Lost Shtetl - Seduva
It’s hard to write this post. There are so many emotions, still, but the longer I wait, the more I’m afraid I will forget!
October 9, 2015 was an amazing day in Šeduva, Lithuania. Not known at the time, but the events that led me to this day started in 1934, the day my mother moved to Šeduva (from Widze, Poland) to attend junior high school. She lived with her aunt, uncle, and cousin, and when they moved to America in 1937, they took my mother with them. My mother left behind many friends in Šeduva; before she left, they signed her autograph books - sometimes more than once - stating their affection for her, wishing her well, and reminding her to never forget them.
Sample page from autograph book
Who would know that 4 years later the entire Jewish community of Šeduva would be murdered with only a handful lucky enough to have either already left Šeduva, or somehow been away on those fateful days. But between those years, my mother corresponded regularly with Nochum Berman, a pharmacist in her Aunt’s pharmacy, in Šeduva. My mother translated his Yiddish letters to her into English, many years ago, and when I finally read them, about 10 years ago, I became engrossed - I was swept up into 1930’s Šeduva. I learned about my mother and her challenges adapting to life in America, I learned about Nochum Berman and his frustrations and hopes in Lithuania, and I learned of my mother’s friends and neighbors - how they were doing, and what life would have been like for my mother had she stayed behind.
In 2012 my mother and I published a book, the cornerstone being the letters from Nochum Berman to my mother, mainly hoping we would find someone related to him who would want to know more about him and his life in his final years. We haven’t found anyone yet, but we did find lots of people who were interested in the letters, and the book was actually named a finalist in the International Book Awards in 2012.
The book found its way to the Šeduva school, where Sergey Kanovich would later find it. My story now connected with his Lithuania Jewish cemetery restoration passion - the Maceva project
(more information about Maceva can be found at: http://litvak-cemetery.info/en/). Sergey and I started to communicate about Šeduva, mainly through Facebook.
With Sergey’s encouragement, and an official invitation from Jonas Dovydaitis, Director of the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund, to attend the Lost Shtetl day, I left for Lithuania on October 6, 2015 - Cleveland to Chicago to Brussels to Vilnius. All flights were smooth, and I arrived at 2:00 in the afternoon on October 7.
Chicago from the air - the only non-cloudy picture
After a quick shower (no unpacking necessary as I would only be at the Europa Vilnius City Hotel for one night), the first of many thrilling experiences took place. I met Emilija! Emilija’s mother (Mila) and my mother were schoolmates in Šeduva, back in 1934-1937! Although of different faiths, they were dear friends but lost touch after my mother moved to America. In doing research for the book, we learned that Mila had survived the war (her family had their share of tragedies also, with Mila herself ending up in Siberia for a time and members of her family also being killed.) It took a while, but we finally found her, in Chicago, in 2009! Mila and my mother spoke on the phone a couple times, but never saw each other before Mila passed away a couple years ago. I had been in contact with Mila’s other daughter, Ruta, and my mother and I actually met her about a year ago, when she was passing through Cleveland. Emilija lives in Vilnius, so now we could finally meet each other! She invited me for dinner, where she cooked an absolutely delicious meal, and I was able to meet her husband, and also a houseguest of theirs. My adrenaline was so high, I somehow didn’t think to take any pictures that night. What was I thinking? It was a delightful evening with wonderful conversation.
Emilija and I hold the page her mother signed in my mother’s autograph book in 1937
Although there was a charter bus from Vilnius to Šeduva on Friday morning, I wanted more time in Šeduva, and Emilija wanted to make the trip, too, so we left for Šeduva around 2:00 Thursday. Before that time, I was able to see a couple things in Vilnius I hadn’t seen in 2010 - mainly the Vilnius Jewish Library and the university. Loreta served as a very capable, flexible guide and driver.
Vilnius Jewish Library
We arrived in Šeduva with enough time to check-in at the Mill, where I would be spending the night, before heading a bit out of town to meet a woman who could tell me a little more about the once-thriving Jewish community in Šeduva. She didn’t speak English, so I was glad Emilija was with me.
