Saturday, September 26, 2015

Lithuanian Postcard---May We Not Only Never Forget, Let Us Know In the First Place: Salaspils, Latvia & Paneriai, Lithuania

No, not Riga, Latvia but Vilnius, Lithuania though I did spend two enjoyable days in Latvia's capital.  Just like traveling, situations can rapidly change, and upon arriving in Helsinki on a Sunday morning I found little to nothing open, and what was open was 30 percent or more higher than Tallinn, Estonia, prompting me to pay my 19 euro ferry passage to Tallinn and off again I sailed across the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland.  I found, at least when the seas are gentle, I love traveling by ship over open water.  There is, I have found, nothing like it, a kind of special loneliness when standing on the bow looking out to sea or the sky overhead.  It is wonderful which easily explains why people are "called to the sea" and remain for a lifetime.

Two nights back in Tallinn, two in Riga, and now, my third night in Vilnius.  Tomorrow I take a bus through the night to Warsaw, then from there to Krakow, Poland.  I already have my hotel for three night in Krakow, from where I will do a day trip to that infamous Nazi death camp, Auschwitz.

Taking this trip, I had four "not-to-miss" destinations:  Saint Petersburg, Russia and its Hermitage Museum; and three Holocaust sites---Salaspils, Paneriai, and Auschwitz.  The Hermitage of course, was for my personal pleasure; and the Nazi death camps part of my obligation as a world (earth) resident and citizen.  I also felt that way when visiting the WW II era Normandy invasion beaches in 2000.  I walked the beaches and weaved through the tombstones of both the German and American cemeteries.  I feel strongly that not only is it important to know history, it is essential that we never "forget history."

The nice woman working at my Riga hotel had never once been to Salapils,even though her daily train passes right by the camp itself.  Why does it take someone like me to come half way across the planet to view the memorial sculptures at Salaspils or the Paneriai burial pits where over 100,000 victims fell into after being shot in the head? I don't understand.  Why is it so difficult to take an hour or two and  pay your respects to the dead?

Yes, all the victims murdered at Paneriai were shot---other than the majority of the children who instead had their heads "bashed in" in order to save bullets.  Nauseating to contemplate, isn't it, but now, by simply reading my blog you too are now more aware than you were minutes ago.  Perhaps now, that woman too will some day soon take an hour and visit the Salaspils transfer camp like I did, or,becoming more inspired, visit other sites like I am doing.

And I hope someday she does. Because she ,you, me and everyone else must know, all of us knowing and remembering, telling everyone who doesn't know what you now know.  It is not lost upon me that while I am free to go anywhere in Europe as I please, south of me there are tens of desperate thousands fleeing the Syrian conflict, with of course many dying in the attempt. It is a bad story.  War has, and remains a bad story, any and all justifications flushed down the toilet where they belong, in history's sewer.

Yes, Paneriai made a deep impression but my visit to the Salaspils Memorial was also unique, stepping off the train at a lonely stop and walking 2.1 kilometers through the birch forest to the site.  A striking feature there is a metronome contained within a block of polished stone, a second by second droning out of a heartbeat accompanying your visit.  Remember Poe's short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart"  and you have a good idea of the affect it has upon the brain.  Most sad perhaps is the memorial marking the children's barracks, child separated from mother.  Awful!  All I can say is, just what kind of animal is man? Certainly, to my consciousness, a question that has yet to be accurately answered.

Editorial note, Sunday, 09/27/2015:  I woke up this morning realizing I had made a series of errors yesterday.  They are now corrected.  Perhaps I can blame a still addled taxi brain!  You should have heard me cursing my stupidity out loud!

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