From Biržai back to Vilnius

3 March, the last day of the road trip through Lithuania. Yuliya and I made our way back to Vilnius. Finally, a grey sky and no more sunshine. Maybe the clouds will protect my friends in Ukraine from the Russian bombings, I thought. Probably that’s nonsense. But I couldn’t fight this thought. Our route today was not as long as in the last few days. Synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in Vabalninkas, Kupiškis, Anykščiai, Kurkliai, Alanta and Moletai were on our way.

We drove southwest in the morning. A first stop in Vabalninkas: a synagogue and a beit midrash, a well-kept Jewish cemetery in a forest. The synagogue in Kupiškis was a surprise. The imposing building now serves as a library and function room. The Soviet alterations were removed and the building was restored to its original state. It is a successful example of re-use.

There were two Jewish cemeteries in Kupiškis. One was destroyed by the Soviets, the new cemetery is well preserved and is today also a memorial to the Jewish community murdered by the Nazis. At one memorial we found fresh flowers and pebbles with Jewish names on it. Perhaps they are traces of a school project to commemorate the Jewish community.

Anykščiai is a treasure trove. On the masonry of the shoemakers’ synagogue, someone has embedded a small metal plaque with the portrait of a Jew. Perhaps this is the smallest monument in the world. Near the synagogue is a lovely little neighbourhood with beautifully restored wooden houses. In one of them is the best pastry shop in Lithuania. Yuliya and I couldn’t resist buying a box of chocolates and eating them with relish on the way.

Wooden synagogues once stood all over Eastern Europe. Only a few have survived wars and fires, some of them in Lithuania. Two of them were on our way today – in Kurkliai and Alanta. They have both been recently restored. When we got out of the car in Alanta, a large German shepherd shuffled towards us. Yuliya was a bit scared of him, but he was old and tired, sniffed us a bit and was in no mood to argue. More strenuous were two small boys who followed us with sticks at every turn and did not want to listen to their mother who shouted at them to leave us alone. A rural idyll.

A few hours later we were back in Vilnius. After all the rural places, it felt almost strange to be back in a big and bustling city. It was almost the end of our journey. We had one day left to visit a few places around Vilnius.

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3 thoughts on “From Biržai back to Vilnius

  1. Thank you for bringing my grandparents world to life,they came from musnikai and there is no trace of Jewish life left there

  2. Not sure if you went up the hill in the cemetery in Anykščiai but there are many headstones on the top of the hill. Glad to see more places to visit there next time I am there – my dear Lithuanian friend is from a small village right out side of A. Also wonderful to see the synagogue in Kurkliai fixed up – it was not when I saw it in 2018. Can’t wait to visit there again and see the renovations.

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