Human Rights in Baltics

During Spring Break 2010, students, faculty and staff are visiting World War II sites in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, including the Bikernieki Memorial, where 40,000 Jews were slain; the Jewish Museum in Riga; and the Jungfernhof concentration camp. Rick Halperin, director of the Human Rights Education Program in Dedman College, is leading the group.

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Sites of painful history

An update from Adele, a senior sociology major with minors in history and human rights:

Today we departed from Liepaja, Latvia, to go to Lithuania. Our first stop was Kaunas. This city used to be the capital of Lithuania when Vilnius was part of Poland.
Throughout our journey, I have learned that this part of the world has a long history of being taken over by other countries.

In Kaunas, we went to the Ninth Fort, a fort that has been used over the years for various purposes. During the time of German occupation in WWII, this was a site where thousands of Jews were murdered. Not only did we get to walk around inside the fort and see some of the cells where people were kept, but we also saw the wall where Jews were lined up and shot. This was extremely striking, especially since the wall is damaged with bullet holes.

In the winter of 1943, some Jews were brought to the fort to help burn bodies and dispose of the evidence. Some escaped from the cell and out of the fort, but only about one third of them actually made it to the partisan army.

In Kaunas, we had a delicious lunch, and from there we moved on our way to Vilnius. We stopped at the Ponary killing site just outside of the city. This is where around 100,000 people were shot by Germans and their collaborators, 70,000 of them being Jewish. This number is just so staggering when you really stop to think about it.

Being there was extremely difficult for me because you can still see the mass graves and the ditch where so many men, women and children were shot. Like at the Ninth Fort, Jews were brought in to Ponary to clean some of the remains. This is so disgusting and horrifying.

Our guide, Iga, said that 13 of them escaped through a tunnel and told stories of finding their friends and relatives among the slain.

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