Man patinka Lietuva

I like Lithuania – a visitor's point of view


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The 9th Fort at Kaunas – a place of evil

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.

S1031624S1031614I 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.S1031634 S1031628S1031633 S1031631 S1031626

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.S1031611 S1031612 - Version 2 S1031613

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.S1031617 S1031618 S1031619 S1031620 S1031621 S1031622 S1031623

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.

There were Lithuanians who helped jews escape. Some of these, described as “righteous among the nations“, are honoured at the Ninth Fort. S1031630

Amongst those recognised was the japanese consul Chiune Sugihara, sometimes described as Lithuania’s Schindler.S1031627

He helped jewish families escape soviet occupation by distributing visas to travel to Japan and then on to further destinations.


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Mass Deportations to Remote Parts of the Soviet Union from Lithuania……………History Remembered

These tragic events and other crimes against humanity are remembered every year on 14 June

Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

After nearly ten years of visiting Lithuania and making over 30 visits I have become extremely interested in the history of the country and in particular the period from 1939 to the present day. During my recent photography outing with my colleagues Antanas and Renata to the district of Naujoji Vilnia we came across some transport wagons attached to a huge steam train which had been left as a memorial to all those who were transported to the gulag in Siberia (and other areas) by the Soviet regime. There is also a cross quite poignantly on its side……………..

DSC_0204.jpgThis kind of train was used for mass deportations during the Stalinist period and many people were deported from this site. There were two groups of deported people: Prisoners sent to GULAG camps as slave labourers, and deportees who should develop isolated regions, also through hard physical labour.

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From 1940 to 1953…

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Corbyn, and how not to win friends and influence people (particularly the Baltic States)

Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

Lithuania’s Ambassador in London Asta Skaisgirytė has written an open letter to Britain’s Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn over his negative stance on NATO enlargement, emphasizing that it is only the Western Alliance that can guarantee security of the Baltic states.

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In a comment in Britain’s left-leaning daily The Guardian, Skaisgirytė recalled the region’s history and warned about the Kremlin’s efforts to “menace its former victims”, as it remembers the Soviet era. Skaisgirytė said that Corbyn “seems so unaware of the past, present and future of imperialism on the European continent”. In her words, “Lithuania has in living memory experienced imperialism through occupation, linguistic and cultural oppression, the destruction of civil society and public institutions, rape, looting, deportation and mass murder”. “The perpetrators of these crimes have not been punished.

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Nor has Russia, the successor state to the Soviet Union, apologised or paid compensation. Instead it praises our oppressors as…

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Ukraine to remove evidence of soviet past

CNV00035In May President Poroshenko of Ukraine signed a law that effectively banned all reminders of his country’s past with the USSR.

This was clearly in response to the annexation of Crimea by Russia and its support for the the separatist war in Eastern Ukraine.

The law was hailed as a giant step forward for Ukraine and officials are rushing to implement it before  Independence Day on the 24th August.

Every statue of Lenin, every soviet street name and every red star in every underground station will be removed. Under the same law about two dozen towns and cities which were named after Soviet heroes are being renamed.

Unlike Lithuania Ukraine left most of its communist symbols untouched after the collapse of the soviet union in 1991. Work had already started after the Maidan revolution when dozens of statues of Lenin were toppled and dismantled. The Ukrainians even invented a new word for it – Leninopod, or Leninfall.

The ban on soviet symbols is part of a package that includes opening KGB archives to the public. As in Germany with the holocaust denying law it is now an offence to publicly deny “the criminal nature of the communist regime“.

There are some critics who say it all smacks of communist-style censorship including historians in Canada and the USA  who urged the President to veto the new law. Others say that Ukraine has too much on its hands with a faltering economy and the war on its Eastern frontier to bother about symbols and historic issues.

P1000342In Lithuania there are very few symbols of its communist past left. (See: Where’s the evidence?“)

The statues on the Green Bridge in Vilnius are probably the most famous. Many of the old statues of Stalin and Lenin ended up in Grutas Park as a tourist attraction.

P1000482Lithuania even chiselled out the cyrillic alphabet version of Vilnius on the large boulder in the cathedral square.

It will be interesting to see what Ukraine does about the famous Motherland statue in the centre of Kyiv.  Part of the Museum of the history of Ukraine in WWII (renamed by law to remove reference to the “Great Patriotic War“).

CNV00014This giant stainless steel statue, designed by Yevgeny Vuchetich,  and revealed in 1981, stands 62 m tall with an overall height of 102m.

There is a sword in the statue’s right hand which is 16m long and weighs 9 tons and which was shortened so that the overall height of the statue was not higher than the cross on the Orthodox Church’s dome at Pechensk Lavra in the city (even the soviets conceded an advantage to the worship of god).

I was told that there was a plan to sell the statue to China after independence but the costs of dismantling it were prohibitive so there it still stands for now.

CNV00034_1I have visited the statue and the museum as it is not far from an open air concert arena which is used on Independence Day. I was taken by some Ukrainian friends there one evening to see the concert.

CNV00021We went in by a circuitous route bribing the soldiers guarding the statue with some beer and photographs of them with the ladies in our party. It was all very  good humoured although later when I fell over (a vodka assisted stumble I confess)  I was almost arrested by some plain clothes police until my Ukrainian friend rescued me explaining I was a foreigner!

Whether the Motherland statue ends up in a tourist park remains to be seen.


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Show of solidarity with Ukraine

I was walking down Gedimino pr and noticed that the Marks & Spencer store was flying two flags. The national flags of Lithuania and of Ukraine, two former soviet republics.DSC00097

As a Brit with friends in both countries I was quite proud of M & S doing this.


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A Little Light Humour in Lithuania………..NOT!

NB This is NOT a news item!

Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

Ambushed, handcuffed and interrogated by the KGB: Welcome to the terrifying tourist attraction that transports you back to the USSR (but you’ll have to sign a waiver first)

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Being ambushed, blindfolded and interrogated isn’t exactly a normal tourist experience, but in Lithuania it is a hit with visitors.
The Eastern European country offers a chance for holidaymakers to experience what life was like under the control of the USSR – using real dogs, former KGB officers and taking place in a former Soviet bunker.
The terrifying experience starts with visitors being ‘ambushed’ by the Red Army in the middle of the forest, 25km from the capital Vilnius, before being transported down into the bunker for a three-hour Soviet experience.

Seeing red: The ‘captives’ are lined up before they are marched underground to take part in manual labour and be interrogated
Before taking part in the experience, which is called 1984:…

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