In 1941, Lithuania was occupied by Nazi Germany and within a few months, a large part of the Jewish community of Lithuania was destroyed.
Lithuanian Jews were forced into ghettos set up in the towns. Most of the ghettos were liquidated by the Nazis after a few months, while the remaining ghettos in Vilnius, Kaunas and Šiauliai remained open for 2-3 years. In Panevėžys, a ghetto was established on 10-11 July 1941 and destroyed in August. The Vilnius ghetto was liquidated on 23 September 1943, and the Jews of Panevėžys were ordered to move to their assigned quarter, bounded by Klaipėdos, Krekenava, J.Tilvyčio, Skerdyklos streets, by the evening of 11 July.
This area was not chosen by the Nazis by chance. In 1914, the Joint, a charitable foundation founded by wealthy Jews in England, France and the USA, provided support through the Jewish People’s Bank for the construction of housing for their compatriots. Most of the Jewish houses built in interwar Panevėžys with the help of the Joint Fund were located in the area of the ghetto, in the present-day J. Zikaras Street, which was called Joint from 1923 until 1953.
On 28 July, such a list was compiled: 4423 Jews lived in the ghetto. The number of children under the age of 2 years was 159, between 2 and 4 years 119 and between 4 and 6 years 139.
It goes on to say that 3207 Jews have shelter, while 1216 do not and live in courtyards. At the beginning of August, the Nazis informed the ghetto inmates that able-bodied men would be taken to the Pajuoste airport for work and would be housed in barracks there. This was a false report. In fact, several thousand Jewish men were taken to the Green Forest and shot.
“Today marks the 80th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto. The majority of the ghetto’s inhabitants were murdered,” said Gennady Kofman, President of the Panevėžys Jewish community, at the opening of the commemoration.
The Jewish community of Panevėžys began the commemoration in the Square of Memory, at the memorial “Saddened Jewish Mother”, where candles were lit and wreaths laid.
The Deputy Mayor of Panevėžys Loreta Masiliūnienė, the Mayor of Panevėžys District Municipality Antanas Pocius, pupils of the gymnasium took part in the commemoration and gave speeches. Later, all the participants of the commemoration went to visit the mass extermination sites of the Jews in the Kurganava Forest and the Holocaust Memorial Site in Green Forest.
Candles were also lit and wreaths laid to commemorate the day when we all remember the large Jewish community that lived in Lithuania.