Arūnas Bubnys. Vilniaus žydų žudynės ir Vilniaus getas (1941–1944)
Straipsnyje apžvelgiamas Vilniaus žydų bendruomenės sunaikinimas, išskirti svarbiausi Vilniaus geto istorijos etapai ir būdingi bruožai, pateikta aukų statistika, apibūdinta geto vidaus administracijos struktūra ir jos funkcionavimas, apžvelgta geto antinacinio pogrindžio veikla. Straipsnio autorius ne tik apibendrino gerai žinomą literatūrą apie Vilniaus žydų genocidą, bet ir panaudojo mažiau žinomus archyvinius šaltinius. (TĘSINYS ŽURNALE „GENOCIDAS IR REZISTENCIJA“)
Massacre of Vilnius Jews and Vilnius Ghetto (1941–1944)
The article gives a survey of the destruction of Vilnius Jews’ community, points out the most important stages in the history of Vilnius ghetto and typical features, provides statistics on victims, describes the inside structure of ghetto administration and its behavior, also activities by the anti-Nazi ghetto underground. Author of the article not only did summarize the well known literature about the genocide of Vilnius Jews, but also used less known archival materials.
The history of Vilnius Jews’ community and the ghetto in the period of Nazi occupation can be split into several periods: 1) discrimination and massacre of Jews before the establishment of ghetto (24 June 1941–August 1941); 2) the period when the ghettos No.1 and No.2 were formed and mass massacre was executed (September 1941–November 1941); 3) stability period (December 1941–March 1943); 4) the period when the small ghettos, work camps and the Vilnius ghetto were removed (April-September 1943); 5) imprisonment of Vilnius ghetto residents in concentration camps in Estonia, and in work camps in Vilnius (October 1943–September 1944).
Discrimination and persecution of Vilnius Jews started from the very first days of Nazi occupation. German military commandant’s office and security police as well the Lithuanian administration working with the Nazis (citizens committee, police, and self-defense units of Vilnius city and district) issued provisions and laws discriminating Jews, organized arrests, imprisonment and the first fusillades. The Jews were ordered to have distinctive marks (Jewish stars), they were forbidden to walk along the main streets of the town, shops were ordered to sell them food in limited amounts. Jewish people were fired from most jobs, they were deprived of transportation means and radios, also forbidden to use the public transport, and go out in public places, etc. At the beginning of August 1941, after the military administration of Germans was replaced by the civil administration (commissars), the political discrimination and victimization of Jews got even more intense. Mass arrests and fusillades of Jews started in the middle of July 1941. Jews were arrested on streets, at their work places, and houses. The arrested would be first taken to Lukiškės prison and then to Paneriai to be fusilladed. The arrests and convoyment were executed by the German Gestapo, Lithuanian public police, self-defense units and the special squad members. The mass massacre in Paneriai would be usually performed by the special squad (Sonderkommando) subordinate to the German security police and SD. During the first mass actions it were Jewish men fusilladed most often. By September 1941, about 7 thousand of Vilnius Jews might have been killed.
The biggest massacres took place at the initial stage of ghetto establishment and existence. It was only in September that more than 8 thousand of Vilnius Jews were assassinated. During those actions, not only men, but also women and children were subjected to mass killings. In Vilnius, two ghettos were established. The big ghetto had about 29 thousand, and the smaller one about 9 thousand people imprisoned. Occupational power planned to let only the employable and qualified craftsmen and their families stay alive. The rest Jews were to be subjected to fusillades. During several actions of October 1941, the small ghetto was finally removed. Nonetheless, mass killings continued to take place till the end of 1941. Since the beginning of the war up to 1942, about 33 thousand of Jews (from about 58 thousand Jews who had lived before the war) were killed. About 15 thousand of Jews remained in ghettos.
Since the end of 1941 until March 1943, no mass killings were executed. This period became known as the stability (calm) period. Germany failing to win the “cracking war” against the Soviet Union, need for the working power for the German economy increased significantly. As a result, Nazi authorities decided to leave the qualified workers and their families alive for some time. At this period, life in ghetto became relatively normal and steady. The administrative system and daily work got settled. The ghetto became a kind of “a state within a state” with its own authorities, police, manufactories, forms and institutions for spiritual and cultural life. The highest institution in the ghetto autonomy was the Jews’ council (Judenrat). It controlled work of the ghetto police and various departments of: work, health service, social welfare, food, housing, etc. Of special importance was the department of work. The ghetto authorities considered that as long as the Jews’ work was of use for Germans, they would not liquidate the ghetto. This was a kind of warranty allowing Jewish people to have a hope for survival and retention. Almost all men and women of employable age worked in different factories, manufactories and work camps. In summer 1943, about 14 thousand (two thirds of) ghetto residents had various kinds of occupations.
In March 1943, the stability period in Vilnius ghetto came to an end. At that time, all small ghettos in Vilnius district (in Švenčionys, Ašmena, and Salos) were liquidated. Part of the residents were moved to Vilnius ghetto, others transported by train to Paneriai and fusilladed there (in total about 5 thousand people).
In summer 1943, all provincial work camps of Vilnius ghetto (in Baltoji Vokė, Beznodys, and Kena) were closed. During those Gestapo actions, several hundreds were killed. When passed was the order of H. Himmler of 21 June 1923 regarding liquidation of ghettos in Ostland, in August 1943 gradual liquidation of Vilnius ghetto started. This operation was supervised by the SS oberschafürer B. Kittel. By the end of 1943, the Vilnius ghetto was liquidated. The majority of women and children (about 5 to 7 thousand) were moved to concentration camps in Germany and killed there. The Jewish men (about 2 thousand) were taken to lagers in Estonia, and young women (about 1.4 to 1.7 thousand) taken to Keiserwald concentration camp near Riga, Latvia. Some several hundreds of elders and patients were fusilladed in Paneriai.
After the Vilnius ghetto had been liquidated, several thousands of Jews were left to work in the “Kailis” factory, military garages (H.K.P.), military hospital and the Gestapo manufactories. At the beginning of July 1944, the Red Army having drawn near to Vilnius, majority of Jews working in those camps were killed. In September 1944, Nazis did the same to Vilnius Jews imprisoned in lagers in Estonia. Fairly 2 to 3 thousand of Jews survived till the end of Nazi occupation and war. Comparing the history of Vilnius ghetto and those of Kaunas and Šiauliai, some differences might be observed. Vilnius ghetto existed shorter than those in Kaunas and Šiauliai – only 2 years (from 6 September 1941 until 23 September 1943) while the latters existed almost 3 years each (from middle of August 1941 until the middle of July 1944). The latters were liquidated at the very end of Nazi occupation, while the Vilnius ghetto was removed already in September 1943. Moreover, Vilnius ghetto was established almost a month later than those in Kaunas and Šiauliai. The early liquidation of Vilnius ghetto most probably was determined by the growing Soviet partisan movement in Vilnius district. From the point of view of German security police, Vilnius ghetto was potentially dangerous, since the young Jews fleeing it in large numbers would enlarge the partisan squads operating in Vilnius district. Consequently, the occupationals authorities decided not to transform this ghetto into the SS concentration camp as it had been done to ghettos in Kaunas and Šiauliai, but simply to liquidate it at once.
One more feature specific to the history of Vilnius ghetto was its active cultural life. Maintaining the traditions of “Lithuanian Jerusalem”, the prisoners of Vilnius ghetto even flying in the face of death did not lost their interest in art, literature, self-education, and spiritual growth.
© Lietuvos gyventojų genocido ir rezistencijos tyrimo centras