Friday, June 7, 2013

Visiting Kėdainiai: Historical Memory and Rolling Hills

On May 29th, I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Kėdainiai to accompany my supervisor, PAO Jon Berger, who gave remarks at the Workshop for the Principals of the Schools with Active Tolerance Education Centers. More than 40 principals from across Lithuania, speakers, and experts from museums, universities, and members of the International Commission  attended a seminar called “Historical Memory  as the key to civil society” at the Kedainiai Multicultural center.
Jon's presentation was titled “Holocaust education programs implemented by the U.S. Embassy in Lithuania” and emphasized that the most important thing is to be able to discuss this subject openly and honestly, with everyone, at all ages.  Information on teaching tools, the most successful programs, available resources at the American Center library, and ways of future cooperation were provided for school principals. All participants were excited to hear that the U.S. Embassy will make available 1000 DVDs, one for every school in Lithuania, that contain testimonies from Holocaust survivors, translated into Lithuanian. 
The history of Lithuania is so interesting, and even though some of it is also tragic, there is so much that can be learned from this culture. It is strong, patient, and faithful. At the event, one of the people who run the Tolerance Center was kind enough to show me the small museum they have upstairs to remember those who died during the Holocaust in Kėdainiai. Pictures, clothes, books, memoirs and more revealed the sad events that took place in this city. In the top part of the museum, names of those who were lost are engraved into metal plating that goes around the entire room. This was incredibly interesting to me. In the States we have many Holocaust museums, and many people who fled Europe for saftey came to America, but I have never been to a Holocaust musuem in a location where the events actually took place, and it is a very somber and humbling experience. The Lithuanians have done a great job in commemorating those who were lost, and remembering the events in order to build, grow, and assure that it never happens again.

Homes and synagogues now lost to Kėdainiai
A video showing the tragic events that happened so long ago.
 After the event we had a little extra time to go and see the rest of Kėdainiai. The town is beautiful and is clearly influenced by many different styles of architecture. There is a river, parks, and a small square were we stopped to take photos. Everyone we met while we were there was friendly and ready to talk to us about their town. On the trip back, we drove through Babtai, which is the most beautiful natural scenery I have ever witnessed. There were wide open fields of wildflowers growing, pastures where horses were grazing, miles upon miles of beautiful rolling hills. We only saw houses every few miles, and the feeling that these lands have gone untouched since the beginning of time made me happy that the environment here is so natural. Being from the East coast of America, there is hardly any areas like that left anymore, and usually you need to go out West to see that type of nature.

Kėdainiai Square
The city was wonderful, and it was great to see more of Lithuania outside of Vilnius. I plan to visit many more cities and towns during my time here, as each one is more beautiful than the last, and they all have something different to offer. This experience was one of many, and many to come, that have made me fall in love with this country.