Some More From Day 1 and most of Day 2

We had the first afternoon before meeting up with the group free, so we hired a local guide to take us on a Jewish history tour. Our tour guide was a young woman (28) who studied at Vilnius University and received a masters degree in cultural differences.  She took us through the 2 Jewish Ghettos that were established by the Nazis during WW2. They were crammed with the thousands of Jews who made Vilnius their home (I think there were at least 60000 Jews in Vilnius before the start of the war– approximately 60% of the city’s population!).  The Nazis quickly murdered the Jews in both ghettos by walking them into the forest and executing them.  They could not have done it without the many thousands of Lithuanian collaborators who worked with the Nazis and killed their neighbors.  She told us some personal family stories as well–one was about man who became a priest. He didn’t find out until he turned 50 that his parents were Jews who had given him to their neighbors at the start of the Nazi occupation, when he was an infant. After the war, they, like others who had done the same thing, could not remove him from the “new family” that raised him for 3 years. We learned that there is one active synagogue in Vilnius (there were 60 before the war!) and there is one outside the city that is the home of the Chabad. There are only 1500 Jews in all of Lithuania today. There were 250000 Jews before the war!

There are several monuments erected to the memory of the murdered Jews of Vilnius. They were erected within the last 10 years after the Russians lost their rule of Lithuania. Some of the pictures posted with this note are of these monuments.  There are also some shots from the only Jewish cemetery that exists today. (The other 2 were paved over by the Russians, who actually used the headstones in buildings and on sidewalks. The stones were collected and there is a  monument outside of the cemetery that is constructed from many of these headstones.  There is picture of that monument in this batch of photos.

Day 2— we had a walking tour of Vilnius with our Tauk group. It was led by a local tour guide who was very knowledgeable. There are photos of some of the things we saw along the way, some of which we saw when we walked around alone on Day 1.   After the walking tour we were given a guided tour of the KGB headquarters in Vilnius. It was incredibly disturbing to see the cells and watch the videos of the awful murderous activities of the KGB. Our tour guide’s grandparents were directly affected by the KGB_ his grandfather was murdered and his grandmother was sent to Siberia and was not released until 1986.

We then took a 45 ride to Trakia to see the castle on an island. There are a lot of photos of the castle.  After napping on the bus back to the hotel, we went to the hotel’s gym and worked off enough calories for one of the glassess of wine we plan to have for dinner. The food has been really good but we haven’t had true Lithuanian cuisine which is described as potatoes with potatoes! The salmon and the vegetables are really good and the dollar is very strong here, so the tab for meals that are not included on the tour is really very reasonable!

More tomorrow when we get to Riga.

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