KGB Headquarters: One-way flights to Siberia (with continuing service to Death)Housed in the old KGB headquarters in downtown Vilnius, this museum was once the office-prison of Soviet oppression during the occupation of Lithuania.
On my stopover in Vilnius, I decided to visit the “Museum of Genocide Victims” (a.k.a the KGB museum). Housed in the old KGB headquarters in downtown Vilnius, the half-office half-prison was once the cerebral hub of Soviet oppression during the occupation of Lithuania. From here the KGB (and the NKVD and MGB before them) maintained Soviet control over the Lithuanian masses through the usual methods: spying, blackmail, imprisonment, torture, deportation and execution.
The KGB–a.k.a Комитет государственной безопасности, a.k.a the “Committee for State Security“–was tasked with monitoring and suppressing all active and potential forms of ideological subversion, primarily within the Soviet bloc. In layman’s terms, that meant they were the people who came knocking on the door in the middle of the night.
Let’s take a look at what happens after one of those knocks in the night.
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Step 1: You’re brought down stairs to the basement, stripped, and thrown into this holding cell until the we, KGB officers and your caretakes for what could be the final days of your life, can figure out what to do with you. Note the bench; they were added after Stalin died and the KGB relented on some of its tougher practices. Average wait time: 4 hours.
Step 2: Smile, this may be the last picture of you alive.We’ll take a picture of you and note some of your basic information. Go ahead, try to escape from the window, it’s guarded by multiple machine gun nests.
Across the hall are a few authentic KGB uniforms. Note the blue on the collars, indicative of the KGB officer.
Step 3: You’re taken down the hallway to where you’ll spend the next indefinite period of your life. You could end up in a room like one of these:
The Executive Suite Your accommodation features painted walls, a hard floor for sleeping and idle thinking, and an impenetrable window. In i’s day, the paint would have been fresh, to erase any trace of hope written on the walls by former prisoners. (The pictures were added afterwards, as part of the museum).
The Honeymoon Suite Good work resistance fighter, you just scored yourself a bed. Depending on how nice the KGB was feeling at the time, you may have even been provided linens and a pillow. A roll-away cot is available for when you have visitors. Oh excuse us, did we say visitors?
Step 4: Disgruntled with your situation? Wondering if you can see an attorney? Interested in knowing why you’re being held? Thinking aloud about the whereabouts of your family? Considering taking up a religion? Well, speak up! Tell a guard! They’ll quickly remedy the situation via Solitary Confinement: your chance to find yourself.
Wondering where to use the bathroom? When you’ll get food? When you’ll be let out? What you did? Good! That’s the idea! But look on the bright side–er, did we forget the window? Well never mind the bright side, we’ve got interrogations to conduct.
Step 5: Ah, the interrogation room. If you’re lucky, you can get one with this fancy straight jacket. The walls are padded, for your safety. Here we’ll blackmail you into signing confessions, use “other physical tactics” to pry information (these were usually approved only by written request up the chain-of-command, but weren’t what you’d call hard to obtain), or accidentally kill you in the process.
Been to Abu Ghraib? It’s a bit like that.
Step 6: You were being difficult again. Stand in the middle of that platform (barely visible, and about 10 cm across). We’ll fill the rest of the room with ice cold water (or just ice if it’s winter). Oh that’s okay, we’ll keep your clothes for you. See you in three days!
What’s that? You want to sign the confession? Or did you want to keep falling into the ice cold water or ice (which is now covered in your blood) when you fall asleep standing up?
Step 7: You know the drill. We even have the latest toilet-tech imported from Japan.
What’s that? You can’t? Well have you eaten anything in the past 3 days other than meager servings of rice?
Step 8: The best part of your day. We’ll all go outside and play a little game called follow the leader in silence and shackles. This small courtyard is surrounded entirely by razor wire and guards on overhead rafters. Down the hall are some outdoor cells.
Step 9: Thanks for signing the confession. The letter from Moscow just came in. Lucky you, you weren’t one of the one who got deported en masse to Siberia with hours notice. And better yet, your health status has been upgraded to deceased.
Behind this plane of glass are bullet holes from executions conducted in this room. The prisoner was stood up in front of a wall made of wood. When the bullets pierced the wood and entered the concrete, the wood wall stopped them from ricocheting back to hit the executioner.
Step 10: If you’re lucky, we’ll throw your mangled corpse out in the center of town somewhere to warn others not to join the resistance movement. We’ll even station undercover agents nearby to see if anyone of your family members tries to collect the body. It’s an easy way to find other ideological deviants (this kind of stuff is genetic).
Thanks for visiting!
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Leaving the KGB museum, even the summer sun seemed newly depressing. Upstairs from the prison is an exhibit on general atrocities committed against the Lithuanian people. It included everything from the KGB tactics described, to the logistics of spying on an entire country, to the mass deportation of Lithuanian citizens to Siberia. Most families would get a few hours notice to pack a bag before being forced onto a train bound for who-knows-where. Make no mistake, this is a grim side of society.
Back in the present, a few blocks down the main street of Vilnius, consumers packed into cafes and shops. I looked for sunglasses in Zara and bought a soda from a kiosk. Students walked in the park and couples sat on benches. It was strange to think that most of these people could remember a time when, had I gone where I’d just went, none of them would likely have ever seen me again.