Tallinn Jewish History Tour supported by a private vehicle – 4 hrs
If you’d like to see a bit more into Tallinn apart from the Old Town and interested in the Jewish history of the city, then this 4-hour tour is just the match for you.
Our first visit of the tour will be the Estonian Jewish Museum.
The Estonian Jewish Museum opened in December 2008. The exhibition tells the story of Estonian Jewry and is packed with text, photographs, and artifacts. The unique exposition in the Museum sheds light on the somewhat unknown part of the Jewish history in Estonia. You can see well archived and visually accessible materials. The local staff is amiable and genuinely passionate about what they do! It is a lovely little place and an absolute must-see for everyone interested in history and Jewish diasporas.
We continue our Tallinn Jewish history tour with a visit to the Synagogue ( Beit Bella). This is the first synagogue built in postwar Estonia.
It’s ultramodern and has 180 seats. The synagogue in Tallinn opened on May 16, 2007, to architectural acclaim and international media attention. In addition to the main sanctuary, it houses the rabbi’s office, a mikveh, a kosher restaurant and a gift shop.
Jews have added color to Estonia ever since their arrival in the 14th century, though their history has been tumultuous. Permanent settlements did not begin until 1865 when Russian Czar Alexander II granted Jews the right to enter the region. Highly educated merchants and skilled artisans, they comprised the nation’s earliest semblance of a Jewish community. Jews lived within the city walls, particularly on Viru and Kullassepa Streets. Today’s Jewish Community Center is located a few minutes’ walk from the city walls.
In 1885, the neo-Roman-style Great Choral Synagogue opened, to the delight of the 1,000-strong community. By the eve of World War II, the city’s Jewish population had doubled, with 5,000 Jews in the country overall.
During World War II, the Jewish community that had existed in Tallinn was all but wiped out, and its Synagogue bombed. By 1942, the Nazis had murdered those who remained, and Estonia was the first state declared Judenfrei. The war over, Jews returned to Estonia, attracted by a comparatively high standard of living and the absence of official anti-Semitism, prevalent by the Soviet empire.
It was only after Estonia regained independence in 1991 that a real Jewish religious community was re-established here. It started with a cultural center, then a Jewish school. In 2000, following the appointment of Rabbi Shmuel Kot as the chief rabbi of Estonia, a prayer center was set up in a nearby building.
Most of Estonia’s 2,000 Jews, including 700 Holocaust survivors, reside in Tallinn. More and more of them are participating at every level of Jewish communal life, made easier by abundant social and religious services that are on hand.
Our second part of the tour as part of the Tallinn Jewish History tour will be in the Old Town.
Many of the Jewish remnants of the past have few or no markers. During much of the Soviet era, the community maintained a prayer house not far from Old Town. Originally a warehouse, the extant building is in a derelict state. A prayer room at Kreutzwaldi Street took its place between 1946 and 1966, but it was demolished to make room for a hotel.
The Old Cantonists’ Synagogue (1867 to 1870) building still stands in Old Town. It is a one-story, one-room stone edifice that today serves as the Estonian Maritime Museum.
Nearby, was the former Great Choral Synagogue, which was destroyed in a March 1944 Soviet air-bombing raid. Nothing marks the site.
The Magasini Cemetery dates back to the beginning of the Jewish community. A plaque on the remaining wall reads: “Here was the Jewish cemetery from the 18th century until the end of the 1960s.” Today, the site is, unfortunately, a parking lot.
Tallinn’s only active Jewish burial ground is Rahumae Cemetery, which opened in 1909. Visitors may be interested in the wooden hevra kaddisha building.
There are also two notable memorials: One is for those who perished in the Holocaust; the other is for those who were deported, killed or exiled during the Soviet occupation. Beila Barski, for whom the synagogue was named after, is buried there. Alexander Bronstein, her son, was the project’s most significant contributor.
It is possible to have an extension to this tour if you’d like to see the Klooga Concentration Camp which is about 45 km off Tallinn.
One of the 3 largest labor camps in Estonia. Klooga was established in the summer of 1943. The camp held some 2,000—3,000 prisoners, who arrived in August and September of 1943 and 100 Soviet prisoners of war were also interned there.
The Germans began evacuating Klooga in the summer of 1944. On September 19, SS men shot the last 2,500 prisoners in the camp. Only 85 prisoners managed to hide and thus survive.
The Klooga concentration camp was the best-known National Socialist camp in Estonia. Three monuments – set up in 1951, 1994 and 2005 – commemorate the camp’s victims.
Join our Tallinn Jewish history tour to have a deeper understanding of Tallinn in an efficient way organized professionally and led by a local guide.
You can choose to go private or join a small group of max eight so the experience is always intimate. Part of the tour will be supported in a private vehicle.
Tallinn Jewish history tour runs every day except Friday and Saturday. Tours start at 125Euros.