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2021.10.28 11:31

Dark day in history – Lithuania commemorates 80th anniversary of bloodiest massacre of Jews

Valdemaras Šukšta, LRT.lt2021.10.28 11:31

On October 29, 1941, almost 10,000 Lithuanian Jews were shot at Kaunas’ Ninth Fort. The massacre, dubbed the Great Action, was the largest mass murder of Jews in Lithuania.

The Great Action began on October 28, 1941, when Nazis conducted a selection of Jews in the Kaunas Ghetto, says Mindaugas Kuodys, a historian at Kaunas Ninth Fort Museum. The Jews were sorted into “useful” and “useless”. Around 9,200 “useless” Jew – half of them kids – were then forced to walk to the Ninth Fort.

Read more: ‘Aim properly, Gustav’. Start of Holocaust in Lithuania 80 years ago

“Not only men of working age but also women, children, and seniors were forced to walk,” Kuodys says. “Those who could not walk were shot immediately.”

According to the historian, most people knew what awaited them.

“People’s lives did not cost anything. Anything could be done with them. Eyewitnesses recounted in their memoirs that the ghetto guards were shooting at people for no reason. […] The ghetto inhabitants realised that nobody could protect them, that anyone could become a victim,” Kuodys says.

Walk of death

The selected Jews walked some three kilometres from the Kaunas Ghetto to the execution place at the Ninth Fort.

“Jews marched in columns of 400 people – eight in one row,” Kuodys explains. “When the first columns were being shot at the Ninth Fort, others were still walking.”

Read more: Lithuanian parliament calls on local authorities to mark all Jewish massacre sites

Some Jews tried to run away but were shot immediately. Those who broke away from columns or accidentally stepped on a sidewalk were also killed right there.

Jews who reached the Ninth Fort were shot in large pits dug in advance. According to Kuodys, 14 such pits were prepared for the Great Action. Other victims of the Nazi occupation also lay nearby. In total, around 50,000 bodies were buried at the Ninth Fort.

“It wasn’t a human grave. The field of massacre turned into a mass grave. The western side of the Ninth Fort became the victims’ eternal resting place,” the historian says.

Nazi propaganda

On October 29, 1941, shots were heard a few kilometres from the Ninth Fort. How did Kaunas residents react to them?

“There were various reactions, including disgust and indifference,” Kuodys says. “The official position was first revealed in the press, which supported the killers’ side.”

Read more: Remember the victims, the rescuers, the perpetrators of Holocaust – opinion

The historian quotes an article published on October 25 in the daily Freedom (Laisvė). Propaganda framed Jews as a people that were not part of the nation, enemies who needed to be treated accordingly.

According to Kuodys, the Great Action was organised by the Nazi administration, but mostly carried out by a military unit formed from Lithuanians. A few executioners were later identified and sentenced to death.

“According to the defendants’ testimonies, some [murderers] shot at victims for their own pleasure. They were taken over by a complete anti-Semitic fanaticism,” Kuodys says.

Read more: A glimmer of hope or prelude to Holocaust? Lithuania's June 1941 uprising remains controversial eight decades on

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