Plunge, Lithuania


Abel & Glenda’s Visit

October 2018


From Abel and Glenda Levitt

3 November 2018

Dear All, family and friends,

Glenda and I were recently in Plunge, Lithuania. While there we stayed at an apartment at 13 Telsai Street. This is the address where our family lived until the murder of the Jews of the town in July 1941. Today at 13 Telsai Street there is a small medical centre which has a flat to rent, and we try to stay there when we visit the town.

On this occasion Eugenijus Bunka, our great friend, brought with him a journalist from the local Plunge newspaper to interview us. It is unusual for us, the descendants of Sheina Levitt to be staying at the same address from which Sheina and her children and grandchildren were forced out of their home, into the nearby synagogue, and from there to the forest of Kausenai where they were murdered by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators.

The translation from the original Lithuanian is poor and to me some of the sentences do not really make sense.

But the photo is there, Eugenijus, Glenda and Abel, quite clear , as we discuss the purpose of the visit, the Ronald Harwood Arts Competition and the way to memorialize the 84 schoolgirls, including Rosa Levitt and Chana Press, and their terrible fate.


Abel & Glenda


Plungė is a cradle of the family, which must not be forgotten

 October 31, 2018 | 

For centuries, Jewish people were an integral part of Plungė's life. Most of the Jews occupied with trade and crafts lived together with Samogitians, cherished their culture, religion and business here. They comprised almost half of the city's population and were active members of the community. At the beginning of the 20th century, while fleeing from difficult times and seeking a better life, some Jews left Lithuania. And in 1941, when the Nazis were occupied by Lithuania, a violent machine of extermination of this nation was turned on.
Now there is no true Jew in Plungė. In 2014, when plungers farewell to folk artist Yakov Bunka, it was said that the last Plungė Jew was dead. But that does not mean Plungė does not matter to the Jews - there are still those who return here as a cradle of their tribe. And returning not as tourists, but as initiators and sponsors of various activities. Some of them - Abel and Glenda Levites coming from Israel.

Staying in the house where grandparents lived, Abel and Glenda Levites try to come to Plungė, which is called a tribal cradle, every year. When arriving, they always stay in the "Guest House" on Telšių Street, where Abel's grandmother lived until 1941, and the one-hundred-year-old apple tree planted in the yard was recently raised. 
A. and G. Levits first visited Plungė just 20 years ago. During this time, they were able to do a lot: they were concerned that the Jewish memorial will be restored in Kaušėnai, which helped to create the Tolerance Center set up at the "Sun" gymnasium, and so far contribute to the preparation of the Samogitian schoolchildren's artistic expression contest for winning the Ronald Harvud Prize. 

From Plungė to South Africa
Speaking about the history of his family, A. Levitas first mentioned the progeny who lived in Plungė - Mirė and Notė Levitas. The man said he knew that his grandfather died in 1904 from pneumonia. And he discovered the great Mira monument to the Old City School where there is a Jewish cemetery.
A. Levitas grandparents Aba and Sheina Levitai were located in the very center of the city - Telšių g. 13, where even eight children were raised. The chief of his sons was the father of A. Levitas. In 1913, in search of a better life, he decided to emigrate to South Africa. "These times were especially difficult for Lithuanian Jews, so not only did they leave Lithuania. The goal for most was the United States, but not everyone had the opportunity to go there. A large proportion of the emigrants of that time also chose South Africa. My father went there too. It was received by relatives previously settled there, "the guest said.
According to Man, in those days, many Jews left Lithuania with completely empty hands. In South Africa, they ran from one farm to another, sell different kinds of tuxedo, and then put them up. Abel's father created his own business here. There he met Sheina Shuraite, who arrived in Kretinga in 1915 in South Africa. In 1929, the couple married. A. Levitas was born in 1935.
"My father returned to Lithuania in 1931 for the first time. Visited Mother, Brothers, Sister. He arrived sometime in 1938 and made every effort to bring his relatives to South Africa, but the government's response was always negative. I know that they were keen to leave, but wealthy countries - the United States, England, South Africa, Canada, Australia - did not want them. So, stayed here, where my grandparents were waiting for the most terrible fate - a pit in Kaušėnai ", - A. Levitas said. 

