From Vilnius to Alytus

On the morning of 2 April, Yuliya, Anna and I set off for Alytus. A 6-day road trip to Jewish places of remembrance in Lithuania lay ahead of us. The first day took us through the border region of Belarus. Eišiškės, Varėna, Merkinė, Daugai, Butrimonys, Balbieriškis and Alytus were on our route.

It was a grey morning and the kind of diffuse light I like for photography. A light rain was falling. Our first stop was in Eišiškės. The Great Synagogue and a yeshiva in the immediate vicinity are still there, but are abandoned and slowly decaying. It is not one of those places with exemplary well restored Jewish heritage, as found in many small Lithuanian towns. The streets were still deserted, only an old woman crossed the main street with her walker.

We would see four mass graves today, some with impressive monuments. We found the first one here in Eišiškės. 1,500 people were murdered in the Jewish cemetery by Germans and their helpers.

A special highlight awaited us in Varėna – one of the last wooden synagogues in Eastern Europe, of which Lithuania is particularly rich. The building is well preserved, but no longer serves as a synagogue. Today, car spare parts are traded here. The friendly owner let us in and opened the storeroom for us – once the prayer hall of the synagogue – to look around and take pictures. Thank you for that, it was not a matter of course!

The Jewish cemetery of Daugai is picturesquely situated on a peninsula in a lake – one of the most scenic places we saw on our trip. The gravestones stand in small groups scattered around the grounds. Apparently this is not their original position. The cemetery was devastated and later restored.

We found a very unusual gravestone in Butrimonys. Man-high and decorated with large letters, it looks as if it is an enlarged copy of a much smaller stone. We were all happy about this find and it was nice to see smiles in these serious days.

We reached Alytus in the late afternoon. On the outskirts of the city is a memorial park. This is where the Jews of Alytus were shot. Small stone pyramids mark the mass graves. One memorial stone is written: “Stop and remember those whose blood was shed here”. We remembered.

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