About The Paneriai Memorial Museum
Before World War Two the beautiful forest area around Paneriai in Lithuania was a very popular recreational area for residents of Vilnius and its surroundings. Yet under Nazi occupation, the area saw mass executions and as such, today acts as a site of remembrance to those murdered there as part of the Vilna Gaon Museum.
Paneriai Memorial Museum history
Within days of being captured by the Germans, the Soviet base at Paneriai became a place of execution. Shootings were supervised by the Nazis but mainly carried out by the Special Squad consisting of 60-100 Lithuanian nationalist partisans.
The site chosen facilitated mass murder: those killed could be brought from nearby Vilnius by truck, railway or driven by foot while the forest cloaked the area from unwanted eyes and muffled the sound of shooting. Between July 1941 and April 1944 more than 100,000 people were murdered at Paneriai, the majority were Jewish. However, Poles, Roma, communists and Russian prisoners of war were also killed there.
By the end of 1943, as the tide of war turned, the Nazis hastily destroyed evidence of their crimes. A special brigade of prisoners was forced to exhume corpses and burn them. Yet on 15 April 1944, 12 of the 80 people chosen for the burning brigade escaped. While some were captured and shot, several survived and reached partisan units.
The museum was opened in 1960 at the mass murder site. In 1985 a new museum building was built and the exhibition overhauled. The small roads were asphalted, the burial pits were renovated and commemorative stones with Russian and Lithuanian inscriptions were erected.
After Lithuanian independence, on the initiative of the Jewish community, the first memorial stone with inscriptions in Hebrew, Yiddish, Lithuanian and Russian announced that 70,000 Jews were murdered here.
Paneriai Memorial Museum today
The memorial at Paneriai is open all hours of the day for visitors and includes a memorial stone inscribed in Yiddish as well as markers at one of the massacre pits. The exhibition at the Paneriai Memorial Museum shows photographs of people murdered at Paneriai, orders and other documents issued by the occupying power and found in the area of the massacres, as well as clothing, shoes and prisoners’ work tools.
Getting to Paneriai Memorial Museum
A 20 minute drive from Vilnius’ centre, the Paneriai Memorial Museum is also easily reached on public transport, as there are regular trains to Paneriai from the city and the station is only a 10 minute walk from the memorial and museum.
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