June 22 – Kaunas and Environs

You would think (or at least I would) that sitting in a car all day would be restful, especially if you weren’t the one driving. Well, it isn’t really restful, especially if you keep asking the drive to slow down or stop and hop out of the car to go investigate a building, a cemetery or a plaque.  All of that jumping in and out of the car really adds up – over 16,000 steps worth! Obviously it was more than just rushing out of the car to take photos and then getting back in. In fact, the stops we made were incredibly interesting.

We started the day in Vilijampole which is the district that until the mid 1800s, Jews lived, near Kaunas.  Vilijampole is an area, like Kazimierz that is outside the city walls and at one time was a separate city that was set aside for Jewish inhabitants.  Today, there are no Jews there. Last year we briefly stopped in Vilijampole, and only had time to look at the Yeshiva that was there. The building, in disrepair, still stood, but there have been no Jewish students there since the war.

Today, except for the distinctive tower, we would not have recognized it at all. It’s being rebuilt into an office complex. Even the plaque is missing.

I really hope they put the plaque back.

On this trip we visited all the building we could find that were previously part of the Jewish community. It was extremely moving. The cemetery…words cannot convey my feelings.

Our next stops brought us to non-Jewish research. Towns which at one time each had a sizable Jewish population, but the research we were doing was in the Lutheran and Roman Catholic world. To our surprise, in Sakiai, once home of a small Lutheran community, with a church, there was no cemetery.

We stopped at a tourist information center, and the women who worked there tried very hard to get us to visit all the sites they thought were important (most in nearby towns) and kept giving us directions that sounded like “when you get to Mrs. Brown’s house make a right and go until you get to the old farm and then go left….”  Lina tried to convince them that she couldn’t follow the directions because we weren’t from there and hadn’t been there before, but they just kept telling her how to get place. They were certainly very enthusiastic about their home!

Our final stop for the day was at Višakio Rūda.  A lot of towns in the area have Rūda as part of their name. Lina said it means “ore” but that there was never a mining operation there, so maybe there was some ore of some sort found there at some time, and various places incorporated it into their name. Višakio is the name of a river that runs through town.  The town was charming and the graveyard well kept up. A lot of people were out gardening around their family’s plot. Interestingly, we found a couple of stones for the family we were researching. That’s always the sign of a good day.


This entry was posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy, Jewish Genealogy, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.