At the end of the 19th century the city of Kaunas was fortified and by 1890 was encircled by eight forts and nine gun batteries. Construction of the Ninth Fort (its numerical designation becoming its name) began in 1902 and was completed on the eve of World War I. From 1924 on, the Ninth Fort was used as the Kaunas City prison.
Later, during the years of Soviet occupation, 1940–1941, the Ninth Fort was used by the NKVD to house political prisoners pending transfer to the Gulags.
During the Nazi occupation, the Ninth Fort was used as a place of mass murder. At least 10,000 Jews, most from Kaunas and largely taken from the Kovno Ghetto, were transported to the Ninth Fort and killed by Nazis with the collaboration of some Lithuanians in what became known as the Kaunas massacre.
On October 29 1941, by the order of SS-Standartenführer Karl Jäger and SS-Rottenführer Helmut Rauca, the Sonderkommando under the leadership of SS-Obersturmführer Joachim Hamann, and 8 to 10 men from Einsatzkommando 3, murdered 2,007 Jewish men, 2,920 women, and 4,273 children in a single day at the Ninth Fort, Kaunas, Lithuania.
Not all the killings in Lithuania took place at the Ninth Fort. The German unit assigned to kill Vilnius jews was Einsatzkommando 9 of Einsatzgruppe B assisted by Lithuanian police battalions. On 23 July 1941 a Lithuanian auxiliary known as the Ypatingas Burys (special burial)unit marched columns of Jews from Vilnius to the nearby Ponary Forest, where an escape tunnel was recently discovered..
Jews were taken there in groups of between 12 and 20 to the edge of pits, where they had to hand over valuables and clothes before they were shot. Some 72,000 Jews from Vilnius and elsewhere were murdered at Ponary (as were about 8,000 Poles and Lithuanians).
However the Ninth Fort was a special place. It wasn’t a concentration camp; jews were taken there solely to be killed. It was a place of mass murder. Jews from as far away as France, Austria and Germany were taken there to be executed.
In 1943, the Germans operated special Jewish squads to dig mass graves and burn the remaining corpses.
In 1944 sixty or so prisoners managed to escape as you can read here in this terrible account of life in the prison.
That year, as the Soviets moved in, the Germans liquidated the ghetto and what had by then come to be known as the “Fort of Death”. The prisoners were dispersed to other camps.
After World War II, the Soviets again used the Ninth Fort as a prison for several years. From 1948 to 1958, farm organizations were managed from the Ninth Fort.
In 1958, a museum was established in the Ninth Fort. In 1959, an exhibition was prepared in four cells, telling of the Nazi war crimes carried out in Lithuania. In 1960, the discovery, cataloguing, and forensic investigation of local mass murder sites began in an effort to gain knowledge regarding the scope of these crimes.
I visited it in 2008 as part of my cultural and language studies at university in Kaunas. It was awe-inspiring and chilling. Never to be forgotten. The cells with sleeping platforms two-deep and the crude heating system. The special punishment cell. Lots of reminders about the depths to which human beings can sink.
The memorial to the victims of Nazism at the Ninth Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania, was designed by sculptor A. Ambraziunas. Erected in 1984, the monument is 105 feet (32 m) high. It is an amazing sight – like an alien landscape – and with only the naked eye you don’t realise that there are anguished faces carved in the stone.
The mass burial place of the victims of the massacres carried out in the fort is a grass field, marked by a simple memorial written in several languages which reads, “This is the place where Nazis and their assistants killed more than 30,000 Jews from Lithuania and other European countries.”
In 2003, commemorating the 60th anniversary of the genocide of Jews in Lithuania, seven bronze bas-reliefs, created by the famous artist Arbit Blato in 1978 for the victims of the Holocaust were revealed in the courtyard at the Ninth Fort. They were donated by Arbit Blato’s widow Regina Resnik – Blat “Arbit Blatas, who so often painted his closest friends, the great artists of this century, has consecrated his work as a sculptor to anonymous masses: the victims of the Holocaust, those millions who found no tombs for their tortured bodies, but who will live forever in his panels of bronze.“
There were concerns in 2010 that there were fewer people attending the annual commemoration ceremony and no-one from the government or academics who were receiving grants to research the holocaust although the Mayor of Vilnius and foreign diplomats attended.
On April 11, 2011, the memorial to the victims of Nazism was vandalized — the memorial tombstones were knocked down, and white swastikas were spray-painted on the memorial. On the adjacent sidewalk, the words “Juden raus” (German: Jews Out) were inscribed.
I can’t help feeling that Lithuania has yet to come to terms with what happened to the Lithuanian jews (Litvaks) and their part in the massacres.
At one time Vilnius was regarded as the Jerusalem of the North. Before WWII there were 100,000 jews in Vilnius,45%, of the population. Now there are very few jews living there.
He helped jewish families escape soviet occupation by distributing visas to travel to Japan and then on to further destinations.