Kupiskis Wall of Memory Holocaust Memorial - Day 4

by Ann Rabinowitz

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

This day was the culmination of all our dreams and efforts up to this point as we were going to our ancestral shtetl, at long last, and participating in the dedication ceremony. 

My feelings were heightened as we boarded the bus as I realized that I actually was going to see with my own eyes rather than visualize in my mind the shtetl I had heard and read about for so long.  Would it meet my historical expectations and would the pain of being where the ultimate degradation of the Jewish spirit took place ultimately prevent me from accepting what took place there?  I did not know.

The ride to Kupiskis was smooth and the countryside was tranquil and filled with the colors and foodstuffs of the summer season.  As I saw the familiar names of nearby shtetlach flash by, my anticipation grew until we reached the outskirts of Kupiskis.  We stopped by the entry sign and got out and stretched out legs and spent quite a bit of time posing by the sign as a picturesque reminder that we had been in this spot. 

When the photos had been taken we got on the bus yet again and swept into Kupiskis, around the circular entry and then down towards the Great Shul where the ceremonies were to take place.  I recognized all the places around me from photos and the Shul loomed over the surroundings, now relegated to serving as a public library. 

The park in front of the library was filled with Kupishokers there to greet us and curious to see a returning Jewish population not seen in evidence since 1941.   My mind couldn’t help wondering who amongst those watching had participated in the atrocities as there were numerous elderly people there. 

We entered the Shul and found a warm welcome from the authorities, with an exhibit of the Jewish communities on the walls.  Our group included a number of people who had come from other shtetlach in Lithuania such as Kaunas, Panevezys, and Vilnius and others who were Kupishokers who were visiting Lithuania at the same time as us, but had not been able to make it on our trip.  We filled the Shul and the men in the group performed their religious duties by laying tefillim and participating in the Shachrit Service.  It was truly beautiful and we all cried realizing that we were the first Jews in the Shul since 1941. 

For me personally, the service was more than that as I watched Pearl Choritz Rogow and her husband Ian and son Noam as they prayed with tears in their eyes and thought of her Choritz family who had davened in this very Shul and who had perished.  Kenny Sachar and his cousin Ronnie Fendel who were part of the large Sachar family in Kupiskis were there too, weeping in remembrance of their family.  Kenny’s daughter Cassie Sachar sat next to me and we both sang loudly and clearly the Hatikvah and other songs, proud that we had been privileged to be brought up as Jews and able to participate fully and freely in this day.

For the Holocaust survivors amongst us, the pain must have been particularly hurtful as they sat on those benches which some of them must have indeed have once prayed from.  The walls that had been painted and decorated and the Women’s section above were now no more.  All the Jewishness had been obliterated.  But somehow, this did not matter as our Cantor Sami Ymar and Rabbi Michael Mayersohn led us in the timeless prayers.  We felt the holiness of this spot and the sacred nature of what we were doing there.

After the service we went into the area prepared for the dedication ceremony.  Much had been done by the Board of Directors to prepare with the authorities for the ceremony.  A beautiful Israeli flag adorned the Wall of Memory Holocaust Memorial.  A table in front of the Wall contained yahrzheit candles with the flags of each country from which participants had come. 

A beautiful Memorial Service booklet had been prepared for each participant and the service started with the singing of Eli Eli, then She lo yigamer Leolam, Hakhol ve hayam, Rishrush shel hamayim, Berak hashamayim, and O Lord My God. 

A beautiful prayer by Chanah Senesh, a Hungarian Jew who was a member of the Resistance during World War II, was recited next.

I pray that these things never end
The sand and the sea
The rush of the waters
The crash of the heavens
The prayer of the heart T’filat a’adam

Upon parachuting into Hungary from then Palestine on a reconnaissance mission for the Resistance,  Chanah was arrested by the Nazis.  She had written the poem while in prison.

