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In May 2003 I visited the "new" Rumsiskes. I was aware that the original town had been flooded in 1960 in order to construct the Kauno Marios dam. I also knew that the present Rumsiskes would be devoid of any Jewish remnants from the shtetl Rumshishok. Still, I wanted to see the town if only for its name.
I have been to many towns and villages in Lithuania, all of which once had significant Jewish communities. Although no Jews remain, you can still imagine the shtetl that once was there. You can find the old Jewish cemetery (or where it used to be), you can find the mass gravesite (or the general area in the woods or forest), and someone might show you where the synagogue used to be and where the rabbi used to live. And if you are really lucky, you may find an old person who had even known your family and can point to where they used to live.
But not so in Rumsiskes. I could not walk down any street where my grandmother had once walked. I could not feel or see or touch anything that had been a part of the world I was looking for. Everything there was totally traiff.
So I went to Kovno and headed for the shul to fill the void.
I asked a man inside the synagogue if he could tell me anything concerning the story I had heard about Rumshishok - that some graves had been moved from the Rumshishok Jewish cemetery to a cemetery in Kovno (Kaunas) before the flooding of Rumsiskes. The man pointed to another man who would be able to tell me.
This man turned out to be Yeshayahu Matusevich, the gabbai of the Kovno synagogue. He told me that the Jewish cemetery in Kovno had a Rumshishok communal grave. He would take me there if I wanted to go. It was not far, and he had more than an hour before the evening service would start.
On our way to the cemetery, Yeshayahu explained that in 1958, prior to the flooding of the old Rumsiskes, every grave from the Jewish cemetery was dug up and the remains were moved to the Rumshishok section of the Kovno Jewish cemetery. The headstones could not be relocated because the Soviets would not allow this.
The remains of the Shoah victims were also removed from the mass grave in or near Rumsiskes and reburied in the same section of the Kovno cemetery. The result is one communal grave for Rumshishok and its large monument.
Standing at the site was a reward and a consolation. Rumshishok still lives.
The site is beautiful and peaceful, sunny and shady. The turf is a healthy green like the first grass in spring. The plot is about fifty feet long by thirty feet wide and is very well maintained. The monument is in a shaded spot that looks like an alcove. The Hebrew inscription reads:
The Dearly Departed from the cemetery
of the Village of Rumshishok
and the Holy Martyrs of the Community of Rumshishok
who were killed by the Fascist Murderers
in the year 5701 (corresponding to) July 6, 1941
And their bones were brought here in the
year 5718 (corresponding to) 1958
May their souls be bound up in the bonds of Eternal Life.
— Translated from the Hebrew by Rabbi Ben-Zion Saydman