A cool breeze was on my face and a soft, warm sunbeam graced my skin. I was heading towards town, as always near an hour walk. Twas almost noon and the sky gave no sign of feeding the plants today. Don’t go on a rainy day, Reinhardt had told me before I had departed. Lauris was of the same mind, that such a visit would be best on a day not grim. My eyes had spied the KGB building the day I entered the town and soon after my legs paced its direction. To everyone, old and young, church enthusiast or nightlife enjoyer, hippy or portly, adventurous or sloths who has set their gps, flying ticket or compass towards Vilnius, I would definitely recommend The museum of Genocide Victims.
At the entrance were a handful of ogling tourists. I squeezed myself passed them to make way to the reception. A woman of age leaned back on her chair. Bitterly she gazed out of under her glasses. Her arched nose pointed towards me. She seemed to carry a mouth that had forgotten how to smile. However as soon as I ticked the glass, the bitterness seemed to retract from her face and a crooked smile appeared. Underneath it all a warm heart lay to rest, alas the language barrier made for a fast exchange. I lay down a small fee in exchange for entering. “Achoo”. A sneeze of gratitude – “Thank you” in Lithuanian sounds like a sneeze, making it the only word in the Lithuanian dictionary I remember.
Established in 1992, the museum is located in the former KGB headquarters. Lithuania was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1940, becoming a Soviet Socialist Republic. This lead to mass arrests and deportations. In 1941 Nazi Germany invaded the country. During the reign the building housed the Gestapo headquarters. The Soviets retook Lithuania in 1944. During the occupance of the KGB, the building included offices, a spy room, a prison and an interrogation center.
“For Lithuanian people, this building is a symbol of the Soviet occupation, and it is therefore very important that it now houses the museum to remind the present generation and to tell future generations about the period from 1940 to 1990. That was both hard and tragic for Lithuania and its people.”
Turning it into a museum, they made an attempt to preserve the building and the rooms as they were, gathering intel and supplies to store here. The rooms on the first and second floor shared information plenty to fill the empty pages of a book. Words formed a story that told from A-Z about the 50-year occupation by the Soviet Union, the Lithuanian resistance, and the victims of the arrests, deportations, and executions that took place during this period. It was a lot to take in. I tried to read all. To see the faces of victims, fighters and the ones that were on the top of it all. These pictures were displayed in almost every room. Sad moments and happy moments. A bunker filled with a group of five, fighters for the freedom of their people. They had been found, so they stayed hidden. Hungry, time would kill them. Afraid to fall in the hands of the wrong, they stopped time definite… My eyes rolled to the right, a picture less heavy and gloomily, yet somewhat cheering in such times. Three men from the resistance around a fire carrying a smile. Meat was above the fire and a beer in their hands. One seemed to be laughing. Their lives, like many, had been lost during the battle. Reading their names it felt all the more real.
The sound of my feet following the steps down echoed through the hall. I imagine this sound being a horror for some during imprisonment. I stepped through a barred gate and into a corridor with cell doors on either side. First off to the right is a guards’ room, with some old uniforms hanging from pegs. The place looked depressing. It gave a feel of a cellar, yet instead of crushed berries, it were spirits that had been crushed. Cells that could make a hobbit feel claustrophobic. But that was nothing compared to the punishment cell; with just enough space for a wooden bench. Ten days in only undies, a diet of a mere 300 grams of bread and water per day, isolated of all light. The hallway continued to a chamber made soundproof. Voices lost from screams lingered on the padded walls. In an era where it was as easy as spotting Waldo on a funeral as it was gaining a permit to “interrogate physically to obtain information”, – torture – my mind did not feel the need to wonder what happened in said room. At the beginning, all prisoners were allowed a shower once a month. Thinking to be generous, they changed it to once a week, with a warden that likes to turn the water to only freezing cold or hellish hot.
Reaching the end of the hall, a wall covered with a dozen pictures showed a gruesome act by the KGB. Death bodies scarred and beaten, a few unrecognisably bad, had been used to decorate the city. Laying against a wall, hanging by a rope, they were meant to strike fear into the people. To crush spirit and hope. Looking into the lifeless eyes gazing down into an endless void, I wondered how citizens in the middle of this slaughter felt. Feeling heavy I went further to head to the final room. ‘Final’ having a double meaning in this sentence. But before was the area where captives could catch some air and ‘have some movement’. I mean no sarcasm when I say I would not even walk my tiny shih tzu here, it being perhaps two by three metres. Hardly any space to walk around or do any meaningful exercise. Just another prison.
Then the grimmest room of them all; the execution room. The original floors are protected by glass plates that you walk on. Underneath lies archaeologist’s finds of the burial site. A flat screen tv keeps playing a scene of how it probably happened, adding more horror to it all. A prisoner brought in, only to leave through a vent seconds later. Blood washed away before another inmate followed the same fate.
A visit that has left an impact, with it leaving a stamp in my memory. It being a story of Lithuania and a symbol, one wandering this capital must have a visit, in my opinion.