Monday, August 11, 2014

Path to the USA

My mother found the West German passport that got my father through Ellis Island in 1951.
Six years after the end of WWII, he achieved his goal to emigrate to the US and begin a new life.

Those six years included eyewitness to the brutal Russian occupation of Berlin that ended the war. My father chose not to talk about what he saw.

This powerful 1945 diary of a 34-year old German journalist bears witness to the atrocities:

A Woman in Berlin

Saturday, June 28, 2014

P.S. If we don't visit, who will?

If we don't visit, who will?
Roots in Keidan group

In July, be part of Richard Freund's amazing excavation. In June, go with the Vilna Shul.
NOVA 54 minute film

From the IX Fort museum, household items that could have belonged to my cousins.
 (See Sharon's comment for IX Fort).  #IX Fort#Kovno

Friday, June 27, 2014

'Achoo' ('thank you' in Lithuanian)

My visit to Lithuania happened almost by chance.
My father never wanted to return to the country where he was born, never wanted to talk about it, never wanted his children to visit.

Like any place, the history is very complicated.
Much sadness and no immediate family remain in Lithuania.
But I felt more of a connection to this place than I expected, to the land, to aspects of the culture and mostly to the wonderful people who I met.

Until next time, Lithuania.

Lithuania has great ice cream.
And the pillows match the flavors.

Lithuanian citizenship

Because my father was a Lithuanian citizen after Soviet occupation, I am eligible to apply for Lithuanian EU passports, as are my children. However, he never had a Lithuanian passport and his birth record does not suffice. I am researching options.
My father would be turning in his grave to see any dilution of his family's beloved US citizenship.  The bitter memories of Lithuania overpowered any sweet memories. My father never wanted to return to Lithuania let alone regain citizenship.
But that EU status that comes with Lithuanian citizenship is tempting.
During the tour, present day Jews in Lithuania insisted that life was good. The quality of life in Vilnius is attractive, with many wonderful restaurants and beautiful architecture and parks.
Only Lithuanian citizens can own property, so there is also a potential economic opportunity for my children. Lithuania is a shopping destination for Scandinavians because of its low prices.
 One thing is certain, life in Lithuania is often not what it seems on the surface, it is complicated. There are a multitude of attitudes toward Jews. Here are two positive and one more frightening view, from


Jews are cool in lithuania


Lithuania and Nazis. The country wants to forget its collaborationist past.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


Only remaining wooden synagogue in Lithuania, built in 1819.

Book about WW2 resistance.

Ziezmarai  has about 4000 residents, none are Jews. Before WWII, half were Jews.
The simple  bulletin board of information shown below tells only part of the story, and even it is only recent and because of the kindness of Mr. Ludviga.

Mr. Ludviga is the nephew of the man who risked his entire family's lives by hiding three Jewish families. Mr. Ludviga was very young at the time but he remembers playing with one of those boys And he remembers people disguising themselves as beggars as a way to bring food to the families.

The remains of the women's balcony.

Mr. Ludviga does all maintenance on his own accord without government support. He lives next door 
and unlocks the door when people want to visit. Mr. Ludviga told us UNESCO looked at the site but nothing came of it which is a pity because in such a small place one can really sense the enormity of losing half of one's neighbors in one day.

Many Lithuanians have yet to be convinced that it is important to remember the crimes of the Nazis. They say "it was so long ago" or their vision of history remains clouded by anti-Soviet sentiment. 

Please read this profile by Gordon Brown of Rachel Margolis. Everything is complicated in Lithuania.

#Izzy's Fire#Rachel Margolis#Ziezmarai

Sugihara House

Simonas Dovidavicus, same Simon of the Keidan  visit and Yudel Ronder visit, is Director of the Sugihara House, a very small but full of heart museum in the former Japanese embassy to Lithuania.
More than 2000 visas were issued, saving the lives of 6000. An act which Sugihara chose to do of his own independent will and for which his career and life suffered.
The Place Called Heaven is a short film we saw.
One man can make a difference.

