During the course of our visit, we were able to pursue discussions that will now take the project to its conclusion. Our first meeting in Vilnius was with the Deputy Minister of Culture, Mr. Gintaras Sodeika, and his staff at the government offices of his Ministry. We discussed with them the possibility of
including the synagogue in Kupiskis in their National Registry of Immovable Cultural Properties. We had been corresponding in connection with this proposal in the months before our visit and in their latest letter they had informed us that this was not possible. The Ministry’s staff (architects, etc.) had visited Kupiskis at the end of April, 2003, with
a view to examining the synagogue building.
As you know, the original synagogue was converted into a public library for the citizens of Kupiskis. The changes that had taken place over the years had altered the façade and the appearance of the building. I might add that there are synagogues in Lithuania that are forming part of this National Registry.
Our own later visit to the "library" did, to some extent, confirm their conclusions. However, it should be pointed out that when we visited the "library" (that was the original synagogue), it is fairly apparent that the old type of synagogue windows are still visible and furthermore the local Lithuanians that accompanied us on our on
site visit were able to point out the location of the "bimah" and the "aron kodesh" and of course the ‘ladies’ gallery. We were also shown a xerox of a photograph of the synagogue which was taken in 1947 which showed the building as having been burnt out. This burning out is confirmed in the testimony given by Rabbi
Ephraim Oshry in his book "The Annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry" and other sources.
The view of Alec and Mervyn and I was that the synagogue was being used as a library and in a sense a "beit midrash" and that to have declared it as a National Cultural Site would probably have precluded it from being used as a library. I might also mention that the Mayor of Kupiskis and his
Council have made representations to the Ministry of Culture and to the Ministry of Finance and have requested more than $1m to upgrade the electrical and air conditioning systems in this hallowed building. The document to these two ministries was handed to me for my own perusal. On my return to the U.S., I wrote to both Ministries advancing and lobbying
on behalf of the Kupiskis Municipality
On Monday afternoon, July 28, 2003, we traveled to Kupiskis to prepare for our meeting with the Mayor, Leonas Apsega, and his staff that was scheduled for the following morning. We visited with a few of the locals that we had made contact with in 1997 and spent more than three hours in their company talking
about the Jewish community of the town. One, Veronika, is in fairly good health and was a maid in the Meyerowitz home and she confirmed all that she had told us previously. Mervyn videoed all our meetings throughout the visit and with Regina interpreting and this has now been preserved as another valuable archival resource. We now have three reels of
testimony as well as a full and complete record of all our deliberations.
We also visited my grandparents house which was opposite the home of Dr. Franzkevich and were invited in by the owner. All in all, a most poignant reminder of the past and the family that I never knew or ever communicated with. At this point, Mrs. Urboniene joined us as well. She is a writer for the local
newspaper and has researched and written about the Kupiskis Jewish community and is most knowledgeable. The five of us slept in Kupiskis that evening, after breaking bread together at a local restaurant.
The next morning, we met with Leon Apsega and his staff. It was a good meeting and after about an hour, we walked over to the synagogue—the library. This is a busy public library and although it was a week day, there were many studying and making use of the facility. The lobby part of the library is a
new addition to the old synagogue and is the only entrance to the building. The lobby is spacious and the wall facing the entrance would be the most suitable site for the Wall of Memory. Without a word from either Mervyn or Alec or I, Mr. Apsega said immediately, "This is where we can erect the Wall!" A photograph can be viewed on our web site of
its intended position. We "embraced" the offer, shook hands, took measurements, photographs and felt elated at this turn of events.
Furthermore, I might add that Mr Apsega mentioned that if we required any other space in an adjoining part of the library, that this would be available—for photographs etc. I might also add that I had commissioned a Maryland firm of signmakers, Art Display, Inc., to design a Wall of Memory using the
information I had given them as well as a copy of the Holocaust list that we had been handed during our visit of 1997. A splendid prototype of the Wall of Memory was then produced by Art Display, Inc.
As you all know our dear Ann Rabinowitz has examined and spent hours compiling this list in a more lucid and alphabetical form. We were then entertained to a festive lunch as the guests of the Mayor. In the afternoon, we visited the only existing memorial in the "atheist" cemetery, where the Jews
were slaughtered and thrown into open graves. A photo of this memorial with an inscription in Yiddish and Lithuanian can also now be seen on our web site. The three of us were of the opinion that this grave site needed rehabbing as it is made of concrete, not granite or other more durable material, and has been badly chipped and dirtied since the time just
after the War when it was erected. We mentioned this to the Mayor and intimated that we would be prepared to incur this expense. The cost of this rehab together with the Wall of Memory will be approximately $12,000. More on this later.
The Wall of Memory will contain the names of all those on the Holocaust Victims Lists. There are more than 800 names and, after much consultation with Ann, will be alphabetized by her. We hope to have the list available for engraving by January 1, 2004. Shipment from Maryland to the port of Klapeida,
Lithuania, and then by truck to Kupiskis for the municipality to erect, should take place not later than end March, 2004. The rehab of the memorial in the cemetery should take place in the spring of 2004.