The person who took us to her was the grandson of the farmer (Stanislav Paluckas) who saved Shulamit Noliene, a story widely known if one is researching Šeduva. The woman we visited was his aunt who spent time at the Paluckas farm when Shulamit was there.
Stanislav Paluckas’ grandson and Emilijia
After that, we went to Emilija’s aunt’s house for dinner. Emilija’s aunt married Vytautus Pakstas, another classmate of my mother’s. I had been in contact with their daughter, Siga, over the years, and it was a pleasure to meet her mother, her sister-in-law and her niece. Again, another delicious home-cooked Lithuanian meal.
Siga’s mother, niece, and sister-in-law
Then it was time to return to the Mill. When we arrived we found that Loreta and I were the only two overnight reservations for the evening (Emilija still has a studio apartment in her grandmother’s apartment building in Šeduva!) So, the hotel staff had already left and a Lithuanian policeman was hired to watch over us, in our two separate rooms. It was only a brief moment where that had me a bit concerned; the last time a Lithuanian policeman watched over a Jew in Šeduva, things didn’t work out so well for the Jew. And, what looked to be a fire from a far-off chimney, ended up being car headlights. But, it’s 70+ years later, and I had nothing to worry about. These two "anxious" moments I had in Šeduva were unfounded.... I do still wonder, though, how many Jews have slept in Šeduva in the past 70 years! Surely I’m not the first...
The Mill Motel and the Mill
Friday, October 9, was finally here! All this anticipation and here I was in Šeduva to see the newly renovated Jewish cemetery, new monuments at the 1941 killing sites and a new statue in memory of the Šeduva Jews at the town square. I had no idea it would be so emotional. But, since Šeduva took over my heart and soul after reading the letters to my mother, perhaps I should have been better prepared.
The first stop was the Jewish cemetery. There were so many people there. I had no idea it would be so well attended by so many people from near and far, from dignitaries to busloads of young students, from not only Lithuania, but also America, England, South Africa, and other European countries, to name a few. It started a few minutes late because the Prime Minister of Lithuania, Algirdas Butkevičius, had not yet arrived! But, having seen the cemetery in 2010, I was so shocked to see the difference. There are no words to describe the work that has been done. 5 years ago I could only stand at the outskirts and watch as my brother tried to find a headstone, any headstone, amid the flies and bugs and waist-high grass. Look at the difference - the same view 5 years later! Amazing!
Jewish Cemetery 2010
Jewish Cemetery 2015
New Cemetery gate
The rest of the day went very fast. After the cemetery, we visited the 3 different sites where the Jews were killed in 1941. New monuments now exist where previously there had been plaques. In fact, in 2010 one plaque had been vandalized and our guide wasn’t even able to find the other two sites.
Monument at first site
Emilija leaves a stone at the 2nd site
The third site
The Prime Minister of Lithuania, Algirdas Butkevičius
Kaddish is chanted at all locations by Vilnius opera singer Rafailis Karpis
After a quick restroom stop at Emilija’s apartment (how did the people on the bus not need this?) we finally arrived at the town square for the unveiling of the statue. There seemed to be even more people there than at the previous sites.
Gathering at Šeduva town square community building
There were many speakers, myself included, who spoke of life in Šeduva now and also when there once were Jews. The President of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite, could not attend but sent words of welcome and remembrance.
Remarks sent from President Dalia Grybauskaite
"Awards of appreciation" were given to Ed Glasenberg, whose family, from South Africa, was a major supporter of this project and to Sergey Kanovich, whose team organized everything, and he also served as the "master of ceremonies."
Ed Glasenberg being thanked Sergey Kanovich being thanked
and recognized and recognized
Another speaker was Pinchas Nol, aka Petras Paluckas. As described above, his mother Shulamit Noliene was hidden and saved by a Šeduva farmer (Stanislav Paluckas) and when Pinchas was born the farmer and his wife (Liudvika) baptized him and named him as their own. Pinchas is likely the last Jew to be born in Šeduva. After the war, he and his mother eventually moved to Israel.
