Lithuania marks 70 years since Nazis wiped out Vilnius ghetto

Lithuania on Monday marked 70 years since Nazi Germany wiped out the Vilnius ghetto, all but obliterating the vibrant Jewish culture of a capital once known as the "Jerusalem of the North".

State leaders and Holocaust survivors attended a memorial ceremony honouring the tens of thousands who died, while national flags with black ribbons dotted the Vilnius skyline.

"A grim and terrible reality can never be left in the past -- it must forever remain in our memory," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said at the ceremony.

She praised those who saved Jews as "icons of humanity to be role models for all of us" and "beacons that we must carry on the path to tomorrow".

The city's Jewish community dated back to the 16th century.

By World War II, it had grown to around 70,000 people or around one third of the city's population, and was a hub of Yiddish intellectual life. But the war saw its near-total destruction.

More than 90 percent of Lithuania's 200,000-strong pre-war Jews died at the hands of the Nazis and local collaborators during the German occupation.

The Holocaust remembrance group Yad Vashem has awarded more than 800 Lithuanians the title of Righteous among the Nations for having sheltered and saved their Jewish neighbours from the Nazis.

Today, some 5,000 Jews live in the Baltic nation of three million people, which joined the European Union and NATO in 2004 and currently holds the rotating EU presidency.