Simon at Sugihara's desk.
Simon also told us about the other diplomat who made the heroic choice to issue visas to Jews and paid the price in his career. He is Jens deDecker of Holland.

Simon does noble work keeping these memories alive.
I feel connected to his mission and hold the dream of getting involved with the 
Sugihara memorial at Temple Emeth in Chestnut Hill, Ma 

Sugihara children's picture on the desk.

                                                                      Chiune Sugihara

Kaunas street scenes

Statue of Jewish singer, and Bill Segal look-alike, Danielius Dolskis, on the pedestrian artery.



Art Deco Movie theater.
in use during my father's University years in Kaunas in 1930s.

Panorama from Nerus River


Kaunas Synagogue

We are here on the somber anniversary of 70 years since the Kaunas ghetto was liquidated at the IX Fort  in 1944. My father was 29 years old at the time and had spent four years in medical school in this city only a few years earlier.

The only remaining synagogue in Kaunas. Unfortunately it is not used for services. The 200 Jewish residents of Kaunas have a community center elsewhere.

Linden trees along the synagogue.

The doorway of the American embassy from the period when Kaunas was the capital of Lithuania, 1934-1938.

Finding dad's medical school

The Kaunas Medical School is under restoration and without its signage. This is the building, Jill and Susan helped me find it. The building was new when my father attended in the early 1930s and is just a few blocks from our Hotel Kaunas in the central artery of Kaunas. 

before the Soviet occupation, when Lithuania was an independent country, the President, or it may have been the President's pianist son, had foresight and took it upon himself to safeguard the medical school records of Jews who were graduates of Lithuanian medical schools. he had their records sent to the American Academy of Medicine. The Academy is near Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
Thus, By serendipity, my father's medical school records landed in NY before he did.
Somehow he was told they were they there and he was able to get a residency and practice medicine when he came to NY in 1948.


For a place that people have barely heard of, It is hard to believe how much history has happened here.
Vingis park which I visited by bike in Vilnius turns out is quite historical.
In War and Peace when someone whispers into the Grand Duke's ear on June 23, 1812 that Napoleon has invaded Russia, turns out that takes place in the summer palace in Vingis Park.
And where Napoleon invaded Russia....
That was Kaunas.
The Nemunas River in Kaunas marked the east/west boundary where Napoleon entered Russia from Prussia.
It was just the beginning of the end for the more than 400,000 French soldiers who famously suffered from the harsh Russian winter and disgruntled Russian serfs and dwindled to fewer than 40,000 by the time they returned to France.
Perhaps the origin of the phrase "won the war but lost the battle?"

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Yudel Ronder

This has been quite a day. Again.
My visit with the last Jewish survivor from Keidan in Lithuania was very special. Yudel is 92, 7 years younger than dad if he were still alive. He remembered my father and seemed to look up to him.  Twice he said, with Simon translating, "he was very handsome". I replied: "and I look like him don't you think?" And he replied "no".  bed ridden from a stroke 4 1/2 years ago, Yudel still has opinions. he remembers a lot. 
I got a very important piece of information that my father went to Uzbekistan to flee from serving in the Lithuanian army. Yudel ran into him there by chance. They got jobs together as washers of milk bottles. (See letter from Sara in Israel below: maybe my father was working as a doctor in Tashkent.)
This confirmation of my father being in Uzbekistan puts some questions into play. Did my father return to Lithuania and then get deported to Siberia for being a Zionist?  Or did my father enlist himself into the Soviet army to escape starvation conditions in Uzbekistan?

Yudel remembered my great-uncle Finkelstein as a firefighter. He told the story of a firefighter and boxer named Shlopovsky who bit a German soldier.

Yudel's house was close to my father's. Yudel played in my father's courtyard. My father and his friend Turitsky set up a pretend play store there for neighborhood kids.

Yudel asked to see a picture of my father in the US. I showed him a picture taken 20 years ago where my father is holding my newborn son Adam. Yudel asked if my father's grandchildren were close to him. "Yes. very close," I replied.

