The walls of the Ninth Fort have witnessed both Soviet and Nazi crimes and brutality, which are difficult to even imagine. The cruelty that took place in the prison that existed here can still be felt in this historically significant site today.
The Kaunas Fortress is a defensive fortification system built between 1882 and 1915 in Kaunas and its surroundings. It was meant to protect the western end of the Russian Empire.
In the past, Kaunas was a strategically important city. A railway going from Saint-Petersburg to Warsaw and Kaliningrad passed through it. A bridge was built to cross the Nemunas River and it was generally a place where important roads intersected. Moreover, it made strategic sense to build a fortress between the confluences of two rivers. This location assured that if the fortress would come under attack, the enemy would have to disperse its forces. In the 1880s, when Russian/German relations took a turn for the worse, the idea of the first fortress in Kaunas area started to develop. The final decision was made in 1879 following the Russo-Turkish War.
In 1903, construction of the Ninth Fort began next to the Kumpė folwark according to a blueprint made by K. Velička in 1897. This fort was much smaller and only had one infantry position. Concrete was used in its construction and it also had electricity and sewerage installed.
The fort is shaped like a pentagon – all of its casemates are made of concrete and the barracks facade is made of bricks. The walls of the casemates are between 1.5 and 2.1-metres wide, according to Kronštatas’ tests. The fort also features armoured observation posts.
A ditch with a counterscarp wall surrounds the fort; this special defensive structure replaced the caponiers and half-caponiers used in other forts. The fort’s embankments are 6.9 metres high. A double staircase postern connects the fort embankment and barracks, and the ammunition depot is adjacent to the postern. The counterscarp wall features interior galleries, which connect special defensive structures. The galleries also have exits to the rear of the fort and are equipped with counter-channels. The left-most postern connects the barracks with the left special defensive structure. The shortest postern is to the right and does not connect to the barracks.
Anti-invasion military hiding spots and ammunition depots can be found next to the central and left-most postern. That’s where ammunition for the capillary cannons was stored – for twelve six-inch cannons and four anti-invasion cannons. The depots were equipped with ammunition-lifting mechanisms and armoured observation posts. The faso traverse had an additional anti-invasion cannon hiding spot installed.
The fort only has one infantry embankment, since heavy artillery was not foreseen. In the corners of the fort there are barbettes built for the anti-invasion cannons. The fort’s barracks consist of nine floors built with concrete, using bricks for the facade. The barracks consist of fourteen casemates, which were meant for the staff of sanitary unit, a power plant casemate and auxiliary warehouses. The first-floor casemates housed an officer room, office, dressing room, canteen, kitchen with depot and a power plant. The second-floor casemates were meant for soldiers.
The side casemates of the second floor had exits to observation posts. Two interstitial half-caponiers for four cannons were spread out on the side barracks casemates; however, only the right-most interstitial half-caponier was built. The function of the left one is performed by a broken barracks facade and cannon embrasures on the second floor. There is an ammunition depot and riflemen gallery next to the half-caponier.
The electricity produced by the fort’s power plant was distributed to all the fort’s casemates and used to light the premises, for the ventilation system, pumping water from the wells and to illuminate ditches during night defence. The fort’s armament consisted of 28 light cannons, fourteen 57 mm caponier cannons, four copper martyrs and four Maxim machine guns.
Despite being built in 1913, the biggest brutality took place in this location from 1940, after the Second World War.
In 1941, when Kaunas was taken over by Germans, fortification initiatives began, which ultimately transformed the fort into a place known for death. According to unofficial data, 50,000 people died in the fort over a two-year period. Together with people who lived in the territory of Lithuania, many others were brought here from Poland, Austria, France, USSR and Germany to be killed. From October 1941 until the beginning of Soviet occupation in August 1944, the Ninth Fort was used as a mass execution site. The most brutal period was October of 1941. A group of people were executed on 4 October 1945, and 9,200 of Jews were killed there on 29 October. These executions also targeted women, children and the elderly.
In 1943, when the tide of World War II turned against Germany, the Nazis started destroying all traces and evidence of mass killings. As such, a special and secret prisoners’ group was created in the Ninth Fort in November 1943 November, tasked with digging up victims of genocide and burning their bodies. The prisoners’ group of the Ninth Fort organised an escape on 25 December 1943. All 64 prisoners managed to escape but only 11 of them survived until the end of the war and managed to tell their stories of Nazi brutality and crimes against humanity.
After World War II and under Soviet occupation, the Ninth Fort was passed from the hands of the Justice Ministry to the Soviet Union’s People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). The fort was turned into an intermediate stop for the deportation of political prisoners. It was a place where people from surrounding prison institutions were gathered before being sent away to Gulag camps in the depths of the Soviet Union.
Later, the fort was used as a storage facility for agriculture production. In 1958, following a decision of the Soviet Lithuanian Ministers council, a History of Revolution Museum was established in the Ninth Fort. The museum opened less than a year later on 30 May 1959, with the first exhibition focused on Nazi crimes in Lithuania. From 1966 to 1970, authorities held four competitions to establish a monument. A project submitted by Alfonsas Vincentas Ambraziūnas, Gediminas Baravykas and Vytautas Vielius ultimatey won the competition. After 13 years of construction, a 32-metre tall Monument for the Victims of Nazism was erected on the site of mass killings. The Soviets then built a new museum next to the Ninth Fort, which is now the exhibition of occupations, and a park with walking paths. On 15 June 1984, the Ninth Fort museum’s memorial complex opened its doors to the public. It became one of the largest memorial sites in all of Europe.
When Lithuanian independence was restored in 1990, so too was free speech and people started publicly discussing topics that were otherwise forbidden during the 50 years of Soviet occupation. This opened up discussions about both Nazi and Soviet crimes in the Ninth Fort’s museum. Over time, the museum has opened new exhibitions that introduce visitors to all stages of the Ninth Fort’s history.