Chapter 4 History – From World War II to the present
2005年 03月 10日
Ninth Fort stands in the suburb of Kaunas, the second largest city of Lithuania. The city lies only 100km to the west from Vilnius. The fort was built ninth in a series of forts constructed by Russians to defend the western border of the empire in the late 19th century. The fort fell into the hands of Germans during the Second World War and it turned into a death concentration camp where more than 30,000 Jews from Lithuania and other European countries were killed.
I visited Ninth Fort once with my Lithuanian friends in 1998. We had to hire a guide to enter the building. It was all gray concrete and chilly inside. We followed the guide listening to her explanations like “At this spot there was a crash with arms between prisoners and guards” and “In the fort’s history the only one escape was made from this window”, etc. I could easily imagine the scenes with the help of the oppressive atmosphere there. From outside we can see the wall of the fort where prisoners were forced to stand with their backs against it and got shot to death. Behind Ninth Fort we can see a residential area a few hundred meters away and it was expanding toward the fort. To my eyes the view of the gray building with dark history behind and the peaceful residential block seen in one canvas was a kind of mismatch.
On July 7, 1944 the Red Army returned. Lithuania was reincorporated to into the USSR and that resulted in the deportation of 250,000 Lithuanians to the Siberian gulags. During my stay in Vilnius I was sharing an apartment with an Australian woman whose name was Kristina. Her parents were Lithuanian who fled to Australia to avoid the deportation. At that time many Lithuanians abandoned their homeland like her parents. Her parents never returned to Lithuania again, but she came back to see her origin. I saw many Lithuanian second generation people from USA and France coming back to Lithuania like Kristina. It was interesting to see the phenomenon that parents abandoned the country but their children returned.
Despite over 4 decades of forced Soviet assimilation Lithuania never lost its identity. On May 14, 1972 19-year-old Romas Kalanta set fire to himself and committed suicide in the public gardens in Kaunas. This incident sparked the first protests against the Soviet rule. On March 11, 1990 the Supreme Council declared the restoration of Lithuanian independence, and on 17 of the following month Moscow imposed an economic blockade. On January 13, 1991 Soviet troops made inroads into Vilnius. The civilians tried to guard their parliament and TV tower, and that resulted in the loss of 14 unarmed civilians’ lives. The center of Vilnius was inundated with the Soviet combat vehicles and soldiers. My Lithuanian acquaintance recalled the day was like chaos.
On February 12 Iceland became the first country to recognize the independence of Lithuania. In August the Soviet troops left the buildings they had been occupying since January, and Lenin’s statue was removed from the city center. On August 31, 1993 the last Russian soldier left the country. Like this Lithuania’s democratization proceeded, and on May 1, 2004 Lithuania became a member of the European Union.