4 April, the third day of our road trip through Lithuania. When Yuliya, Anna and I left Kaunas in the morning, the sky was still cloudless. In the course of the morning clouds came up, then it started to snow. Winter was back. On our route to Klaipeda were Čekiškė, Skaudvilė, Kaltinėnai, Laukuva, Rietavas, Veivirzenai and Švėkšna.
After my attempt yesterday to photograph the New Šančiai Synagogue in Kaunas had not yielded any particular result, Yuliya and I tried again in the morning. My hope was that the sunlight would fall on the front of the façade at this time of day. It did, but now a supermarket opposite also cast its shadow on the building. It was frustrating.
Most of our destinations that day were along the main road from Kaunas to Klaipeda. After a short drive, we stopped in Čekiškė. The small synagogue there is a simple but beautiful brick building. Much larger is the Beit Midrash in Skaudvilė. Today it is a residential building.
I have already written several times about the Lithuanian wooden synagogues we visited on our trip. Today, too, two of them were on our itinerary. When we arrived in Kaltinėnai, it started snowing – not the best condition for good photos either. I like some of the pictures anyway. In Kaltinėnai we could even take a look inside the synagogue, the gap between some of the boards was big enough. In Laukuva, the snow continued to blow. Freezing, we returned from our walk to the Jewish cemetery and warmed up in the car.
The Beit Midrash in Rietavas is one of those places that I can’t say for sure whether it makes me sad or happy. Today, the building serves as a market for electrical appliances; you can buy refrigerators and coffee machines there. At first glance, this seems undignified and reminds visitors that there is no longer a Jewish community in the town that could make good use of the Beit Midrash. On the other hand, the shop contributes to the preservation of the building – without a subsequent use, it would probably only be a ruin.
In Švėkšna, on the other hand, the synagogue has been restored in an exemplary manner. The work is almost finished, but I cannot say what use is planned for it in the future. Here, too, I had mixed feelings. The restoration is the right thing to do, but at the same time the scars of the past are disappearing with it. It almost seems as if the building has no history. Neither about Rietavas, nor about Švėkšna, do I want to judge. There are experts who can say more profound things about it than I can.
We reached Klaipeda late in the afternoon. A sharp wind was blowing from the sea when we visited the Jewish cemetery. The cemetery was destroyed, the rebuilt and expanded cemetery chapel now serves as a community centre. After all, there is a Jewish community here. Later at the hotel, we got a storm warning from the Lithuanian weather service on our mobile phones. The storm had already started and would get worse during the night. We had planned a day of rest by the sea for the next day and wondered how that would be possible.
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Yours is a sacred mission; thank you. When I look at your pictures and read your comments I think about “what if” those sad places, walls, cemeteries could speak. They would cry out, “Don’t forget us! We lived! We laughed, we cried. We married, had families, worked, danced…..and then they killed us. Do not forget us!”
G_d bless you and keep you safe.
Thank you very much for the kind and touching words, Patricia!