Once known as the “Jerusalem of the North,” the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius was home to a large Jewish community for many centuries. Some 100,000 Jews, called Litvaks, lived in Vilnius before World War II, making up about 45% of the city’s total population. About the same number lived in other regions of Lithuania during the same period.
During the Nazi occupation that lasted from June 1941 to January 1945, more than a dozen Jewish ghettos were established as well as several concentration camps. A total of 90% of Lithuania’s Jews were murdered by occupying forces and local collaborators, however there were hundreds of Lithuanians who risked their lives sheltering Jews.
Most of the Holocaust victims in Lithuania were taken into the woods to be shot in grave they were forced to dig themselves. The woods of Paneriai outside Vilnius and the Ninth Fort in Kaunas, which is the second largest city in Lithuania, were the sites of large-scale massacres.
Yahad has interviewed 363 witnesses in Lithuania and identified 174 mass graves.