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Ghettos: Ninth Fort

Ninth Fort

Nazi killing site four miles from the center of Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania, which served as the execution and burial site for Jews from Kovno and for German, Austrian, and Czech Jews shipped to Kovno during the Holocaust. Originally built as a military fortress, during German occupation it became a site of torture and mass executions. Abraham Tory reports in his ghetto diary that "single and mass arrests as well as 'actions' in the ghetto almost always ended with a death march to the Ninth Fort, which in a way completed the ghetto area and became an integral part of it."

The road from the ghetto to the Fort was called the "Way to Heaven." Detainees were held in underground cells in conditions of dampness and darkness and above all fear. Jews were forced into pits inside the Fort, which served as mass graves.

In July 1943 the digging of mass graves ceased and in August 1943 under Aktion 1005 the digging up of bodies began. Jewish prisoners of war, ghetto Jews, and four non-Jews made up the squad of 60 men and four women who had to dig up the bodies, extract the gold teeth, and search for valuables in the garments of the dead before they were cremated.

Sixty-four prisoners escaped from the Ninth Fort on December 24, 1943. Some reached the Kovno ghetto; others escaped into the forest. Each escapee brought word of what had happened. Thus this killing field was known even before the war's end.

Some 45,000–50,000 Jews were killed in the Ninth Fort.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Tory, Surviving the Holocaust: The Kovno Ghetto Diary (1990); A. Faitelson, The Truth and Nothing but the Truth: Jewish Resistance in Lithuania (1941–1944) (2006).

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]

Sources: Encyclopedia Judaica