by: Alexandra Kudukis
I was very shocked (as many were) when I read the initial JTA article about the Seventh Fort in Kaunas. Here is the link:
The rebuttal piece that followed in the form of a Lietuvos Rytas article was not quite clear. Here is the link:
I thought as a rebuttal piece it should have been much more comprehensive and should have included more Jewish and well other Lithuanian community leaders’ input.
This issue is far from black and white. Mr. Orlov presented at the Yad Vashem in 2012. Here is a link to that article:
“Vladimir Orlov, a young local archaeologist, found the items – and revealed a dark secret hidden for 70 years.
At a 10-day seminar held at The International School for Holocaust Studies in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem for Lithuanian educators that ended Wednesday, Orlov presented his research in a talk: “The Beginning of the Holocaust in Lithuania (VII Fort Findings).”
He documented and shared personal belongings he found at the site. The man has made real efforts to document and care for items he found on the site. He understands both the societal and historical importance of the site as evidenced on his website.
Because of this “Jewish genocide in the 7th Fort (1941)””Guides will not only show you the past, but they also will talk about the future. In 2009 NGO “Military heritage centre” are investigating this crime for the humanity. They are also fixing the place where all the people were buried. NGO “Military heritage centre” also published a book and the movie “7th Fort: Lithuanian tragedy”. You will be able to buy them in 7th Fort Information centre.”
Additionally, Mr. Orlov has a website, in English/Lithuanian/Russian describing his non-profit and work regarding the site including videos. Here is the link:
The site provides information about the events and activities of the NGO that is responsible for the fort, as well as a list of publications, and information about the projects it has undertaken with various organizations, including universities, research centers and the like:
“In 2007 Military Heritage Centre kept in close contact with Kaunas municipal authorities (senior ranking officials – vice-mayor and members of Municipal Council) in relation to Kaunas fortress forts conservation and regeneration issues. The Centre representative proposed to rent one of the fortress forts on long-term basis with the intention to carry out restoration works. However this culturally-lucrative deal was never realized due to the fact all derelict forts belong to the State and are not under control of Municipality. With regard to the circumstances it was decided to purchase the fort. In early 2009 the Seventh fort was purchased. As of today, fort restoration project and plans for “Kaunas Fortress museum” creation on its grounds are firmly under way. The museum is set to become an important public scientific popular and cultural centre. In connection with future fort restoration and conservation, a preliminary museum concept has been developed and initial applied research of the military heritage has commenced. Moreover, by decree signed by Mayor of Kaunas City and on MHC initiative, a Task Force concerned with issues of adapting Kaunas fortress elements for the needs of the society was created.
Currently, Military Heritage Centre is the leading public non-commercial organization in Lithuania, actively working in and contributing to the military historical heritage field. It boasts a marvelously rich collection of materials, strong and fruitful ties within Eastern European scientific circles and a very solid material technical base for conducting applied scientific research (including a unique mobile research laboratory complex, the only of its kind in Lithuania). The centre is keeping in constant contact with state, public and commercial sectors, and has established itself as a reliable and professional business partner, able to produce significant results within tight deadlines. Military Heritage Centre welcomes everyone partial with our cause for cooperation in the effort to tackle the issues of conservation and modern integration of unique all-European military historical heritage.”
“Moreover, by decree signed by Mayor of Kaunas City and on MHC initiative, a Task Force concerned with issues of adapting Kaunas fortress elements for the needs of the society was created. This may explain some of the information listed on the website that is at best, odd, at worst inappropriate and insensitive.
“The 7th Fort of Kaunas Fortress is 7,5 ha nature and history oasis in Kaunas, Žaliakalnis district, 5 minutes away from city center. 7th fort museum can offer you not only excursions but also other interesting services – children’s parties, corporate and community events, artist’s workshops, a variety of children camps and so on. What is more 7th Fort – fantastic place for professional and amateur films or photo shoots. Go beyond standard solutions – if we will connect your and our ideas – it will become a unique product for your event or party.”
As stated on their website, they have birthday parties, as well as themed parties for adults, and St. John’s Festivals (Jonines). Here is the link:
Orlov states, in the Lietuvos Rytas article, that there is significant distance between the burial site and the area that he rents out for their events. However, it is important to remember that it is still the same fort, the same land.
At the very least, the appearance of impropriety exists. Is this due to the lingering Soviet-style mindset that the upbringing that those who grew up Lithuania during the Soviet occupation experienced? This system has been argued to have created a slight overall insensitivety to the value and importance of human life. Does and/or can this effect the solemnity which they revere final resting places?
There is also the issue of funding which needs to be addressed. The site needs to keep up maintenance, which must be expensive. The renting Orlov does is needed to support the structure and planned projects.
Which then leads to the question of the privatization itself. Was it correct to privatize such a structure in the first place? Due to the fact that the site is in private hands, it lacks sufficient government funding; the owner needs to support the structure, which leads to questionable alternatives. Perhaps the structure needs a better source of funding so they don’t have to rely on the renting out of the facilities?
One question that I would like answered is that of the educational component. It’s stated on the site that there is one. Are the people who rent the site informed about the history? Are they taken to the memorial? If so, then at least people, who otherwise may not be aware, are being informed of the structure’s past. Especially in the case of the children who camp here, if they are instructed as to the entire history of the site going back to and including the events of WWII, it could be used to positively impact the next generation. With the “adult themed parties” listed on the site, it’s more problematic, and would seem difficult to incorporate educational elements into these.
There is more that needs to be discussed on the subject. It is my sincere hope that the links I’ve shared promote and foster constructive debate, which then leads to discussions that offer real solutions. I feel that questions should be raised so that the Seventh Fort may be used and supported properly, because at the heart of the matter is that fact that this is the final resting place our fallen fellow brother and sister Lithuanians, and they deserve a fitting, solemn, permanent resting place.