MY VISIT TO KVEDARNA: JULY 1996
A personal memoir by Selma Jackson,
During my visit to Lithuania in July 1996,
I visited the shtetlach of Shilel (Silale) and Kvedarna (Chweidan),
with our guide Regina. The two towns are only 9 miles apart.
In Shilel, we were taken to the Jewish cemetery, which
had only one tombstone left! According to my cousin Luba, who lived
in Kvedarna prior to World War II, it was in a forest 4 kilometres from
Silale (Tulein, maybe "Tubines Forest") that a number of Jews from Kvedarna
were taken by the Nazis to be killed and buried in one large grave.
Then, finally, we were on the outskirts of
the shtetl I was most looking forward to seeing - Kvedarna
(Dad used to say "Chweidan, in the district of Silale", and that is what
is written on the tombstone of my grandparents, on the Mount of Olives,
Jerusalem). At 10 am we stopped at the road sign KVEDARNA at the
entry to the village: this was the shtetl where my father, Nathan
bar David Ha'Levi Horwitz had been born, and where my grandparents David
and Esther Horwitz and their family had lived. I had been told that
they had owned one of the few brick houses in the town.
As we entered the village, we stopped the
car, and Regina approached an elderly woman who was standing in the yard
of the first house on the right. Regina spoke to her in Lithuanian,
and asked if she had always lived in Kvedarna. She hadn't, but she
called her husband, who had. Regina asked him if he remembered David
Horwitz, and he said "Yes,.he had an old general store in the main street".
We thanked him, and went to the municipal offices in the centre of the town,
hoping to find a map and names of occupiers, as we had previously found
in another village we had visited, Anyksciai. We were sent from office
to office, and eventually Regina began talking to a very officious type
of lady who was sharing an office with three others. Regina explained
that my father and grandparents had lived in Kvedarna, and that I was hoping
to be able to find and see their house.
They got very excited - thinking about it
now, I wonder if it was not perhaps agitated - but they were very nice, and
then a gentleman came out of the next door office, and asked what all the
commotion was about. There was plenty of talking in Lithuanian, and
then he was introduced to us. He turned out to be the Mayor, Nikolajus
Sevcenko, a Ukranian. He locked his office door, said goodbye to the
two gentlemen he had been seeing, and said he would show us Kvedarna!
He took us to see a lady, Bronia Bushekiene,
who lived at No. 20, SiIale Street, whom he thought might remember.
She took some time to come from tending her vegetable garden, and then
we went into her wooden house - inside was worse than outside! She
had been having strawberries and cream for breakfast, as they were still
on the table. She did not remember David Horwitz, or Gurwitz,
but she said something to the Mayor, who then made a telephone call.
This must have been to the Hospital, because this is where the Mayor then
took us He said there was an elderly lady there who had survived
the concentration camp. He went in on his own, saying that he would
call us when he had spoken to her.
It must have been 10-15 minutes before he
called us in. Thinking about it later, they must have been cleaning
her and the room, and may be all the other rooms we had to pass by, as there
were no other people in these rooms. When I walked into her room, she
was sitting in bed. She looked at me, and started crying, calling "Luba,
Luba". I said "No. Luba is my cousin. She lives in Israel".
"Yes, I know that", she said.. She turned out to be Barbara Stasynaite,
born in 1923, and who used to work for Luba's parents - Shmuel and Shina
Gita Rachmel. Barbara and Luba were in the concentration camp together,
and had remained friends, and still corresponded.. The two of them, and
Luba's sister Rose (who lives in Chicago) were the only three who survived
the camp. Barbara had gone back to Kvedarna after being liberated,
whereas Luba found her husband, and went to Israel. (In January 1997
I received a letter from the Mayor telling me the said news that Barbara
had passed away in November 1996, and had been buried near her mother in
the Kvedarna cemetery, and that the hospital had now been closed).
The Mayor then drove with us to the town centre,
where we parked the car in the main street, on the corner opposite the
town square. Today this is the Square
of Remembrance , dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Holocaust
and in the concentration camps. I took a photograph of a brick two-storey
building (now a butcher shop) across the road from where we were parked,
saying that "maybe this was my Uncle Naftoli's house". When I later
got to Tel Aviv and spoke to Luba, she told me that this had in fact been
my grandfather's shop, with the living quarters upstairs, where they had
lived with their son Shmuel Meier (my uncle), his wife Chaie, and their
sons Meishe and Chaim!. Their son Naftoli and his wife Rivke and
daughter Leiba had lived across the road in a big brick house.
The Mayor and I then walked to an open grassed
plot of ground . He said
this was where the synagogue used to stand, and that today "nothing can
be built on this ground".
We then drove to the Jewish Cemetery , which is on the outskirts of
the town. There a black memorial
has been placed where the Ohel once stood. There were not
many tombstones standing in the cemetery, but those I did see were all
fairly high, narrow tombstones, quite different from the ones I had seen
in Anyksciai. I took details of a few: 1936 Mordechai ben Rav Aharon;
1905 Shrage ben Yakov; one white stone, Yehuda ben Avraham, remembered by
his daughter and son in Johannesburg. Some of these stones had clearly
been erected by children in South Africa. My sons read a few psalms.
I think that even at their age, here they felt a close affinity.
I personally felt very drained and sad here.
We took the Mayor back to the civic building,
where I wanted to buy a postcard or photograph of Kvedarna. but there
were none to be had. Just as we were leaving, the Mayor came
running back - we had already taken our leave of him, and thanked him
for his help, and he presented me with a baked clay medal which showed
the town's Memorial Square, and which had been made to commemorate
the Holocaust, the concentration camp and the survivors.
We left at 11.55am. All this had taken
just under two hours.