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Wedding and party venue in Lithuania has a dark history many visitors know little about
Memorial candles (Adobe) - photo by Billy Hallowell
It's a lush, 18-acre property adorned with flowers, bright green grass and a brick complex that hosts graduation parties and weddings, but there's a dark history that plagues the site: It was the scene of thousands of grisly murders.

Called the Seventh Fort, located in Kaunas, Lithuania, the area was built in the 19th century, and it was once a concentration camp where thousands of Jews were starved and murdered, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

It was back in 1941 that the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. They then proceeded to occupy the city of Kaunas in June of that year. Even before that, though, violent antisemitic attacks were purportedly unfolding in the city, according to The World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

The Germans soon transferred local Jews out of the city and to locations like Seventh Fort. Around 10,000 Jews were murdered in the area in the first six weeks of the occupation with many being placed in ghettos and meeting other horrific fates as World War II progressed.

According to the Independent, it is believed that 95 percent of Lithuania's estimated 200,000-strong Jewish population was wiped out at the time.

It's this history and the involvement of Seventh Fort that has left some critics uncomfortable with the venue's current status.

Rather than being owned by the Lithuanian government, the structure and land were privatized in 2009 and now belong to a group called the Military Heritage Center a fact that has frustrated some, especially considering that the site now hosts festive events.

These people say that the government hasn't done enough to confront its past when it comes to the horrific events associated with the Holocaust.

Much of the furor follows the release of a Lithuanian book titled "Our Own," which has made waves in recent months, as it covers the purported local complicity that unfolded during World War II.

The book, which features interviews with eyewitnesses, has sparked a national outcry for the nation's government to confront its past. Ruta Vanagaite, one of its authors, told JTA that the situation at Seventh Fort, in light of this history, "says a lot of bad things about my country."

In an earlier interview with JTA, she expressed her belief in the importance of addressing Lithuania's past.

"Germany, Austria, even Hungary and Poland have had this reckoning a decade ago, but there's a strong resistance in Lithuanian society to follow suit and confront this stain in our history," the author said. "(If we don't) we will be branded as a whole nation of murderers, and rightly so, because we refuse to acknowledge and condemn a murderous fringe."

As for Seventh Fort, Vanagaite isn't alone in her frustrations, as Jonny Daniels, founder of Holocaust remembrance group From the Depths, added that he was absolutely disgusted by the site, saying that it is below "any level of decency and respect," specifically targeting the privatization of the site.

Vladimir Orlov, who runs Seventh Fort, told JTA, though, that weddings and graduations, among other events, are not held in locations where the remains of Holocaust victims are buried.

"Every place you see in Lithuania has some tragic story," Orlov told the outlet. "This place is no different."

A website created to advertise the location notes its Holocaust history, and offers up a variety of suggestions when it comes to the events and services it offers.

"7th fort museum can offer you not only excursions but also other interesting services childrens parties, corporate and community events, artists workshops, a variety of children camps and so on," the description reads. "What is more 7th Fort fantastic place for professional and amateur films or photo shoots."

It appears there are some efforts to hold local people who might have had involvement in the Holocaust accountable, with Terese Birute Burauskaite, head of the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania, reportedly planning to publish the names of 1,000 such individuals.

But there have reportedly been delays in releasing the names over concerns that it is difficult to discern their actual level of involvement. The fear is that a public release could harm the reputations of individuals and families.

A list was reportedly given to the Lithuanian government in 2012, but nothing was done as a result, numerous outlets reported.
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