Published: July 10th 2012July 10th 2012
So basically Vilnius has got a right battering over the years. But one event will never (and should never) be forgotten. Vilnius was once home to a sizeable Jewish population 'The Jerusalem of the North' and there was about 100000 Jews living here (out of 240000 in Lithuania) and synagogue, schools, a daily newspaper etc etc. This is until the Nazis showed up and distroyed it all,burnt down all the buildings, made the Jewish people walk in the gutter and wear stars. Then all the events happened that make you feel sick. I think it is so unbelievable as these were human beings doing these monstrosities to other human beings.
I went to the holocaust museum (which she let me in for free for some reason so I donated some as it was really good). It was a little house with a great detailed account of what happened during the Holocaust. Really informative. I went to what was the Jewish ghetto - there was a small one and a large one that the Nazis set up and forced all the Jews to live in. There are many plaques in Vilnius where the borders of the ghettos were and also a plaque where a synagogue was burnt down. A newer synagogue has been built since which is great but the Jewish population is now minimal. I also saw the old Judenrat where all the decisions were made especially who would be sent to Paneriai to be killed. The city isn't like Krakow in that it thrives off this Jewish history but they are still promoting that it happened.
Today I went to Paneriai - a small town just off a railway station. Here Lithuanias brutal history is starkly portrayed. About 100000 people were killed here - half of the jewish popuation had been massacred by the end of the first 3 months of German occupation. There are many memorials and plaques paying tribute to those that died. Their is a museum there but it was shut which is a shame but the place itself was still free to walk around. The paths lead to 5 shocking pits where the Jewish people (and Lithuanians, gypsies, gays etc) were lined up 10 at a time and shot in the head so they would fall into the pit. So they ended up with a pit full of bodies. I actually find it quite difficult to imagine just how many people could of got into the pit - some of them were huge. There was also one for children and a pit where valuables were stashed for the Germans to have a steal. They would cover the layer of bodies with sand and wait for the next bunch. I bet it absolutely stank. When the Nazis got found out what they were doing (too late) they tried to hide what they were doing as evidence so pulverised the bones (well they got some poor Jews to do it then killed them too). The ashes were then poured back into the pits. I swear to god the sand still looks like it has been soaked in blood.
The place was in a rather lovely forest with the buzz of wildlife and the sun shining through the trees. The place was eerie. I was on my own there (there were a few people picking fruit near by) but I felt like the trees were watching me (I know that sounds odd but I didn't feel like I was on my own). If I heard a noise I looked behind me, it made me completely on edge dispite the relaxed forest setting. I actually gasped when I saw the first pit and even though it was about 30 degrees I felt so cold.
I think that it is important that places like this exist to show what dreadful things happened in the past. People NEED to know and to be shocked so that this NEVER happens again. It makes me embarassed angry and ashamed that some (intelligent) people actually let this happen! God only knows what was going through the Jewish mans mind as he stood on the edge of the pit where he has just seen his whole family fall onto the mass pile of corpses with no names. Equally what on gods earth was going through the Nazis mind as he shot his 1000th victim. His only crime was that he was a Jew!
Luckily I had some other (nicer) things planned for the rest of the day.