Situated near Vilnius Paneriai was where the “Holocaust by bullets” was carried out, making it the largest murder site in Lithuania and one of the largest in Eastern Europe. Over a period of three years, from July 1941 to July 1944, members of the Nazi Security Police and Security Service killed approximately 100,000 people – includind some 70,000 Jews – in the forest located near the Paneriai train station. The history of the “Jerusalem of Lithuania”- the Jewish community of Vilnius which had thrived for more than 500 years – was brutally terminated in Paneriai. Other victims of the Paneriai Massacre included Soviet prisoners of war, communists, members of the Polish anti-Nazi underground, Polish intellectuals, Lithuanians, and Romani.
Before World War II, Paneriai was a cozy, quiet suburb of Vilnius where locals liked to spend their summers. In early 1941, the Soviets began to install a fuel storage facility for military use not far from the settlement. Approximately 5-7 large, deep pits were dug out for the fuel reservoirs; trenches were dug between the pits for pipes that were supposed to connect the reservoirs. When Vilnius was occupied by the Nazis, this so-called “base” was selected for mass murders because of its strategic position and infrastructure.
In 1944, the Vilnius Jews who survived made efforts to preserve the memory of the Hollocaust victims in Paneriai. The first commemorative events began to be held at the murder site, and a monument to the Jews murdered in Paneriai was erected in 1945 with funds collected by the community. The Soviets tore this monument down in 1952 and replaced ir with a Five-pointed star obelisk dedicated to “the victims of fascist terror”. A small museum was opened in Paneriai in 1960. The memorial site was reconstructed in 1985. The site includes the death pits, the trenches used to store victims, and several memorial monuments.
Copies of documents and photographs related to the history of Paneriai are on display in the small museum.