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Virtual exhibition "VILNIUS GHETTO"

2013-09-02

           On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany (Reich) invaded the Soviet Union and in a few days seized Lithuania, formerly occupied by the USSR. One of the main goals of Nazis was to annihilate the whole Jewish nation.

         In July, 1941, the Vilnius Security Police and Security Services set up the Special Squad, which in 1941-1943 murdered people in the forest of Paneriai as well as in other parts of eastern Lithuania. In 1941, most of the murdered people were Jews, though among them were also people of other nationalities (documents No. 7, 9-11, 16-20, 22, 27-28, 70, 71, 89, 95, 92, 93, 105).

         On July 5, 1941, a notification was published, announcing that according to the order of German military field commanders of July 3, 1941, all Jews had to wear hexagonal stars of David on their chests and backs and were forbidden to appear on the streets from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. (documents No. 3, 46). In late July, 1941, after Wehrmacht had transferred the power to the civilian occupation administration, Lithuania became one of the General Districts in the Reich Eastern Region (Ostland) and the arrangements for persecution and murder of the Lithuanian population began to decree Commissioners General for Lithuania (documents No. 4, 6, 15).

         By October 1, 1941, 5 Lithuanian Self-Defense Battalions under the authority of the local government apparatus had been formed in Vilnius; soldiers of these battalions stood guard in the city, drove the Jews into the shooting locations and guarded the killing sites (documents No. 48, 73). The policemen of the Vilnius station of the Lithuanian Public (Order) Police contributed to the arrest of Jews and to the relocation them to the ghetto (documents No. 8, 64, 68).

         On January 1, 1941, there were 58 263 Jews living in Vilnius (27.78 percent of the city inhabitants). The persecution and the political discrimination of Jews in Vilnius began in the first days of the Nazi occupation (documents No. 52, 75). In the middle of July, 1941, the mass arrests of Jews began. The detainees were driven to the prison of Lukiškės, then transported to Paneriai and shot. On September 2, 1941, a mass murder of Jews took place in Paneriai. Before the establishment of the Vilnius ghetto, the Special Platoon under the authority of the Security Police and Security Service commander for General District of Lithuania murdered several thousand of Vilnius Jews in Paneriai.

         In the first days of September, 1941, following the order of Adrian Theodor von Renteln, Commissioner General for Lithuania, the Commissioner for Vilnius H. Hingst began to organize the Vilnius Jewish ghetto. The practical organizational work had been entrusted to Franz Murer, Hingst’s aide-de-camp and referent for Jewish Affairs (documents No. 59, 61, 65). On September 6, 1941, Jews from different neighborhoods of the city were methodically relocated to the ghetto and accommodated in two ghettos in the Old Town: the Small one (Ghetto No. 2) and the Big one (Ghetto No. 1). There were almost 40 000 Jews living in the ghettos. Nazis’ aim was to leave in the ghetto only able-bodied and qualified Jewish workers or craftsmen and to destroy all the others. Mass extermination campaigns continued until the end of 1941, and were often carried out under the pretence of examination and replacement of work permits (documents No. 13, 14, 86, 90). The mass actions in the Small ghetto continued until October 30, 1941, before the ghetto was finally liquidated and its inhabitants shot in Paneriai (documents No. 34, 63, 89). By the end of December, 1941, only about 20 000 inhabitants remained in the Vilnius ghetto. In total, since the beginning of the occupation until the end of 1941, more than 33 000 Jews of Vilnius had been murdered.

         After the mass massacre of inhabitants of the Small ghetto in October, 1941, the mood of resistance to Jewish genocide among the Vilnius ghetto youth had intensified.

On January 21, 1942, leaders of the ghetto zionist and communist organizations, founded the United Partisan Organization (FPO) and formed the FPO Staff (documents No. 94, 97, 101). The main goal of the FPO was to prepare and implement an armed uprising in the ghetto, should the threat of its liquidation arise. Their plan was to bring Jews in groups from the ghetto to the forests by the end of the uprising and to join the Soviet partisans who were operating there. The FPO accumulated weapons that were being stolen by the Jews employed in Burbiškių military warehouses and in separate parts smuggled into the ghetto (document No. 97), published and distributed anti-Nazi leaflets, carried out acts of sabotage and diversion, attempted to contact other organizations in the anti-Nazi underground as well as partisan units (document No. 39).

          On May 8, 1943, leaders of the Union for Liberation of Lithuania, the FPO, and Polish Patriots Union agreed to work together and founded the underground Committee of the Lithuanian Communist (Bolsheviks) Party (LC(b)P) for Vilnius city. The LC(b)P Committee for Vilnius massed the Vilnius underground, maintained contacts with the Soviet partisans and provided support for the Vilnius ghetto resistance: provided help to the FPO to get weapons, to equip print-shop for publishing anti-Nazi leaflets and to contact with partisan units (document No. 23).

In the spring of 1943, the FPO communists contacted the Soviet partisans that were operating in the forests of Rūdninkai (in Vilnius district), Kazėnai and Narutis (in the region of Vitebsk, Belarus). The FPO's management believed that leaving the ghetto for the linkup with the partisans was possible only after the uprising in the ghetto, having freed more Jews, so they did not encourage the linkup with partisans before it had taken place, but foresaw that the Soviet Belarusian partisan base in the forests of Narutis would be the main location of exit for the Jews who were going to leave the ghetto.