Yudel was much decorated as a soldier in the Lithuanian branch of the Soviet army. He was a lawyer and he was involved in community theaters. these activities seem to have kept his mind sharp. he is extremely well tended by his nurse, pictured here, who wanted to show me Yudel's medals and asked me if I played basketball. Both made me feel very welcome and we sat together for at least an hour. Many thanks to Simon for organizing this visit. As recent as last night, Simon thought Yudel was too sick for a visitor but I never doubted it would happen because that is how this trip is going.

August 28, 1941

I received this wonderful message by email from Sara in Haifa on August 7, 2014. I forgot to ask how she found this blog, but probably from the Yahoo Keidan group.
Shalom and Hello dear Barbara,
I am Sara Yakubovski from Haifa, Israel. My mother Mina Ronder was Yudel Ronders first cousin.

I have enjoyed reading the notes of your trip to Lithuania. It brought me back to my first trip to Lithuania in 1993 (since then I have been there 3 more times).The progress and the changes in Lithuania are unbelievable. Needles to say that your visit to Yudel was very interesting for me and made me almost decide to go and see him again (before it is too late) We are very close and I love him very much.

As to your question about Tashkent I can help:
On June 22, 1941 the first bombs of the German aircrafts fell. It was still not clear what is going on-Moscow radio did not report anything until noon. The German radio was broadcasting Riventrop's speeches saying that Germany announced war against Russia. There were all kinds of rumors- nothing was clear .
The next day a lot of Keidaner Jews decided to leave Keidan and go to the east, towards the Russian border. Yudel and his nephew Velvke (who was one year younger than Yudel) were given bikes and warm clothes and were asked by the family to try and get to Russia.
Many other people from other villages and towns were also trying to go to Russia. It was not easy and not simple-they were not permitted to stay in several  places, they walked by foot, rode bikes, used some trains (if they could find room on the jammed trains) If not –they walked (by foot) miles and more miles  along the train bars. their feet and legs were swollen. They crossed rivers, had no food, had lice, had not where to sleep so they slept in the streets. When they were already in Russia they worked in farms, in a coal mine, in a factory and what not. They have met on the way some good people who helped them and they were advised to go to Tashkent because the winter is very cold and difficult and in Tashkent it is warmer. So they headed to Uzbekistan. They also thought that from Tashkent they would be able to cross the border to Iran and from there go to Israel. Yudel told me that as a child in Hashomer  Hatsair youth movement they used to sing a song which said:"Tashkent –the city of bread"…
They came to the railway station in Tashkent and it was jammed with refugees and the authorities told them that they can't stay there so they chose t o go to Fergana which is also a big city in Uzbekistan. There Velvke met, by chance, a  young  Keidaner who took them to the stop to Kuba-Say where he worked as a doctor in a clinic. His name was Zilber or Zilbert
(Can it be your father???  Velvke wrote in his memory notes around 1977 that "this Zilber lives now  in the USA")
He helped Velvke to find work in a factory of chemicals where Velvkee worked until he was drafted to the army.
Yudel and Zilber were drafted earlier-in April 1942.Yudel was  in the Lithuanian Division where
many Jewish soldiers  served and later Velvke too was in that division.
After the war three Ronder survivors: my uncle Chayim Ronder (the only eye witness of the massacre in Keidan, Yudel and Velvke reunited in Kaunas (Kovna).

IXth Fort (ninth fort)

IXth Fort was used over many years by several regimes for purposes ranging from city prison, torture place, way station to Siberia by the Soviets, to death site of the Nazis.

 Russians spent more than 20 years building it, yet the IXth fort was never used as a fort. IXth fort was almost immediately surrendered to the German Big Bertha in August 1915.
My father was an infant.

On the day of Big Action on October 29, 1941, 10,000 Jews from the Kovno ghetto were taken to the IXth Fort field of death and shot, including my great-aunt (see comment below).
My father was 26 years old. 
Was he in Kaunas but not living in the ghetto or was he not there? 
 My sister says he says he was deported  via Smolensk.
He may have been in Ukbekhistan.
Amazingly, I can apply to the KGB archives in Vilnius and confirm this with his deportation records.
My father chose not to talk about this traumatic time in his life.  Now he is gone.
We lost the opportunity in 1999-2007 when my father may have travelled to Lithuania. none of us thought to do it, and he likely would have refused.

