By Yossi Lempkowicz, Vilnius
(EJP via JNS) Pope Francis took part in a commemoration ceremony marking 75 years since the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto.
The pontiff’s visit to Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, was part of his tour of the Baltic countries. He visited the former Jewish ghetto to remember Jews who were killed by Nazis and urged Lithuania, where neo-fascist parties are making political gains, to refrain from temptation to be superior or dominant to others again.
Vilnius had been known for centuries as the “Jerusalem of the North” for its importance to Jewish thought and politics. Each year, the September anniversary is commemorated with readings of the names of Jews who were killed by Nazis or Lithuanian partisans or were deported to concentration camps. As many as 200,000 Lithuanian Jews were killed inside the country and in Nazi concentration camps throughout Europe.
Francis prayed silently in the former ghetto.
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.”
World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder, who also participated in the ceremony, declared: “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. 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.”
Today, approximately 4,000 Jews live today in Lithuania.
“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 anti-Semitic and intolerable, and that Israel has the right to exist in safety and prosperity,” said Lauder.
He added that “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 anti-Semitism are still alive today in many parts of the world.”