After visiting Lithuania for the past 8 years, making about 34 trips I finally got around to visiting the Genocide Museum in March 2014. It is difficult to know what to expect from such a museum but I would strongly recommend a visit to any visitor to Vilnius.
I made the mistake of going straight down to the cells, viewing the interrogation and the execution rooms before returning to the ground floor to tour the various rooms of the exhibition, I would recommend that you do it the other way round so that what you see downstairs has a context.
Lithuania has a long and complex history and the issue of the mass murder of Jews in Lithuania during WW2 is mentioned, including the collaboration of Lithuanians in the mass killings but is passed over very quickly. It is easy to be judgemental on this issue but it is to the credit of Lithuania that it has started to acknowledge the role it played in the extermination of the jewish population.
The complexity of the relationship between Lithuania and the invading Russians and Germans is one that would require extensive reading (which I strongly recommend) and I think it is fair to say that even today the “Jewish question” is still a very sensitive one and in some ways unresolved.
Despite this reservation, do visit and see some of the recent history of this small country which once had the biggest empire in Europe stretching from the Baltic to the Black sea.
It is a salutary experience to see the names of those who gave their lives for their country, carved into the side of the building, many of whom were 19 and 20 years old.
We in the west have no concept of what the Lithuanians endured under the Soviet regime and still for many people the three countries that make up Baltic republics (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) are countries we know very little about, if indeed we have any idea where they are!
The cost to get in is about £1.50 and to hire headphones and recorder is £2.00, exceptionally good value. The rooms are well set out and contain many relevant historical artefacts including documents, weapons, uniforms and flags.
There are many interesting books available to purchase as well, I came away with 6 including “KGB in Lithuania 1954 – 1991, “The Holocaust in Lithuania 1941 – 1944” and “The Diary of a Partisan – Lionginas Baliukevicius” and they all make for salutary reading.
The Lithuanians are a proud people and it is a very good opportunity when visiting this museum to get a feel for what they have experienced and how far they have come since independence just over 20 years ago.
If you would like to learn a little more about the history of this small, complex but fascinating country may I recommend the following:-
Vanished Kingdoms – Norman Davies pp 229 – 308
The History of Lithuania – Zigmantas Kiaupa