The heading and accompanying language of the Wall of Memory should be in English, Hebrew and Lithuanian. I hope this meets with everyone’s approval. The third and bottom section of the Wall will then list all the names of those families that have contributed a minimum of $500. At the same time, we felt that
we should honor Ann by including her name (she has done so much in keeping the flame of memory alive) and as another gesture we also wish to include the Kupiskis Special Interest Group as a donor. This will enable those members of the SIG who are unable to contribute the threshold amount of $500 to add whatever they feel comfortable with. All checks can
either be made payable to Art Display, Inc. (the signmakers here in Maryland) or to the Kupiskis Municipality. My address is 10907 Brewer House Road, Rockville, MD 20852. Please feel free to call me on my cell at 240 476 4373 should there be information you may require. My email address is Beryl20852@aol.com.
The IAJGS Annual Conference takes place in Jerusalem next year and ends with a festive dinner on Thursday, July 8, 2004. We would be delighted to invite all members of the SIG to join us from July 9, 2004, in Vilnius, Lithuania! The Lufthansa, Austrian Air and Lithuanian Airways all fly into Vilnius. We will
select a hotel in Vilnius near the main Synagogue so that we can all "daven" together on Friday evening and Shabbat morning. A full program will be organized for that weekend as well possibly the Monday. The Jewish Museum, the Vilna Ghetto, the Museum of Tolerance, meetings with local "balebatim" will all be organized
during the next few months. Besides meeting with the local Jewish community and the head of the community, Dr. Simon Alperovitch, there will be discussions with Rachel Kostanien of the Jewish Museum, Emanuel Zingeris, the motivator of the Museum of Tolerance, as well as being in charge of the refurbishment of the open spaces in the original Jewish ghetto
and Mr. F. Levinsonas, an authority on the Lithuanian Holocaust. Regina will be our guide and mentor and transport will be available to Kupiskis, possibly Kaunas and definitely Panevezys. As the accommodation in Kupiskis is not great, we would all stay at the Romantik Hotel in Panevezys which is approximately 40km away.
At the present time, I have no idea of the cost of the program in Lithuania, as it will depend on the numbers attending. Our guests will be Regina, Sara Ainbinderaite (originally resident in Kupiskis and a retired physician living in Vilnius). We would also be responsible for some of the expenses of our local
Lithuanian guests in Kupiskis.
On either the Monday, July 12, 2004, and probably the Tuesday, July 13, 2004, a Memorial Service will be held in the original synagogue (the library), where we will finally unveil the Wall of Memory. A dear friend of mine Samy Ymar (President of a local Maryland Synagogue), will join our visit and will lead
the service. If we can move the service to a Monday, we could read from the Torah and award aliyot to many of the participants. More of this later, as we begin to flesh out the particulars of the visit.
Ann has suggested that I ask for a detailed map of the town with the names of the original property owners so that participants will be able to see where their families lived. I will attempt this. At the same time, you should know that Gary Bodas of Columbus, OH, will also be joining us. Together with Sara
Ainbinderaite (mentioned above), they will be able to take us back to the pre-1941 years, when they both lived in Kupiskis. It is hoped that as news of the trip is circulated that other ex-Kupishokers who now live in America, Australia, Great Britain, Israel, and South Africa, will undertaken this journey with us along with their families.
At the conclusion of the Memorial Service, we will then gather at the Cemetery to dedicate the grave of those of our family who were butchered in the dark days of June, 1941. I would anticipate that we would return to Vilnius on Wednesday, July 14, 2004. At that time, all participants will be free to plan
their own itineraries. We would therefore be responsible for five nights in Lithuania commencing on Friday evening, July 9, 2004.
It was our original intention to unveil the Wall on the July 22, 2004, which would then be the anniversary of our shetl’s holocaust. Ann then pointed out to me the dates of the Annual Meeting in Jerusalem. Hopefully, there will be many of the SIG who would like to join us on this ancestral journey. I will
do my best to accommodate any of your special needs and requests.
I never knew my grandparents (on both sides of the family) or my uncle and his family, my nieces and nephews. Most of us never had that privilege. The mitzvah we are about to perform in 2004 is to honor those who are buried in nameless pits in the countryside of Lithuania. Not only will we recognize
their memory, but we will also be transmitting a message to those who hate us. We will be able top tell this tale to our children, and they will recite it to their children, of this journey of remembrance that took place in the 21st century, in the summer of 2004.
No doubt the Mayor and our Jewish connections in Vilnius will also wish to assist in planning this incredible visit. This will be our third visit to Lithuania and we can promise you a journey to remember. No stone will be left unturned in planning and attending to all the meticulous detail that this will
require. As soon as we know the approximate size of the group, we can commence the task of determining all the costs, during our five day stay. The air travel will be for everyone’s own account. The costs in Lithuania will include all tips, meals, accommodation and transport. There will be no free ride for any of us organizing the visit and we will all
share equally in the total cost.
My pleasure to hear from all our ex Kupiskers! As the calendar year draws to a close, may I take the opportunity of wishing all of you a good year. May it be blessed with health and may we all gather in June, 2004, to drink a "l’chaim" and celebrate the return of a free Jewry to a town that
will always live in our memory and in the memory of our children.