In this drab city 55 miles west of Vilnius, there are few heritage sites as mysterious and lovely looking as the Seventh Fort. This 18-acre red-brick bunker complex, which dates to 1882, features massive underground passages that connect its halls and chambers. Above ground, the hilltop fortress is carpeted with lush grass and flowers whose yellow blooms attract bees and songbirds along with families who come here to frolic in the brief Baltic summer. It’s also a popular venue for graduation parties and wedding receptions, complete with buffets and barbecues, as well as summer camps for children who enjoy the elaborate treasure hunts around the premises. Most of the visitors are unaware that they are playing, dining and celebrating at a former concentration camp. In 1941, thousands of Jews were imprisoned, starved and finally massacred by Lithuanian Nazi collaborators at the Seventh Fort in what was then the largest mass killing in the country’s history. The complex is believed to be the first concentration camp located on territory that Nazi Germany conquered following its eastward invasion. Even by the unfortunate commemorative standards in Eastern Europe — where many Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust sites have been damaged or neglected — the Seventh Fort is unusual for its erasure of the recent past. It was privatized in 2009 and is now owned by the Military Heritage Center — a nongovernmental association run by a 37-year-old Lithuanian informatics specialist, Vladimir Orlov — which charges admission fees of approximately $4 to some parts of the compound and organizes parties at the venue. Critics say this reality is a byproduct of the Lithuanian state’s alleged failures in confronting the country’s dark history during the genocide. “It just says a lot of bad things about my country,” said Ruta Vanagaite, a Lithuanian novelist who drew international attention to the site in a book she co-authored last year with Efraim Zuroff, the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The apparent amnesia surrounding the fort, she added, is also indicative of “the attitude to the people who were killed.” The remains of 5,000 murdered Jews are buried at the fort in mass graves that are marked by a few poles and rocks. Relatives sometimes light candles in memory of the dead.
via stljewishlight: Lithuanian concentration camp is now a wedding venue