The city of Kaunas in Lithuania defended the operator of a former concentration camp where recreational events are held near the graves of thousands of Jews killed by Nazis and local collaborators.
Deputy Mayor Povilas Maciulis made his defense of the Seventh Fort this week following an article published last month by JTA about summer camps, barbecue parties, treasure hunts and camping activities there. In 2009 the city privatized the site, which is run by a nongovernmental organization, the Military Heritage Center, headed by 37-year-old amateur historian, Vladimir Orlov.
“Yes, there are activities carried out in the museum, however, they are exclusively educational and pertaining to the museum’s purpose,” Maciulis wrote in a statement that he sent to several people a few days after the Israel director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, asked the mayor to intervene to have festivities banned from the Seventh Fort – a former military complex that was turned into a camp in 1941.
During a July 12 visit to the Seventh Fort, JTA documented children playing and dancing near the barbecue corner at the entrance to the camp. Asked whether one could have a wedding reception at the site, Orlov told a JTA reporter: “This is not a problem, it sometimes happens here,” and said he would send a price quote in an email, which never arrived.
Zuroff told JTA he hoped the city would follow through but that the official reaction so far “is a cop-out.”
The failure to reply to his letter, he said, is indicative of a larger lack of motivation on the part of authorities in Lithuania to commemorate Holocaust victims seriously.
“Instead of treating the problem,” Zuroff said, “the municipality denies its existence.”