History of the VII Fort
The VII Fort of the Kaunas Fortress is a part of the Fortress, located in Zaliakalnis opposite the Hospital of Lithuanian University of Health Sciences Kauno klinikos (Archyvo St. 61). The Fort is a solid defence fortification that became the last brick-built fort of the Kaunas fortress. It is located close to the central fortifications of the third fortress section, being practically in the rear of the fortress. The 11th company of the Kaunas fortress artillery became the first Fort‘s owner in the times of the Russian Empire.
The Fort has a shape of an asymmetrical quadrilateral; its right wing being nearly identical to a typical Russian fort design of the 1879 standard. The left wing was simplified by stretching the face and the flank defence positions into a single line. The Fort is equipped with the barracks, a capital traverse with a postern, five ammunition stores and two gunners‘ galleries. The faces and flanks are surrounded by a defensive ditch with a counterscarp wall. The back escarp wall is missing. The ditch is flanked by two caponiers and one semi-caponier.
A particularity of the VII Fort is in its four casemates dedicated to cannons, located under the fossebraye traverse. Later the Fort‘s buildings were completed with wooden living quarters for soldiers, company chefs, and gendarmes and a storehouse for cannon platforms. The Fort is equipped with the drainage system and has four wells with potable water.
The Fort has never been renovated, aside from small works like piling an additional layer of soil over the heavy artillery barbette emplacements in order to adapt them to the anti-assault artillery and, during the mobilization times in the beginning of the First World War, the three small concrete watch hideouts, built on the artillery embankment. Out of all the forts of the Kaunas Fortress, the VII Fort is unique by the absence in its design of some typical elements of a classic fort, for instance, the barracks are smaller than in the other forts, there is no postern over the entire capital (up to the caponier), no semi-caponier in the left wing. Like in other forts of the first construction stage, artillery‘s and infantry‘s positions located on the flanks, are interchanged.
First World War
During the First World War not a single cannon was fired in the VII Fort, as other sections of the fortress were under the German attack. In 1915 the main military action was directed towards the first three forts, and when those fell, a decision was made to evacuate the Kaunas Fortress and abandon its fortifications. Thus, the German Kaiser troops met no resistance whatsoever when they stepped into the VII Fort.
1919 saw the Fort host a company responsible for iron and other valuable goods‘ collection within the Kaunas Fortress. The company had an objective to recover all ammunition, metal and other assets left in the Fortress structures, and to supply them to the Lithuanian Army, then in the process of formation.
In the period from 1924 to 1940, the Fort‘s grounds hosted the Central State Archive, later moved to Pazaislis Monastery. The project to adapt the Fort to the Archive‘s purpose was developed by Vladimir Dubenecky. Interestingly, even though at the time the Fort was used for civil purposes only, yet it remained under a restricted military facility regime – thus, one could only access it after having obtained the Army‘s permission.
Second World War
During the Second World Was the Fort became a concentration camp, the first on the Nazi-occupied territory. It was there, in the VII Fort, that first planned mass killings of civilians since the start of the war with the USSR took place. The order to create a concentration camp in Lithuania came from Berlin on June 29, 1941; on June 30 the Lithuanian Provisional Government passed a resolution to locate the camp in the VII Fort. A newly-established National Labour Security Battalion (NLS; TDA in Lithuanian) was charged with the camp prisoners‘ protection and the murders‘ execution.
From the camp creation until its closure on August 10, 1941, from 3000 to 5000 people have been killed on the Fort‘s territory, most of them Kaunas residents of Jewish origin. Among the victims were several well-known personalities, such as Rabbi Elchonon Bunem Wasserman (1875–1941), and a Lithuanian poet Vytautas Montvila (1902–1941).
Sometime later the Fort became the concentration camp for prisoner of war, known as Stalag 336; among others, Soviet prisoners of war of Ukrainian nationality were held there. The VII Fort was also used as a training base for German auxiliary personnel (Hilfswilliger), volunteer assistants to Wehrmacht. Witnesses‘ records contain evidence of deaths from cold, malnutrition, executions, as well as burning the corpses in the right Fort‘s wing, near the mass grave.
During Soviet times, to commemorate the victims, a small monument was erected in the left Fort‘s extremity (at the intersection of Sukilėlių Bd. ir Archyvo Street). In the meanwhile the mass killing and burial site was left abandoned.
During the Soviet period (1940–1941) the Fort was used by the 29-th Pioneers‘ unit. When the war between Germany and the USSR broke out, the Unit destroyed a large quantity of explosives, left in the Fort, and abandoned the grounds in haste. In 1944, the Fort became the base to the Pioneer unit engaged in restoration of bridges blown during World War II, and later – to the 29th Voyentorg (military supply service) of the Baltic Military District. During the Voyentorg times, the Fort suffered great damage: the barracks‘ facades were damaged, the defensive ditch was filled with trash and dirt, the doors were removed from the ammunition warehouses, the drainage system was destroyed, the left artillery yard was built-up with low-value structures (demolished in 2010-2013).
National Defence Volunteer Forces
After the Russian Army left Lithuania, the Seventh Fort was transferred to the Lithuanian National Defence Volunteer Forces (KASP) – companies of the 22nd KASP Battalion were deployed there from 1993 to 2007. Following the disbandment of this battalion, the Lithuanian government decided to sell the Fort as did not see any further use for the facility. Until the final sale, the VII Fort’s property rights were transferred to the State Property Fund.
Kaunas Fortress VII Fort Museum
In 2009 the Fort was privatized and a public entity „Military Heritage Centre” – a Lithuanian non-profit organization of war history enthusiasts – became its owner. Then, the restoration works were finally started: the vegetation overgrowth was removed and the drainage system was repaired. In 2010 unnecessary buildings were demolished and restoration began in the left artillery wing. The process was greatly helped by volunteers and enthusiasts.
On June 2, 2011 the Fort opened its doors to visitors.
Today, the Fort is used for cultural, scientific and public activities. The military casemates contain museum exhibitions that deal with various periods of the Fort‘s history; guided tours are proposed; educational programmes and various extracurricular learning activities are organised for the students. Live history events are regularly held in the VII Fort, such as open door days, staged tours and historical reconstructions.