The Macikai Complex of a Nazi German prisoner-of-war camp and the Soviet GULAG forced-labour camps (1941-1955)
The Macikai (Matzicken) Camps are a unique object of exceptional historical and cultural significance on the national and international scale. It is the only place in Lithuania, and one of the few places in Central and Eastern Europe, where the prison structures of two totalitarian regimes have intertwined. Here, thousands of prisoners were held under appalling conditions, many being condemned to painful death. The history of the Macikai Camps reveals the crimes against humanity committed by the totalitarian regimes of the Nazi Germany and the USSR.
The Nazi Period
A prisoner-of-war camp established by the Nazi Germany in Macikai Village in 1941 operated until 1944. It was originally called Stalag 331, later on it was renamed Stalag 1C Heydekrug, and still later on, Stalag Luft VI Heydekrug. Soldiers from Poland, the USSR, the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, and other allies were imprisoned there. According to the US Department of Military Intelligence, at least 10,000 people could have been held in the camp.
In 2011, numerous remains of prisoners of war from a Nazi German camp were found under Žaliosios Street pavement in Armalėnai Village. In 2020, archaeological investigations were carried out, with the remains of more than 1,000 people exhumed. The remains were buried next to the old cemetery of the Macikai Camps.
The Soviet Period
After the second Soviet occupation of Lithuania, the Soviets established in Macikai, the former German prisoner-of-war camp, the following:
- German and Allied Prisoners-of-War Camp No. 184, which operated from 1945 to 1948. Germans, Romanians, Hungarians, Austrians, the Czech, the Dutch, Danes, Lithuanians, and people of other nationalities were imprisoned there. In 1946, the camp was reorganized and renamed as the treatment camp; the seriously ill and physically exhausted prisoners of war were brought there from all camps in Lithuania. During this period, approximately 500 people died there;
- The GULAG camp, which operated from 1945 to 1955. Civilians, political prisoners, priests, as well as women and children were imprisoned there. Most prisoners were Lithuanians, Russians, Poles, and Belarusians. The Soviets would imprison people in the GULAG camp for ‘counter-revolutionary crimes’ (members of the resistance movement, partisan supporters, farmers having failed to pay obligations, and people having fled exile). Criminals were also held in the camp. In 1948-1955, approximately 450 people died in the camp.
The GULAG camp had its branch on Rusnė Island, established in 1951. Approximately 200 people were imprisoned there.
The GULAG camp was closed on 18 June 1955. After the closure, an attempt was made to destroy the prisoners’ cemetery: a land reclamation project for the cemetery territory was drafted in 1955. Although no reclamation works were carried out, for many years the Šyša River washed and eroded the western part of the cemetery area. Cattle grazed on the northern and eastern part of the cemetery, and tractors ploughed the land. In the second half of the 20th century, residential houses were built on the part of the territory of the cemetery.
Archaeological excavations of the mass graves of the GULAG period are currently underway.
Today, the Macikai Camp Complex consists of a camp site, a solitary confinement unit, prisoners’ graves, a bathhouse, and, possibly, a barrack building. In 1993, on the initiative of the Šilutė branch of the Union of Political Prisoners and Deportees, the Solitary Confinement Unit-Museum of the Macikai Camp was established in the building of the former solitary confinement unit. As of 1995, it is a branch of the Šilutė Hugo Scheu Museum.
In 2019, the Government of the Republic of Lithuania approved the Plan for the arrangement and perpetuation of the Macikai Camps.