Vilna

Historical Background

Scattered clothing at Ponary, the execution site of the Jews of VilnaScattered clothing at Ponary, the execution site of the Jews of Vilna

Until the Holocaust Vilna was a major Jewish center of scholarship and culture. In 1939 the Jewish community numbered 55,000. Soon after the Germans occupied Vilna on June 24,1941 the murder of the Jews by shooting began. Soon after, in the beginning of September 1941, a ghetto was established, but the killings continued and over the next months thousands of Jews were shot in the Ponary forest in the outskirts of town by the Germans and their Lithuanian collaborators. By the end of that year 35,000 Jews had been murdered, and another 3,500 had fled. The final liquidation of the ghetto took place in August-September 1943 when the remaining 12,000 men, women and children were deported to camps in Estonia. By liberation only 2-3,000 of the original city's Jewish population survived.