German soldiers and local participants watch a wooden synagogue burn in Lithuania in June 1941.

The destruction of Jewish communities in the Holocaust and the subsequent decades of neglect have nearly wiped out this type of Jewish folk art across Eastern Europe. While 19th-century immigrants to North America transplanted this artistic tradition to their fledgling communities, few remnants of their devoted efforts remain.

The Chai Adam mural is a survivor of a traditional Eastern European Jewish painting tradition that would have been known from many synagogues and prayer houses through Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine and other countries in the region. Most of those examples have been completely destroyed and are only recalled in a few black and white photographs and occasional fragments that have been re-discovered in former synagogues (usually after having been painted over). Looking at the Chai Adam mural we can get a glimpse of what once was. The mural is a survivor, a reminder of all that was destroyed in the Holocaust: people, places, culture and art. For this reason, the Lost Shul Mural Project has been endorsed by the Center for Holocaust Studies at the University of Vermont and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In the words of Frank Nicosia, Raul Hilberg Distinguished Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Vermont, “While the Holocaust intended to erase all memory of the vibrancy of Eastern European Jewish life and culture, the Lost Shul Mural reminds us that it did not succeed. The mural reveals the lost historical legacy of symbolic artistic imagery in Jewish folklore and tradition. The Center for Holocaust Studies supports the preservation of the mural as an authentic remnant which must be preserved to promote scholarship and public awareness of issues concerning the vitality of Jewish traditions before the Holocaust.”