How is it that Krzysztof became a victim of the NKVD? Looking at his photo, I find it impossible to think that this mild looking man could ever do something to come under the eye of these secret police, but he did. And he was living here in Wilno, now known as Vilnius, when it happened.
It was May 1940 when he was arrested for being an anti-Soviet agitator and imprisoned. Where and how was he arrested? I have no idea, but there’s a place here in Vilnius where you can get a taste of exactly what could happen to those that suffered a similar fate. So I set out in the early morning streets to arrive at the recently renamed Museum of Occupations and Freedom (it was previously known as the Museum of Genocide Victims) before the crowds. The crowds have the same idea though, a bus load of tourists already lined up and exploring the building at 10am in the morning.
This imposing building was the headquarters of the Gestapo during the Nazi occupation of Wilno and it houses the tragedy of tortue and despair within its walls. Entering the building, your first port of call is the prison, execution and torture chambers held in the basement of the building. It felt eerie. I could almost feel the harsh history of this place strangling me. I felt sad.
The remaining floors contain an exhibition that details this period of Vilnius’ history. I pray that Krzysztof never saw the inside of this building, but I will never know. I do know that his arrest saw him sent to a camp named Vyatlag, which is still in operation today, 1000km outside Moscow.
Outside, a display of children’s drawings brings to life the horrors; this time in vivid colour. There are monuments and plaques surrounding the building.
At 4 euros to enter, it’s a must. Make sure you leave a good couple of hours to explore this museum.
It’s time for some lighter exploration of Vilnius, and thankfully there is a nice open park across the road. A good place for reflection, and to reset the day in my head.
Through the park and down along the river, I explore more of Vilnius.
I visit the National Museum of Lithuania, which didn’t really impress me. It was plain and stuffy, and I felt the eyes of the museum guides boring into me as I moved quickly around the displays.
For the afternoon, I changed tact, heading for another part of the city where I’d heard about a new foodie destination. I’m not gonna lie, I thought the walk would never end but it was a nice day and before long, Uptown Bazaar was in sight. Time for a very late lunch.
It was almost deathly quiet inside and I felt many pairs of eyes on my back as I strolled past the relativley small selection of food outlets. I settled on a burger joint at a more open end of the bazaar, placing my order and sitting down to wait.
Before long, I was delivered an amazing looking burger from Burger Kiosk. Juicy and packed with flavour, the cheese spilling out over my hands as I bit into it, this could easily have been one of the best burgers I had ever had. They even make their own relish here. Plus where else can you grab a burger with a glass of wine? It was well worth the journey, though I feel if it wasn’t quite as far, I probably would have made another visit. I walked back to my hotel, stopping to take a few more photos of Krzysztof’s last address in Poland, but I was weary.
So weary in fact, that dinner was a packet of chips from the supermarket nearby – creamy forest mushroom – very good, in case you ask. Tomorrow it was back to Warsaw.