Pope Francis prays at memorial for victims of Vilnius Ghetto.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Pope Francis, head of the World Jewish Congress Ronald S. Lauder, head of the Lithuanian Jewish community Faina Kukliansky and dignitaries attended the ceremony marking 75 years to the destruction of the Vilnius Ghetto on Sunday.
Tens of thousands of Jews were killed or deported, ending one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in Europe.
"From the ashes of the Holocaust, the broken community is slowly rebuilding itself," said Lauder who added, "It was not by chance that the World Jewish Congress chose to build our international Yiddish center in Vilnius."
Lauder did not turn a blind eye to the complex historical realities of the Second World War, in which many Lithuanians aided the Germans hoping to win an ally against the USSR, and how, as he said, "streets are still being named after Lithuanians complicit in the murder of Jews."
When Pope Francis arrived in Kaunas on Sunday morning he spoke to a crowd of roughly 100,000 people and said that society should be vigilant for "any whiff" of resurgent anti-Semitism and called for new generations to be taught the horrors of the Holocaust.
In the homily of the Mass, Francis referred to those who collaborated with the Nazis in World War Two or with Communist authorities in the period between 1944 and 1991 when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union.
"Earlier generations still bear the scars of the period of the occupation, anguish at those who were deported, uncertainty about those who never returned, shame for those who were informers and traitors," he said.
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In Vilnius, the Pope stopped to pray at a simple stone monument commemorating the 200,000 Lithuanian Jews killed either in the country or in Nazi concentration camps in Europe.
Minutes later, he paid an emotional visit to the nearby Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights, a former KGB basement jail where Lithuanians who were considered enemies of the Soviet Union were either executed or tortured before being sent to labor camps in Siberia.
"We, Lithuanian Jews
," said Kukliansky during the ceremony, "are carrying a perpetual obligation - to safeguard the historical truth and to never give up our efforts in ensuring the wholesome future of our children.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Lithuania in August and thanked it for its support in various EU forums, where he said the Jewish state is badly misunderstood.
Netanyahu also thanked the Lithuanian government for its strong stance against antisemitism, and for standing up for the truth, a constant effort, constantly nurtured.
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