Mass killing pit
This is one of the two largest pits in the area of mass killings, with a diameter of 35–40 meters. The pit was levelled in the mid-1950s to protect the remains of the victims from grave robbers. The pit was only located in 2016, after conducting non-invasive geophysical surveys, based on the aerial picture taken by the Luftwaffe in July 1944.
According to the pictures taken by the Special Soviet Commission in August 1944, it is known that the pit was distinguished by grass-free sandy edges and a low grassy islet in the middle. The trench connected this mass killing pit and the adjacent pit. The findings presented by the Commission stated that “after removal of the surface sand layer [of the pit – editor’s note] mixed with ash and the burnt remains of human bones, 486 corpses were removed and investigated. Some of the victims were identified by their documents and personal belongings. In his chronicle, the Jewish poet Abraham (Avrom) Sutzkever writes that the body of medical doctor Hilaris Feigus was also found in this pit.
The Commission experts found that the mass killing pit contained the bodies of 9,000 victims. There were special sites 20 m from the pit which were the locations of three bonfires used to born the corpses of the victims who had been shot. In archival photographs, the pit is easily recognised by the burnt debris of tree trunks at the edge of the pit.
According to Abraham Blazer, a member of the Nazi-formed burning brigade (Sonderkommando 1005A), a former prisoner of the Vilna Ghetto, testified to the Special Soviet Commission that they had unearthed 18,000 men, women and children from the first pit.
“Most of their heads were shot with different bullets. The first pit was a result of the liquidation of the Second [Minor – editor’s note] Vilna Ghetto; there were many Poles [in the pit] whom we identified by the crosses on their breasts. There were also priests identifiable by their robes. The hands of most Poles were tied behind their backs with ropes, straps, sometimes barbwire. Some bodies were completely naked, others half-naked, some of them wore only socks.”
On 11 July 1941, 400 Jewish men were kept in this pit before being taken to the adjacent pit to be shot. The massacre was most probably photographed by Otto Schroff, a soldier of the 96th Infantry Division of the Wehrmacht, who accidentally witnessed the killings in the area:
“In both cases, the photographs show the so-called preparation pits where the Jews were grouped for execution… They were shot in another pit, to the left, not in the ditch that is seen in the pictures… As our pictures show, there was no ditch for holding the Jews in the pit used for shooting… The day I took my pictures, the Jews were shot with machine guns, not with rifles. The pit where the Jews were shot had a diameter of 15-20 metres… There were no more than four to five men in the execution pit… They led the Jews to the place of shooting. Men (the victims) were not able to see anything since their heads were covered with their shirts… There were civilians in the preparation pits who supervised the victims… The Jews had to bare their upper torsos in the pit. After having covered their heads with their shirts, they were led out from the ditch to the execution pit. I heard moans and murmurs and thought that the Jews were praying. I used a ‘Welta’ 6×9 camera.”
In July 1941, it was used as a preparatory pit and later became the mass killing pit.
In 1948, the Holocaust survivors erected a monument near this pit to commemorate the Jewish victims, which was later pulled down by the Soviet authorities.