We all stayed up way too late last night, working, communicating with friends, family and clients. This morning we made our groggy way to our next stop: Vilkija. We knew that the synagogue was no longer standing and that it was now a parking lot. The words to the Joni Mitchell song “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” kept playing over and over in my head. What would we find?
We arrived in Vilkija and easily found the parking lot, and some interesting wood carvings.
But was this the right parking lot? A beautiful river flowed below the street and parking lot. We wandered for a few minutes looking at the carvings, the steep flight of stairs right beyond them and then saw…
The memorial sign to the synagogue clearly showed us what it must have looked like. There appeared to be ruins further down the slope but we decided in the rain to wait until later and to explore the area around the synagogue. Facing it, across the street, were houses which we thought from our reading were probably all occupied by Jewish families.
We met up with Irina who has lived in Vilkija for 4 years. She is a native of Kaunas. Her son purchased one of the houses formerly owned by a Jewish family with plans to renovate it, as an investment. Irina told us about the Jewish homes and of some of the community, many of whom were merchants. They had built their homes on the main street, and their doors were flanked by windows on either side through which they sold their goods!
She also told us about the building and field across the street from her home. It was constructed by the soviets and stood on what had previously been a Jewish cemetery. When recent excavations took place for sewer lines, they had to stop because it was clear that the field and also the building were on top of the cemetery. Irina described the cellar behind her home which she said was constructed by the soviets and is also protected and can’t be taken down. She thinks it possibly has nothing to do with the soviet era but that all the previously owned Jewish buildings are protected from further destruction.
The synagogue was built on the hillside leading down to the river. The site where the building previously stood and the land owned by the synagogue was purchased not long ago by a member of the city council (who is not Jewish) so that nothing could be built on that site. In addition to the remains of the synagogue, are the remains of a house which was owned by a non-Jew built on land that had probably been previously leased from the synagogue.
More later – we just arrived in Vilnius and want to get settled in our hotel, and perhaps get some lunch, too. The weather is very overcast and looks like it will become stormy.