The former Soviet bloc is just learning to tell the stories of traumatic times. See the post "Poland for the Day,"  Sowalki Poland showed no acknowledgment of its former Jewish citizens when I visited.
 Soviet rule put a hold on telling what Lithuanians and Poles don't want to hear anyway.
Richard Schofield is a British photodocumentarian doing interesting work to fill that void:

Guide Chaim Bargman chose to focus our tour of the IXth fort less on the torture and killing that occurred there and more on a story of hope and escape from the IXth fort.

Chaim's story is a story he has researched personally for more than 20 years, talking to every survivor and family of survivor he can find of the great escape from IX on December 25-26,1943. 

It is a story that deserves to be better known.

Chaim in front of a diagram of the escape route of Sixty-four Jewish corpse burner workers from the IXth Fort. 
Their escape plans read straight from a Hollywood film, a complex series of smart preparation, clever engineering, flexibility to change according to circumstances, loyalty, and sacrifice. 

 (in the role of Sasha Podosky, leader of the escape, my choice is Ben Affleck.)

Creepy huge concrete sculpture at the entrance. The middle one is supposed to be hope but this creepiness was way too close to the killing site memorial for my taste. 

Lots of tunnels connecting cannon places.

This is the end of the tunnel where the escape of 64 prisoners occurred. They departed in groups of 16 with an elaborate plan that was delayed by one day because the fresh snow would have revealed footprints. Plan included passage carved through wood piles, cutout of metal door, and sheets sewn together for camouflage in the snow. 
Managed the impossible task of getting past the tower guards with machine guns.

A boy who was hidden is returned to his father. there is the occasional happy story. This woman and her family would have been shot and killed had they been discovered.

The Germans eastward attack was quick and a surprise. up to 70 miles a day were covered. The Soviet border was crossed in June, 1941.
  Keidan massacre was in August, 1941.
Kovno Day of Big Action was October, 1941.
Kovno Ghetto liquidation July 8, 1944

my mother claims my father was warned by his mother to go east when she was in Keidan and he was in Kovno. That could date my fathers flee from Lithuania  up to June, 1941. 
That could mean that he fled from the Germans and not earlier from the Lithuanian army. 
The first massive deportation by the Soviets was also in June, 1941, only a week before the Nazi invasion, so it is also possible my father was deported in June, 1941, which is how my sister has written the story.

Kaunas County Archives

I may be turning into a geneologist. I have 13 pages of notes from two hours with Vitaglia, the world expert on Kaunas archives.  And it is all fascinating to me. 
I learned about feudal classifications, tax registrations numbers (Jews paid extra taxes, for candles and other ritual items), revision lists, military lists, who got internal passports with pictures, foreign booklet passports, election of rabbis (often there were two, the official state rabbi who kept records and the religious rabbi.)

From 1827, all men were required to serve a mandatory, short military service. if a peasant were resistant to a landlord, that service could be extended as a punishment and the extensions were as long 25 years. they were shortened to 4 years in the 1874 military reform. 
For most Lithuanian boys, the age they could be "recruited" ("punished" is a more accurate word)  was at 17. 
For Jews, boys as young as 12 years old could be recruited to military service terms of 25 years at the  whim of a landlord.

1858 was a good year for the Jews. That is when the Emperor visited Kaunas. The Emperor was not satisfiedwith the rate at which fine buildings were going up in the city center. hearing there were rich Jewish merchants elsewhere in the city, he immediately lifted the exclusion ban and Jews could live anywhere they could afford in Kaunas.

I got a copy of the 1887 revision list, my grandmother was 16 years old, her sister Mere 18 years old, and sister Hana was no longer at home, 31 years old. mother 55, father 59.
However, in the 1874 revision, the age difference between parents is 6 years.

I never knew that my grandmother was the youngest of three daughters, one much older and two closer in age, just like me. 

