The visit to the memorial in Paneriai on 4 March was the most difficult part of the trip through Lithuania. Paneriai is a suburb of Vilnius with extensive forests. The German occupiers turned it into a murder site. More than 100,000 people were killed there – mainly Jews, many of them from Vilnius ghetto, but also Soviet prisoners of war, Poles, Roma and Lithuanians.
It was a cold morning when Yuliya and I headed for Paneriai. There was still snow in the forest, the paths were icy. We had to be careful not to slip. Because of the different groups of victims and the changing interpretation of history, there are a lot of monuments in the forest. They date from different eras or are dedicated to the murdered nationalities. Mass graves are marked by other monuments.
From December 1943, the Germans began to cover the traces of their crime. The mass graves were opened and the bodies burned. One of the cremation pits is preserved as a monument. I needed inner strength to approach the place. Looking into the pit is like looking into hell.
It was not planned this way, but actually the visit to Trakai cheered us up a bit. Trakai Castle is probably on the cover of every second Lithuania guidebook. In fact, it is a pretty place – picturesquely situated on a lake, with well-kept wooden houses. In the centre of the town is the Karaite Kenessa. It has been restored in an exemplary manner, but unfortunately we found it locked.
Yuliya and I went out for dinner in the evening – a nice Indian restaurant. Until the Germans came, it was a Jewish café. The old shop sign in Polish and Yiddish is still visible. We talked about the return of barbarism to Europe, the thin ice of our civilisation. Our thoughts were with our friends in Ukraine and Belarus. We also started talking about another trip through Lithuania. It would begin very soon.
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