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Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive: Lithuania

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Approximately 90 percent of the Jewish community of Lithuania was killed during the Holocaust.

The USC Shoah Foundation's archive has interviews with 1,110 interviews born in Lithuania (1,095 Jewish survivors, 11 rescuers, 3 liberators, 1 war crimes trial participants). Interviewees talk, above all, about the three main cities of Lithuania: Kaunas (Kovno); Siauliai (Shavli); and Vilnius (Vilna), the historical capital of Lithuania but incorporated into the independent country only in 1939 and known as the "Jerusalem of the East" on account of the vibrancy of its Jewish religious and cultural life.

The changes brought about by the Soviet annexation of Lithuania in the summer of 1940 are discussed: the nationalization of businesses, restrictions on religious life, changes in education, and the deportation of individuals and families to the East.

Between 1939 and 1941, huge numbers of refugees fleeing from Poland arrived in Lithuania. A number of witnesses talk about Chiune (Sempo) Sugihara, the Japanese vice consul in Kaunas, who in July-August 1940 issued between 1,600 and 3,500 transit visas that enabled Jewish refugees to move from Lithuania to Dutch-controlled Curaçao via Japan and the Soviet Union. The archive includes the interview of his widow, Yukiko Sugihara (in Japanese and English).

The mass executions of Jews in Lithuania began immediately after the arrival of the Germans in summer 1941, at execution sites such as the Ponary Forest near Vilnius and the Ninth Fort in Kaunas. Large ghettos were established in Vilnius, Kaunas, and Siauliai. Life in these ghettos is described in considerable detail, as are the major figures connected to them (such as Jacob Gens, the head of the Vilna ghetto Judenrat). The archive also includes survivors of lesser-known ghettos on Lithuanian territory (Butrimonys, Erzvilkas, Latkiskes, Kedainiai, Panevezys, Telsiai, Vabalninkas, Vilkaviskis, Zagare, Ziezmariai) and Polish/Lithuanian territory (e.g. Swieciany, Oszmiana, Troki). Resistance in the ghettos is a major topic of discussion: in particular the Vilna ghetto resistance groups FPO and Yechiel and figures such as Josef Glazman, as well as the resistance in the Kovno ghetto. Many escapees from the ghettos joined partisan groups in the forests.

Survivors note the role of Lithuanian police and irregulars (e.g. such as the Ypatingi Buriai) in assisting the Germans in the mass killings and policing the ghettos; a small number discuss the Lietuviu Aktyvistu Frontas, the nationalist group formed in Germany in 1940.

Survivors also describe several labor camps in Lithuania. In the unusual case of the Kailis and HKP work camps in Vilnius, prisoners tried to avoid the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto by hiding there.

Others survived by hiding and by assuming a false identity, sometimes helped by the local population. There are 11 rescuers who gave testimonies in Lithuanian. They describe how they and their families were able to save Jews during the war in Kaunas and other locations.

In total, the USC Shoah Foundation's archive contains over 2,000 testimonies with discussions relating to Lithuania - these were conducted in various languages (including 45 interviews in Lithuanian) and in several different countries (137 in Lithuania).


Selected Indexing Terms

"Vladas Baronas"


"Za Pobedu"

Aktivistn Farband

Death to Fascism

Death to the Occupiers

Fareynegte Partizanishe Organizatsye

German invasion of the Soviet Union (Jun 22, 1941)

Gens, Jacob

Grinberg, Itzchak

Kaunas (Lithuania : Ghetto)

Lietuviu Aktyvistu Frontas

Lietuvos Komunistu Partijos

Lithuanian armed forces

Lithuanian camp guards

Lithuanian civilian laborers

Lithuanian ghetto guards

Lithuanian history

Lithuanian kapos

Lithuanian occupation conditions

Lithuanian police and security forces

Lithuanian prisoners

Lithuanian prisoners of war

Lithuanian refugees

Lithuanian resistance fighters

Lithuanian resistance groups

Lithuanian soldiers

Ninth Fort (Kaunas, Lithuania)

Northern Lithuanian Partisan Brigade

Poligon Massacre

Ponary Forest Massacres

Soviet annexation of the Baltic States (June-August 1940)

Vilna (Poland : Ghetto)

Ypatingi Buriai


Selected Bibliography

Gordon, Harry. The Shadow of Death: the Holocaust in Lithuania, Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1992.

Van Voren, Robert. Undigested Past: the Holocaust in Lithuania, Amsterdam; New York: Editions Rodopi B.V., 2011.

Visual History Archive Curator

Profile Photo
Anne Grant
Cooper Library
Room 405