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March of the Living brings young people from around the world to Poland annually to learn about the Holocaust. This year, the Association of Jews from Vilna and Vicinity in Israel is holding its own event: Vilna's first ever memorial march for Holocaust Memorial Day.
Minister of Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog, who previously served as Minister of the Diaspora, Society, and Fight Against Anti-Semitism, was invited to head Israel's delegation to the march to be held today.
The march will go through the Ponar forest, where over 35,000 of Vilna's Jews were murdered. A memorial ceremony will be held in the forest by the ditches where Jews were shot, burned, and buried.
Herzog, representing the State of Israel, will speak at the ceremony.
"He feels that in any place that you can have a commemoration or a march â€¦ it is very important to do so," said his spokeswoman, Pnina Ben-Ami. "He personally feels that Vilna and Lithuania have a very important story," she added.
Herzog will be accompanied by officials from Vilna
and Lithuania's governments, Israel's ambassador to Latvia, local Jewish residents and students from the Shalom Aleichem School in Vilna. Between 200 and 250 people are expected to attend.
Later, in a ceremony for Righteous Gentiles, Lithuanians who saved Jews will be recognized.
Herzog, whose grandfather Yitzhak Halevi Herzog was Ireland's first chief rabbi, feels that going to this ceremony is not only about history and education, but also a matter of personal duty, his spokeswoman said.
On the eve of the Holocaust, Vilna had a Jewish community of 80,000. After the massacre at Ponar, the remaining Jews from Vilna and its surrounding were put in a ghetto. By the end of the war, it is estimated that 100,000 Jews from Vilna and the surrounding areas were killed.
Today there are fewer than 5,000 Jews in the city.
After Vilna's liberation, 6,000 Jews returned to Vilna. By 1959, there were over 16,000 Jews in Vilna, but today there are fewer than 5,000 Jews in the city.
As it is trying to combat the recent rise in anti-Semitism in the country, the Lithuanian government is supportive of the commemoration.
Most recently, the Hadar 2000 wood company in Hadera received a shipment of wood from Lithuania with anti-Semitic messages. A Lithuanian worker had drawn swastikas, tanks, and long-nosed faces on the side of the wood.