This week in Jewish history | Vilna Ghetto liquidated, thousands sent to death camps

24 Sep 2020 Facebook Created with Sketch. Twitter Created with Sketch. Email Print
This week in Jewish history | Vilna Ghetto liquidated, thousands sent to death camps

On 23-24 September 1943, SS forces surrounded up thousands of Jews remaining the Vilna Ghetto in Nazi-occupied Lithuania, and deported them to death camps and concentration camps across the Baltics. 

The final liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto took place two years and three months after Nazi Germany’s 22 June 1941 invasion of Lithuania and was carried out with the support of local Lithuanians over the course of several months.  

The ghetto in Vilna was segmented into two parts: Ghetto #1 and Ghetto # 2. The  ghettos were overcrowded and unsanitary. With such poor living conditions and inadequate care, death from disease was common. Jews in Ghetto # 2, the smaller of the two, were considered incapable of working. The Jews in Ghetto #1 were often used as forced laborers in factories outside the ghetto, or sent to nearby labor camps to work. Ghetto #2 was destroyed in October 1941, its residents were also brought to their deaths in Ponary. A majority of the inhabitants in Ghetto # 1 were also massacred over the years in Ponary, in various aktions. By the end of 1941, approximately 40,000 Jews had been killed in Ponary. From the spring of 1942 there was relative calm until 22 September 1943, when the German Nazis resumed their killing spree and liquidated the last of ghetto, with the help of local Lithuanians. Children, the sick, and the elderly were deported to Sobibor or killed at Ponary. The rest of the men  were sent to labor camps in Estonia, and the women were sent to labor camps in Latvia. 

Vilna was home to a prominent and thriving Jewish community prior to the Holocaust. Jews, including prominent rabbis and Talmudic scholars, had lived in Lithuania since the 14th century, and with approximately 100,000 Jews and 105 synagogues and places of worship, the city of Vilna (today Vilnius) was known as “the Jerusalem of Lithuania” and “Jerusalem of the North.”  

In total, over 90 percent of Lithuanian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, one of the highest victim rates across Europe. The Jewish community of Vilna never recovered from World War II. Today, the Jewish population is five percent of what it used to be. Today, there is one Jewish newspaper and one Jewish synagogue in Vilna for the approximately 6,500 Jews living there. 

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