by Rich Landesberg
And the adventure continues…
This year, temps are just above freezing and ice has replaced snow. We are all slipping and sliding but still standing. And we are really enjoying our final Baltic stop.
Our first full day in Lithuania, Sunday, started on an emotional note with our visit to the KGB Museum. This is an unassuming building on a main street where people went in and were never again seen alive.
Many of those people were the age of our students. This was also the home of the Nazi SS before the Soviets took over for good toward the end of WW II. Our students learned that you could be thrown into the basement cells for many reasons…or no reason at all. If you were lucky, you spent a few days in a small cell with a few other people and maybe faced interrogation. If you were unlucky you were tortured (in later years, the Soviets stopped calling it torture. Subjecting prisoners to sleep deprivation, cold water for long periods or worse was merely considered interrogation). Any “enemy of the people,” even those innocent but accused by jealous neighbors, could wind up in that basement. We stood in the cells. We stood on the spot were many were executed. We heard from our guide how his grandfather was killed and his grandmother imprisoned there. We will never forget and we hope the world will always remember what happened there.
And what happened there is still going on just a few hundred kilometers down the road in Belarus. We spoke with some academics from that country that so few Americans know about. One of them was heading home for a visit and to accept an “invitation” from the police to chat about a recent protest. He fully expects to sent to jail for at least two weeks. But he won’t be silenced. Our discussion with the Belorussians led to a lot of introspection: would we question our government, risk our personal freedom, for an ideal that would serve the greater good?
Monday was also an emotional day though it started in a magical way. Our first stop was to the old castle at Trakai. Despite the rain and gray sky, the castle was still a beautiful sight to behold and we got to walk around and look at the place where many medieval movies have been filmed. Our lunch was at a traditional Karaim restaurant where we ate traditional food. From there it was on the orphanage.
It is hard to explain what it is like at this orphanage that we visit each year.
They are not poor but that they are lacking in visitors and they jump and climb on us throughout the hours we are there. The kids were great and we were the audience for the “world premiere” of their new show. They had us from “sveiki.” We had to check our students when we left to make sure they weren’t hiding any kids to take home. It was a wonderful and moving afternoon.