NEW YORK – The World Jewish Congress and its affiliated community in Lithuania marked the 75th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto, alongside Pope Francis and other notable personalities.
“Seventy-five years ago, the Germans and local Lithuanian accessories nearly obliterated one of the most vibrant Jewish communities in Europe, a hub of cultural and intellectual Jewish life for thousands of years,” WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said. “But they did not succeed entirely. From the ashes of the Holocaust, the broken community is slowly rebuilding itself and working to ensure the future of Jewish life in Lithuania.”
“It was not by chance that the World Jewish Congress chose to build our international Yiddish center in Vilnius,” Lauder added. “Vilnius was known for generations as the Jerusalem of Lithuania, and it was critical to us to put Vilnius back on the map of Jewish culture, where it belongs. Together, we will continue to strengthen the Jewish community in Vilnius.”
“Lithuanian society has made strides in recent years to come to terms with its dark past and its role in the tragedies of the Holocaust, but there is still much work to be done. Streets are still being named after Lithuanians complicit in the murder of Jews, Jewish gravestones are used as stepping blocks in public buildings and abandoned Jewish heritage sites and artifacts are given few resources and little attention,” Lauder said. “As we seek to rejuvenate Jewish life in Lithuania, it is imperative that we go beyond just slogans and ceremonial niceties, and strive to ensure that the process of the preservation of historical memory continues.”
Lauder also praised Pope Francis’ decision to take part in the commemoration on his official visit to Lithuania. “Pope Francis is a true friend of the Jewish people, and his ongoing support for our communities and the preservation of our history is of enormous significance,” Lauder said.
“Pope Francis has made clear time and again, including in meetings with the WJC, that attacks against Jews and against the state of Israel are equally antisemitic and intolerable, and that Israel has the right to exist in safety and prosperity,” Lauder said.
“As Pope Francis joins us in remembering the hundreds of thousands of Jews of Lithuania who were brutally murdered by the Nazis, we must also remember that the threats and the dangers of antisemitism are still alive today in many parts of the world. We deeply appreciate Pope Francis’ steadfast commitment to the well-being of the Jewish people, and we hope that under his guidance, good people around the world will stand up against these threats in the name of compassion and justice,” Lauder added.
Faina Kukliansky, President of the Jewish Community of Lithuania, said: “Seventy-five years after the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto, which has become the symbol of the Holocaust in Lithuania, under democratic conditions, it still takes courage, wisdom, will and fundamental human understanding to witness to historical truth. We, Lithuanian Jews, 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.”