We never quite finished telling the Kauna story, so I’m going to back up a couple days. The primary event for the day was to walk to the Ninth Fort, once a prison used during both the Soviet and German occupations, now a museum of occupation. According to Lonely Planet it was about seven kilometers from the city, so how hard could that be to walk? We looked up the Ninth Fort in a Google Map, plotted the course, and off we went.
Alas, it was in fact not so easy. It was bad enough that some of our little pleasure hike took us through a nasty spaghetti-like interchange among a few highways. Worse yet, when we got to the place where the map said the Fort would be – really more like 10 kilometers – there was just a big open field. We walked back and forth and poked around, but it just wasn’t there. Eventually we made our way back to some big mall – by now we’ve walked maybe 15 kilometers and gotten nowhere except a mall, which is pretty much nowhere – so we could get some food and maybe with a WiFi connection figure out where this Fort was.
We did find it on the map, and it wasn’t that far from where we were, but it wasn’t clear how to get from where we were to where we wanted to be. There were choices, forks in the road. Yes, we took the road less traveled, but sometimes the road is traveled less because it’s just the wrong road.
Enough of that. Mark had started to conclude that this fort/museum just didn’t exist, but we eventually stumbled on it. So after probably 12 miles of walking, now it was time to walk around the museum and grounds. The first noticeable feature was a huge Soviet-era monument. As far as we could tell, it was a monument to the Soviet soldiers who fought the Germans in Lithuania. That struck me as somewhat strange, since the Soviets were themselves an occupying force, and not very nice occupiers at that. The used it as a holding place and interrogation center before shipping their enemies (or just innocent bystanders) to Siberia. Not a group I would build a monument to.
The museum of Soviet occupation is an interesting building, insofar as it appears to have been built for this museum – I don’t think it was part of the prison – and just looks so incredibly Soviet and hostile. It’s not even very easy to figure out where the entrance is and does a great job of just evoking brutality. The exhibits were interesting, depressing, and another reminder of how genuinely evil the Soviets were.
The powerful part of the museum, though, for me at least was the part associated with the years it was used as a German concentration camp. I’d never been to a concentration camp before, and standing on a site where tens of thousands Jews – mostly Lithuanians, but Jews from France and other countries were brought here as well – had been murdered is just really powerful. The prison inside the fort had exhibits, mostly dealing with German atrocities, and just horribly painful stories about families and all that. You can read about Nazi genocide all you want, but there is nothing quite as strong as looking at what had once been a mass grave holding thousands, or seeing the barrels where they had tried to burn the corpses to cover up their crimes.
That was supposed to be just part of the day, but after walking back to the mall to catch a bus back into Kaunas, we were beat. And a little somber. Fortunately, we could enjoy just a little more Kaunas beauty when we got back, something we needed after a day like that.