On 23 September, the Lithuanian National Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorative events in Vilnius took place at Rūdninkai Square and Paneriai Memorial.
The event “The Road of Memory – March of the Living at Paneriai” began in Rūdninkai Square with the sound of the Shofar horn, a reminder that after 23 September, the Lithuanian National Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jewish communities around the world will celebrate the New Year – Rosh Hashanah.
The sound of the shofar horn was followed by a performance of the theatre group of Vladas Mironas Gymnasium from Daugai in Alytus district “Don’t let me forget”. The artistic composition was based on a story from Icchok Rudashevski’s diary, a teenager imprisoned in the Vilnius Ghetto.
Emanuelis Zingeris, Chairman of the International Commission, addressed the audience, sharing the news he had brought from the Lithuanian Parliament that a draft law on Memorial Days had been submitted to designate 15 March as the Day of the Rescuers of Lithuanian Jews. The Chairman of the International Commission explained the meaning of the 15th of March since on this day in 1966, a librarian Ona Šimaitė was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, an honorary title given for rescuing Jews during the Second World War.
Emanuelis Zingeris remembered his mother, who had recently passed away. His mother was imprisoned in the Kaunas ghetto, and later survived the concentration camp. “My mother’s hug used to be too strong. I asked her why was she hugging me so hard? And she would say “I had seen children being taken away from their mothers, and then killed.””
Michel Gourary, Director of the International March of the Living, participated in the event. The guest from Belgium shared his memories of his grandfather, who was imprisoned in several concentration camps, and his grandfather’s participation in the Death March by the Nazis, who drove prisoners on foot from one death camp to another. Michel Gourary told about the annual March of the Living in Poland, at the former Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, and explained why it was important for him to participate in the March of the Living, Hope, and Memory.
During the event, Evelina Dubauskaite of Ariogala Gymnasium sang a touching song she had created, and Ąžuolas Račinskas from Vilnius Šolom Aleichem ORT Gymnasium recited an excerpt from the works of Grigory Kanovich.
Saadia Bahat, who came from Israel to attend the events of the Commemoration Day of the Victims of the Genocide of the Jews of Lithuania shared his memories of surviving the Holocaust in Lithuania.
Before the anthem of the prisoners of the Vilnius Ghetto was sung by the choir of students of the Multifunctional Centre of the Vilnius Saulėtekis School, the Executive Director of the International Commission, Ronaldas Račinskas, who conducted the event, invited everyone to take part in a procession – a march – to the Vilnius railway station and to travel by train to the ceremony of honouring the Holocaust victims in Paneriai. According to the Head of the International Commission, “participation in these processions is our way of paying tribute to the victims and understanding that, when Jewish communities were annihilated, Lithuanian society lost its unique intellectual, cultural, political, and economic potential.”
The Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania, together with politicians, foreign diplomats, representatives of the Lithuanian Jewish community, guests from abroad, and a large crowd of schoolchildren and their teachers walked from Rūdninkai Square to the Vilnius railway station. The procession reached Paneriai by train, where they lined up for March of the Living in Paneriai.
The commemoration ceremony began with students from the Vilnius Sholom Aleichem ORT and Vilnius Žvėrynas Gymnasiums reading the poem “The Jew from the Hiding Place” in Yiddish and Lithuanian by Abraham Sutzkever, a former prisoner of the Vilnius Ghetto and a renowned poet.
In her speech, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania Ingrida Šimonytė said: “We can only wonder how we would be living today, what Lithuania would have been like if it were not for the brutal hatred that blinded so much that the lives of innocent people no longer meant anything. The Shoah destroyed everything without mercy – people, their dreams, their talents, their relationships – under the guise of conspiracy theories, ridiculous fabrications, and fear of otherness. Not only our state, and our nation, but also the destinies of our people have fallen to pieces. Here almost the entire Jerusalem of Lithuania has been destroyed.”
Speakers at the Paneriai Memorial event included Faina Kukliansky, President of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, Emanuelis Zingeris, Chairman of the International Commission, Hadas Wittenberg Silverstein, Ambassador of the State of Israel, Matthias Sonn, Ambassador of Germany, the USA Ambassador Robert Gilchrist, President of the Association of Diaspora from Vilnius and Vilnia Region “Beit Vilna” Mickey Kantor.
The ceremony in Paneriai, as well as in Rūdininkai Square, ended with the anthem of the prisoners of the Vilnius Ghetto, which was performed by the choir of the Vilnius Sholom Aleichem ORT Gymnasium, accompanied by the soloist Rafailas Karpis.
On 23 September, a large number of students and their teachers took part in the commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust “The Road of Memory – March of the Living in Paneriai”. Representatives from 20 Lithuanian schools attended the event in Vilnius:
Vladas Mironas Gymnasium in Daugai (Alytus dstr), Ariogala Gymnasium, Balbieriškis Primary School, Kaunas Jonas and Petras Vileišiai School, Kaunas Jonas Laužikas School, Ąžuolas Gymnasium from Varėna, Vilnius Vilnia Primary School, Vilnius Rytas Pro–Gymnasium, Vilnius Saulėtekis School – Multifunctional Centre, Vilnius Grigiskes “Šviesos” Gymnasium, Vilnius Jonas Ivaškevičius Youth School, Vilnius King Mindaugas School, Vilnius Lazdynai School, Vilnius Naujamiestis School, Vilnius Pranciškaus Skorina Gymnasium, Vilnius Simonas Daukantas Gymnasium, Vilnius Vytautas the Great Gymnasium, Vilnius Šolom Aleichem ORT Gymnasium, Vilnius St. John Paul II Gymnasium, Vilnius Vasilijus Kačialovas Gymnasium.
Photos By Kęstutis Arlauskas
More photos from the commemoration event in Vilnius and all Lithuania can be found in the gallery (The Day of Commemoration of the Victims of the Genocide of Lithuanian Jews – September 23).