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Jewish Kaunas Tour

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Jews are first known to have lived in Kaunas as early as 1410 when they were brought forcibly as prisoners of war by the Grand Duke Vytautas. Many of those Jews were later active as traders between Kaunas and Gdansk, Poland. Living conditions for many Jews were squalid. In 1858, archaic living restrictions were relaxed and all but 6,000 of the city's 35,000 Jews flocked to the Old Town in search of something better. In July 1941, however, the Nazis expelled all the Jews from the town and sent them back to Slobodka.

The first stop in our tour of Jewish Kaunas will be a Ninth Fort. IX Fort, one of a series of forts built by the Russians but later used by the Nazis as a murder factory. Located in Kaunas northwest outskirts, the fort failed the Russians in their attempt to defend their western frontier, falling to the Germans in only eleven days of battle. Inside, primitive bedding remains firmly behind double meshed bars covering the windows of the cells. The prison's fortified walls exude a stale coldness, creating an appropriate sombre mood for viewing the numerous displays of photographs and reports of the gruesome events which took place here. In addition to the communal cells was the "Health Room", a 3 metre by 1 metre hole beneath a stairwell, and the "Wet Room", a fairly spacious but dank chamber of concrete without a crack of light.

The second stop will be the Kaunas Synagogue.Dating back to 1871, this building claims to have one of the most beautiful altars in the entire Jewish world. Behind the synagogue stands a memorial to the 1,800 children who were murdered at the Ninth Fort.

After we will visit Sugihara House. Chiune Sugihara was the Japanese consul to Lithuania for a brief period between 1939 and 1940. Together with a Dutch colleague he saved thousands of Polish Jews by issuing visas (against the orders of his superiors) to get them out of the country and away to safety. Many later settled in Palestine, and have since championed his cause. This is the house where he lived with his family whilst living in Kaunas. Inside its a small museum.

A short stop by the Kowno Ghetto memorial what stands to those Jews who perished under the Nazis.

At the end of our tour we will visit Jewish cemetery.

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