Yossef Levy, Israel's ambassador to Lithuania, delivered the following speech on the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Paneriai.
Remember the Book of Life, full of golden pages, closed at once in summer 1941. Remember the shtetls, the market places, the Yiddish and Hebrew schools of Tarbut and Yavne, the smells of Shabbat dinners and fresh Challah bread, the singing of children.
Remember the students of the Hebrew gymnasium of Kaunas, Vilnius and other towns, sitting in summer 1940 on the bank of Nemunas and Neris and greeting each other: “Let‘s meet again next summer.” But there was no next summer.
Remember the endless rows of people, mothers, children, fathers, walking to Paneriai, beaten, feared, tortured, waiting to be shot by the Nazi Germans and their local volunteers between those green trees and to be thrown into a deep grave.
Remember the dead. “The dead are talking to us all the time,” wrote Grigory Kanovich. They ask us, Jews and Lithuanians, to listen to their story. They ask us to remember what happened and to tell it to our children as long as we can.
Remember the testimony of an 11-year-old girl from Vilnius Ghetto, Judit Troyak: “Around 5 afternoon they took us in groups and blindfolded us. We stood on the edge of a huge hole. Then a Lithuanian man commanded us to kneel. I felt pain in my arm and lost my consciousness. When I woke up, I saw that I’m lying near my dead mother. I saw bodies all around me. I cried. Someone held my hand, then a woman voice said: ‘Stop crying, girl, because they will come back and shoot again. Soon it will be dark and we could try to escape.’ We waited a few hours when it became dark and the screaming stopped. We started to crawl out from the mass grave into the field. We went through a wire that was around the pit. I was bleeding. We heard that the policemen were searching for escaping Jews and shooting them. Two days we were lying on the ground until we saw a peasant who was cutting trees. He got scared when he saw us, but the woman begged him to save our lives. He took us to his home and then returned us to the ghetto.”
Remember Peshka Segal, a 15-year-old girl from a small village who refused to be shot naked. She insisted on dying in dignity, with her underwear on. Remember that she was beaten to death with sticks and her body was thrown into the pit. Remember thousands of others Peshka Segals, whose names we do not even know.
Remember a young student from Rokiškis, Matilda Olkinaitė was her name. Matilda dreamed to be a poet. Remember the beautiful lines she wrote in her secret notebook given to her by her Lithuanian boyfriend:
I hear the flowers‘ quiet hymns.
And the angel‘s prayer.
Oh Lord, in this wide world
I alone am voiceless.
And you will never know
My words and my prayers.
Only the white, white morning blossoms,
Will repeat my words at down to the Sun.
Remember that Matilda was shot with her parents and two sisters in a field near Rokiškis. She was 19 years old. Today, in front of all of you standing here and listening to me, I tell her name, I read her poem, written by a young Lithuanian Jewish girl, 19 years old, whose big dream was to be a poet. Her first book was published this year in Vilnius by good people. I thank them.
Yes, remember, hundreds and maybe thousands of good people who rescued helpless Jews, put their own lives in danger and behaved as heroes. Heroes without ranks or crowns, but with big hearts, dignity and human love. Each time I hear their stories, I want to shake their hands. Remember a knock on a door of the Sturonai family on a cold winter night. Remember how they opened their door and their hearts and hid the Goldstein family. Remember a teacher from Kaunas, Stefanija Ladigienė, who gave shelter to a small Jewish girl from the Ghetto, Irena Veisaitė will be her name. Remember all Stefanijas, whose names are still unknown and who did not receive our gratitude yet.
Remember the exciting ceremonies at the President's Palace year after year to those Lithuanian heroes, most of them are not alive anymore.
But also remember Ukmergė. Remember that even today, in September 2021, a monument is still standing in honour of a mass murderer, Juozas Krikštaponis, a volunteer to the pro-German battalion who butchered with his own hands grandmothers and babies near Minsk. Remember the anger you feel when you are facing this monument in the main street near the public library in a Lithuanian city at the end of 2021, 80 years after the Holocaust, as if this shameful monument stands in an ex-territory of morality and justice.
Remember yourself, year after year, leaving this place and going back to your car, returning to your office and to your family. Remember yourself watching your children and saying in your heart, thank God we were born in a different time. Remember how you are ashamed year after year for those feelings. Remember those who were murdered here, between 70,000 and 100,000 people with no home to return to and even no grave with their name. Remember that our words and our prayers are their tombstone.