Norman Meyer then spoke and said:

We stand here today, a link in the chain of human destiny. We have come to this place to remember our brothers and sisters, our grandparents, our uncles and aunts, our cousins, our nephews and nieces who lived in a world uncaring and perished in a world indifferent.  We have come to honor their blessed memory and to vow that we will never forget them.

Rabbi Mayersohn then gave the opening invocation to the proceedings and this was followed by a short talk by myself  “A Tribute to the Past”.

The Mayor of Kupiskis then came to the podium and made many remarks amongst them a summation of the history of the Jews of Kupiskis which can be found elsewhere on this site. 

After this, Samy Ymar sang Ani Ma’amin and then Norman again came to the podium and spoke:

As we rekindle the light in his place, this lobby of remembrance, This place which was once a synagogue where our people prayed for many decades, we remember with veneration not only those who died in this town, but also the millions of our people destroyed so viciously, in an evil attempt to eradicate the name and culture of Israel.  We remember with deepest pride the courage of those who kindled the flame of rebellion among the beseiged masses of the ghettos.  We remember the righteous among the nations and some of the citizens of Kupiskis who risked their lives to save Jews from persecution and death.  I call on three survivors who were born in this town and who are witness to the dedication of the hallowed names of their own families, to step forward and light their own candles of remembrance:  Tova Dranov, Gary Bodas, and Zelda Krupnikas.

Then, he called on Ziva Bittan, from Israel, to light her memorial candle and call up:  Pera Bodas, Jeanette Dick, Mervyn Shapiro, Tamar Insler, Israel Insler, Renee Kaufman, and Zipora Peer.

This was followed by Harvey Sherzer, from the United States, who lit his candle and called up:  Susan Sherzer, Ava Abramowitz, Fay-Ann Brodie, Kerry Brodie, Noah Winterstein, Rabbi Michael Mayersohn, Beryl Meyer, and Ann Rabinowitz.

Another to be called up was Michele Fendel, from South Africa, and she, in turn, called up Ronald Fendel, Clive Moss, Hilda Moss, Alec Meyer, Vered Reiter, Roni Meyer, Fay Morris and Sidney Shapiro.

Next was Harris Jacobs, from Australia, who then called up Adele Jacobs, Donna Jacobs, Ian Rogow, Pearl Rogow, Noam Rogow, Molly Tatel, Samy Ymar, and Norman Meyer.

And finally, Ken Sachar, of the United Kingdom, lit his candle and called up:  Cassie Sachar, Dina Serra, Mia Serra, Cleo Serra, Michael Symon, Sadie Symon, Zvi Symon, and Eli Symon.

Norman again took the podium and stated:

We now call on the three youngest members of our group, all descendants and great great grandchildren of family who perished in this, the Holocaust of Kupiskis, to come forward and unveil the Memorial Wall:  Kerry Brodie, Cleo Serra and Noah Wintergreen.  With that the Israeli Flag was removed from the Wall and it was revealed to the onlookers for the first time.

At this point in this very moving segment of the program, Norman Meyer again rose to express his feelings about why he and his family had become involved in the Wall of Memory Holocaust Memorial Project and why it was so important.

I woke up one morning some months ago, in a cold sweat, the nightmare of the Holocaust of our people again tormenting my neshoma.  In the darkness of that early morning, my thoughts turned to our own present day grandchildren, their safety, their security, their bounden right to live as Jews in freedom.  I began to piece together this recurring nightmare, which prompted me to attempt to visualize the fate of our three little cousins.  Their names were Mendel, Elijah and Sholem.  They were little children beginning life’s journey.  Kids like our own grandkids - ages 10 and 9 and 3.

 How mystified they must have been, frightened, scared, I am sure weeping, as they were led away to be killed.  How does a ten year old comfort a 9 year old and how do they both comfort a 3 year old.  Not with their precious parents, or even their grandparents, just alone with their friends, their chevra, led to their death and brutally shot down, buried in nameless graves here in this beautiful country which they all called home.  They knew no other home. 

