancellor, the anti-Semitic manifestations became more widespread. The Lithuanian Jewish community expressed solidarity with the Jews in Germany by organizing protest meetings and announcing boycott of Germans in Lithuania. Under the circumstances, with the confrontation between Jews and Germans growing, the tension between Jewish and German students and their parents in Kaunas German gymnasium was also growing. In the spring of 1933, on the demand of the Jewish community, Jewish parents resolved to take their children from the German gymnasium. Jewish students that no longer attended Kaunas German gymnasium could continue studying in other Jewish gymnasiums in Kaunas. However, since the majority did not know the Hebrew language, the decision was made to establish a separate gymnasium with the Lithuanian language of instruction. This privately-supported gymnasium, Kaunas Jewish gymnasium with the Lithuanian language of instruction, opened in September 1933 and survived till the Soviet occupation. As the numbers of students were not big, the gymnasium experienced a constant shortage of resources.