|A film crew is seen outside the former concentration camp known as the Seventh Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania (Credit: Cnaan Liphshiz)|
By Reut Cohen
B'nai Brith Canada
A feature published in the Times of Israel has revealed that a former concentration camp in Kaunas, Lithuania, is now being used as a location for weddings, graduation parties, and summer camps.
The complex, known as the Seventh Fort, is where Lithuanian Nazi collaborators imprisoned and murdered thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Some 5,000 Jews are buried there in mass graves marked with poles and rocks.
After becoming privatized in 2009, the fort was acquired by the Military Heritage Centre, a non-governmental organization. The Military Heritage Centre charges an admission fee of approximately $4 to certain areas of the complex in addition to organizing events.
Critics are citing this as evidence of Lithuania’s failure to come to terms with its involvement in the Holocaust. The Seventh Fort is just one of several controversial issues examined by author Ruth Vanagaite in her book Our People, coauthored with Efraim Zuroff, the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “It just says a lot of bad things about my country,” said Vanagaite.
Our People, which is currently being translated into English, contradicts much of the governmental narrative surrounding Lithuania’s role in the Holocaust, namely that Lithuanians were the victims of successive Russian and German occupations. Its publication in January 2016 prompted demand by the Jewish community and local media for the government to release its list of suspected war criminals, which reportedly contains the names of 1,000 Holocaust perpetrators. The government has now promised to release the names by 2017.
In recent years, Lithuania has been applauded for measures such as legislation that will allow the descendants of Lithuanian Jews to obtain citizenship, as well the excavation of local synagogues. However, it has also drawn criticism for honouring Nazi collaborators such as Juozas Ambrazevicius-Brazaitis, the leader of a local pro-Nazi government who was reburied in Lithuania in a state funeral in 2012.
The Jewish community of Lithuania numbered approximately 220,000 before the Second World War. Of this, 95% were massacred during the three-year German occupation that began in June of 1941. Fewer than 5,000 Jews live in Lithuania today.