I am in Zemaitija National Park, in the north western side of the country, close to where my family comes from. It is a place of extraordinary beauty and cultural interest, dating back to pagan times, less than six hundred years ago. Lake Plateliai is of magical quality and has seven islands.. I am staying in the village of Plateliai, with its ornate wooden catholic church, wooded walks, ancient elm, ask and Linden trees that are designated national treasures and much more.
Yesterday I participated in a special event in Plunge, NW Lithuania. Each year the Bunka family and the local community host a memorial service in commemoration of the 1800 Jewish people who were killed in 1941. The memorial and mass grave site has been carefully restored and landscaped, thanks to the Bunka and Levitt families. I first met Eugenijus Bunka 7 years ago on my last visit here and his father Jacob Bunka, 87, is the last remaining Jewish person in Plunge. He managed to survive the war through being in the Red Army, and is now considered a Lithuanian living treasure in part through being an accomplished wood carver. A special Jakovas Bunka charity and sponsorship fund has been set up in his honour to promote greater understanding of the Lithuanian Jewish heritage.
We were transported to the memorial site in the forest at Kausenai in a bus which had a portrait and historical information on a prominent Jewish major of Plunge between 1918 and 1930 (B. D. Goidwaseris), another education project of the Jakovas Bunka fund.
At the event Eugenijus spoke a few words of introduction. I shared a poem I had written a couple of days before. It was kindly translated into Lithuanian by a local journalist who was there covering the event.
A Friend Forever
I know that I will never lose you
For even in death we are in each other’s longing
For even in history’s dark moments we are there for each other
Even as the harshest words are spoken and the forest is not able to shelter us
I know that I will always remember you
For even my own inadequacies are not enough
To stop this river of love
I know that this too is my land my home
Drenched as it once was in the blood of unspeakable cruelty
The storm in the night has passed, the beautiful mist over the lake is rising, and
A bird-song illuminated sunlight slowly dries my tears
A Dutch man also attended the event and shared a few words… He now lives in Lithuania, is active in the Catholic church, and also a strong promoter of Jewish-Lithuanian reconciliation. It was special to meet him.
The Jakovas Bunka Fund has established a range of other project, funded in part through the sale of the land on which the Synagogue in Plunge once stood. This has included installing a statue to the ‘good citizens of Plunge’ with inscriptions in both Lithuanian and Hebrew, and various projects in the Plateliai village within the Zamatija National Park, including a proposed Jewish ethnographical homestead.
I am spending four days in this special area – cycling, walking and swimming – taking in the beauty and peace of the national park, recharging my batteries, and continuing to write lots of poems inspired by travelling…