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The estate of horror

  • 2009-10-29
  • By Rokas M. Tracevskis

IN KGB HEADQUARTERS: Eugenijus Peikstenis, director of the Museum of Genocide Victims, shows President Dalia Grybauskaite the exhibition of the post-WWII Lithuanian guerrilla movement in the former KGB headquarters.

VILNIUS - On All Saints Day, Nov. 1, and All Souls Day, Nov. 2, Lithuanians visit cemeteries and commemorate the deceased by lighting candles near their graves. The candles will also  be lit in the columbarium of Tuskulenai estate, situated in the heart of Vilnius, on the right bank of the Neris river opposite the St. Peter and St. Paul's church. Hundreds of people are buried there.
They were killed by the NKGB (Russian abbreviation for the People's Commissariat for State Security) and subsequently the MGB (Ministry of State Security), the predecessors of the KGB (Committee for State Security).

On Aug. 21, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite visited the columbarium. "Fifteen years ago, all of us were horrified and distressed when the remains of the victims executed by the Soviet secret police between 1944 and 1947 were unearthed on the territory of the Tuskulenai estate. The remains of more than 700 bodies were found here. Most of the victims were executed for their political beliefs and for their faith in the ideals of freedom and independence," Grybauskaite said then.

According to documents, from Sept. 28, 1944 until April 16, 1947, 767 people were executed (seven more died before their execution) in the NKGB/MGB headquarters and prison which subsequently was the KGB headquarters and prison. Today it is the Museum of Genocide Victims. During the night, bodies were transported for secret burial to Tuskulenai, which is just several kilometers away. The killings were done in accordance with rulings by a USSR military tribunal and special sittings. The majority, 613 persons, were charged with treason, and sentenced under Article 58 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code.

"It is especially cynical because many of the killed fought for their fatherland and they were charged with treason of the fatherland," Terese Birute Burauskaite, director general of the Genocide and Resistance Research Center of Lithuania, said at the Tuskulenai columbarium on Sept. 28 at the gathering to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the first Tuskulenai-related executions.
The executions were carried out by a special group of NKGB/MGB staff. After the executions, the corpses were buried secretly in a mass grave on the former estate of Tuskulenai. In 1947, the USSR Supreme Soviet banned the death penalty. The death penalty was replaced by 25 years imprisonment. The ban on the death penalty was in force until 1950.

In terms of ethnic-origin, which was carefully noted in the killers' documents, the statistics of the killed is as follows - 559 Lithuanians, 56 Russians, 52 Poles, 38 Germans, 32 Belarusians, 18 Latvians, nine Ukrainians, three Jews, one Estonian, one Uzbek, one Tartar, one Ossetian, one Chuvash, one Armenian and one Udmurt. According to gender, 762 men and five women were killed.

During archaeological excavations carried out between 1994 and 1996 and in 2003, the remains of 724 people were discovered, of which 45 were identified. The identification of the other remains was difficult, as the bodies had been covered with some special chemicals before their secret burial.
After the excavation, the remains of seven victims have been buried in other places in Lithuania. This was done on request of their families or, in the case of priests, by the Catholic Church. Other remains were temporarily kept in the Museum of Genocide Victims' building, which was the KGB prison until the late 1980s. The former prison is based in the cellar of the massive building of the former KGB headquarters, which for a short time was the headquarters of the Gestapo.

Employees of the museum working on night-watch say that at night they hear heavy footsteps in the cellar. One middle-aged and very rational man, who drinks no alcohol, said that during one of the night-watches, for a period of some minutes, some force kept pressuring him in his bed, not allowing him to move. No wonder these employees spent nights trembling, praying and burning candles. On Nov. 2, 2004, the remains of the 717 victims were reburied in the Tuskulenai columbarium, which was specially constructed for this purpose.

Nearly all the skeletons showed signs of torture. Some people's hands and legs were cut off. Some skulls showed that while still alive, the victims had their heads crushed in special squeezing machines. Other's bones showed knife and ax marks. Lieutenant-Colonel Vasily Dolgirev, who was warden of the prison, personally killed some 650 people.

The killings took place during the anti-Soviet guerilla war. It was a powerful Lithuanian movement for independence and Western-style democracy.
There were 206 participants of the Lithuanian guerrillas among those buried in Tuskulenai. There were also 43 participants in the June 1941 uprising who fit the hero profile less easily, according to the current standard European view on WWII. The participants in the uprising sought to take advantage of the clash of the two totalitarian powers in order to restore independence, declaring their support for Hitler's "New Europe" for tactical reasons rather than political belief. The uprising succeeded in the proclamation of the re-establishment of independence briefly before being swept aside by the Nazis. After the Soviets regained Lithuania, the Red Army sought and found revenge.

Some Catholic clergy, refusing to collaborate with the Soviet regime, were among those buried in Tuskulenai. There were also deserters from the Soviet army among the victims. Some of the victims were ordinary criminals, including one woman who arrived from Russia to rob and kill.
There were 32 members of Armia Krajowa among the victims. Armia Krajowa was a Polish anti-Nazi and anti-Soviet resistance movement. There was no big love lost between the Lithuanian resistance and the Armia Krajowa though both had the same enemies. The reason for disagreement was the issue of Vilnius. The Armia Krajowa wanted Vilnius to be a part of Poland - the city was Lithuania's capital for many centuries while Poland possessed it just from 1922 - 1939. Lithuania regained its ancient capital in 1939, but Lithuania itself was occupied by the Soviets in 1940.

There were plenty of various Nazi collaborators among the buried in Tuskulenai. The biggest controversy has come from the discovery that some of the victims had slaughtered Jews. Several dozen Nazi Germans were among those who were buried in Tuskulenai.
The Soviet secret service's killers made this jigsaw of bones, which was puzzling researchers. Completely innocent people and fighters for an independent and democratic Lithuania are mixed up with those who participated in the Holocaust. It was impossible to separate all of the bones of heroes and criminals. This is why just a columbarium, not a monument for the victims, stands in the Tuskulenai estate, which is now officially called the Tuskulenai Peace Park.

There are several small neoclassical-style buildings from the 19th century which belonged to the KGB in the Tuskulenai estate. It was a closed territory for outsiders until the end of the Soviet-era. Now those buildings are a branch of the Museum of Genocide Victims. Some technologically modern exhibitions about the history of Tuskulenai estate will be arranged in those buildings by the spring of next year, if the government will find money for it.

Ironically enough, the estate was named Tusculanum after a resort area near Rome. The estate's history begins in the middle of the 16th century. It was established by Sigismund Augustus, Polish king and Lithuanian grand duke, in order to supply vegetables and meat to the Vilnius castles. Later, the estate was held by Catholic monks, various noble families and high-ranking state officials. Since 1940, the estate was used by the Soviet secret service officers - their apartments and a kindergarten for their children were situated there.