Saturday, June 21, 2014

Good news in Kaunas, Lithuania ~ Saturday, June 21, 2014

Dear Readers: Today’s post will include events that are definitely more upbeat!  No mass graves, no cemeteries, and we will focus on Jews who lived and the non-Jews who saved them! 

Oh, did we mention that our bus driver (who was supposed to be with us until airport drop-off) abandoned us last night?  Perhaps we depressed him with our sad itinerary.  He would have been happy with today’s activities.  But without him, we had to trudge MILES through rainy and cold Kaunas, up steep hills and down uneven cobblestone streets.  (All this is true). 

Kaunas Choraline Synagogue
In the morning, after enjoying presentations from three different students, we walked to the synagogue.  We merely looked at the impressive outside, and Prof. Myers talked about the determination of the Orthodox Jews to preserve their traditions. 

Like true scholars eager for knowledge, we marched through the streets and up a steep city hill, the drivers of the buses and cars amazed at our energy.  At the top was a lovely park-like neighborhood where we eventually found the former Japanese Embassy, currently the Sugihara Museum.  It had also been the home of Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consul to Lithuania in 1939-41, his children, and his wife, Yukiko, who played an important role in the saga.   

a life-saver

Defying orders from his superiors, he issued about 5,000 (numbers vary) travel visas to Polish Jewish refugees fleeing war-torn Poland.  With these documents, they traveled through the USSR on the Trans-Siberian Railway and reached safety in Asia.  Photos, documents, and maps decorated the rooms of the museum.  We also watched a very inspiring film with testimonies of those saved by Sugihara.   

Kaunas Jewish community members

Prof. Myers had arranged a meeting with members of the Kaunas Jewish community who met us at the museum.   One was a survivor, and despite her persecution at the hands of non-Jews, she is actively involved in interfaith fellowships.

Others were involved in social-welfare tasks of the community or planning programs.  Each spoke to us in a different language, and it’s a good thing Prof. O’Sullivan could translate the German, Lithuanian, and Russian! 

We ate lunch in Old Town Kaunas.  What are our lunches like?  Typically, everybody scatters in groups of 2 – 4 to the nearest restaurant (no such thing as fast food in Poland or Lithuania), attempting to decipher the menu and not irritate the waitresses too much, and then, when the food finally arrives after agonizing minutes, everybody inhales the meal in the effort to meet back at the promised time.  Invariably, some people are late, and after much sighing and checking of watches, the entire group takes off to conquer the next challenge.

This next activity may sound hellish, but it wasn’t.

Driftwood devil
We went to The Devil’s Museum.   This is a private collection of carvings, sculptures, paintings, pottery, and items that portray the devil from different cultural traditions.  They varied from the comic to the horrific in multiple artistic styles and materials, filling four floors of the building.

Lietuva means Lithuania, and notice the basketball logo.

Gathering together afterwards in the lobby, Rauhman taught us about Lithuanians’ obsession with basketball. 

"The King's Fairy Tale"

Jeremy followed with an exposition on the Lithuanian musician and painter Mikalojus Čiurlionis (choor-lee-o-niss) – and then most of us walked across the street to the Čiurlionis Museum to view the work of the artist himself.    The paintings were exotic, haunting, abstract, and beautiful!

We were not allowed to take photos, but we found this online image of one of the paintings we liked:  

After a day devoid of tragedy, we were exhausted.  We ordered pizza into the hostel for dinner and went to bed early.

1 comment:

  1. Your Lithuania trips seem to be so fun! I'm kinda jealous for you to be able to see a bit different country than typical tourists do. Btw, in Kaunas you could have tasted Taluti - it's a dessert cafe, very well known among Lithuanians!