Distance travelled: 257km
Weather: Sunny and warm
There was a cool breeze blowing when we woke this morning, making it easier to sleep in a little longer although I did slip briefly out to turn on the boiler for a shower later. Come 9 o’clock, I quickly walked over to the tourist information office and paid for our parking ticket. If we had been ready to depart before 9am, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have had to pay since they only shut the boom gates when the staff arrived at 9am. However at about €2.90 it was no great expense and I bought some postcards while I had the opportunity.
We eventually hit the road at 10.30am heading for the town of Kaunas to visit the Ninth Fort which was constructed in the late 19th century. During the first occupation of Kaunas and the rest of Lithuania by the Soviet Union, the fort was used as a prison and way-station for prisoners being transported to labour camps. After the occupation of Lithuania by Nazi Germany, the fort was used as a place of execution for Jews and captured Soviets amongst others. After the Second World War the Soviets took over again, continuing their usual activities.
Apparently the staff were from the soviet era since they weren’t the friendliest or most helpful people we have come across. They were continuously watching the museum visitors, understandable since anti-Jew vandalism has happened here before but the only staff member who showed any friendliness was the lady telling us how to leave.
The museum displays were quite informative but we felt they assumed a knowledge of the history of the time that we don’t have. Mark also felt that the information was a little disjointed although this could have been a result of our lack of knowledge. Like a lot of Holocaust displays, there was some effort to personalize the slaughter with biographies and photos of individuals but in our ignorance, we couldn’t see the big picture and there was very little explaination.
From the museum, we were directed to the exhibits inside the fort itself. There was some very informative displays about a transport of mostly teenage Jewish children from Paris and the surrounding areas. There were names scratched onto the walls of the cells from the time of their incarceration, protected by clear glass. Another room detailed the actions of a Japanese diplomat, hand writing visas for Jewish people to help them escape the Nazis. He was fired from his post upon his return to Japan.
Yet another room showed details of an escape by sixty four prisoners during the time the Nazis occupied the fort. Unfortunately although we read that a drill was used to open a door, and the route the escapees used, I was left in the dark about why the drill was needed. How was it used? Possibly to destroy the lock?
We saw an area labelled ‘wet cell’. There was no explanation whatsoever about the name. Some form of torture perhaps? Or was it just a badly designed room with humidity problems? As we explored, we found the prevalence of English text slowly decreasing until the last few displays had none at all.
As we left, I found myself feeling somewhat disappointed by the place. Perhaps if I had done more reading, more preparation, it would have been better. But then would I have needed to visit if I already knew everything? To top it all off, as I stopped to take a photo of the Holocaust Memorial, it was to find that some teenagers had climbed up it and were silhouetted in the afternoon sun.
After a very late afternoon lunch in the van at 5pm, we headed off to Vilnius, the capitol. The roads in Lithuania are intermittently good. Mark says he preferred the constant rough surface of Latvian roads since now we are trying to dodge larger dips and bumps. I got the feeling, when we arrived at Vilnius City Camp that they were taking advantage of a captive audience by charging €21 but that included electricity, showers and wifi and all the motorhome service point conveniences so the price probably wasn’t that bad. They also have a washing machine and dryer at a reasonable price so the bedding will be washed again tomorrow.
The campsite was basically a large paddock with a small wood against one side. The district seemed a little neglected but there was a high fence and a big gate so we seemed secure. Mark has been doing the lions share of the cooking lately so I took my turn and threw together some spaghetti bolognaise. I plan to spend the evening researching Poland and trying to plot an approximate route south. I want to visit Auschwitz but apart from that I have no idea what Poland has to offer. There has to be more to the country than the horror stories of the past.