Peres, Gryhauskaite 370.
(photo credit: Moshe Milner GPO)
On the second and final day of his state visit to Lithuania, President Shimon
Peres, escorted by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, visited what is
known as the Valley of Slaughter – the Ponar forest where some 100,000 Jews,
gypsies, members of the Polish intelligentsia and some Soviet prisoners were
mercilessly killed by the Nazis and their Lithuanian
Approximately 70,000 of the murdered victims were Jews,
who had been brought to the Ponar forest to be killed following the liquidation
of the Vilna Ghetto.
Immediately after the official addresses to the
large crowd – which included Holocaust survivors and leading figures from the
Jewish community headed by Lithuanian Chief Rabbi Chaim Burstein – which
gathered by the monument at the entrance to the forest, Peres and Grybauskaite
entered accompanied by Holocaust survivor Fania Kalinski. They stopped at the
edge of the gorge into which the dead had fallen after being
Kalinski, who lost all of her family during these atrocities,
relived the horrors of the period as she related the story of her family to the
Peres recited kaddish in memory of the victims, and, as
is customary in Jewish tradition, placed a stone on the site as a mark of
In his address prior to entering the forest, Peres remarked on
the pastoral scene surrounding them in which everything in nature was green,
except for the soil “which is stained with blood.”
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The killings in Ponar
were not via the gas chambers, he said. They were direct, cold, pre-meditated
murder, with the killers squeezing the triggers of their guns again and again.
There were 500 slaughters a day, day after day, without let-up, without remorse,
without a second thought and without a thought at all, he continued. History had
never known such savagery, he said.
Nothing remains that would identify
the dead, Peres noted.
“Only their spirit remains with us.”
is a warning to us all and to generations to come,” he said. “Never again!”
Grybauskaite said it was difficult to find words to describe the magnitude of
the iniquities of the Holocaust.
“The victims were our friends and
colleagues, and time will not heal the hole in our hearts,” she said. It was
important to preserve the memory of what had taken place, to mourn the victims
and to honor those who had the moral courage and compassion to save Jews, she
emphasized. She expressed hope that with the knowledge of what the Holocaust had
entailed, both Israel and Lithuania could contribute to the building of a better
Peres said that the State of Israel was a living triumph over the
cruelty of the Holocaust – the continuing hope of six million Jews including
one-and-a-half million children whose dreams could not be realized.
would be no redemption for the blood that had soaked into the earth of Ponar he
said, until the lesson was learned by all of humanity.
In the shadow of
the past, Peres said he was looking forward to a future in which Israelis and
Palestinians could live side by side in peace and prosperity.
justice and we hold out our hands in peace.”
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