Peres in Lithuania: Ponar slaughter is a warning to us all

“We seek justice and we hold out our hands in peace," Peres says at Valley of Slaughter in Ponar forest.

Peres, Gryhauskaite 370 (photo credit: Moshe Milner GPO)
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 collaborators.
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 shot.
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 two presidents.
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 respect.
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.”
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.”
“Ponar 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 world.
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.
There 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.
“We seek justice and we hold out our hands in peace.”