“Jews were forced to work on peat bogs. After work, they used to come to the village to ask for food. A Jewish woman offered me a handbag because she was grateful that I gave her potatoes.” – Helena.
During this 14-day investigation, Yahad-In Unum conducted its third research trip to Lithuania where our team interviewed 44 witnesses and identified 23 execution sites of Jews.
Region of Vilnius
Before WWII, this area belonged to Poland. Lithuanians were only a minority. In fact, the population was mostly composed of Jews and Poles. On the 22nd of June, 1941, the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union. Vilnius was captured two days later. Persecution of the Jews began immediately.
The two first research trips of Yahad-In Unum to the Vilnius region were fruitful and encouraging. The team conducted interviews with outstanding witnesses who agreed to speak on camera. One of the challenges of these research trips was the cultural diversity of the region. The team had to adapt to the conditions for investigation and interviews, which were conducted in the four main languages spoken in the region (Polish, Lithuanian, Russian, and a local Slavic dialect). These trips have helped to advance research on the Holocaust in Lithuania.
The following characteristics emerged from this research:
– According to the archives, around 7,000 victims were shot in Švenčionėliai (a town in the Vilnius region). Our investigation allowed for the reconstruction of the crime, including locating the execution site.
– Several labor camps were established in the surroundings of Vilnius for the Jews of the region, usually peat bogs. The investigation helped to collect materials on temporary labor camps in the region.
– On this second trip to the region, Yahad-In Unum encountered Karaite Jews who were not exterminated during the Holocaust because Germans deemed them "not Jewish" after an investigation.