Kupiskis Wall of Memory Holocaust Memorial - Day 2

This day was filled with many activities, all connected to a theme of remembrance and memorializing the atrocities of the Holocaust in Lithuania.  We began the day at the Vilnius’ Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum, a small institution with a pictorial display of the history of the Jews of Lithuania and their accomplishments as well as their demise.  We saw the heroes of our people, their poets, their writers, all displayed and remembered.  There, too, we had the opportunity to obtain hard to find books and other mementos of the history of Lithuania’s Jews.  


Leaving the museum, we went to the Paneriai Forest, a place of blackest infamy, a place where 70,000 Jews had met their deaths.  As we trudged through the sun-dappled and then drizzling forest, we could hardly imagine how such a place could be used for such a nefarious purpose.   Our path took us to a number of monuments and to the pits where the Jews had been buried. 




 Main sign at entrance to Paneriai Forest

Eventually, we reached the main monument.  We said kaddish, prayed and wept in silence . . . the experience was intense, the more so as all 48 of us shared it together.  



Reciting kaddish at the main holocaust monument in the Panerai Forest .

As we left the forest, I picked up several small stones to take with me to Kupiskis to lay on the graves there in memory.  Someone else, near me, picked up some small pine cones as a remembrance and then shared them with me as well.  The cones, to me, symbolized the essence of life, providing the continuity for our being in that spot, still there to give testimony to our faith and the survival of the Jews. 

Our next stop was the Vilna Saltiniskiu Jewish Cemetery where we spent some time visiting the many graves of well-known Jews who were buried there.  The cemetery was a busy place with many visitors and caretakers and it has a main office where a computerized listing of all burials is kept.  Several of the group members used the listing to locate family burials. 

The most famous burial in the cemetery is that of the Vilna Gaon.  His original grave was moved after the war from the old Snipiskis Jewish Cemetery to the Saltiniskiu Cemetery where he is buried with several other members of his direct family, members of the Pesseles family with whom he was related, and the famous gentile convert Abraham ben Abraham, Count Potowcki, in an enclosed tomb or ohel.  Littered with paper messages with blessings, candles, and other things, the grave is a place of hallowed pilgrimage to many Jews from all over the world.  Our prayers there were led by one of the Holocaust survivors of the Vilna Ghetto.  

I had been told that there was a grave in the cemetery of a woman who had been born in Kupiskis and I wanted to locate it and determine who the woman was.  I mentioned this to the group and asked that they carefully look around them as they walked through the cemetery and see if they could find such a grave. 

Surprisingly, within a few minutes, Vered Reiter, daughter of Alec Meyer, pointed to a grave in front of the Gaon’s tomb.  Sure enough, there it was, the grave of Esther Gitel bat Ze’ev Katz.

The tombstone states:

Our Dear Mother

The Modest Woman

Esther Gittel daughter of Reb Ze’ev Katz z"l

from Kupishok

Died 8th Nissan Tarshav 5712

14 July 1952


That evening we had a special meal at a restaurant across from the hotel and then came back to the hotel afterwards to have an evening session where we shared our feelings and emotions of the day’s travels.
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