Kupiskis Wall of Memory 
Holocaust Memorial - Day 1

by Ann Rabinowitz

Saturday, July 10, 2004

The next day began early as people disbursed to either attend Shabbat services or took a walking tour of Vilnius. This was a day devoted to the culture of the Litvaks and the 2-1/2 hour tour led by Regina took in all the sights, especially of old Vilna and the Vilna Ghetto, what is left of it. The ghetto which is in the process of being rehabilitated was filled with vacant weed-filled lots, places that were being modernized and apartments with terraces and balconies filled with beautiful summer flowers. We looked for certain streets, for addresses of loved ones, but they were often no longer there. The War had taken care of that and the Russians following had built over the rubble of what was left and now modernization would do the rest.
Zipora Peer, center, whose sister Lea Kessel and brother-in-law Tuvia Kessel joined the group in Vilnius. The sisters were descended from both the Vin and Kessel families. Tuvia, who was born in Kupiskis, is a Holocaust  survivor and lived in Vilnius after the War. His mother, Bronia Kessel, was killed in 1941 as the family tried to escape.
The homes or apartments of those who lived in the Vilna Ghetto area were many times centered around a courtyard reached through an ancient wooden or metal gate as in the old medieval European manner. The streets wound round and round, narrow and claustrophobic. The presence of the Vilna Gaon was all around us too as we saw where he was born, where he lived and taught and where he died.
Monument to the Vilna Gaon, Vilnius, Lithuania
We walked through the center of the old town and met a Holocaust survivor, Edita Soloveichek, the lone member of her illustrious family to survive. She stopped to speak with us on a street corner whilst the Yiddish speakers amongst us such as Ian Rogow helped with translation. Edita told us about what had happened during the war to her family and to others. These types of chance meetings and others were to enhance our understanding of the hardships and despair suffered by the Jews of Vilna and those who survived.
Edita Soloveichek speaking to Ian Rogow and the Kupiskis group in Vilnius
At one point in the tour, we paused and rested in a leafy park in the center of the ghetto area and spoke about the cultural and religious life of Vilna of old, of the rise of Zionism and the impact of the dispersion of the Litvaks to the far corners of the world, in particular, South Africa and Israel. We returned to the hotel filled with the knowledge of the history of our people and their accomplishments. In the afternoon, we had a discussion about the records of our families and what they mean and people again shared information about their families. 

Later that evening we had a delicious meal in an outdoor restaurant where a three piece folk band played for us. Afterwards, we returned to the hotel and engaged in the sharing sessions that we all looked forward to each evening. During this time, Tova Margolies Dranov was kind enough to share with us her family story which touched all of us greatly. 

Her father, prior to the War breaking out, was able to go to Israel where he joined his sister and then he sent for his wife and two young daughters. They were to come on a special visa for children going to school in Israel. However, at the last moment, his wife was prevented from accompanying the children and they had to travel alone with the others on the trip. 

Efforts to get her out failed and she sent a last postcard to her beloved family in Israel before she was killed in 1941. It was this postcard that Ruvin Monowitz, Tova's husband, translated for us that night from the Yiddish to English. Every space on the card was filled with words of hope for the future, love for her children and family and the loss she felt by being so far away from them. It brought home quite intimately the tragedy of families that were split apart and destroyed by the Holocaust.

(Photos courtesy of Ann Rabinowitz)

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