To Lithuania - With Severe Emotions
A. and G. Levits living in Israel say they have come to Plungė, who have heard so much from Abel's parents, for life. While Russia was occupied by Russia, it was not possible to do this, but when Lithuania regained its independence, the idea of arriving in the land of ancestors was still not calm. "First of all, I contacted Yakov Bunka, who lived alone in Plungė, who was perhaps the only one who was able to introduce us to the history of Jews living here. Although I did not speak Lithuanian and he was in English, we did not talk and agree on the visit to Lithuania anymore. When we arrived, Evgeny Bunka, son of Yakov, met us in Vilnius. He still has our right hand in Plungė, "said A. Levitas.
This time Abel and Glenda not only met with Mr and Mrs bunker, which has learned a lot about his family and its fate, but also visited a special impression left the Jewish murder and burial place Kaušėnų. "In Lithuania, I am constantly accompanied by hard emotions. And this time I had to ride a bus from Birzai to Plungė, so I had to take a long time to look around and think about how my compatriots lived here, how life meant them to leave from here and what terrible fate did those who left. And what about talking about the time when I first went to the massive burial ground where my relatives also came from, "the guest shared his thoughts. 

The first job is to renew the memorial
In 1998, when visiting Lithuania for the first time, Levites returned here three years later. And no one else - they had a family meeting in Plungė, which brought 43 people from eight countries around the world. Among them is the Nobel Prize winner Michael Levitt and his mother, who is now, by the way, already in the 103rd. 
"Then all together we visited Kaušėnai. I remember going back to the bus, Jakov, took me by the hand, thanked for the arrival and asked for help - could we not sacrifice money to fix the Kaušėnai Memorial. When I said this to my relatives, everyone agreed to help. And this was the first time that we have contributed to the remembrance of our people. For me this is one of the most important moments of life I will never forget, "A. Levitas touched a sensitive subject.
Abel handed money from relatives to E. Bunkai, who was concerned about the renewal of the memorial. As A. Levitas said, now Kaušenas - not only in Lithuania but also throughout Europe, is one of the most spectacular places in the Holocaust. And because of the tidiness and the fact that the names of the murdered people are perpetuated. "On many mass hordes, we find only the number of Jews buried there. And in Kaušėnai, out of 1,800 bereaved people, we have identified and enumerated 1,200 names and surnames. We show that not only figures, but also every person are important. And it makes a huge impression, "said Bunka. 
By the way, one more big work is waiting for Kaušenė - it is intended to pay special attention to the burial ground where 84 84 gymnasium gymnasia were buried. Again, it is desirable to list their names and surnames, unfortunately, 13 of them have not yet been identified.

Attention to talented youth.
Levitas met Plungė not only with the Bunk family, but also with Zita Paulauskaite, the Deputy Director of the Public Library, who has been interested in the history of Plungė Jews for many years and Danute Serapinienė, the teacher of the "Sun" gymnasium, who initiated the Tolerance Center at the school. "In order to keep that center alive, Danutė asked if there was any need for help. She said that the school had two offices, but they had to be arranged. As there was money left in the memorial, we were happy to contribute, "said the guest.
Yet links between high schools and the Levites arose when the Israelis here have taken to organize the students' artistic expression Zemaitijos Ronald Harwood contest prize. How did this idea arise? "I and Ronald Harwood, who is world famous for the Oscar award for the film script for the film" The Pianist "received the playwright, we were good friends and peers. But we never had a talk that both of our parents to South Africa emigrated from Plungė. I learned this only after reading Ronald's book. Then I offered him - going to Plungė. And we arrived - with Glenda and Ronald with my wife, Natasha. At that time, the idea was to encourage talented young people in Samogitia, "said Levites, whose initiative in the spring of next year will be the 12th such contest.
"This competition is one of the reasons for which we are once again in Plungė this time. We are glad that in this way, through artistic expression, we can foster the memory of our compatriots. Especially young people - singing, dancing, playing, drawing - willingly engage in it. We are about ready visual material that has already been presented to the United States, Great Britain, South Africa and Israel to the Jews "- a joyful note ended the conversation online.