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Use our multimedia maps, and explore the family pictures, archival material, and personal stories of 21 Jewish Holocaust survivors to get a unique insight into Europe’s rich Jewish heritage, and to discover sites of Jewish life in towns in Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania.
The Ponary Forest was the site of thousands of murders of Jews from Vilnius and the surrounding region. Located just over 10 kilometres south of Vilnius, the forest was chosen as a murder site because of its deep pits and proximity to the train tracks. Most of the Jews that were in the Vilnius ghettos, both one and two, were sent to be murdered at Ponary, aside from those who were highly skilled or capable of hard labour and were sent to camps in nearby regions.
Maria Rolnikayte, a survivor of the Vilnius Ghetto, describes her experience first hearing about what was going on at Ponary: “There came frightening news: Armed patrols arrested men in the city streets and put them into prison. At first, people thought that men were being taken to a labor camp, but soon we found out that there was no camp there. In Ponary, people were executed.”
Between June 1941 and July 1944, over 75,000 people were murdered at Ponary. While most of the victims were Jewish citizens, others were Soviet prisoners of war and local oppositionists of the Nazi regime. Victims were taken to the murder site where they were ultimately shot, buried, and their corpses burned (Yad Vashem).
Fania Brantsovsakaya lost many family members, including her grandparents, at Ponary: “Ponary is a lovely wooded area where families keep small dachas [Russian: seasonal houses]. It became a death factory. The Soviet authorities had built huge concrete pits to store fuel, but failed to ever use them. The Fascists put them to use. When those pits were full of dead bodies the victims were forced to dig graves before they were shot themselves.”