When people talk of the Holocaust, brutally imposed on the Jewish population of Eastern-Europe, it can be easy to jump to the conclusion that it was only in death camps that these human beings were killed. This however is only a small part of a very large story. I have recently been reading about how the Holocaust effected smaller European countries and came across the Ponary Massacre, which for some reason, I have never heard of before.
6th September 1941-On this day, 74 years ago.
The Ponary Massacre consisted of the murder of approximately 100,000 Jews in the neighbourhood of Paneriai, located in Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania. It was not only Lithuanian Jews who perished here, for the 100,000 people murdered included Polish, Russian and German Jews. A large pit was dug in the forest by Nazi death squads and the Jews were rounded up into a line, ready to be shot down by SS gunfire. The men firing would often miss, meaning the Jews would lie awake and conscious in the pit whilst one after another fell to their demise beside them. I’ve always regarded the Holocaust to be a disgusting crime against humanity but this just reiterates that to me and makes me even more angry about the whole occurrence. Can you imagine lying in a pit whilst each member of your family drops from a height to fall beside you? Bleeding to death at the side of your parents or your children is a horrific thought and this event must never be forgotten when remembering the tragedy of the Holocaust.
Here is an emotional video which tells the story of Dina Baitler, a survivor of the massacre. She lost many members of her family to this incident at the young age of 7. After lying in the pit, watching young, dying girls be abused by soldiers and witnessing the death of her family, she crawled from the pit and survived the whole war. I can’t contemplate what that must have been like.
“Dina Levine Baitler was born in Vilna in 1934, the second daughter in a family of three children. In 1940, when Vilna was under Soviet occupation, Dina’s father was deported to Siberia, accused of being a capitalist. In 1941 the Germans conquered Vilna and soon after, during an action in the ghetto, Dina, her older brother and her grandmother were caught and taken to the killing pit in Ponary.
There, on the edge of the pit, they were shot together with thousands of other Jews who had been taken from the ghetto. Seven-year-old Dina, who was slightly wounded by a shot in her leg, fell into the pit among the corpses.
“At night,” she describes, “I heard a voice of a woman who was asking in Yiddish if anyone else was alive. There were wounded people who called out for help. The guards, who apparently were still there, heard them, came back and started to shoot again.”
Towards morning, Dina pulled herself out of the pit and headed towards the forest. She wandered through the forests and villages for the rest of the war begging for food and shelter. While wandering, she met a woman who helped her adopt the false identity of a Polish orphan, and with that identity she continued her wandering until she came across Russian soldiers to whom she told her story.
After the war she returned to Vilna and was placed in a Jewish orphanage where she remained until she completed her studies. She searched for her mother and younger brother but their fate remained unknown. Her father, who was in Siberia, survived the war and immigrated to Israel. Dina married and in 1960 she immigrated to Israel, as well. Today, Dina has a son and a daughter, 10 grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.”