Jewish memorial © luvmycrows
In the early 20th century, about half of the population of Vilnius were Yiddish-speaking Jews and the city was dubbed the 'Jerusalem of the North'. The Nazis in World War II effectively obliterated this community, encircling the Jewish quarter in barbed wire and eventually marching the 60,000 or so residents into the Paneriai Forest where they were executed (some sources estimate that the number of Jews killed in Vilnius was far higher). Today the Genocide Museum has been established at the killing field in memory of the horror. There is also a Jewish Museum depicting pre-war Jewish life, and visitors are also welcome at the only remaining Vilnius Synagogue. Efforts are underway to rebuild and restore many aspects of the former Jewish Quarter; the Jews were a powerful force in Lithuania and apparently Vilnius once housed more than a hundred synagogues, not to mention schools, libraries and other cultural institutions. Tours of Jewish Vilnius incorporating these sombre but extremely worthwhile historical and cultural attractions are offered by several private operators and should captivate any visitors with an interest in Jewish culture or European history; however, young children may not be prepared for the realities of these tragic sites.