Our family has nine close relatives on this Wall.  So we keep asking the question. Why?  Why?  Why?  We are the people of the Book.  We gave the world monotheism.  We gave them the Ten Commandments. We gave the world the Bible.  And yet, here was another attempt to brutally annihilate us.


What happened in Kupishok took place in all the countries under the Nazi regime.  And make no mistake about they had many willing accomplices, even here in Kupiskis.  We know all about Luva, the head of the police, Graizunas, and his assistant Gadialis, the gym teacher Kargzdieta and Luva’s mistress, Zikunis and the graduates of the Gymnasia, Yukanis, Tchumshumis, Dubrindis, Dambraukartis and many other Lithuanians.  Their descendants live in your midst today.


They brought shame and a stigma to your town and to your country that cannot be removed.  And yet....  We did not walk away.


What inspired us motivated us, to come back to these killing fields of Lithuania.  Why did we spend so much of our time in putting together this memorial?  Why did Alec and Mervyn and Ian and Pearl, and Beryl and Fay-Ann and Natalie and Chana and Orna and Roni and Ziva and Bais, decide to perpetuate the memory of those whom we did not know?  We never spoke to them; we never wrote to them, they lived in a different world. And yet … we decided that the least we could do was to bring their names to life again, to give them the persona, the dignity, the honor, they deserve.  They are all in Gan Eden, but here on earth their names, on this Wall, bring their memory to life.  It was a task that had to be fulfilled.  As we said, “This is the least that we can do”


This generation of Lithuanians, freed from your own yoke of tyranny some thirteen years ago, has a role to play in educating your generation and succeeding generations to remember and to atone for this stain that has besmirched your nation.  We cannot do this for you—it is a role, which you have to play as a full and free member of the family of nations.  How you perform this role in rekindling your respect for us as Jews and Israel as a nation, we leave to posterity and to the generations that will follow you.  It is a task and a challenge that we lay before you.


The memorial that we all see for the first time today was clothed with an Israeli flag.  How appropriate.  How proud we all feel that all 12 million of us have our own home, our own country, our own nation - Israel.  Let us say to our Lithuanian friends, to this new and hopefully unsullied generation, that we as Jews have come back and once again proclaim on this the 13th of July, 2004, that we as a nation will not forget.  We are a proud and defiant nation.  We cherish our heritage.  We stand here before you today to honor the memory of our families, our fellow Jews.  It is the memories of the past that give us the courage to confront the future.  It is the memories of the past that give us the courage to confront the future.

Norman then asked us all to repeat a pledge which has been used extensively in Holocaust dedications across the world:

We, who are our sons and daughters, belong to a generation in which every attempt was made for use never to exist.  We, who represent your victory and your triumph over evil of unthinkable dimensions, accept the responsibility to preserve and protect the legacy of the holocaust.
We pledge to commemorate
We pledge to educate 
We pledge to forever remember
We pledge to those who suffered in ways which words cannot describe, that our commitment is an everlasting commitment for this generation and for every generation to come.
We dedicate this pledge to our beloved grandmothers and grandfathers, who never lived to see us.
We dedicate this pledge to our aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers and sister, who are forever missing from our lives.
We dedicate this pledge to all of the six million who were so brutally murdered, but who will always be in our thoughts and in our hearts.

Following this, we all recited the El Maleh Rachamim and then ended this wonderful ceremony with the words again of Chanah Senesh:

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns in the recesses of the heart.
Blessed is the heart with the strength to throb its last beat in dignity
Blessed is the match consumed in igniting flame.
There are stars whose radiance is visible on earth though they have long been extinct.
There are people whose brilliance continues to light the worl d though they are no longer among the living.
These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark.
They light the way for Mankind.

With that Rabbi Michael Mayersohn closed the proceeding with a Benediction and the singing of Hatikvah which was so heartfelt and full of pride.  We all then went up to the Wall of Memory to view our family names and see what we had wrought.

