Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara participated in a memorial ceremony at the Ponary memorial in remembrance of the 70,000 Vilnius Jews who perished in the Holocaust. Also in attendance was Fania Brancovskaja, a Holocaust survivor from the Vilna ghetto who joined the partisans. The Prime Minister awarded a medal and certificate to Birute Slapikiene, the granddaughter of a family of Righteous among the Nations.
Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and his wife Silvija Skvernele, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius, and the chairperson of the Lithuanian Jewish community, Fania Kukliansky also attended the ceremony.
Prime Minister Netanyahu:
"This is a place of unforgettable tragedy. An unpardonable crime was committed here.
70,000 Jews were murdered in cold blood by the Nazis and their collaborators and 30,000 others, non-Jews, were murdered as well.
All together 200,000 Jews were murdered here and in other places in Lithuania. This is 95% of the Jews who lived in this country.
Before the Holocaust Vilna, Vilnius, was a great center of Jewish scholarship and study. It was known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania.
Standing here today we remember all those who perished and all that was destroyed.
We remember the remarkable strength of those who survived. We are joined by one such remarkable woman today. She hid in a Jewish fort, a partisan fort deep in the forest. She bravely fought the Nazis alongside 100 other Jews who escaped with her.
What heroism Fania, we forever salute you.
And we also salute the heroism of those Lithuanians, who unlike collaborators, risked their own lives, risked the lives of their families. Not only showing personal heroism but the greatest heroism of all, risking your families. And they saved many Jews. There were 900 such Righteous Among the Nations. We will always honor their memory.
Today we honor Domas and Marijona Višcius who hid their Jewish neighbor Aharon in their farm. They built bunkers and tunnels in their farm to enable escape. Their granddaughter is here today with us to receive a medal on their behalf.
The Holocaust was the greatest crime in the history of mankind. It must be remembered and its lesson must never be forgotten.
I thank the government of Lithuania for taking important steps to commemorate the Holocaust and for helping to preserve the truth about the Holocaust.
The lessons of the Holocaust are twofold. The first is that we must fight barbarism early on or it will burn all of us. The second for us Jews is that we must never be defenseless again.
I am here because over 100 years ago my grandfather, a young student in a yeshiva, was beaten nearly to death by anti-semitic hooligans not very far from here.
Before he lost consciousness he said, 'If I live I will take my family and I will go to the Land of Israel to rebuild our independent life so that we may continue the tradition of the brave Maccabees. We will defend ourselves.'
I want to say to my grandfather today, Saba I am back here, back here in this forest of death as the Prime Minister of Israel.
We will never be defenseless again. We have a state, we have an army and we are capable of defending ourselves by ourselves.
Never again will we be led to the slaughter.
Israel is strong, Israel is proud, Israel is forever.
Am Yisrael Chai! The people of Israel live!"
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