The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum plans to build a new visitor center at the Paneriai Memorial Complex on the outskirts of Vilnius within the next few years and to continue updating its exhibitions.
Paneriai Holocaust Memorial
© Aurimas Rapečka

Markas Zingeris, the museum's director, says geophysical and archaeological research of recent years has led to "sensational" discoveries, including locating an escape tunnel dug in the Paneriai forest and finding nine new mass murder pits.

The director said these are among the new objects that are being marked and shown to the public, but added that this is only "an intermediate stage before creating a new Paneriai museum".

"It will take at least two years. We have found a place where, based on ERT surveys and modern machines, there are no human bones, no remains. This is half a hectare of state land on which we'll need to build a new visitor information center with modern technologies. movies and witnesses' films," he said.

According to Zingeris, research has revealed that the area where mass killings took place was four times as large as Soviet-era official figures suggested.

"The area covered 70 hectares, not 17 hectares, where mass killings and shootings were carried out, and there were either watch towers or embrasures. It was a military town adapted for killing," he said.

"The area will have to be displayed as a Nazi genocide structure that was developed as a death factory."

Government Vice Chancellor Deividas Matulionis said an action plan for the development of the Paneriai grounds, including the construction of a new visitor center, will be submitted to the Cabinet within the next two weeks.

Zigmas Vitkus, a historian in charge of the Paneriai Memorial Complex, says around 8,000 people, mostly from Israel, the United States and Poland, have visited the complex this year so far.

"Many objects were discovered as a result of research, including gates (only one was known, now we know three) and massacre pits (six were known, there are 15-16 now), as well as the locations of buildings and incineration sites. We knew there were some, but now we can locate them precisely," he told BNS.

According to Vitkus, geophysical surveys were conducted based on a topographic picture taken by a Nazi military pilot back in July 1944. Modern research by Israeli, US and Lithuanian scientists have shown, among other things, how this place has since changed.

Research of recent years, based on analyses of German reports of the time and other historical sources, has revealed that the Nazis and their local collaborators shot between 50,000 and 70,000 people, mostly Jews, in Paneriai in 1941 to 1944.

It was said earlier that the number of the victims could reach up to 100,000 people. Among the victims, there were also local Lithuanian soldiers, Romani people, members of the Polish resistance movement, communists and Soviet prisoners of war.

Neringa Latvyte, head of the History Research Department at the Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, says these numbers may be further updated as research continues.

The victims were shot dead by the German Security Police and the Special Squad, made up mostly of Lithuanians.

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