The Kupishokers viewed the Wall as well and for them it was the visual confirmation that Jews had lived in their town that they did not know about, had not been told about, and had not seen written about.  They now knew that 826 human beings, men, women and children of various ages, a whole and vibrant community, had been destroyed.  They had existed, there names were inscribed upon the Wall for all to remember.  Let those who deny the Holocaust see this Wall and still deny it.

The day was not over yet as we then went to the Kupiskis Banquet Hall where the Mayor hosted our group for a luncheon. Presentations were then made with Alec Meyer making several as follows:

I have come for the third time to Kupishok with my daughters Vered and Roni, family and friends, to remember my grandparents whom I never knew, my aunts and uncles whom I never knew, the wives and husbands of my uncles and aunts whom I never knew, and their children whom I never knew.  I never knew them, but I am standing very close to them.

We are a privileged generation who has come to pay homage and remembrance.  On our visit in 1997 when the Mayor of Kupiskis presented us with a list of over 800 Jewish residents who were murdered during June to September 1941, our destiny was determined.  It is right that, at this time, I thank Leonas, the Mayor of Kupiskis, and Janus, the Deputy Mayor.  They stand for the decency in mankind.  Without their cooperation, we wouldn’t be here today to pay our respects to a world that was.  It is the only town in Lithuania that has put names to the tragedy.  It was a world that, but by a quirk of fate, we were elsewhere and allowed to tell the story and not forget.

I pay homage to two other Lithuanians that I have read about.  The priest Rogalskis, a teacher of Latin, who tried to help Jews and, of course, Dr. Frantskevitch, the town doctor who sheltered in his home for over a month my Aunt Basia-Devora and her three children, until they were exposed by informers.

I do not forget the murderers who lived amongst the Jews.  I do not forget Pezes and Lowe, Lisankas, who shot small children, Graitchinos, Baltchunos, Petrulis, and Tomashanus.  I am sure there were more, but I have come to honor our grandparents Naftali and Malka Meyerowitz, who lived in 17 Matalonie Street and who had a shop in the market place in Turgeitas No 18.  To honor my grandparents Yekutial and Zelda Goldinus.  To honor my Uncle Benjamin and his wife Basia Devora Meyerowitz and their three children, Mendel, Elya, and Chaim.

To honor my Aunt Sheina and her husband Avraham Miskaukaite and their child Gitel.  To honor my Aunt Breina and her husband Shmuel Krengel.  To honor my grandparents’ brother Gershon and his wife Rosa Meyerowitz.  

May their memories be blessed. Yehi Zichram Baruch.

Presentation to Mayor Leonas Aspegas

On behalf of this group of ancestors of Kupishok I would like to present to you, the Mayor of Kupiskis, Leonas Apsegas, this replica of an 18th century Greek Hanukah lamp.  It originates in the port city of Salonika and can be found today in the Israeli museum in Jerusalem.

Hanukah is a Jewish festival of 8 days and it commemorates the victory of the Macabees in Israel over the Greeks in 164 BCE and the reconsecration of the temple in Jerusalem.  There is an inscription in Hebrew and it is a quotation from Proverbs in the Bible

For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching is a light

May this Hanukah lamp, under your leadership, bring much light to your community.

Presentation to Deputy Mayor Jonas Jarutis

On behalf of this group of ancestors of Kupishok, I would like to present to you, the Deputy Mayor of Kupiskis, Jonas Jarutis, this work of art by the Israeli artist Shraga Landesman.

His spiritual sources are the Bible and the ancient cultures that lived in the region.  You will note that in this work of his is a dove looking out over his nest.  This dove is a symbol of peace that we desire in our part of the world and when peace arrives as it must, we will then become a light unto the nation, as it is written in the Bible.

Hopefully, this will remind you of our visit to your town, a town that most of us never lived in, but heard about from our parents, mostly on Friday nights.

Then Dr. Mervyn Shapiro got up to make a statement to us all:

A few words to our grandmother – Rachel Dvorah Shapiro nee Gafinovitch.

