Vilnius Jewish Community ar Paneriai Forest Memorial
Every year the Vilnius Jewish Community, Lithuanian representatives, and guests from other countries come together in Paneriai forest Memorial, to commemorate one hundred thousand victims of Nazi atrocities and crimes against humanity. Seventy thousand Jews, about two thousand Roma, Russians, Poles, and Lithuanians.
I have been to this ceremony many times, sometimes with my clients, sometimes with the family. I was looking through the pictures on my computer and found a folder with Pictures from the ceremony of 2008, and thought that it would be interesting to share them with you ten years later.
On the picture above you can see the war survivors. There are very few of them still alive. The woman on the left is Fania Brancovskaja. She fled the Vilnius Ghetto one day before the liquidation, joined Jewish partisan unit in the forest of Rudninkai and was lucky to survive that too. Every year Fania participates in the ceremony of commemoration of the Holocaust Day. I am so used to that, that it is hard to imagine that one day she will not be there.
The approach to the Holocaust in Lithuania has changed
One of the most positive changes is that today Holocaust history is part of the school program. There are many ways of commemoration used today. One of them is when young people participate in a “Live Stones” project. They take stones, paint them and write Jewish names on them. Such stones can be found in numerous holocaust mass graves around Lithuania. The idea is to get connected to the terrible tragedy by choosing a name and to put a traditional stone on a grave.
On this picture, you can see the late president of Lithuanian Jewish Community – Shimon Alperavicius with his deputy Shimon Gurevicius. Every year many Lithuanian and foreign politicians participate in this ceremony.
High School children prepare a short silent theatre performance holding a barbed wire. It was both moving and touching, and I have been asking myself – “What do these youngsters know about Holocaust? Could they imagine what do Jewish families feel on this day?”.
There was a positive change in Lithuanian society. They started teaching about the Holocaust and step by step it was acknowledged as part of the Lithuanian History, which was not so during Soviet period for example. I find it very important and believe that only through dialogue and education we can make a step forward the peace and possibly prevent future aggression acts.
There were 7 pits in Panerai forest. The purpose was a construction of the fuel tanks. Due to the break out of the World War II, the construction stopped. Nazis chose the place for their terrible mission. On the picture above you can see one of the pits. In this pit was no murder. It was used as a prison for a group of 80 men, whose duty was to burn down the corpses, exhumated from the other pits.
This is a famous place of the escape of part of the group. In April of 1944 men finished digging the tunnel and tried to escape. Guards heard the noise when 33 men succeeded to pass through the tunnel. Only 12 men succeeded to run away and 11 survived the war.
They lived in Israel and told the story of what happened to them.
Paneriai forest Memorial is a usual part of our tour in Vilnius, as well as our Jewish Heritage tour to the Baltic States. It is a very hard place to visit, but we believe in an informal education and its tribute to the humanity.
By Daniel Gurevich