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Sensitive art exhibition “Escape from the Ninth Fort” opened at Kaunas Ninth Fort Museum

On Saturday, the exhibition “Escape from the Ninth Fort,” created by artists Džiugas Karalius and Mindaugas Lukošaitis in collaboration with the museum staff, was opened to the public at Kaunas Ninth Fort Museum. The art installation and drawings present the memories of the surviving prisoners and invite visitors to personally experience an emotional journey through several knowledge layers of this historical event.

“On the night of December 25, 1943, in the shadow of the crimes committed in Nazi-occupied Lithuania, sixty-four prisoners, who had been part of the operation of exhumation and cremation of the corpses, resisted and made a daring escape from Kaunas Ninth Fort. Reading the story of the escape, we could not believe it. It seemed, and still seems, to be a fictional story. That is why we decided to recreate the chronology of the events by artistic means and to convey the story of a cruel, yet very real story to the public,” tells D. Karalius, an artist and architect.

Museum visitors are invited to experience the full escape sequence: Kaunas Ninth Fort, the site of the mass murder, arrival of the burners, instruction, selection, work in the murder site, planning the escape, the course of the escape, and the writing of the act of the crimes witnessed in Kaunas Ghetto.

“The exposition is multifaceted, made up of several layers: an art installation I created especially for the exposition made of burnt wood, drawings by artist M. Lukošaitis inspired by the drawings by escape participant Anatolijus Granas in 1944, and, finally, historical iconography and exhibits stored in the museum’s collections,” says D. Karalius.

Memory of the witnesses commemorated

“As the world commemorates the 80th anniversary of the ‘Escape from the Ninth Fort,’ our aim is not only to educate the public, but also to encourage reflection on the resilience of the human spirit and the collective strength that emerges in the face of incomprehensibly cruel events,” explains D. Karalius.

If you look closely at the drawings, you will see that there is a dim light emerging from the dark past: a reflection of the tragic event and a “reliving” of history for the sake of preserving the memory. M. Lukošaitis, the author of the drawings, claims that artistic strategies allow to balance the narratives in such a way that the sensory things do not overwhelm the thoughts and create the desire to continue to wonder.

All exhibition is based not only on surviving historical facts, but also on the recollections of relatives of the escape participants, which will give visitors a deeper insight into history. Details such as wood, the white cloth-covered ceiling or the burnt wood planks help you to empathise with the exhibition and experience multiple emotions.

Eternity of history

The prisoners, the corps burners, manage to escape and tell the story of what was happening in the fortress of death at that time. This extremely gruesome story has not found a suitable place in the form of art works yet. “Painful historical experiences must remain in our memories so that we can continue to live and live together,” says M. Lukošaitis.

After documenting the events in detail, Alex (Alter) Faitelson, who escaped from the fortress of death, wrote the following: “We could not calm down at the thought that we were the ones who were allowing the perpetrators to hide the evidence of their guilt. This thought gave us the strength to organise and carry out the escape from Kaunas Ninth Fort.”

Yakov Faitelson, Faitelson’s son, stresses that his family’s story taught him one thing: endless courage to fight for what is right: “The most important lesson I learned from my dad is that there are no hopeless situations: you can always find a way out of any situation if you don’t give up and keep fighting.”

“At the age of just 20, my father managed to escape to freedom along with sixty-three other prisoners condemned to death. He proved that you can fight without weapons and win,” shares Y. Faitelson. – The exhibition is a poignant reminder that even in the darkest chapters of our past, the stories of courage, survival and triumph still resonate.”

The exhibition “Escape from the Ninth Fort” at Kaunas Ninth Fort Museum can be seen on Wednesdays-Sundays, from 10.00 to 17.00.

The project for the exposition installation was partly financed by the Lithuanian Council for Culture.