The document confirms that my grandmother was a shockingly old mother for her time, She was 44 years old when her only son was born, just like Sharon.
Life is a circle.

Vitaglia also gave me contact information to the state archives and historical archives for possible marriage certificate (not likely, should check the Paris archives for that) and medical school records (Simon kindly offered to do that for me.)

Some of the 1.3 million records which have travelled back and forth between Lithuania and Russia several times, depending who was in power. Vitaglia has handled every document.

 Germans were not interested in the records and during times of their occupation, and paper and fuel was in such short supply, Nazis permitted people to take paper from the archives for anything from burning for fuel, wrapping herring, and toilet paper.

great old map.

Serendipity strikes again

In the idyllic summer of 1980, I was an AFS exchange student to Finland with the Pitkanen family. Outi is my one year younger Finnish sister. I absolutely adore the family and the Finnish culture and landscape they introduced to me.
At the time, Outi and I talked about how the Finnish landscape was perhaps not so different from Lithuania where my family was from.
It turns out this is very much the case and I have been reminded by the landscape, food, and architecture every day that I am geographically near to Outi but was stupid to neglect to make plans to visit her.
Thanks to Facebook, Outi realized I was in Lithuania and sent me the gift of an invisible thread that connects Vilnius holocaust museum to a lovely girl named Heli I met in Orimattila, Finland in 1980.
That lovely girl grown up is now living in Austria and is the mother of a lovely son who is doing his army service as Holocaust education service...she is Sebastian's mother.....Just a coincidence but I am very happy to be connected to the young man who gave us such an eloquent and thoughtful welcome at the green house of the Vilna holocaust museum.
See post on the green house.

Golden age of early 14th century

 Lithuanians were the last pagans in Europe and did not convert to Catholicism until 1387.
When Spain and Germany were busy expelling Jews in 1323, Grand Duke Gediminius of Vilnius sought to welcome them. Gediminius wrote a letter inviting artisans, traders, and builders of any nationality to come help build the city of Vilnius. That was the invitation that brought so many Jews to Lithuania and it was a golden age, for Jews and for the city of Vilnius. During the lifetime of Gediminius, Jews flourished and were free to pursue all professions, of course including banking.
Unfortunately for the Jews, the successor to Gediminius, Grand Duke Alexander, was not so good managing his finances and he found himself deep in financial debt for which it was convenient to expell all Jews to flush them away with his bankers in 1495. Five years later Jews were invited back without penalty; Conveniently, the old debts were never paid.

Ribbentrop-Malatov treaty

The 1939 Ribbentrop-Malatov treaty, soon broken by Stalin, gave Lithuania to The Soviets in exchange for Hitler in Germany getting Poland.
Lithuanians looked to Hitler as a savior from the oppressive Soviet occupation. Anti-semitism was a motivation but according to our guide it was not the primary motivation and it was not shared by all. The primary motivation for Lithuanians to become Nazis was to support the enemy of their enemy, the Soviets. the guides are careful to add: not that any of those motivations justify the evil of killing hundreds of thousands innocent men, women, and children in Lithuania.

Poland for the day

I accompanied Diane on her roots tour to two towns where her two grandmothers came from.

There was a lot of driving and hunting for out of the way places. Poland has much less in terms of markers and maps available for Jewish sites. the most one can hope to see is a Jewish cemetary, site of a former synagogue, and maybe the memorial place which in Lithuania is the killing place.

getting lost can have its rewards. Asking for directions to a 7 religion cemetery in Suwalki, Poland, serendipity struck and the old man we asked for directions was a worker on its stone wall years ago and wanted to reminisce about when he had to redo a part of the wall in the Turkish section because he put their moon symbol upside down by mistake.

in Suwalki we found a killing place memorial in in some trees on a hill. It took some looking to find the right path. The last 100 m were not drive able, they required a walk on grazed land, through cow paddies  and  cows with engorged udders and a woman collecting sorrel.

...a visit to yet another place where thousands were shot and burned in pits. 7000 Jews from a town of 70,000 where Jews had lived for 130 years. now there are none. And a gnawing, sad feeling every time.