         After the events of July 15-16, 1943, (when the head of the FPO, Icik Vitenberg, was arrested and murdered) the FPO leadership changed their tactics and immediately began to send their members to join the Soviet partisan units. Until September the main direction of the movement from the ghetto was the forests of Narutis (Belarus), and after the months of September and October, when the Germans had blocked the forests of Narutis and killed some of the Belarusian partisans and fighters of the FPO, the direction changed to Rūdninkai (Lithuanian territory) where the Soviet partisans had begun to set up the base of support for their movement (documents No. 83, 87). Those members of the FPO who remained in the ghetto were preparing for armed resistance in the ghetto itself.

         The gradual liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto began in August 1943. On August 6, 1943, the first group of Jews was transported to concentration camps in Estonia. On September 1-4, 1943, another campaign for the shipment of Jews to concentration camps in Estonia took place in the ghetto. With the backing of the ghetto policemen, homes and apartments were rummaged, people arrested, hiding places blown up. During this campaign some 500 Jews had been murdered and after it only 10 000 – 12 000 prisoners remained in the ghetto. Since September 5, nobody could either enter or leave the ghetto unless they had special permits. Ghetto residents were hiding in bunkers (malinas), the younger ones tried to flee from the ghetto through the underground sewer and water pipes (document No. 80). On September 23-25, 1943, the ghetto was finally liquidated. 5 000 – 7 000 women and children were deported to German concentration camps (Auschwitz, Treblinka, etc..) and murdered there, some 2 000 Jewish men were deported to concentration camps in Estonia, about 1 400 – 1 700 young women were taken to the Kaizervald concentration camp near Riga. In September 1944, most of the Jews of Vilnius, who had been held in camps in Estonia, were murdered.

          On September 23, 1943, the last day of the ghetto life, some 150 members of the FPO members escaped from the surrounded ghetto through underground sewer trails and reached the forest of Rūdninkai (document No. 76).

Some 360 of the FPO fighters from the Vilnius ghetto withdrew to the Soviet partisan units (Document. 25), according to other data – some 500 people, although not all of them managed to reach the woods – some of the Jews perished along the way. The Jews who came from the Vilnius ghetto to Rūdninkai were mobilized into separate units. In October, 4 squads were formed and had their leaders appointed (documents No. 30, 31, 36, 32, 37, 42, 99, 104). According to the data of the Staff of the Lithuanian partisan movement, 676 of 3904 Soviet partisans that had been operating in Lithuania were Jews.

In some cases, the destruction of the Jews was facilitated by the contribution of their neighbors (document No. 50), however, there were people of good will as well; risking their freedom and their lives, they helped Jews to survive (documents No. 35, 40).

         In December 1943, in an effort to hide the traces of their misdeeds, the Nazis began to dig up corpses in Paneriai out of the pits and burn their relics in bonfires (document No. 29).

          Some 2 000 – 3 000 of Vilnius Jews survived the Nazi occupation and saw the end of the World War II. Some returned from the concentration camps, while others went to Israel or the United States. Part of the former Polish citizens of Jewish ethnicity left (repatriated) to Poland under the agreement of 1944 between the USSR and Poland, some went to Poland illegally with the help of secret Zionist organizations. Some of the Jews who had tried to illegally escape to Poland or Palestine, or helped others to do so, in 1944-1948 were arrested by the NKGB-MGB (documents No. 56, 57).

         During resovietization of Lithuania, the Extraordinary State Commission for Assessment and Examination of the Misdeeds of German Fascists and Their Accomplices was formed (documents No. 41, 43, 44, 45, 78, 79), which found that more than 100 000 people were murdered in Paneriai. In the USSR Holocaust had not been widely investigated in order to weaken the self-awareness of Jews, to get them quickly sovietized and assimilated. The monument to the Jews murdered in Paneriai, that in 1945 was built for money raised by Jews of Vilnius, with inscriptions in Jewish and Russian, in 1952 was demolished (documents No. 66, 67). In the early eighties a new monument with the inscriptions in Lithuanian and Russian was built. The inscriptions on it spoke about the murder of 100 000 Soviet people.

         After the restoration of Lithuanian state in 1990, the historical analysis of Holocaust and the perpetuation of memorial sites for its victims had begun. By the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of October 31, 1990, September 23 was included into the list of commemorative days of the Republic of Lithuania as the Day of the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews.

       Holocaust was a huge and heartbreaking tragedy for the Jewish people and the loss for Lithuanian society. Lithuanian Special Archive (LYA) documents reveal many pages of this terrible tragedy, pages that show the persecution of Jews and the destruction of the Jewish resistance and the efforts of Lithuanian society to save Jews.

 

Documents selected and the preface by the selected literature written by Vilma Ektytė, Nijolė Maslauskienė and Dorota Mordas. The preface to the exhibition and texts of the list of documents translated by Vitalijus Šarkovas.

 

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Updated: 2013-09-02 10:48