In early July the words “Hitler was right” were painted in Russian on the memorial stone to the 72,000 Jews who were murdered at the Ponary Forest near Vilnius in Lithuania. On another monument close by, a vulgar reference was made to the compensation the Lithuanian government has made to the descendants of murdered Jews. No one seems to have noticed. Vilnius, now the capital of Lithuania, was known for centuries as the “the Jerusalem of Lithuania” because of its centrality to medieval and early modern Jewish thought and politics. In the medieval Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the early modern Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Jews settled in Vilnius in considerable numbers from both west and east. Over centuries, Jews prospered under a regime that permitted them local autonomy. During the waning of the Commonwealth in the eighteenth century, Vilnius was home to scholars such as Elijah ben Solomon, the “Gaon of Vilne,” the great opponent of the Hasidic movement. In the nineteenth century Vilnius was home to the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, in the Russian Empire.
more from Timothy Snyder at the NYRB here.