Monument in memory of the Jews killed in Paneriai
The monument in memory of the Jews killed in Paneriai was erected on 20 June 1991, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the start of the war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and the beginning of the Holocaust. The monument, designed by architect Jaunutis Makariūnas, is reminiscent of an old monument that was destroyed by the Soviets in 1949-1952, during the Stalinist anti-Semitic campaign. There is an inscription in Hebrew and Yiddish on the façade of the granite monument. On the other side of the monument there is an inscription in Lithuanian, English and Russian: “TO THE ETERNAL MEMORY OF 70,000 JEWS OF VILNIUS AND VILNIUS REGION WHO WERE KILLED AND BURNT HERE BY NAZI EXECUTIONERS AND THEIR COLLABORATORS”.
The monument was initiated by Joshua Epstein, a citizen of Vilnius living in Israel, who donated personal funds for this purpose, and the Lithuanian Jewish community. The Government of the Republic of Lithuania also partially supported the monument. This commemorative memorial is the central monument visited annually on 23 September to mark the Day of Remembrance for Jewish Victims of Genocide in Lithuania.
The mass killings in Paneriai were carried out by the so-called SD Special Squad of Vilnius subordinate to the German Security Police. The squad was first mentioned in the documents on 15 July 1941. Initially, the Lithuanian auxiliary police squad had about 100 members wearing civilian clothes and white ties. In the autumn of 1941, following the great massacre campaigns, the squad members were reduced to 40. In 1942, they were provided with uniforms of the SD. The first squad organisers were sub-lieutenant Petras Jakubka and chief-lieutenant Mečys Butkus. On 23 July 1941 lieutenant Juozas Šidlauskas became the commander of the squad; afterwards – Lieutenant Balys Norvaiša; although the actual commander was the SS technical sergeant Martin Weiss.
It is estimated that the number of victims killed in Paneriai ranges from 50,000 to 70,000 people, most of whom were Jews from Vilnius and Vilnius region. The Soviet historiography refers to around 100,000 ‘Soviet citizens’ killed in Paneriai, but this number is believed to be an exaggeration. According to Israeli historian Ichaak Arad, only about 6,000 people survived out of the pre-war Vilnius Jewish community of 54,000-57,000 people.
In the summer and autumn of 1941, people from the streets of Vilnius and the ghetto or from Lukiškės Prison were driven to Paneriai in trucks or herded on foot. In the site of mass killing, they were planted on the ground, led to pits by small groups and shot to death. Some of the victims were trapped in pits. The largest massacre of Jews took place in 1941. Between September and November, 33,000 Jews from Vilnius were shot dead.
In 1942–1943, people were killed in Paneriai mainly in smaller groups, except for 5 April 1943, when many Jews were brought to Paneriai from Eastern Lithuania by train and executed. Some of them were shot dead while attempting to flee in the area of the railway and Paneriai settlement, while others were led to pits and shot. The last mass killing of the Jews in Paneriai took place on 3 July 1944.