From Panevėžys to Biržai

2 March, day 4 of the journey through Lithuania, day 7 of Russia’s war against Ukraine. Yuliya and I continued our journey. We headed northwest, close to the border with Latvia. On our route were Jewish memorial sites in Krekenava, Pušalotas, Pumpėnai and, of course, Panevėžys and Biržai.

We started the day with a walk to the Jewish cemetery in Panevėžys. Again it was a day with bright blue skies. The photographer in me began to hate this sky. The human being in me hated this sky from which it rained bombs on my friends in Ukraine.

There was not much to see in the cemetery. After the Nazis murdered the Jews, the Soviets set about destroying their material heritage. Today the cemetery is a park. A monument commemorates the former purpose of the site and the exterminated Jewish community. The foundation of the monument is made of fragments of Jewish gravestones. The Jewish heritage is now part of the national Lithuanian memory. The Panevėžys cemetery is one of those recurring images of our trip. It was still cold and hoarfrost lay on the grass. A tired street sweeper was clearing the paths of the park.

Yesterday we had not found time to visit Krekenava. It was already too dark. So we drove back part of our route from yesterday. Yuliya was sure it would be worth it. She was right. Even at the Krekenava cemetery, there was still hoarfrost on the graves. If you touched it, it would dissolve on the warmth of your fingers. The secret of beauty – it disappears under our touch.

Via Pušalotas and Pumpėnai with their cemeteries and synagogues, we finally reached Biržai in the afternoon. It is a small town picturesquely situated on a lake. There are two synagogues and a former Jewish old people’s home. Everything is well documented on a memorial plaque. Biržai had a large Karaite community and their cemetery is spectacular. It is situated by the lake Širvenos, the graves stand densely together. A small part of the lake had been flooded by the lake. A single gravestone stuck out of the ice. Yuliya and I walked between the gravestones, taking photos, keeping silent. The beauty of the place was staggering. Finally we stood on the shore of the lake and after a while I said, “this place makes me happy”. Yuliya had to laugh. Whom does a cemetery make happy?

We stood and were silent, looking at the frozen lake, at the beauty of the landscape, the beauty of life and its fragility.

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2 thoughts on “From Panevėžys to Biržai

  1. Dear Christian I’ve been following your beautiful work for a few years. I read you are near Latvia. Are you planing to explore it? I am in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil. My father was born in Riga, 1903. I think I have no relatives there. I am just curious. Take care.


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