We never knew each other.  Sidney was born after your murder, and I am not sure at all that the news of my birth reached you in those terrible times of 1940. But it may have – and I would like to believe that it did.

We stand here today, your grandchildren Sidney and I, and one of your great granddaughters – Tamar Shapiro Insler – on behalf of all other members of our family together with survivors and descendents of survivors of the Jews of Kupishok, to pay tribute.

We have been privileged to participate in commemorating your names in the old shul of Kupishok.  We are grateful to all who made that possible.
We cannot offer any solace for the spiritual rape, mental anguish or physical suffering that you and the other victims of the holocaust were forced to endure.  But we appreciate the opportunity to recognize the members of our family whose lives were so brutally and cruelly ended here, on this very spot.

Rachel Dvorah - we have learnt the lesson that resounds from this communal grave. Firstly – – and this we are now practicing in a most tangible manner –; but that is not enough. As the rumbling of the new anti-Semitism in Europe becomes more insistent and urgent – we stand ready.  Unfaltering, we have a fighting chance to deter, and, if needs be, to defend – as we have done so successfully defended ourselves during the past 50 or so years.

Did I forget to mention, Rachel Dvorah, that we now have a Jewish State?  I’m sorry.  You see, already we take it for granted!  How deeply sorry we are that Israel was established too late for you and your contemporaries.  But yes, Israel does exist now as a free and democratic country around which Jews from all around the globe can unite and in whose flourishing they can all participate – wherever they may be.  It is a country to which all nations come to learn how to practice agriculture – of all things – how to irrigate and yes, would you believe it – how to fight.  The Jews are now teaching others how to use arms.  How do you like that!?

Consequently, I can now pledge – confidently and with complete certitude – believe me – with complete certitude that whatever harm may befall us in the future – what took place here an in Europe will never – can never - happen again.

You may rest in peace now Dvorah Rachel – We are here.

In addition, I then made a presentation of a book to Eugenia Urboniene, the person who had helped so much, firstly by writing about the Jewish community on the 50th Anniversary of their deaths in the local newspaper, the Kupiskis Mintys, and by later assisting with research for our trip and translation of materials. 

(Ann is giving Eugenija a beautiful challah cloth painted by a local artist in Cape Town, SA, which was donated by Debby Myers and that depicts the Jews fleeing Kupiskis.  The cloth will be exhibited along with family photos in a space near the Wall of Memory.)

Then, I called upon the Mayor of Kupiskis, Leonas Aspegas,  to accept some gifts from Mayor David Dermer, the Mayor of Miami Beach, as a gesture of goodwill.  The City of Miami Beach has one of the largest groups of Holocaust survivors in the world and a beautiful Holocaust Memorial.  Mayor Dermer was very pleased that Mayor Apsegas had taken the initiative to work with our group and bring the Wall of Memory Holocaust Memorial Project to fruition.

Following this, the Mayor had arranged for three mini-buses to take groups of us around the City for tours and to locate our family homes and other locations.  

My one memorable experience on the tour was my visit to the Nochum Smidt Mill. 

Nochum Smidt, the son of Elchonon Smidt and Sore Dvorsky of Raguva, was married to Batsheva Jaspan of Panevezys.  His sister Zlate Smidt married one of my Bedil relatives, Leizer Bedil.  A Kupiskis millionaire, he was a charitable person, by all accounts, to both Jews and Christians alike, but all his millions could not save him from the greed and wrath of his fellow citizens and machinations of the Nazis in Lithuania.

photograph of Smidt was found in the wall of his mill by the man who took over the property after his murder.  When I asked the man for the photo or a copy of it, he refused to part with it for sentimental reasons.  He did allow Clive Moss, who was with me, to take a photo copy of it with his  digital camera.

His mill was a well-known landmark in the town and served eventually as its first source of electricity and power.  Now peeling and run-down, the mill still has the outlines of its original shape, the interior dank and filled with old equipment, unused now.

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