#KGB #prisonlife #museums #Russianjustice #



I had read about the Museum of Genocide Victims in several guide books on Lithuania. It was specifically mentioned in Lonely Planet: Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania as a place to visit. I tend to party a lot when I travel but I do like to do some more socially and culturally substantial things while I am away. I made this one of the targeted stops during my stay in Vilnius.


The name of the museum does give away its intent to show the evil of genocide. I was unsure what to expect when I started noticing it being referred to as the KGB Museum . It wasn't until I got there that I learned why this was happening. The museum is a little tricky because it is in the basement of a Federal building. The entrance to the museum is on the side of the building. I learned this by wandering in the front door and confronting a guard that could not speak English. Fortunately, he understood the word museum and drew me a map to get around to the side of the building. Guess I'm not the first dumb American to make that mistake.


 What has become the Museum of Genocide Victims was at one time an authentic KGB Prison. This added another dimension to the visit. I entered into the museum entrance. There were a couple museum employees there to greet visitors. They wanted to know if I was CIA when I announced that I was American. Close enough, I acknowledged. I paid 10 Litus to go in. That is roughly equivalent to 4 bucks. They give you a headset that provides a 50 minute narrative to guide you through the museum. You can gain entry without the audio narrative for 2 litus but I did not know this until consulting the museum's website after the fact.


The beginning of the tour is simply a walk down the steps to the basement. You see what would appear to be two closets. These were the holding boxes for prisoners being processed into the prison. They are rather small and it is explained that sometimes several prisoners were detained at a time. There is no light at all so the prisoners were held in darkness until being moved to a cell.


There is a chart on the wall in the hall that provides a history of the basement as prison. The narrative on the headset provides little additional information from what is on the chart. The first leg of the tour also includes the guard's room and the processing room. They have an authentic guard's uniform and some of the furniture and equipment used by the guards. It is pleasant as they run through some of the means used for processing the prisoners. Often confessions were gained through torture or through threats to family.


 The basement runs down a long corridor. You can enter into several prisoner cells. They show how the cells are furnished with beds. A single light bulb is always left on all night long. This was to make the prisoners as uncomfortable as possible. The beds were metal frames. Linens and pads were not used until the 1960s. Often as many as twenty prisoners would be held in a two bed cell. The prisoners were fed through an opening in the door.


 Two Lithuanian dissidents are given special acknowledgment for their fight for freedom: Jonas Zemaitis and Adolfas Ramanauskas.  Both met unfortunate fates for their patriotism. The museum allows visitors to check out the solitary confinement cells. There are cold concrete holes. Prisoners were placed in their in just their underwear and often left confined for days at a time. There is a padded room in which confessions were obtained. The room was padded to drown out the screams of the confessors. Although torture was outlawed in the early 60s, guards could obtain special permission to use physical persuasion on the prisoners.


There is also two rooms which had a small platform and a sunken floor. The floor was filled with icy water during winter months. Barefoot prisoners would have to stand on the small platform or go into the freezing water. Often they would get drowsy and fall into the ice water. In the 60s, this was camouflaged as a medical area by the Soviets. The true purpose of the rooms was restored when the museum was founded.


 You will also be informed of two locked cells which contain the remains of prisoners executed by the Soviets. There are pictures of mutilated prisoners that were often paraded through towns in hopes of identifying family and friends. The mutilated bodies were also often left on display in town squares to intimidate other would be dissenters.


 The bathroom is also rather dingy. It includes floor holes which required squatting to use. The prisoners would only be allowed to use this bathroom once a day. The rest of the time they had to use a bucket which was kept in their cells. The shower room was also nasty. Guards often turned the water too cold or too hot to torment the prisoners.


 The end of the basement exhibit shows the execution rooms where prisoners were taken to be canceled. It is a disturbing sight. They have glass floors over the original floor. You walk on the glass and can see some personal items left behind. After this you can walk back to the beginning and go back upstairs. There is a couple rooms which features a further exhibit that explains some of the means used to combat the Soviet occupation.


 This museum is much more effective than the Museum of the Occupation in Riga but I would recommend a tour of Baltic capitals to include both. It really drives home the point about oppression. It was creepy and disturbing to walk through this museum. I felt for the victims of this great tragedy. I was unsettled for awhile after leaving. If you're in Vilnius, check this out for yourself and learn about a wicked past.  




Author's Notes/Comments: 

This was written about 13 years ago.  It was originally a review of the KGB museum in Vilnius, Lithuania.

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