About Lithuania. Although I had a myriad of interesting experiences in my ancestral Baltic homeland, three general impressions seemed to prevail. The first involved a widespread sadness related to the historical victimization of Lithuania by some of its neighbors. War, torture, and fear are still a part of the living memory of Lithuania. Although not an obvious part of everyday life, one cannot go long or far without some reminders that the recent history of these gentle people has been brrutal and bloody. Some photos representing this impression are offered in the following section entitled Melancholy Remembrance . A second impression refers to a pervasive artistic creativity, which seems fueled by the natural beauty of the environment and the close relationship of the Lithuanians to nature. Some examples of this are offered in the section entitled Ecological Artistry . And finally, even a short-term visitor cannot help but experience something of the Ancient Spirituality that permeates traditional Lithuanian customs. This is a cuulture comfortable with symbolism, mysticism, and miracle. After all, the situation in Lithuania today is itself a miracle in the making. Melancholy Remembrance. Lithuania is a small country (about the size of West Virginia or Ireland) on the southeastern coast of
f the Baltic Sea, with Latvia to its north, Byelorussia to its east and south, and Poland and part of Russia (Kaliningrad District) to its south and west. During its heyday in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania stretched from the Baltic to the Black seas. Its more recent history consists of a series of occupations and revolts. Lithuania enjoyed two decades of independence between 1918 and 1940, (although Poland occupied part of the country in 1920), after which it was invaded by the Soviets, occupied by the Germans, and then occupied by the Soviets again until its independence in 1990. Of course, this brief historical summary gives no sense of the human suffering underlying these facts. Many older Lithuanians sttill recall the fight for freedom against the Poles. The Giedraiciai monument to the fallen heroes of one of these battles was so sturdily built that the Soviets could not manage to dismantle it during their occupation. Recently erected monuments in Kaunas honor the fallen soldiers of these times as well. Although I saw few World War II memorials, my discussions with many older Lithuanians revealed a deep sense of sadness, shame, and guilt about the fate of most of Li
ithuania’s Jews during the Nazi occupation. This graffiti swastika and Soviet red star on an old building in Druskininkai still have the ability to evoke powerful feelings. An older tour guide in Druskininkai related with tears in his eyes how the entire neighborhood of Jews in this city vanished one night, no doubt headed for the concentration camps. In the ancient town of Merkine, one can visit the museum in the old Russian Orthodox church and see artifacts that span this nation’s history, including the section in the cellar referred to as “The Dump.” Here, the feelings of the people of this community toward the Soviet occupation are clear – in the ripped Soviet flag, barbed wire, and torn photos of Communist party leaders. A large wart has been added to the portrait of Lenin , and one cannot descend into the moldy cellar room with its heaps of Russian army uniforms without stepping on bas relief images of Lenin on the floor. Across the street from the museum is the old KGB headquarters , once a synagogue, selected for the gruesome acts of torture that were performed there because its thick walls muffled the screams of the interrogators’ victims. The walls of th
his building now are covered with photos of mutilated bodies from the KGB’s own files. The wooden sculpture in this picture was carved by a man who, as a young child, was forced to sit on his father’s corpse while being interrogated. The bodies of partisan resistance fighters killed by the KGB during the Stalinist era were thrown into the town dump. Later, the field was plowed over and used for sporting events. When the Soviets left in 1990, the remains of these victims were exhumed and buried around the edge of this field, and a monument erected at its center. Here a grandmother and her grandson visit the graves of two of her sons in this Merkine cemetery . It has been estimated that Lithuania lost approximately 30% of it’s population during the period of Stalin’s rule. Rare is the Lithuanian who did not have family members deported to Siberia. Most never returned. Even Lithuania’s achievement of its independence from the U.S.S.R. was not without bloodshed. A peaceful protest against Soviet influence at the radio tower in Vilnius in 1991 resulted in the death of 14 unarmed protesters, some of them, as in this photo, crushed by Soviet tanks . The years since independence also ha
ave been difficult economically. Despite the beauty of its old buildings, much of the populace of Vilnius still live in Soviet-style tenements . The spas of Druskininkai , a city famous for its mineral springs, are mostly empty now. Once the communist government paid for its workers to come to this huge concrete resort building.