Monument to commemorate the Poles
The first memorial symbol to commemorate the Poles who were killed in Paneriai – a wooden cross and an altar tombstone – was erected in Paneriai in autumn 1990 on the initiative of a former member of the Polish underground, a citizen of Vilnius, Helena Pasierbska (1921–2010). Lithuanian architect Jaunutis Makariūnas created the monument. In November 2000, the memorial designed by Polish architect Jaroslaw Skrzypczyk was unveiled at the same spot; it was funded by the Council for the Commemoration of Suffering and Combat of the Republic of Poland.
The cross erected in Paneriai in 1990 in memory of the Poles who were murdered there symbolically fulfilled the wish of Rev. Romuald Swirkowski who was shot there. During his journey to Paneriai by truck, he wrote down something on a leaflet and threw it out the window. His last wish was: “I would like to have a cross erected in the place where I will die<…>”. According to Ms Pasierbska, erecting a modest memorial symbol in Paneriai was the dream of the Poles of Vilnius region.
The monument carries the inscription in Lithuanian and Polish: “IN MEMORY OF NUMEROUS POLES KILLED IN PANERIAI. COUNTRYMEN FROM VILNIUS. ETERNAL REST GRANT UNTO THEM, O LORD, AND LET PERPETUAL LIGHT SHINE UPON THEM.” Behind the monument, there is a seven-meter-high metal cross on the same foundation. A wall of stone blocks surrounds the monument. On the inside of the wall there are commemorative plaques with the names of the members of Polish underground organisations killed in Paneriai. The inscription in Lithuanian and Polish on the commemorative plaques behind the monument says: “SOLDIERS OF THE HOME ARMY AND POLISH UNDERGROUND RESISTANCE/THE POLISH INTELLECTUALS AND YOUTH WHO SACRIFICED THEIR LIVES FOR THE FREEDOM OF THEIR HOMELAND/RESPECT FOR THEIR MEMORY. THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF POLAND”.
According to the Polish historian Dr Monika Tomkiewicz, 1,500-2,000 Poles were killed in Paneriai in 1941–1944. Prof. Piotr Niwinski and Helena Pasierbska indicate even higher numbers – from 2,000 to 20,000. However, there are no data to confirm this number. The names of the 348 Poles killed in Paneriai are known to this day, and they are carved on the commemorative plaques.
During the Nazi occupation, Poles were murdered in Vilnius for political reasons: as members of the underground anti-Nazi organisations (ZWZ), the Home Army (AK), or were victims of street raids or hostages.
The Polish intellectuals became the target of the Nazi regime from early September 1939. The Poles were repressed by the so-called special intellectuals’ campaign Intelligenzaktion, which sought to destroy the most politically and intellectually active members of the Polish nation. Many Polish priests, high school students, teachers, scouts and other patriots, who collaborated with the underground resistance, were shot dead in Paneriai. Many Polish youths belonging to patriotic organisations were killed in May 1942.
Kazimierz Pelczar (1894–1943) was one of the pioneers of oncology in Europe, famous for being one of the best practitioners of medical oncology, and a professor of the Stefan Batory University in Vilnius. In 1936, he organised the 4th Congress Against Cancer in Vilnius. As the war approached, Mr Pelczar was offered the opportunity to go abroad and work at various universities, but he decided to stay in Vilnius. From 1939, he was a member of the Polish Red Cross, he took care of refugees and Jews, and helped Polish underground organisations by providing medical care. Kazimierz Pelczar was executed with other Polish intellectuals on 17 September 1943.
Mieczyslaw Gutkowski (1893–1943) was a professor of the Stefan Batory University, a lawyer, a world-renowned economist, one of the pioneers in the application of principles of economic analysis of law in Poland, a specialist in public finance. In 1936, he defended students belonging to left-wing organisations in court. This fact is thought to have contributed to Mr Gutkowski’s inclusion on the list of repressed Polish intellectuals drafted in 1941 by the Germans and Lithuanian collaborators. He was executed with other Polish intellectuals on 17 September 1943.
Rev. Romuald Swirkowski (1886–1942) was the head priest of the Holy Spirit parish in Vilnius and a delegate of the Vilnius Curia for relations with the Polish underground anti-Nazi organisations. He was brutally tortured at Lukiškės Prison and executed on 5 May 1942 with a group of Polish youth.
Witold Szapski (1915–1943) and Maria Szapska (1920–1943). Led by patriotic attitudes, Maria became involved in underground resistance activities during the war. Her apartment became a communication centre for people looking for help. There she met officer Witold Szapski, a member of the Polish underground anti-Nazi movement. On 11 July 1942 Szapski was arrested. Maria was arrested soon after. She was interrogated at the Gestapo headquarters (present Aukų str.). During one interrogation, on 25 February 1943, Maria jumped out of a second-floor window. She was severely injured and was admitted to a city hospital and later transferred to a prison hospital. On 14 May 1943, Ms Szapska was taken to Paneriai on a stretcher.