Pinchas Nol (aka Petras Paluckas) Pinchas, Farmer Stanislav Paluckas’ grandson & I
In one of Sergey’s remarks that day, he mentioned the scarf I was wearing. It was a gift to my mother, from Nochum Berman, more than 75 years ago! It has held up pretty well! I was glad I thought to wear it!
I also met another woman who is 88 years old and said she remembers my mother’s aunt. But, she remembers her at a different pharmacy, and she remembers her brothers. But, my mother’s aunt didn’t have brothers in Šeduva. So who’s correct? Someone who was 10 years old when my mother left Šeduva, but has been there all these years? Or, my mother, who hasn’t been back in over 70 years? Sounds like I need to do some work in the Šeduva Archives. I wonder if there is one. And if there is, I wonder what I might find!
The final speech was by Sergey who spoke so eloquently, as he had all day. I cannot even imagine everything he went through to coordinate everything for the day. He and his team did a fabulous job! The woman in the picture did a wonderful job translating - English to Lithuanian and Lithuanian to English.
Sergey Kanovich says the final words before the statue is unveiled
A violinist played! Before leaving on this trip, I had thought about bringing my flute so I could play "L’Dor V’Dor" (translates as "from generation to generation") at the cemetery. But I decided against it. The violin, however, was the perfect touch and the violinist was excellent.
Violin music was perfect
Finally the moment comes to unveil the statue at the town center. It is designed by Romas Kvintas and is exceptionally beautiful. It is marked in memory of the Jews of Šeduva. I am honored to be asked to unveil her, along with the Prime Minister of Lithuania (Algirdas Butkevičius), the Israel Ambassador to Lithuania (Amir Maimon), the head of the Lithuanian Jewish community (Faina Kukliansky), among others.
I am speechless after seeing this beautiful statue - the young girl, carrying flowers. As the violinist plays the theme from "Schindler’s List" there are tears in my eyes and I’m glad I’m wearing sunglasses.
Fania Kukliansky, Amir Maimon, Prime Minister Butkevičius, Me
The sunglasses hide my tears
I later think I should have tied the scarf around the statue’s neck, but I still can’t let go of Nochum Berman’s gift to my mother, despite the symbolism that leaving it with the statue would have offered.
Emilija and Me - if anyone would have told our mothers we would be sharing this day, in Šeduva, 75 years after they last saw each other, I’m sure they wouldn’t have believed it!
The Statue, Me, The Scarf, Sergey Kanovich
After the ceremony, there was a lovely dinner at the Mill with time to meet and speak with more people.
The Mill Banquet Hall
And then it was back to Vilnius for a 6:00 am flight home. This time, Vilnius to Frankfurt, to Chicago, to Cleveland. I had thought the 2 hour trip from Šeduva to Vilnius at this time of year would have beautiful colored leaves, but everything was still mostly green except this one patch
Leaves changing colors
And, there was a newscast. Have no idea what it says! https://youtu.be/a34XA9F4pJ4
I am not recalling what my expectations were for this very quick trip, but it was worth every minute! We cannot bring back Nochum, Malka, Hadassah, Elke, or anyone else, but they are collectively being remembered and honored through beautiful monuments and statues. I thank everyone who made this day possible and everyone who continues to honor the memory of the many Jews who once lived in Šeduva as they visit these sites and pay their respects.
Zichronam livracha – May their memories be a blessing.
Many thanks to others who have posted online and to Facebook where I was able to find some of the above pictures and videos. Some posts have been shared so many times I don’t know whom to credit. More information from the perspective of others, can be found at the following sites:
Šeduva unveils monument for town’s Jewish population
http://defendinghistory.com/seduva-shadov-the-memorial-events-of-friday-9-october-2015/77567 - Defending History post by Evaldas Balčiūnas
http://www.bernardinai.lt/straipsnis/2015-10-13-atmintis-gyva-jei-ji-zadinama-kasdien/136126 - in Lithuanian with many excellent pictures
http://www.veidas.lt/seduva-dinges-litvaku-stetlas - in Lithuanian