Stork, the national bird of Lithuania. This nest with fledglings was on a road where we made a
wrong turn. Apparently they are a nuisance because they eat so much, especially frogs.
Our guide went inside to ask directions and was told the house had belonged to Jews.

Park in Suwalki, Poland

Suwalki, Poland is birthplace of a number of renowned artists according to the tourist map, including Polish film director Andrzej Wajda.

Pictured is the site of the old synagogue. 
There was no plaque or marker. 
The more I think about our visit to Suwalki, the more upset I become by the lack of attention of this seemingly elegant city to the Jewish population who built this city and lived here.

In a park, next to town hall, there is a new, large map to welcome tourists. it is very slick and 
professionally done. It shows the location of many churches with cross symbols.
there was not a single Star of David on the map. nothing to mark a single Jewish site for this city that thousands of Jews built over more than one hundred years. I looked again.

There was nothing to indicate where Suwalki's many synagogues may have been. 
Or show where the surviving Jewish school building stood.
We need not have had such wild goose chases in Suwalki.
The Jewish School should have had a plaque.
The Jewish cemetary with 32,000 Jews and it's wailing wall made from discarded ancient grave markers should have been available for people to visit.
Instead, the Jewish cemetery had a locked gate, broken bottles, and a a sign that said only "key available at town hall,".  so we went to town hall......and town hall had no idea where the key might be."someone" had changed the lock two weeks earlier.
No offer to inquire further.
no indication the key would be looked for.

Suwalki, wake up. 
Where is the spirit of Solidarnosc?


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Silber house

My father's house was in the center of the old city of Keidan, in the Jewish section and very close to the Nezeris River. Most everything he needed was closeby. But when he switched to the public, Catholic gymnasium for high school, he went a bit farther. he had to walk a couple of miles away. Simon asked around and found it. it is a brick building still used as some kind of a school. On a forested, busy road  on a hill, it was difficult to photograph and it was time to get to Kaunas for the night.

Going to that gymnasium was one of the lucky breaks of my father's life. in the year he graduated at the top of his class and applied and accepted at Kaunas medical school there were stiff quotas on the number of Jews admitted to study medicine. coming from the gymnasium, he was not recognized or counted as Jewish by the admissions staff. just one year later, that quota of Jews accepted to study medicine was reduced to zero; his acceptance would have been all the luckier.

Reflection on day eight

Diane said she was expecting to find Fiddler on the Roof and I realized I was too. But our shtetl visits don't feel like that. Keidan is a beautiful city with many old buildings. It is along the Nezeris River and there is a lovely walking path. Houses are well kept and almost all have lovely vegetable gardens.
It is relatively healthy economically, with factories at the outskirts of the city for fertilizer manufacture (we saw a huge phosphate mining mountain). Keidan is famous for its cucumbers and there is pickle factory in addition to sugar and meat factories.
Not a single Jew lives here and it does not feel like a Jewish place. Except that in the mid-1800s, Jews comprised 60-70% of the population and ran every business. When my father grew up in the 1920s, that percentage was down to 30-40% according to Rimantas. Still a significant presence and 150 businesses.

My father never wanted to talk about this place, never wanted to come here, and never wanted to see us come here. Yet it's spirit was the essence of my childhood. There are many reasons my father and his ancestors may have loved Keidan at one time. Visiting this place has expanded the narrative of my family's history for me.
   To see the incredible work Rimantas has done in bringing memory of Keidan's Jews back to Keidan after virtual silence in the Soviet era warms my heart to no end.

Do not forget

                                                  Rose Shternfeld Zilber and Joseph Silber.

My grandmother was one of 200,000 murdered in Lithuania during WW2.
My father is one of few who survived.

Walk around Keidan Old City

Jews were 7.5% of the total population when my father was growing up in Lithuania. 30-40% in cities including Keidan.
And it was as high as 70- 80% before the great wave of immigration of 120,000 Lithuanian Jews, mostly to the US and South Africa, around the turn of the century.

Art decorates a building awaiting renovation.

Typical, elegant brickwork from the 1920s. Much use of yellow brick here and in Vilnius.

