Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Museum of Genocide Victims, Vilnius

One of the most affecting places I visited in Vilnius was the old "Hall of Justice." This large and outwardly elegant civic building was first commandeered by the Russian army, then the Nazis, and then the Russian KGB in succeeding decades as Lithuania fell to one empire after another. Today housing the Museum of Genocide Victims, the building's main floor details the Russian occupations, and in the basement the prison has been restored to its former grimness. There are solitary confinement cells, interrogation rooms, torture rooms, and the claustrophobic execution chamber in the sub-basement. Here political prisoners, "undesirables," and of course some Jews were held before their final fate. Chilling to say the least. Outside, visiting schoolchildren (!) have posted their emotional drawings of the war years that they were fortunate enough to have been born after.

Entry hall, with communication room, library, medical station, guard room

Hall of cells

Padded walls, straitjacket

Hall of "exercise cells" - just like regular cells but with no roof.

From inside a cell

A layer of paint for each regime. I'm intrigued by the frames they've put around some of the peeling patches.

Last view from going into Solitary

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ladies of the Baltics

For Weekend in Black and White I offer a handful of candid portraits taken on my August trip to Northeastern Europe.
Begging, Daugauvpils, Latvia

Shopping, Vilnius, Lithuania

Exercise, Tukums, Latvia

Alone, Vilnius

Hope, Vilnius

Fatigue, Kaunas, Lithuania

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kaunas, Lithuania

We took the train from Vilnius to Kaunas, home of the family of our great-great grandmother Lena Laser Blumenfeld.
The Kaunas synagogue - still functioning!

War memorial at the synagogue (Torah)

Vegetable hawker

One of the beggar-woman army

Vegetable hawker


The flood meter

Dulcimer buskette and a layabout

Train station outbuilding

A military presence

Street scenes, Tukums, Latvia

Tukums was our primary stop, home of our great-great-grandparents' families, the poor Blumenfelds and the wealthy Klatsovs.
On the square, kitty-corner to the bank which was once the Klatsov store

We met Aleksandrs, a Hobbitish fellow with a great Russian accent, who proceeded to lead us around the central square area, which is pretty much still as David B described it...grey pavings...shops new and old, wood and stone... The prominently located site of David’s maternal grandfather has been replaced by a bank.  It was still functioning as a store and owned by his uncle David Klatsov as late as 1937...however it was torn down as a derelict in 1946 because the owner – David K – had disappeared in 1941. This, Fred deduced via the Yadvashem website of Holocaust victims,  was because David and his son were killed in June ’41 soon after the Nazi occupation.  

We had a long meeting with the director of several Tukums museums, who also showed us around the otherwise closed-on-Mondays history museum.  She was fascinated by our story as there is little written record by inhabitants of the time, let alone Jews, of whom there are virtually zero remaining ...in 1880 57% of the town was Jewish. The old synagogue now functions as a sports court.

Interestingly, the Klatsov property is visible not only in a good many of the historic photos of Tukums but in the main museum display, a lazy-susan depicting the square at three times in history.  We’ver developed a whole new spin where this is not only poor David Blumenfeld’s story but that of his mother, and her wealthy family who opted to stay in Latvia and relish their success only to perish as David found success, free in America. 

Anyway we also found out to our disappointment that David’s father’s house was not actually the original building but built in 1924.  It just looked 150 years old!  

This may have been my great-great-grandmother Leah Klatsov's house

The old synagogue, now a gymnasium

Site of my great-great-grandfather BenZion Blumenfeld's house

In case you get lost in town...

Storage shed

The old Jewish cemetery

Harmony Street