Visiting the Memorial to the Victims of Nazism at Ninth Fort
Our primary motivation for visiting the Ninth Fort stronghold in Kaunas was to see the gargantuan Soviet-era concrete monument that sits on a hill overlooking the city. The 32-metre tall memorial was unveiled in 1984 in remembrance of the 30,000 Jews who were murdered here during the Holocaust and sits on the site of a mass grave.
But whilst it was the jagged stone fists reaching defiantly skyward that brought us to Ninth Fort, a much deeper and broader history awaited us.
Located on the outskirts of Kaunas, Lithuania’s second city, Ninth Fort was completed in the early 1900s as the final part of Kaunas Fortress, a huge defensive structure encircling Kaunas and encompassing around 65 square kilometres. The Fortress was constructed in the 1880s/1890s to protect the Russian Empire’s western borders. At the time, Kaunas Fortress was the largest defensive structure in the region.
In addition to the imposing monument (which didn’t disappoint), Ninth Fort (often written as IX Fort) consists of an expansive, informative museum in two buildings and the remains of the fortress walls which can be explored. From Nazi genocide to Soviet atrocities, Lithuania has had its fair share of troubled history and whilst the moment stands in homage to those lives lost during this time, the museum documents the facts and goes into the history. The extensive exhibitions cover four significant periods of history of the fortress:
1882-1915: the history of Kaunas Fortress and how it was the most modern in the Russian empire at the time. The fortifications underwent their biggest test in 1915 when Germany attacked the Russian Empire – withstanding eleven days of assault before capture.
1924-1940: the years between the wars when the fort served as a Hard Labour Prison for criminal and political prisoners.
1940-1941 and 1944-1990: covering Lithuania’s two periods of Soviet Occupation.
1941-1944 – the dark period of Nazi Occupation and the Holocaust. During World War II, parts of the fortress complex were used by Nazi Germany to interrogate, detain and execute prisoners. An estimated total of 50,000 people were executed there, including more than 30,000 victims of the Holocaust.
The first part of the museum is about life in the Kaunas Ghetto and is housed in a church-like building, a dark, cavernous hall featuring a massive stained glass mural. Although dark, the exhibits are well-lit and depict stories of the people whose lives were destroyed by the occupying Nazi forces as well as display cases featuring their belongings and other artefacts.
The second part of the museum is in part of the original fortress and recreates the cells that were used to imprison political prisoners during the periods of Soviet and Nazi occupation in the 1940s.
The Ninth Fort museum and monument in Kaunas is just one of many poignant reminders of war and conflict that can be found all over Central and Eastern Europe. It is definitely worth a visit and will cause you to reflect on man’s inhumanity to his fellow creatures.
Ninth Fort Museum is an easy half-day excursion (or less if you only spend an hour or so in the museum) from Kaunas city centre and one that we highly recommend if you are interested in learning about the history of the area.
INFORMATION FOR VISITING NINTH FORT INDEPENDENTLY USING PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Ninth Fort Museum Entrance Fee
Tickets to the museum cost €3 for adults and €1.50 for children (under-7s are free), students and pensioners. There are also various guided tour options available which you can mix and match. Alternatively take the entire 3-hour long tour.
If you only want to see the monument, you can do so without charge as it is located on parkland close to the museum.
Further information, including the opening hours (note the museum is closed on Tuesdays), can be found on the museum’s website: Kaunas IX Fort Museum.
Getting to the Ninth Fort from Kaunas by Bus
Bus number 23 (route: Rokai – Domeikava) runs from Kaunas town centre at regular intervals throughout the day starting at around 6am with the last bus back at around 11pm. On weekdays, generally there are three buses an hour (less around lunchtime, not sure why) and only about one an hour on weekends and holidays. Depending on where you are staying the most useful stops to board the bus are likely to be Kauno pilis (for the old town) or along Gedomino gatve. Be aware that because of the one-way system in central Kaunas, the outbound and inbound route through the town is slightly different.
We recommend popping into one of the Tourism Information Centres and asking them to print off an up-to-date timetable for you.
The adult fare is €0.80 each way and you pay the driver as you get on the bus. Electronic boards inside the bus inform of the approaching station. The journey to the monument takes about 20 minutes. Get off the bus at the stop called 9-ojo forto muziejus and walk back towards the back road. (There’s a supermarket close to the bus stop in case you want to get a drink or maybe a picnic to eat in the park).
There is an underpass beneath the highway which can be found a little to the right of the road you’ve just walked down from the bus stop. It’s just over five minutes’ walk to the entrance to the Ninth Fort Museum. Returning to Kaunas, the bus stop is opposite the supermarket.