Report by Abel Levitt, who with his wife Glenda, has just returned from Lithuania.
While in Lithuania last week we spent a fascinating 4 days in Birzai, known
to the Jews who lived there as Birzh.
On 8th August 1941 the 2400 Jews of the town were marched to the forest
where they were all murdered, Men, Women and Children.
There exists in Birzai an ancient Karaite and Jewish cemetery. For years it
remained neglected and uncared for.
And then a few years ago, the local teacher of History and Tolerance,
Vidmantas Jukonis, together with his son Merunas, also a teacher of History,
started a project of cleaning up the cemetery , removing the overgrown
grass and weeds, and cutting the trees. They were joined by the local
Reformed Lutheran Church where they are members ,and then by a Lutheran
community in Germany who came to Birzai in the summer, camped outside the walls of the cemetery, and helped with the work. Later they made contact with a group of Yiddish
speakers in Russia who joined in the project and expertly cleaned the gravestones, identified the names, and mapped out the gravestones that were still there.
The leader of this group was Motl Gordon, a St. Petersburg Jew, who became
religious a few years ago.
In Birzai on Friday afternoon an event was held to celebrate the completion
of the project, and to launch the book that had been written about the
project and its findings.
The book, 374 pages , in Russian, was published by SEFER with the help of
the GENESIS Philanthropy Group and the UJA FEDERATION OF NEW YORK.
INSIDE OF FRONT COVER
There is little in English in the book. But from the table of contents (in
English) it appears that there is much of interest. The book is written in
the form of essays written by scholars involved in the project and tables recording the 1627 stones that were found in the cemetery, mostof them with names.
Glenda and I were given a copy. When I asked if we could buy some more, for family and friends with an interest in Birzai (Birzh) Motl Gordon told usthat they had distributed the few copies that they had brought for the event, but that he would enquire from Sefer in Moscowwhat the cost would be to buy.
It is hoped that a translation into English will be available via a PDF document on-line.
Attached are photos of the front cover (1), the back cover (2), a photo on
the inside front cover (5) and a photo on the inside back cover (6).
This book is of great historic importance.
A rough check of the list of tombstones shows that the last two tombstones
to be erected and that remain are those of Barukh Michaelson (he was the
famous town photographer) who died on 13th July 1939, and Herce (Hirsch) Evin, who died in 1940. Michaelson’s tombstone was found buried during the work on the cemetery and restored. It should be noted that after the Soviet occupation in
June 1940 Jewish religious life came to a halt and it is probable that no further Jewish funerals and consecration of tombstones took place. And the newer tombstones from the ’30’s were probably stolen and used in building as was the case throughout Lithuania.
Correction: There is also a stone with the date of death 1945
INSIDE OF BACK COVER