Here Lithuania’s brutal history is starkly portrayed. As many as 100,000 people – the exact figure is not known – were murdered by the Nazis between July 1941 and July 1944 at this site, 10km southwest of central Vilnius. Around half the city’s Jewish population – about 35,000 people – had been massacred here by the end of the first three months of the German occupation (June to September 1941) at the hands of Einsatzkommando 9, an SS killing unit of Nazi troops, and their Lithuanian accomplices.
The Nazis later burnt the exhumed corpses to hide the evidence of their crimes. One of the deeper pits, according to its sign, was where they eventually buried those who were forced to dig up the corpses and pulverise the bones.
The forest entrance is marked by a memorial, the Panerių memorialas. The text in Russian, dating from the Soviet period, commemorates the 100,000 ‘Soviet citizens’ killed here. The memorial plaques in Lithuanian and Hebrew – erected later – honour the many Jewish victims.