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House of Jewish Organisation “OZE” (OSE)

Kaunas, Lithuania
D. Poskos g.1-FOMA-small-1.jpeg
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Žilvinas Rinkšelis,2021.

The name OZÈ (translated from Russian - opšestva zdravochranenija jevrejev) is an abbreviation for the Jewish Health (Wellness) Society. The Society was founded in 1912 in St. Petersburg on the initiative of Jewish physicians and public figures. OZE was born as a civic initiative aimed at improving Jewish health in Russia and Eastern Europe. At that time, Jewish people suffered persecution, deprivation, malnutrition and unsanitary conditions, which led to many illnesses and health problems such as dryness, tuberculosis, lice, etc. The members of the Society realised that in order to protect and improve the health of the community, it was necessary to be proactive in the area of health promotion, not only in terms of improving the infrastructure and the treatment conditions: not only by setting up medical institutions, focusing on the fight against infectious diseases, maternal and child health, and the physical rehabilitation of Jewish orphans, but also by general public hygiene and health education: the inhabitants of towns and villages were educated, encouraged to keep themselves clean, and lectures were given, as well as various publications printed and distributed. Particular attention was paid to the health of children and young people: summer sanatoriums and recreation camps were set up, and charitable food donations were made to ensure that children were fed at school and under the care of doctors. A few years later, health institutions were opened in Kaunas, Panevėžys and other towns.

This OZÈ health centre on D. Poškos 1 was built in 1926. The building technician Grigori Mãzelis used drawings by the German architects Kretschmer and Schragenheim. Grigori Mãzelis was one of the influential designers at the time, and just a year priorly, he had designed the Jewish Bank. However, since the health centre was built in the first decade of independence, it had no connection with local architectural traditions.

The building has a modernist language with various volumes, a flat roof and no ornaments. Therefore, it is easy to distinguish it from the small wooden buildings around it. It has a semi-cylindrical open porch with an arched recess, which opens to the main entrance. On this porch, there are honeycomb tiles on the floor, which are not used outdoors most of the time. However, the tiles are still in good condition today and have survived well. There are small arched windows all over the façade, which let light into the great hall. The most important and central room inside the building is the gymnasium. Other than the dispensary, the other rooms were ancillary to use the gymnasium. Gymnastics was practised here by men, women and children. Since 1928, the hall has also been used for film screenings. Films on hygiene and education were shown. The hall has also been used for community meetings and various cultural events, so, unsurprisingly, this communal space is somewhat reminiscent of a synagogue. Historical photographs show that the use of the flat roof for sporting activities was another unique attribute of the time in the Lithuanian context. As in the best iconic examples of modernism, where the flat roof becomes not only the fifth façade of the building but also a place where one can work out, bask in the direct sunlight, or otherwise spend time. Today, the building houses a sports medicine centre.

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