To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the destruction of the Biržai Jewish community on August 8, the march of the “Road of Memory” began from the Atminimo (Memorial) square, the first destination was the old Jewish-Karaite cemetery and continued to the Pakamponiai forest, where the Holocaust Remembrance ceremony took place.
Biržai has long been ruled by the Radvila family. An ordinance issued by Duke Christopher Radvila II in 1607 states: “Christians have to defend Jews in the same manner as themselves in the event of offense because the native Jews are members of this town.” According to the census of 1941, Jews amounted to 57 percent of the population in Biržai (information from Dr. Arūnas Bubnys’ book “The Holocaust in the Province of Lithuania in 1941”).
The first massacres took place in the Biržai Jewish-Karaite cemetery, where about 10-12 Jews were shot. The mass killings of Biržai Jews took place on August 8, 1941, in the Pakamponiai forest (3 km north of Biržai). All the Jews of Biržai were shot that day. About 2,400 Jews were killed, including about 900 children. Along with the Jews, about 90 Lithuanians were allegedly murdered. The massacres were executed by German Gestapo officers, the Linkuva Auxiliary Police Squad, and Biržai police officers and white-armbands. The Jewish community of Biržai was obliterated, and only a small number of Jews managed to escape to the inlands of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the war and witness the end of the war.
The commemoration event began at Memorial Square, next to the site of the old synagogue. Participants listened to a recorded speech by Glenda Levit about her connection with the city of Biržai. Walking along the “Road of Memory”, the participants stopped at the wooden house of Lipschitz, where an employee of the Biržai regional museum “Sėla” briefly told a story of a young guy – Lipschitz, and read a poem written by him. The procession continued to the Biržai’s old Jewish-Karaite cemetery, where Vidmantas Jukonis, the chairman of Jewish Culture and History Society in Biržai, presented the history of this place, honoring the first victims of the Holocaust in Biržai buried in this cemetery. German representatives from the State of Lippe (the cemetery management partners) also addressed the audience. The procession continued to the Pakamponių forest, where a memorial ceremony for the victims of the Holocaust took place. The participants, while walking along the memorial representing a river flow, were embraced by a recording of the names of those who died, and it was extended by Sania Kerbelis, the chairman of the Šiauliai Jewish community, reading out the names of his relatives and unveiling a new plaque in the memorial with their names engraved. Leta Vainorienė, a resident of Biržai, continued to read the names of her murdered relatives. Participants listened to a chant performed by Biržai “Saulė” gymnasium. After all the speeches, the guests and participants were asked for a joint prayer.
Dr. Gabrielė Žaidytė – Adviser to the Prime Minister on Cultural Affairs honored the event and read out the Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė‘s letter; Chairman of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania Emanuelis Zingeris, Chairman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community Faina Kukliansky, Deputy Head of Mission of the Dutch Embassy Peter Zwart attended the event in Biržai.
The event was organized by Biržai District Municipality, Biržai regional museum “Sėla” together with Biržai Jewish Culture and History Society, and the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania.
Moments from the event:
Photo by Feliksas GrunskisPhoto by Feliksas Grunskis Photo by Feliksas Grunskis Photo by Biržai Region Museum “Sėla”Photo by Biržai Region Museum “Sėla” Photo by Biržai Region Museum “Sėla” Photo by Biržai Region Museum “Sėla” Photo by Biržai Region Museum “Sėla”