Our road trip through Lithuania came to an end on 7 April with a long drive back to Vilnius. Yuliya, Anna and I first returned to Žagarė, because this shtetl had caught our attention. Then we continued via Joniškis to Šiauliai, Lygumai, Pakruojis, Linkuva, Rozalimas and Šeduva.
We could not resist the temptation to return to Žagarė and even accepted to get up an hour earlier than usual. The weather was gloomy when we arrived, a fine rain drizzling. As yesterday, the streets were almost deserted. We criss-crossed the streets, sometimes stopping to take photos. We wondered why so many houses were empty. What had happened here? The location right on the border with Lithuania did not seem plausible to us as a reason, because it is an open EU border. The Holocaust was too long ago to be the reason.
On many buildings we discovered memorial plaques pointing to the history of the houses. Often we read Jewish names and professions that were typical for the inhabitants of the shtetl. We saw street art on several houses. Have artists settled here? We could understand them.
We drove back to Joniškis, took a look at the impressive Jewish cemetery and finally visited the synagogue complex – when we arrived yesterday, both synagogues were already closed. In both synagogues there is a small exhibition on the Jewish history of Joniškis. You can buy local handicrafts and literature about the history of the place and the region. It’s all done with a lot of love.
Šiauliai surprised us with the strong presence of Jewish heritage in the city centre. We saw several Holocaust memorials and a large factory formerly owned by a Jewish family is preserved and maintained as a museum and as a milestone for the economic development of Šiauliai. A synagogue is part of this complex.
Two wooden synagogues were also on our itinerary today. The synagogue in Pakruojis is an outstanding cultural monument and today a museum. The friendly staff eagerly explained the restoration of the original wall paintings and valuable wallpaper. As a parting gift, we were given some brochures on the Jewish history of Pakruojis. This small museum is definitely worth a visit. Rozalimas is still far away from such perspectives. The synagogue has not yet been restored – at least it is secured and the state of preservation seems to be good.
Our last stop was in Šeduva. Next to the well-kept Jewish cemetery, the Lost Shtetl Museum is being built, which will one day document the history of Jewish Šeduva. An ambitious project, the shell of which has already been largely completed. The opening is planned for 2023.
We drove back to Vilnius. As so often during this trip, our thoughts were with our Ukrainian friends. Were they safe? How were they doing? When would we be able to travel together again? What kind of people would we be after a war that changed us all?
We had one day left in Vilnius. We strolled around the city a little and rested. On 9 April, Anna and I flew back to Cologne. It was my 60th birthday. I spent it having breakfast with Yuliya and Anna and travelling – for me, the best way to spend a birthday.
At the end of this travel description, special thanks go to Yuliya. She had planned all the stops and she did it more than well. My knowledge of Lithuania is still too limited to be able to do the planning on my own and I needed someone who is more than just a driver. Thank you Yuliya – and thank you Anna too – it was great to travel with you! In these difficult times we all need people around us. Travelling with you was the best thing that could have happened to me.
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