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  • 179 - the logo again.jpg

Raseiniai prison

  
   - darkometer rating:  2 -
 
A former prison in Lithuania that gained a certain degree of notoriety especially during the periods of the Soviet occupations of the Baltics. Today it is a museum, with a small part of the exhibition space given over to covering its dark history. However, it is not really geared towards foreign visitors.   
More background info: Facts and details about this prison aren't so easy to come by, and as the exhibition at the site itself was in Lithuanian only, so I'm relying on what scant information is given on the Baltic Initiative and Network's website (coldwarsites.net) and other such sources. 
  
According to those sources, the prison became operational in 1930, i.e. during Lithuania's inter-war period of independence, and mainly housed juvenile delinquents, in particular communists. 
  
With the first Soviet occupation of Lithuania in 1940-41, and again in the first few years of the second Soviet occupation at the start of the Cold War, this changed completely. Now, as “prison No. 9”, it was mainly alleged enemies of the Soviet Union that were imprisoned here. Many were apparently sent on to the gulags in Siberia, Russia.  
  
Mistreatment of prisoners, torture and overcrowding are said to have been the norm here. Yet, the prison was already closed in 1952 (i.e. before the end of Stalin's reign of terror). 
  
For a while the premises were used as a technical college. Now it houses a regional museum.  
  
    
What there is to see: not all that much. The main thing is the building itself, which clearly bears some hallmarks of its former function, in particular the small barred windows of the former cells. Outside in the yard, which has incongruously been landscaped into a pleasant little park, stand two watchtowers – though these have the distinct air of being rather crude replicas. But maybe they have just been renovated to excess so that they look so new and artificial. 
  
A similar impression is conveyed by the main building too, especially once you step inside. To me it all looked very recently refurbished. I almost thought I could still smell the fresh paint. It certainly does not emphasize its dark history at all. You can just about make out the typical structure of a three-tier cell block, but there are no longer any bars, or locks or any other clear prison-related features in the main part of the building.
  
In fact, this dark history is only marked on the outside by a small black marble plaque that states something about the years 1940/41 and 1944-1952 – i.e. it conveniently fails to mention that the building had been a Lithuanian political prison before the Soviets' arrival in 1940 too. Nowhere is there any mention of what became of the site during the Nazi era. 
  
The content of the museum is only in a small part related to the prison history of the place too. The majority of the exhibition space is reserved for more light-hearted folklore stuff, such as wood carvings, rural tools, period furniture, and church-related artefacts. 
  
Only a small section of the ground floor does eventually reveal a little bit of dark history. I actually had to search for it … but that may also have had something to do with the fact that my visit happened to coincide with some kind of opening ceremony of a different part of the museum. There was an unusually large number of people inside and there was a festive atmosphere (if somewhat stiff, from what I could gather). 
  
I was eventually approached by the museum's secretary .. or so I thought at first. It later came out that she just happened to work in the nearby tourist information office and was called in to deal with those strangers who seemed to have come out of nowhere and “gatecrashed” the opening ceremony. 
  
It was all very strange, but in any case we now had someone speaking English and who was keen to practise it on us (and it needed it). It was more than apparent that foreign visitors were something pretty exotic at this site and that they were quite unprepared for it. 
  
The small section on the prison's history consisted of only two reconstructed cells with folding bunk beds and blankets (one seemed to cover a dummy prisoner – though I did not lift the blanket to check) as well as a minimum of other prison-related artefacts such as crude dishes and a stool. 
  
The only form of any commodification consisted of replica file cards of prisoners that hang on the wall in one of the cells. Presumably they were supposed to provide personal stories of former inmates. But as these were all in Lithuanian only and our impromptu guide wasn't really capable of relaying any of the information to us, we didn't get much of such background information. 
  
So we rather quickly made our excuses and left – feeling quite a bit underwhelmed and also a little perplexed by the whole bizarreness of our visit. 
  
But even at regular times, I don't think this site is really worth a detour for all but a minority of dark tourists, namely those who speak Lithuanian and have some form of special association with the history of this place. For everybody else it may at best be good for a quick look when en route between Kaunas and the north-west of the country or the Baltic coast.   
  
  
Location: in the small provincial town of Raseiniai in the middle of rural Lithuania, just off the main route between Kaunas some 45 miles (75 km) to the south-east and the Baltic coast at Klaipeda 80 miles (130 km) to the north-west. The address of the museum is: Muziejaus g. 3, LT-60123, Raseiniai.  
  
Google maps locator:[55.3855, 23.1329]
  
  
Access and costs: a bit tricky to find (without GPS), but very cheap.  
  
Details: Getting to the town of Raseiniai is easiest by car, though there will be regional bus connections, these are most likely not very convenient for tourists just passing through these parts. 
  
When driving along the main A1/E85 highway north-west of Kaunas, take one of the  exits marked Raseiniai and proceed straight into the centre. From Vilniaus gatve (196) turn north onto the 148 (Maironio g.). At Algirdo g. turn right and then immediately left, then right again, and then the second street on the right is Musziejaus gatve. Follow its curve and you'll soon see the iconic watchtowers of the prison. There's plenty of parking. 
  
Opening times: Tuesday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  
Admission: under a Euro - it was still 2 Lts (0.59 EUR), when I visited in 2014, and when I last checked (in 2018) it didn't seem to have gone up.
  
  
Time required: for just the prison-related parts of the museum, not long at all: maybe as little as 5-10 minutes. But if you politely decide to have a look around the other parts of the museum you might spend another 20 minutes or so here.   
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: A brief stop at Raseiniai can be slotted in en route between Plokstine and Kaunas (or vice versa). Otherwise nothing in the vicinity. 
  
See also under Lithuania in general.
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: in general see under Lithuania, and in particular Vilnius and Kaunas
  
Raseiniai is said to have a couple of pretty monastery buildings of its own, though I didn't personally spot anything worth stopping for when I drove through the place to get to the museum. It was rather an extremely drab and grey collection of housing blocks punctuated by the odd refurbished church. But overall a place could hardly be less touristy than this. 
  
  
 
  • Raseiniai 1 - former prisonRaseiniai 1 - former prison
  • Raseiniai 2 - with watchtowersRaseiniai 2 - with watchtowers
  • Raseiniai 3 - looking rather like new reconstructionsRaseiniai 3 - looking rather like new reconstructions
  • Raseiniai 4 - cellRaseiniai 4 - cell
  • Raseiniai 5 - not comfyRaseiniai 5 - not comfy
  • Raseiniai 6 - victims filesRaseiniai 6 - victims files
  • Raseiniai 7 - looking outRaseiniai 7 - looking out
  • Raseiniai 8 - former cell blockRaseiniai 8 - former cell block
  • Raseiniai 9 - now mostly home to a folk museumRaseiniai 9 - now mostly home to a folk museum
 
  
   
   
   
   
   
   

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