Vilnius – Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights

The Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights changed its name just a few weeks ago, having previously been called the Museum of Genocide Victims. It’s a complex name for what many people seem to just call the KGB Museum, since it’s located in a building which was the headquarters of the KGB for fifty years.

Many Russian museums employ middle-aged or elderly women to protect the galleries, and there have now even been displays around the world based around these guards. They have a reputation for sitting and looking miserable, but they’re actually usually really proud of the artwork which they protect.

Anyway, in Latvia and Lithuania this still happens to a certain degree, but there seems to have been a real change to a more positive customer service approach. Every museum I’ve visited in these countries has a friendly staff member at the ticket desk, but this museum seems to have maintained a staff member at the desk who seemed quite disappointed to see visitors.

The uniform of a member of the Soviet political police.

I found this really interesting, it’s the 1975 and 1976 guest registration book from the Gintaras Hotel in the city. The hotel, which was located near the main railway station, would have also been monitored closely by the KGB and their guests often kept under observation if they were deemed a risk. I’m fortunate that the Ibis doesn’t keep such a book, or at least it doesn’t to my knowledge.

In the middle of the photo is a prayer book which was made by female prisoners at a labour camp.

And in the middle of this photo is a rosary which is made from bread, dating to 1954.

This is a 1991 diary on the left, which is when Lithuania became independent and the KGB quickly left, and a telephone in use at the same time on the right.

The phone which was used by the chairman of the KGB in Lithuania.

An example of the secret camera which was used by KGB agents. It looks quite clunky and obvious, but the lens is hidden in a button and would be hard to spot.

This is the grave marker, complete with dead moss on it, of an exiled woman sent to the Krasnoyarsk region of the Soviet Union. Her son later brought his mother’s remains, and this cross, back to Lithuania for her body to be reburied.

This is a good idea, there’s an observation room and a bank of black and white screens where you can watch other visitors in the museum.

This is labelled as the execution chamber, with what is meant to be an area that was investigated now left with a glass floor. The model of the execution chamber rooms doesn’t coincide with the actual floor layout, which I found confusing. There’s also very little information in this section of the museum to try and help visitors interpret what they’re seeing.

Bullets in the wall of the execution chamber.

The toilets facilities in the cells.

One of two corridors of cells, most of which have been left unfurnished and most can be visited.

One of the cell doors.

The inside of one of the cells looking in.

The inside of one of the cells looking out.

 

The door of the padded cell and the interior, a place where prisoners who went mad from the torture were placed. It’s a grim feeling looking at this cell, although to be fair, none of the cells really emit an aura of positivity.

This solitary confinement cell was filled with water in the bottom section and the prisoner would have to stand on the small circular raised platform and try not to fall into the water.

Another solitary confinement cell, which had en-suite facilities.

The duty officer’s room, with the 1975 security system still in place.

These cells were known as the “boxes” and they were where the new prisoners were placed. It wasn’t until the 1960s when the KGB decided that a little luxury needed to be brought into these proceedings, and they put in a seat to sit on.

The building in which the museum is located has a fascinating, and bleak, history, so a visit is recommended. The necessity to change the name from the Museum of Genocide Victims was really because there is very little mention of the Jewish lives which were lost, and much more of a focus on the Lithuanian resistance fighters. That’s an entirely interesting story on its own, but I’m still unsure why they just don’t call this the KGB Museum.

There’s a lot to see in the museum, although the execution cell set-up is confusing, and the staff member at the reception desk looks like every visitor is trampling on her dead cat. Anyway, the positives of the whole visit greatly exceed the negatives, and it tells the often forgotten story of the Lithuanian resistance really well.