On this day in 1944, around 4,000 Jews were rounded up in the city of Kaunas, Lithuania. Jewish settlement in Kaunas began in the second half of the seventeenth century, but they were not allowed to live in the city and instead stayed in the Vilijampole settlement near the Neris river.
It wasn’t until June 1940 when the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania, that Jewish life in the area was disrupted. The occupation was accompanied by arrests, confiscations and the elimination of all free institutions. As a direct result, Jewish community organisations disappeared almost overnight. Soviet authorities confiscated the properties of many Jews while hundreds more were exiled to Serbia.
Following Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Soviet forces fled Kaunas. The Jews were attacked ferociously and blamed for the Soviet invasion and repressions. The Lithuanian provisional government established a concentration camp at the Seventh Fortress, and 4,000 Jews were rounded up and murdered there. Prior to the construction of a museum being built on the site after the executions, archaeologists discovered a mass grave underneath and found personal belongings from thousands of Jewish victims.