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Lithuania Commemorates National Memorial Day for the Genocide of the Lithuanian Jews


Lithuania has designated 23 September as National Memorial Day for the Genocide of the Lithuanian Jews.

The Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) declared 2011 as the Year of Remembrance for the Victims of the Holocaust in Lithuania.  In honor of this Year of Remembrance, the Lithuanian government adopted a comprehensive program of commemorative events and projects dedicated to remembrance and education.

Aukštieji Paneriai Memorial Commemoration

On 23 September, a commemoration ceremony was held in tribute to the victims of the Holocaust at Aukštieji Paneriai Memorial in Vilnius.  The ceremony was attended by the Speaker of the Seimas, Irena Degutienė, Ministers of Culture Arūnas Gelūnas, Industry, Trade and Labour Minister of Israel Shalom Simhon, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Lithuanian Seimas, Chairman of the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania Emanuelis Zingeris, and Mayor of Vilnius Artūras Zuokas.  Leaders of the Lithuanian Jewish community, Chief Rabbi of Lithuania and Vilnius Chaim Burstein, priest Julius Sasnauskas, and ambassadors, schoolchildren, and special guests also attended.

The commemoration ceremony was preceded by the March of Life from the center of Vilnius to the killing site of the Paneriai forest on the outskirts of the city in solidarity with the Jewish people and Holocaust victims.

Speaker of the Seimas Irena Degutienė delivered the keynote address, in which she stated, "Time might seem to heal the wounds of the mid-20th century, or at least soothe the pain.  The Holocaust, however, was too striking an experience not only for the Jewish nation but for the whole humanity too.  We still have survivors who eyewitnessed the tragedy of the Jewish people, who saw the atrocious and meaningless massacre.  We also have those who, at the risk to their and their children's lives, resisted the wild outrageous behavior...That is why the true face of Lithuania during the occupation was the 819 people who are citizens of Lithuania and the Righteous of the World."

Antakalnis Cemetery Commemoration

On 22 September, the memory of Anton Schmid, one of the Righteous Among the Nations, was honored in the Antakalnis Cemetery in Vilnius.  In 1941 and 1942 the Austrian-born Wehrmacht Sergeant heroically saved the lives of hundreds of Jews in the Vilnius Ghetto.  Upon disclosure he was sentenced to death and shot by the Nazis.  In his farewell letter to his wife in Vienna, Schmid wrote the famous words "I only saved human beings."

Lithuanian Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Asta Skaisgirytė Liauškienė gave the address at the ceremony, and stated, "Such people, who did not betray the ideals of humanism even in the face of brutal repression, are our real heroes.  They save our world from the destructive forces of evil and from the moral erosion of the humankind."

Commemoration at the Lithuanian Consulate General and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York

On 22 September, the Lithuanian Consulate General in New York and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research organized a commemoration ceremony.  YIVO is based in New York and its primary mission is to foster the Yiddish culture and language.

During the ceremony, a letter from Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Audronius Ažubalis was read.  Minister Ažubalis highlighted Lithuania's efforts to preserve and perpetuate the 600 years of Jewish history in Lithuania.  The Lithuanian government has allocated funds for the establishment of the Jewish Public Library and to the archaeological excavatiosn of the Great Synagogue in Vilnius.  The reconstruction of the historical Jewish quarter is also being undertaken, and there are plans to restore the Paneriai Memorial Museum and the old Jewish cemetery in Šnipiškės.

The event was attended by the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Lithuanian Consul General Valdemaras Sarapinas, the YIVO leadership, and representatives from Jewish organizations in the United States.

American baritone Jerome Barry, violinist Yuval Waldman, and Lithuanian pianist Edvinas Minkštimas gave a concert at the event, and songs created in the Vilnius Ghetto were performed and Jewish poetry was also read.

Commemoration in Israel

During his visit to Israel, Lithuanian Minister of Culture Arunas Gelunas met with Israeli Minister of Culture and Sports Limor Livnat and Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev and paid tribute to the victims of the Holocaust. The Minister laid a wreath in memory of the victims of the Holocaust at the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem.

At the ceremony Minister Gelunas bowed his head to the victims of the Holocaust and emphasized importance of close relations between the Lithuanian and Jewish people. Chairman Avner Shalev said that Yad Vashem welcomes the signing of the partnership agreement with the Office of the Chief Archivist of Lithuania from which the researchers on the Holocaust in Lithuania will benefit.

Later Minister Gelunas participated in the event dedicated to the National Memorial Day for the Genocide of the Lithuanian Jews at Israeli Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv. The Minister emphasized the importance of preserving to the historical heritage of the Lithuanian Jewry.

In addition to the commemoration events in Israel the virtual exhibition "Rescued Lithuanian Jewish Child Tells about the Shoah" was launched in participation of the Chairman of the Knesset Group for Interparliamentary Relations with Lithuania Zeev Bielski, Lithuanian Ambassador to Israel Darius Degutis and Chairman of the Directorate of Israel's Diaspora Museum Avinoam Armoni.

Vilnius Ghetto Commemoration


On 22 September, a Vilnius church held a commemoration ceremony for the Jews that were held in the Vilnius Ghetto.  The names, surnames, and professions of those who lived in the ghetto were read out and the victims of the Holocaust were remembered.  Dozens of people wished to take part in the reading of the names, which was a list compiled from the May 1942 census taken in the ghetto.

"We don't even know how these names sound.  Now when you listen, you are surprised that people with these names lived in this city.  This is our history and the city's cultural memory without these people has gaps, holes, and you feel them...This moment for us as a city community is very important," said Audra, one of the coordinators of the event.

The Vilnius Ghetto was liquidated on 23-24 September 1943.  During the two years of the ghetto's existence, the population was reduced from an estimated 40,000 residents to zero.  Only several hundred managed to survive, many by hiding the surrounding forests.  More than 90% of Lithuania's pre-war Jewish community of approximately 200,000 was killed in the Holocaust.  In 1994, the Lithuanian Seimas declared 23 September as a national commemorative day in Lithuania.

Commemoration in Lithuanian Schools

23 September was commemorated by more than 200 schools and other educational institutions in Lithuania and organized by the Secretariat of International Commission. The Secretariat of the International Commission constantly works with Lithuanian schools to involve them in commemorations throughout the year.  This year, teachers provided students with background knowledge, including historical facts about erstwhile Lithuanian Jewish community and its cultural distinctiveness, before the commemoration.  It was also emphasized that those people killed during the Holocaust were the citizens of Lithuania and they had an influence on the cultural and political life of the country.


The concept of the commemoration for 2011 was "don't avert from the past."  The menorah, a seven-branched candelabra and one of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith, was suggested as a symbol of commemoration.  Different school communities found some very creative ways to display the menorah using various materials such as stones and flowers.