Concrete building was from the Soviet era. Constuction is poor and the buildings are crumbling
Fania Hilelson earned her BA degree in English at the Vilna University in the late 1960s. She left Lithuania in 1972 and immigrated to Israel, when she and her family were finally able to leave. They had lived in from Kovno, where Fania was born. Her father and his whole family was from Sudarg, which we visited later in the trip. Three of Fania's uncles had immigrated to the United States in the 1920s and settled in Albuquerque and Las Vegas, New Mexico. One uncle was killed as a soldier fighting the Nazis, as he was trying to rescue his brother, the man who would become her father, who had been wounded. Other uncles and aunts and cousins were murdered in Sudarg by Lithuanians shortly after the Nazis invaded June 22, 1941. This was Fanis's first trip back to Lithuania since leaving in 1972. She was the inspiration and impetus that made this family trip happen. At the family reunion in Detriot, Michigan in late July 2000, Fania proposed this trip to the family, offering to lead it. She said that she wanted to return to see this land, but "only in the company of her cousins!"
Fania and Micha live in Montreal, Joel in Boston, Leon and Lottye in Dallas, Brenda in Los Angeles, and Esther in Mexico City.
Also on the trip, but not shown here were brothers Marc and Gary Schumann (living in Los Angeles and Miami, respectively), and Yitzhak ("Zatz") and his wife Nava Zarnitsky who live in Tel Aviv.
Near the Vilna University in from of the President's Residence (behind photographer). The Horse Chestnut trees are in full blossom on the left.
Hotel was only about 5 years old, built after the Soviet era. It is a 4 Star hotel with very comfortable accomodations. Breakfast was a buffet included in the price of the room. The breakfast buffet included lotkas, blintzas, herring, lox, eggs, fruit, and nearly everything but bagels. We began to realize that our "Jewish foods" are really Lithuanian foods that have been made Kosher.
First day with our guide Chaim Bargman, we went to the Mass Massacre Site in the Polnar forest a few miles outside of Vilna. This memorial was originally without the center dark stone, and written only in Russian and Lithuanian erected during the Soviet era (1945-1990). The dark stone in Hebrew and Yiddish and Lithuanian with the Star of David was inserted after 1990 and finally indicated that it was mostly Jews who were murdered here.
This map indicates with each symbol a Mass Massacre site, with the color and shape indicating the number of Jews murdered at each site. Note that the map is virtually covered with symbols, because there are at least 240 known sites (according to cousin Joseph Rosin, originally of Kibart, Lithuania). The killings were often carried out by some of the Lithuanian towns people, with the encouragement of the Nazis.
These pits were originally dug by the Russians during the period of their rule, 1939-1941. They were intended to be storage pits for petroleum, but were not used because the Nazis invaded in June 1941. These pits were located near rail lines. The Nazis used these pits as mass murder sites, by bringing thousands of Jews here from Vilna Ghetto and killing them and burying the bodies in these huge pits.
Here we lit a Yahrtzeit candle and said Kaddash, for the first of many many times. We wept here.
Toward the end of the war, the Nazis decided that they needed to burn the corpses so as to remove all evidence of their crimes. The corpse burners were of course Jews.
Because the buildings were fixed up it was very difficult to realize that this was the place of the ghetto during World War II, with all the horrible "actions" and murders and "liquidation of the Jews."
When Fania attended the Vilna University just a few blocks away in the late 1960s, she had no idea that the Ghetto was here. It was all a dark secret in those days, no one spoke about the war years, "probably to protect the children from the pain of that time."