On my second day in Vilnius, I did research into the Holocaust, and visited sites associated with it. First stop was Ponary Wood, the site of the killing of an estimated 100,000 people. Paneriai is easy to access from the main train station in Vilnius and the rail journey is very brief. There is then a short walk from the village into to woods and the memorial site.
There are multiple monuments and memorials here marking the deaths of Jews, Lithuanians, Poles, and Soviets. Many of these are from the Soviet era, and make more of a political statement than a religious one. This does not mean there is no acknowledgement of the 70,000 + Jews who died here.
There is a small museum on the site, and the rail which winds through the memorial park, takes visitors past the large pits, and the various memorials. This is a moving place to visit, and the grey monuments, and the darker history, stand in contrast to the peaceful woodland surroundings.
After several hours visiting the woods and memorials, I made my way back to Vilnius. On arriving at the station, taxis became my mode of transport. My objectives were the Holocaust Museum (The Green House), and the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum. Along the route I saw the KGB Museum, the same building had also been used as the Gestapo Headquarters.
The Jewish Museum has exhibits detailing the rich Jewish culture of “The Jerusalem of the North” as Napoleon dubbed it. It is a really useful resource in understanding the scope of the events of the Holocaust, and “what was lost.”
The Green House Museum is a small but information packed venue. It has exhibits, but also really important documents about the ghettoisation, and later killing of the Jewish population of the city. I read several really interesting documents and articles, one of which was a testimony to the doctors and officials of the ghetto, as it illustrated that the public health provision within the ghetto was superior to that of the city as a whole.
Outside the green House is the memorial to the Japanese diplomat Chijune Sugihara. This man took it upon himself to issue exit visas to as many Jews as he could, before he was relieved of his post. Thousands of Lithuanian and Polish Jews managed to flee with his assistance.
Vilnius proved to be a really great place to visit. I enjoyed the Baltic culture, architecture and food. I managed to do one of my favourite travel activities and visited beautiful churches and shrines. And, I was able to continue my research into the Holocaust, and to become even more familiar to the richness of the Jewish culture of the region.