Visiting Kaunas, Lithuania this week.

This Thursday, I’m going to a meeting in Kaunas, in Lithuania. It’s related to my work, it’s a meeting about Neuroscience (specifically Neuroinformatics) in Lithuania, organised by someone who used to be a colleague at the University where I work, but who has now gone back to her home country. I’m giving an invited talk, and staying a few days there, though not long enough to really see the whole country.

Why do I blog about this?

Well at least three, and possibly all four, of my grandparents came from that part of the world. Not Kaunas itself, but Vidzy, which is currently in Belarus, though it has been in Lithuania, I believe: the stories are difficult to discern, since they came to this country about 1905 or so. So I read over the history of the region since, then, which I knew already in outline, and it is indeed a most unhappy story: it is as well that many emigrated west long before the second world war, for those who stayed were largely annihilated in the holocaust. The websites I read (and the stories I had heard) suggest that the local population were enthusiastic supporters of the anti-jewish actions taken, perhaps because the jews had been seen to side with the previous imperial invaders (the Russians), perhaps because they were simply anti-semitic. No-one can really tell. I read that all that remains in Vidzy is cemeteries, though there are, apparently still about a thousand Jewish inhabitants in Kaunas.

Does this matter to me? Can one hide from history, and concentrate on Science? Should I try to see what remains of the Jewish parts of Kaunas? I will try to: Vidzy is too far for me to get to on this trip, but I should try to make some connection with these long-lost roots.


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3 Responses to “Visiting Kaunas, Lithuania this week.”

  1. riva tworetzky Says:

    did leave a comment about Vidzy. would like to hear more from you.

    • lestheprof Says:

      Well, I did visit, in the depths of winter. My family, as I said, came from that part of the world in 1905 or so, but I didn’t get the chance to look for any traces: it was so cold, I could hardly go outside for long, and I didn’t want to inconvenience the woman who was running the meeting I was attending (on Neuroinformatics). I read about the garage massacre at the end of WW2 in Kaunas, I know the history of the area is written in blood (of many different communities: Russian, Lithuanian, Polish, Byelorussian, as well as my own Jewish community).

      What is there to add, what is there to learn, except that one hopes that they maintain their current status of not killing each other. My tiny story, the story of my grandparents’ family is like a straw in the wind: my grandparents ended up in Glasgow in Scotland, eventually, and it was good to them. That was their good fortune (and mine too).

  2. lestheprof Says:

    Well, I went to Kaunas: it was extremely cold (maximum temperature in the three days I was there was -20C: coldest place I’ve ever been. And cold even for there in winter – sufficiently so that the schools were closed.). Not much chance to travel, and even walking around Kaunas required diving into shops every five minutes. But I did manage to see the synagogue in Kaunas, and I have to say it looked to be well looked after. It also seemed clear that the memories of the massacre at the garage in Kaunas were remembered. I hope to return to Lithuania some time when the weather makes it easier to travel (or at least to be outside!).

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