Paneriai is located about ten kilometers west of Vilnius and was used by the Nazis as a place of execution. The reason why Paneriai was selected was that before the Germans occupied Lithuania and Vilnius, the Soviet army had prepared large pits for use as fuel stores. These found the Nazis fit to use as mass graves. Paneriai’s murder operations began in July 1941 when about 5,000 Jewish men were shot by Einsatzgruppe 9 units of Einsatzgruppe A. The area where the murders were carried out was cordoned off and guarded so that no unauthorized persons entered the area. The murders were carried out by SD, SS and Lithuanian volunteer auxiliary forces (Ypatingasis burys) who were more than happy to help murder the Jews. Jews from the ghetto in Vilnius and nearby areas were murdered in Paneriai, but Polish jews and gentiles were also murdered in Paneriai. Soviet citizens were also, of course, among the victims. Although the massacres became smaller in 1942, they continued, but the Nazis needed Jews in the German war industry and could therefore not killing them all.

When the Nazis dismantled the ghetto in Vilnius in 1943, the Jews were murdered in Paneriai. That same year, the Nazis opened the mass graves to cremate the corpses. The Nazis took a group of about eighty prisoners from the Stutthof concentration camp and forced them to open the mass graves and cremate the bodies. The prisoners who worked with this knew that they would be murdered as soon as the cremation of the bodies was completed and therefore a group fled when the cremation began to approach the end. Their testimony became an important component of what had happened in Paneriai. Murder in Paneriai continued on a smaller scale until August 1944 when the Soviet Red army approached. As always, it is difficult to determine the number of deaths, but figures between 70,000 and 100,000 occur and it was mainly Jews who were murdered in Paneriai. What is established, however, is that Paneriai was a place where the Nazis tried to realize their plans for a racially pure Europe.

Current status: Museum (2009).

Location: 54°37'34.27" N 25°09'41.23" E

Get there: Car.

My comment:

Paneriai is perhaps the most evocative memorial I have been to. The place is well maintained and is secluded from larger communities and busy roads as well as on the railroad. The sun was shining when I was there in the autumn of 2008 and the wind hardly touched the colorful autumn leaves. Were it not for the macabre history of the place, one would think that one was in a landscape painting by Vincent van Gogh.

Follow up in books: Arad, Yitzhak: Holocaust in the Soviet union (2009).