April 7, 2021
Symbolic Commemoration of Holocaust Victims at Ponar
A symbolic ceremony to honor victims of the Holocaust will take place at 12 noon on April 8, Yom haShoa, the Israeli Day of Remembrance of Holocaust Victims and Heroes, at the Ponar Memorial Complex outside Vilnius. Adhering to all safety requirements, members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, diplomats and surviving Vilnius ghetto prisoners will place stones and flowers at monuments and the mass graves and the cantor will perform kaddish, a prayer for the dead.
“The March of the Living traditionally took place on this occasion, repeating the final march of those condemned to death from the railroad station to the Ponar Memorial Complex, but due to the pandemic situation, this year this won’t be a mass commemoration. Only a few of us are gathering, carrying out the responsibility to preserve and pass on to future generations the memory of the Holocaust. This year is the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Holocaust in Lithuania, after all. With us today is an eye-witness to those horrific events, Kaunas ghetto inmate Dovydas Leibzonas,” Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky said.
Also participating in the commemoration will be speaker of the Lithuanian parliament Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis and representatives of the foreign diplomatic community resident in Lithuania: Israeli ambassador Yossy Avni-Levy, German ambassador Matthias Sonn and U.S. ambassador Robert S. Gilchrist.
“At the US Holocaust Museum, in the memorial commemorating the Ponar mass murder site, a candle of memory always burns. The word Ponar means pain and the tremendous loss of the Lithuanian Jewish community. Today throughout the world we honor the victims of the Holocaust, the millions of people whose lives were tragically cut short. It is important to me that I am able with my fellow diplomats to be here and honor the victims of Ponar,” ambassador Gilchrist said.
On the Jewish calendar this day, Yom haShoa ve-haGevurah or Yom haZikaron laShoa ve-laG’vurah, is marked on Nisan 27, a week after the seventh day of Passover and a week before Yom haZikaron, the day of remembrance of fallen Israeli soldiers. In 1951 the Knesset chose this date, which is calculated on the lunar calendar and thus changes date every year on the regular calendar, as the symbolic time for remembering the Shoa between the time of Passover and the Warsaw Uprising on April 19, 1943. Today Yom haShoa is commemorated by people and Jewish communities around the world in memory of the victims and heroes of the Holocaust. In Israel when the day begins with the setting of the sun, air-raid sirens sound and traffic comes to a halt for two minutes to honor the victims, and this is repeated at 11:00 A.M. (the next day in non-Jewish reckoning). Israeli radio and television devote their broadcasts to the fate of the Jews during World War II and theaters, bars and other public places close their doors for the day.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Holocaust in Lithuania. During World War II more than 90 percent of Lithuania’s 200,000 Jews were murdered. It is believed around 100,000 people were murdered and buried in Ponar, including 70,000 Jews, 20,000 Poles and 8,000 Soviet POWs.
Currently around 3,000 Jews live in Lithuania. Around 8,000 Jews from Lithuania were rescued during the Holocaust and around the same amount survived by fleeing on time. The Yad Vashem institute’s center for Holocaust studies reports around 900 Lithuanians have been recognized as Righteous among the Nations, or as people who rescued Jews from the Holocaust.
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Eve of Yom haShoa at the Ponar Memorial Complex