Lithuania 21 Jul 2017 15:49
A photoessay, exploring a unique snapshot of European history, stretching from the mighty symbols of Russian Empire’s oppression, to the Holocaust and KGB’s atrocities.Russian Tsar Alexander II, chose Kaunas, Lithuania as the location for the most modern fortress in the Russian Empire. Found in a strategic location in the middle of two rivers, the city has long stood as the barrier between East and West during the Teutonic conquests, Nordic Wars, Napoleonic Wars and both World Wars. Following the construction of thirteen forts - complete with weapons infrastructure, military hospitals and churches - every third man in Kaunas was a soldier in the Russian Tsar’s army. In the onset of World War One, the fortress fell in just over a week, taking the lives of 20,000 defending soldiers with it. Forward 26 years, the 13 forts ringing Kaunas served as a grim backdrop to Holocaust, where Nazis and local collaborators executed over 30,000 Lithuanian Jews. Intermittently, the forts served as German ‘stalags’ and later, sites of KGB prisons. In total, over 50,000 people were executed there. Today, the forts in Lithuania’s second largest city Kaunas stand mostly abandoned. Some served as temporary bases for newly reestablished Lithuanian military in the 1990s, some were fitted out for paintball tournaments and children’s playgrounds, as some continued to decay amongst empty bottles and cigarette butts - number of lives were claimed by the treacherous network of tunnels and wells inside. In December 2016, the forts were bought-out by the renewed Kaunas leadership, which plan to establish a tourist trail and properly mourn the tragedies, and the structural beauties of the fortresses.