The green building is a bit hard to find because it’s not exactly on Pamenkalnio Street. No. 12, we finally learned, is up an incline and looks like a hillside house instead of a museum. Ruth & I are glad we persisted. Vilnius’ Holocaust Museum was a 5-Compass find.
It was a rainy Monday afternoon and almost everything was closed. After we checked out the Ciurlionis House, we ducked into the Visitors Center and asked about the only other opened attractions we knew about–The Diamond & Holocaust Museums. “Which of the 2 would you choose?” I asked the man behind the desk. “Well,” he said, “Vilnius really isn’t known as a diamond center.”
Thanks to him, I now know that Vilnius was a Jewish center of scholarship & culture second to none. In fact, before World War II it was called Jerusalem of the North and contained 100 synagogues.
A visit to any Holocaust Museum is difficult but worthwhile, and Vilnius’ was no less so. It’s one of those places that I thought I’ll give it an hour, and 3 hours later I left, dazed. For such an emotionally charged subject, this Holocaust Museum unfolded with a surprising amount of calm objectivity.
Right away I read that during the initial Nazi occupation of Vilnius, 11,000 Jews were confined in a ghetto centered around Stikliu Street. The Nazis liquidated it in 1941, killing all who resided there. About 220,000 Jews lived in Lithuania at that time.
Ruth & I wandered through a series of small, connected rooms that began with the big picture but became more intimate and heart-rending as we proceeded. Displays were packed with photos, information, & statistics. “Nazi Germany’s leadership was not satisfied with the results of their actions, which were 600,000 people murdered from June until December 1941. Thus, in late 1941 and early 1942 they began creating a more “perfect” system of mass extermination–that of concentration camps with gas chambers.”
I didn’t know that the internationally famous violinist Jascha Heifetz was born and studied in Vilnius.
I had forgotten that Nazis didn’t just encamp and eliminate Jews. Jehovah Witnesses and the chronically sick were targeted. 250,000 gypsies were murdered.
Ruth became fascinated by Chronicles from the Vilna Ghetto, read many accounts, and asked for my notebook where she wrote the entire story of an inhuman Nazi game called Catches & Snatches.
When Ruth was ready to leave, I was in the last room reading a story of hope and valor. A woman named Sofija, pictured here, rescued Jews. She took them into her home while documents were forged and safe houses were found.
The sculpture above, Shameful Silence, dates from 1991. It’s in the same room as the Chronicles.