The Vilna Ghetto is Established, 1941
On This Day in Jewish History: September 6, 1941.
Originally home to a large Jewish community, the 1939 population of the Vilna region was 200,000, including over 55,000 Jews, 12,000-15,000 of which were refugees from German-occupied Poland. At the end of August in 1941, the Civil Administration in Lithuania decided to officially establish a ghetto in the old Jewish quarter in Vilna. An aktion subsequently commenced, known as “The Great Provocation” between August 31-September 2. An aktion was a coordinated and planned mass murder forcibly carried out by the Nazis. By September 6, two ghettos were created in the old Jewish quarter of Vilna.
The creation of two ghettos was meant to separate those who were deemed to be incapable of work from those who were deemed to be of use to the Nazi cause. Ghetto I, the larger ghetto, was home to 30,000 Jews originally, while Ghetto II, was home to 11,000 Jews deemed incapable of work. Those placed in Ghetto I were forced to work in factories or construction projects outside of the ghetto. During the creation of the ghettos, around 6,000 Jews were deported to the Lukiszki prison and from there to Ponary, where they were most likely murdered.
The second aktion of Vilna Ghetto II began on September 15 1941, shortly after its establishment. Some 2,000-3,000 Jews survived the liquidation of Ghetto II by moving into Ghetto I. By the end of 1941, only 20,000 Jews remained in Vilna. Out of the knowledge of the Germans plans to destroy the ghetto and every Jew in it, the United Partisan Organization was formed in 1942, where youth created hiding places for weapons and prepared to fight the Germans in any capacity. Many of the fighters eventually escaped the ghetto through sewers and joined other partisan units in the Rudninkai and Naroch forests outside the city.
The final liquidation of the Vilna ghetto began in late September of 1943. Children, elderly, and the sick were sent to the Sobibor extermination camp or were one of the 100,000 innocent people shot in Ponary. The surviving men were sent to a labor camp in Estonia, while the surviving women were sent to a labor camp in Latvia. Alongside the liquidation, in an attempt to destroy all evidence of mass murder at Ponary, the Germans forced detachments of Jewish laborers to open the mass graves and burn the corpses.
Despite the harsh conditions of the ghetto, it was home to a wealth of cultural life including theatrical performances. The ghetto was liberated by Soviet forces in July 1944.