Lithuania: Day 6, Part 3
In which I'm thoroughly surprised at myself...
After we left Linkuva, our guide took us to an old Jewish graveyard that we wouldn't have found on our own. In it are graves spanning at least two centuries before WWII.
The International Jewish Cemetary Projects estimates it contains about 1000 graves.
While it’s clearly not kept up, there were red candles at many of the markers toward the entrance that Dominik tells me Christians often place at graves.
Thanks to cousin Joanie Ward Smith's hard work, we have enough of a genealogical record that I think we can assume it’s more likely than not that at least two generations of Polans/Polians are buried here: my thrice great grandparents Khaim Movsha Polian and Mera Valdman Polian, and his parents Idel/Lidel Polian (whose wife's name is unknown.)
I don’t read Yiddish, and even if I did, very few of the stones are still legible. And so it’s equally true that none of the stones marked the graves of my family and that all of them did.
So I placed stones here and there, to mark that a Jew had come to remember the dead buried here, though the grave markers are so warn I don’t imagine they’ll stay in place past the next strong wind.
Because the cemetery is reverting to woods, it was impossible to get a photo to show its size, but it took me about 45 minutes to walk through it. Each time I’d cross a small hillock, sure I’d found the end of it, more graves appeared in the distance. Not the graves of people who’d been slaughtered, but of people who’d lived regular lives and died regular deaths in this town that was once half Jewish. A thousand of them.
It was wonderful to find this evidence of better times in a thriving community. It was also wonderful to find no graffiti, no desecration, even though the cemetery is fully open and accessible. That’s not what we’d have found in Austria (Dominik says this is a fair statement). Nor do I think it’s what we’d find in much of the US.
I surprised myself with the strength of my reaction. I’m not (or I don’t think of myself as) a particularly sentimental person. I’d have expected my greatest feelings on this trip to arise either at someplace horrible like Mauthausen, or someplace wonderful like the Choral Synagogue. But this abandoned cemetery, which likely but does not definitely host the graves of very distant forebears whose stories I don’t know, is the place that has most changed me. (I feel silly even saying that, which demonstrates what a departure from my norm this reaction is.) I’m still working out why this was so meaningful for me, and what it meant. But it definitely meant something.