Picked up Regina from her polling place at 7:45. Today are Lithuanian parliamentary elections.
We started our long drive to the north in the pouring rain. Thankfully, the roads were mostly empty at such an early hour on a Sunday.
I insisted that we stop in Pakruojis, which was en route.
In Pakruojis stands the largest and oldest wooden synagogue in all of Lithuania.
Built in 1801, it is also the only remaining synagogue of the traditional architectural style.
I had Brenner relatives married in Pakruojis in the 1880s, probably in this synagogue.
From Pakruojis we started down a crummy road to our first shtetl stop, which evoked terrible memories of driving in Ukraine.
Just after 11:00 we arrived in Lygumai, birthplace of Minnie Brenner.
Her nephew was Victor David Brenner, whose initials grace the bottom of Lincoln’s right shoulder on every US penny.
Minnie married Moses Smulson (c. 1870) with whom she raised five children in Riga, Latvia. One daughter was the grandmother of my Nana.
I was unimpressed by town square, but perhaps it was just the weather or my utter exhaustion.
The tall gothic church sure caught my attention though.
The inactive synagogue stood just off of town square.
It was built in the late 19th century, used as of late for grain storage.
Regina pointed out a pre-war Jewish home just outside the synagogue.
Regina brought along a list of internments that she prepared with a client fifteen years ago, which we spent some time reorganizing (by location) in order to make additions easier. We then made our way to the village nearest the cemetery, just outside the city. Regina knocked on doors in the pouring rain to find the precise location while I waited comfortably in the car. We drove as close to the cemetery as we could, but it was on the other side of a massive turnip farm.
We trudged determined through the mud until Regina recognized the location, hidden by trees.
By the time we arrived I was soaked, frigid, uncomfortable, but Regina immediately plopped down in front of headstone A, completely unfazed by our journey or the elements. She has clearly been through much worse.
I was exhausted just watching her transcribe.
I occasionally crouched down and pretended to assist, but I was honestly useless.
I tried my best to appreciate the moment. The cemetery was uniquely forested and remote.
We trudged back through the mud and rain to reach the car. I was a mess by the end of it.
We drove straight for the regional hub of Siauliai to fill up the car. I intend to return- it is the fourth largest city in Lithuania and the base for visiting the famed Hill of Crosses.
From Siauliai we headed south to Baisogala, hometown of Moses Smulson. Born Moshe Hirsch Schmuelov in 1838, Moses was a hairdresser in Riga. Upon immigrating to Chicago by way of Baltimore in 1894, he somehow found a job as a Rabbi. With a full stomach and renewed energy, we arrived at 4:00.
Regina didn’t recall the location of relevant sights, so she asked around city center, always starting with laba diena (good day). We were directed to a dirt path near the estate, and found more assistance along the way.
We walked along the Kirsinas stream to the cemetery.
A small marker indicated the entrance.
The vast majority was likely submerged, but what remained rested serenely along the waterside.
It lied in stark contrast to the Lygumai cemetery- calm, clear, peaceful.
Maybe twenty stones were visible, of which about half were readable.
Regina recorded some names while I took in the scenery.
En route to city center we enjoyed the massive estate. Built as a noble residence in the late 18th century, the property flourished after being purchased in 1830 (along with the city) by a colonel of Napoleon Bonaparte- Joseph Komar.
The estate included various buildings that extended well beyond the main complex.
Regina ventured off to find the town historian, whose son we’d earlier inquired with. Meanwhile, I enjoyed the central square. The church was built by the Komar family at the end of the 19th century.
The historian directed us to the ruins of the synagogue, but we could not find them. Instead, we visited the Soviet memorial to fallen soldiers of WWII.
With that, we headed back to Vilnius. Regina sang a good portion of the drive.
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My father’s family is also from Baisagola, Lithuania but left in the 1860’s and settled in the coast of South Carolina. Their port of entry, I believe, was Savannah, GA.