Saturday, May 21, 2016

A Lush Picturesque Execution Site

by: Emmalee Phelps

When we first pulled up to the site of Paneriai in Lithuania, I only saw two large memorial monuments. Ruta quickly began telling us about the little town of Paneriai, which was a beautiful forest and a popular recreational area for residents of Vilnius (the capital of Lithuania) and the other surrounding towns before the war. The area of Lithuania has had many boundary changes from being their own country to then being controlled by the Soviets and Paneriai became a place where fuel tanks and ammunition stores were set up for the Red Army. The Soviets dug rather large pits in the ground to set up the fuel tanks, but when the Nazi forces invaded, they took notice of the unfinished pits for the fuel tanks. Because of the close proximity to Vilnius and the easy access to trains, the Nazis transformed Paneriai into a site for mass extermination operations. Today Paneriai is a picturesque forest full of lush green grass, chirping birds, and trails that lead observers to pit after pit and memorial site monument, which is very ironic given there were 100,000 individuals killed, 70,000 of which were Jews that lived in the town and also surrounding areas.

There were hardly any individuals looking at the memorials and Ruta said many people use the grounds as a place of picnic, which is also very bizarre to me given the history of the ground. There was a small museum that had pictures of the executions and also the pits. Looking at the pictures is what truly made me cry because you could see bunches of individuals standing together in a circle in a pit that one could never climb out of without a ladder, with their arms over their head all facing each other vulnerable and scared of what would happened next. There were 12 pits that we currently know of that had roughly 7,000-10,000 human beings, killed and dumped in each pit. Putting into perspective, one pit could hold the entire staff, faculty, and student population at Xavier and then some. To me, Paneriai seemed more emotionally tolling than Auschwitz, which we visited earlier in the week, because people knew that once they were brought here, there was no camp that would allow them to maybe even be given another day to live; Paneriai was the end of the line. Nazis were not the only ones killing Jews and other civilians; there were other Nazi-compliant citizens of Lithuania willing to bring the life of one of their peers to an end. Paneriai does not get the acclaim and tourist attraction that Auschwitz gets, but I also think that is because the 6 main death camps were in Poland and Lithuania often gets overshadowed even though they have one of the highest Jewish population decline from the war (250,000 pre-war to 4,000 current day).

Everyday I am learning more and more about Jewish relations in Poland and Lithuania and I am looking forward to working at the cemetery this week.

P.s: Our lodge is absolutely beautiful!

1 comment:

Debbie said...

Your trip has been filled with so many opposing emotions. You've not only seen the beauty and ugliness of human nature but also the beauty of nature. Hopefully you've also met lovely people along the way to renew your views.