AJC welcomed the Pope’s compassionate words commemorating Lithuania Jewish Holocaust victims and strong remarks against contemporary antisemitism. The Pope spoke on the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius ghetto during a two-day visit to Lithuania, his first to the Baltic nation.

“We are obliged to remember and honor the 200,000 Jews of Lithuania who perished in the Holocaust, said Agnieszka Markiewicz, director of AJC Central Europe, who participated in the memorial events. “Pope Francis’s condemnation of antisemitism on this tragic anniversary sends a much-needed and strong message,”

Lithuania observes September 23 as the Day of Remembrance of Lithuanian Jewish Victims of Genocide. On that day in 1943, 70,000 Jews were taken from the ghetto to Ponary forest, where they were shot and buried in mass graves. The murder of these 70,000 Jews together with another 130,000 from the rest of the country marked the end of a centuries-old Jewish community that had made Lithuania a world center of Jewish scholarship and culture.

Pope Francis offered prayers in the presence of survivors and Jewish community leaders at the site of the former ghetto.

Addressing a crowd of some 100,000 people in Kaunas earlier in the day, the Pope said, “This was the climax of the killing of thousands of Jews that had started two years earlier .Let us think back on those times and ask the Lord to give us the gift of discernment to detect in time any new seeds of that pernicious attitude.” The Pope also warned that society must guard against “any whiff” of a new rise in antisemitism.

Since regaining independence in 1991, Lithuania has struggled to confront the legacy of its Holocaust-era past. This has included the creation of an international historical commission to address the role of local collaboration in the crimes of the Holocaust and protracted efforts to restitute former Jewish property and to restore former synagogues and cemeteries. AJC has participated in these efforts.

Also addressing this year’s official commemoration ceremony at the Holocaust memorial in Ponary Forest were Lithuania Parliamentary Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis, Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius, and Faina Kukliansky, President of the Jewish Community of Lithuania.

“Seventy-five years after the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto, which has become the symbol of the Holocaust in Lithuania, it still takes courage, wisdom, will and fundamental human understanding to witness to historical truth,” said Kukliansky. “We, Lithuanian Jews, are carrying a perpetual obligation to safeguard the historical truth and to never give up our efforts in ensuring the wholesome future of our children.”

Emanuelis Zingeris, a veteran Jewish Member of Parliament who also participated in the ceremony, stressed the importance of gathering in Ponary before the graves of Holocaust victims, a tragedy unique in Lithuanian history. 

The Jewish Community of Lithuania is an international partner of AJC.

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