One of the biggest decisions a couple can make is deciding to legally bind their relationship. Country clubs, hotels, synagogues and churches are all fine venues: but there’s nothing wrong with going a little off the beaten path, right? How’s this for hipster: ever heard of saying your “I do’s” at a former concentration camp? No? Neither have we. But that doesn’t change the fact that in Lithuania, you can get hitched in a place where bodies were ditched. This new popular wedding venue is at Seventh Fort, a former concentration camp in Lithuania. No, this isn’t a joke.
This 18-acre complex complete with native Nazi tunnels also breeds lush grass and flowers in bloom in the summer months. It has become increasingly popular, hosting graduation parties, weddings, summer camps for kids, and elaborate receptions with plenty to eat. You’d never guess that in 1941, Lithuanian Nazis at the Seventh Fort imprisoned, starved and massacred thousands of Jews. This concentration camp is believed to be the first campsite established following Nazi Germany’s conquering of its eastward invasion. There are approximately 5,000 murdered Jewish remains at the camp today.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Seventh Fort was privatized in 2009 and is currently owned by the Military Heritage Center. The Center is a nongovernmental association run by Lithuanian informatics specialist, Vladimir Orlov. Johnny Daniels, founder of From The Depths a Holocaust commemoration group in Poland, said that the government “should hold their heads in shame and be condemned internationally that such an important and holy site be privatized” (Daniels). Orlov retaliated and defended his private owned business claiming that events are not held anywhere near where victims are buried as their remains only account for 2% of the 18-acre compound. It has been noted that most people who elect to hold events there are blind to the place’s roots, recounts Times of Israel reporter, Cnaan Liphshiz.
This ignorance is telling of Lithuania’s laissez faire attitude towards the Holocaust. This is not the first time in recent years that Lithuania has held similar positions. In 2010 a court ruling determined that swastikas are part of ancient Lithuanian symbols. Therefore, it not uncommon to see swastikas featured in ultranationalist marches throughout the country (Liphshiz).
Understandably many are outraged at Lithuania’s “commemoration” of one of the most heinous events to ever be put in the history books. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel commented that the fact that many do not even know what the initial intention of the location was, is indicative of “the attitude to the people who were killed.” While the Military Heritage Center does offer a general tour about the fort’s military history, it does not have a permanent Holocaust exhibit.
When first hearing about this matter, though it was shocking, my initial thoughts were that this was a positive step. Before I began my research, my dad shared the article with me and my first thought was “interesting,” rather than “sick.” Prior to further investigation on the subject I had a thought, that perhaps we’re moving forward in history. Might there be something to be said for taking a place rotten with repulsive history and bringing it into a new age of greener pastures? While it is imperative for us to always remember, isn’t part of the Jewish people’s resilience to move forward? Only later did I find out that a majority of the fort’s visitors were ignorant to the criminal acts that had taken place. However, I do think there is something to be said for reclaiming historical sites as long as those who visit there receive the education about what that place once was.
My Israeli friend, Ayelet Ofir, and I were discussing this unheard of notion. She too was surprised, but before I shared my personal thoughts she expressed a similar view to mine on the topic. She said, “I do understand and agree that we need to move forward and maybe even get some happiness and future out of this place, but the horribly historical things that happened here needs to be known to those who visit.” These stances are much different than those offered by Johnny Daniels and Efraim Zuroff. Maybe it’s a generational thing- but the two of us, millennial girls from different parts of the globe, each came to the same conclusion on our own accord.
It is imperative if the fort stays privatized and for profit, that there is mandatory education to all its visitors as to the history of the site. Keeping the camp as a venue need not be a disgrace, if there is active recognition of the past by its clients. I am in no way suggesting that Auschwitz be the next Madison Square Garden, but as for the Lithuanian Camp, perhaps flowers and knowledge can bloom in a place where there was once was once not a single ray of joy.