Statue to the Radzivil family who's massive land holdings included Keidan. Lutherans, they infused the city with an air of tolerance. The present day residents are also described as tolerant.
The event of August 28, 1941 should not have happened here. But it did. 

The horse stable of the Radzivil summer estate was used as a holding place for Jews to be killed.

Plaque for the Vilna Gaon on a restored synagogue. Except it is the wrong synagogue. The Gaon worked at my father's synagogue (now the regional museum, but not restored at the time the plaque was put up). The Gaon lived about a century before my father was born, his wife was a local Keidan girl.

Laima, a Lithuanian teacher, confirmed this. She said this yellow synagogue was restored by Mr. Kaplan and will begin use as part of the cultural center. I may be related to Mr. Kaplan, see comment for Finding dad's medical school.

Quite lovely cobblestone streets and stucco brick buildings have been well restored.
This may be my father's street.

when I was growing up, a very elegant couple visited from Israel every few years and I could tell they were very special to my father. The wife, Dr. Ginsburg, was born and lived on my father's street. here is more about them.

My father's street. Maybe.  His house was torn down and a new house on the left sits in its place.

A tribute to the NBA. Basketball is very popular thought the country. We have a youth team staying at our hotel that looks like it could be from Groton-Dunstable.

Monday, June 23, 2014

KEIDAN. Museum, Jewish Cemetery, Killing Place

First things first.  $1 borscht.

The Kedainiai Regional Museum is a two building complex.
It is a block from where we think my father's house stood and likely the very spot where he went to Jewish Primary School at the Vilna Gaon's school.

Cobblestones throughout the old city.
Thankfully, these are not from ancient Jewish graves.....those can be found in many stone walls throughout Lithuania.

Director of the Museum Rimantas Zirgulis is collecting photographs of Jewish residents. I was proud to deliver a packet of pictures of my father and grandmother. These are used in the museum's educational mission which is to educate young people about the tragedy of the murder of innocents from their own community.

Rimantas stressed his goal to educate that these are members of their own community and not foreigners or outsiders. JDL report explains why he made that emphasis:

Yodel Ronder's sister.  Yodel is the last Jewish survivor of the Keidan massacre living in Lithuania and I hope to meet him on Wednesday thanks to Simon in Kaunas.

Each one of these 2076 rocks represents a Jew from the Keidan region who was shot on August 28, 1941.

my great-grandmother Beyla Shternfeld, for whom I am named, is buried in this cemetery.
Beyla Shternfeld, died 1913
Also Yusuf Shternfeld, died 1908, my great-grandfather for whom my father was named.

Simon is the Director of the Sugihara Center in Kaunas and was a great guide. He got increasingly interested in my grandmother's story as the day went on. 
Here he is determined to find a Shternfeld in the Keidan cemetary. I knew the grave numbers were O-5 and O-9 but I had neglected to print a map. 

Simon was fascinated that a Keidan woman would get herself to Paris to study design at the turn of the century, and that she would actually come back to  Keidan.
Simon was also very curious about my Austrian grandfather who was not in the picture for my father's childhood and had some ideas where I might find information.

Keidan memorial to those killed on August 28, 1941.
Almost every single Jew in Keidan including my grandmother Rosa Zilber

Zilberiene, Roza. 

I am so grateful to my sister Sharon who had the foresight to make sure our grandmother's name is on this beautiful memorial.  Also her sister Mere Finkelstein.
Rimantas explained at the museum that the iene ending signifys a married Lithuanian woman.

The memorial is surrounded by beautiful rapeseed fields. A barn used as a holding place is no longer standing. It was the stable for the Radzivil summer estate.

My travel companions Diane and Roberta kindly joined me in reading a prayer at the pit site which is beautifully designed and well tended thanks the wonderful work of Rimantas.
Simon gave me a yahrzeit candle with a very special provenance.
I placed two stones on the memorial.
I was grateful for the tears. My grandmother deserved them.

Like Panerai, the beauty of the place adds to the eerie feeling one gets at these sites of evil.