This week 80 years ago, the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto marked one of the darkest episodes of the Holocaust in Lithuania. Victims of the genocide of Lithuanian Jews were honoured at a parliamentary session on September 21.
The anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto was also commemorated with a march to the Paneriai Memorial, built on the site of the biggest massacre of Jews in Lithuania.
The event started at Rūdininkų Square in Vilnius. From there, participants walked to the Vilnius railway station, where they continued their journey to Paneriai by train. Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, among other participants, delivered a speech at the Paneriai Memorial.
According to the International Commission on Crimes Committed by the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania, the traditional civic initiative The Path of Remembrance, which has been observed for more than a decade, is an invitation to everyone, but above all teachers and students, to recall the destruction of the numerous Jewish communities in Lithuania during the Holocaust, and to walk together to the sites of the mass killings along the routes used by the Jewish people on the way to the final destination.
“The aim of such events is to raise public awareness that the Holocaust is not only a Jewish tragedy, but also the loss of Lithuania as a whole – the loss of our country’s intellectual, cultural, political and economic potential,” said Ronaldas Račinskas, the head of the Commission.
According to the International Commission’s research, of the approximately 220,000 Jews who lived in Lithuania before the war, about 200,000 perished in the Holocaust. Of approximately 57,000 Vilnius Jews, only about 2,000 survived World War II.
A Jewish ghetto was established in central Vilnius on September 6, 1941. During the entire period of the ghetto’s existence, almost 40,000 people were imprisoned there. The ghetto was liquidated on September 23, 1943. This day has been designated to commemorate the victims of the genocide of Lithuanian Jews.
“Let’s remember, not commemorate, Vilnius Ghetto history”, says Faina Kukliansky, chair of the Jewish Community in Lithuania. The history of Lithuanian Jews and the Holocaust is often reduced to official commemorations and guided tours, she said.
In her speech, she also reminded listeners of the threat posed by anti-Semitism.