When World War II began, Jewish children, confronting the invincible, unstoppable and devastating power, became the most vulnerable social group. Nazi ideology sentenced every Jewish child to death. Before the war, 1.6 million Jewish children lived in the countries occupied by Wehrmacht and Germany’s allies. More than one million of these children became the victims of the Nazi planned genocide.
Thousands of Jewish children were killed together with their parents during the executions that took place in the territory of Lithuania in the summer and autumn of 1941. The remaining children were imprisoned together with the adults in the ghettos established in the cities of Vilnius, Kaunas, Šiauliai and Švenčionys. Only few of them were meant to survive in the time of never-ending actions of extermination.
In the ghettos, children as well as the elderly, who could not do forced labour and therefore became “useless” to the Wehrmacht , were condemned to annihilation.
The history of the Kaunas Ghetto was marked by the Great Action, during which 2,007 Jewish men, 2,920 women and 4,273 children were shot dead in the 9th Fort on 28-29 October 1941.
The first Children’s Action was carried out in the Šiauliai Ghetto on 5 November 1943. That day, 570 children and 260 elderly people were taken in freight train to Auschwitz and killed. The extermination of children and disabled Jews was supervised by the SS-Hauptsturmführer Förster from the Einsatzkommando 3/A.
When the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto started, about 5,000 women and children were taken to Majdanek and Auschwitz concentration camps and killed, while several hundred old and sick people were shot in Paneriai.
27-28 March 1944, the Children’s Action was carried out in the Kaunas Ghetto. About 1,700 people were taken away including 900-1,000 children. The action was supervised by the head of the Lithuanian concentration camps SS-Obersturmbannführer Wilhelm Göcke.
27 March 1944, Children’s Actions also took place in “Kailis” and HKP 562 Jewish labour camps in Vilnius. 250 children and old people were transported from the “Kailis” camp in an unknown direction. Only few children from the HKP labour camp managed to hide and avoid being taken away.
In July 1944 several days before the liberation, during the operations of liquidation of Šiauliai and Kaunas ghettos, the last inhabitants of the ghettos – adults and children – were killed or taken to concentration camps.
When the front line passed, pictures of former inhabitants of the Kaunas ghetto and their loved ones could be found among the ruins of the burnt Kaunas Ghetto, charred bodies and personal belongings.
Children are looking at us from these pictures. Children, whose names and exact places of death were recorded. And children whose names and fates remain unknown to us...
Curator of the exhibition Danutė Selčinskaja