PONARY (Lithuanian: Paneriai), a resort area about 5 mi. (8 km.) from Vilna, where from July 1941 to July 1944, about 100,000 people were executed by the Nazis, with the aid of special Lithuanian units. The decisive majority of the victims were Jewish men, women, and children from Vilna and the surrounding area, as well as from other countries. In addition, a few thousand non-Jewish Soviet prisoners of war and civilians were killed there. In spite of the deceit that the Nazis staged to mislead the victims brought to Ponary, the nature of the place was known in the Vilna ghetto, as early as the fall of 1941, from reports of the few people who managed to escape during the executions. A frequently sung lullaby in the Vilna ghetto, "Shtiler, Shtiler" ("Quieter, Quieter"), by Shmerle *Kaczerginsky, included the line: "Many roads lead to Ponary, but no road leads back." On January 1, 1942, Abba *Kovner proclaimed in his call for resistance: "Of those taken through the gates of the [Vilna] ghetto not a single one has returned. All the Gestapo roads lead to Ponar [the forest seven miles outside the city], and Ponar means death…. Ponar is not a concentration camp. They have all been shot there. Hitler plans to destroy all the Jews of Europe, and the Jews of Lithuania have been chosen as the first line." His perception of the "Final Solution" came three full weeks before the *Wannsee Conference. It took 18 more months for the Vilna ghetto inhabitants to share his perceptions.
It is known from German documents and other sources that there were instances of resistance on the part of the Jewish victims at Ponary when they were taken out to be executed. In August 1943, the Germans returned to the site, in order to cover up the traces of their crime and began to dig up and burn the corpses. The work was carried out by a group of 70 Jews and ten Soviet prisoners of war, bound in chains. A secret group was organized among them and, during a period of about three months, its members dug a tunnel about 30 meters long with spoons and with their bare hands. On the night of April 15, 1944, this group carried out its escape. Only 13 managed to get away alive, and of these 11 reached the Rudniki forests, where they joined partisan units.
After the war a monument was erected to the memory of the victims and a museum was opened containing remains discovered at the place. An information bulletin entitled Der Muzey in Ponar was published for Jewish visitors (1966), who come in large numbers from throughout the world. In 1969 the singer Nehamah *Lifshitz brought remains of Ponary victims to Israel, and they were placed in the Memorial Hall of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
[Dov Levin /
Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.