Dim Red and Stars

The high notes are on which side of the piano? Last week was a spinal tap of shrill notes from the left side of the mouth, from the mouths of the old. This place keeps dishing its guts. Sixty years after the fact they're raw red and still hot to the touch.

Kristina's Grandma sat in a huge overstuffed brown chair in an enormous living room in one of the biggest houses in Kupiskis. Dim light. Kristine's Mom sits across the room far enough away I forget her. Tom and his girlfriend are college students. They sit deep in the sofa holding hands like they're watching a horror movie. They're helping me with the language. The house is a white silicate brick castle that sits out by the road into town. There are concrete telephone polls and hay drying racks then the road, the forest and the horizon.

Karas Laikas. - War Times. That's all you have to say, and it goes on for an hour.

The kids were curious. They went out to the hill to see what was going on. The Jews were being brought in groups from the little red brick prison in the center. About five Lithuanian men did the shooting, and a few Nazis supervised. The Nazis took lots of photographs, mostly of the 'jewshooters'. It was later understood that these were 'proof' that the Lithuanians were the ones who did the killing.

When the shooting was done a layer of lime was poured on the bodies. She emphasized this about the lime - it ran red. Then they killed the next group and they were stacked on top of the last, more lime, more red.

The big question for the children was "why don't they run?" The Lithuanian ringleaders collected the property. Gold rings and fur coats. The empty houses in the center stayed empty for a long time. The children didn't go there. A year before that, the Soviets occupied Lithuania. There were rumors about a few communist Jewish doctors torturing a Lithuanian in Panevezys. On the night of the first deportations to Siberia six or seven Jews were at the train station helping the authorities organize the deportees. People wondered why Jews had learned Russian so fast.

I asked her what the adults said about it. "It was explained to us that the Jews were being killed as punishment for the crucifixion and because they didn't believe in Christ." I give her a lot of credit for saying it straight. The note went right through my fingers and the walls, the dogs in the yard could hear it. The 'jewshooters' fell back with the German line when the Russians retook Lithuania. One of the ringleaders in Kupiskis was arrested in Chicago about three years ago. He lived a comfortable life in America.

WASHINGTON (CNN) "Bernes worked in an office near the overcrowded jail where victims were held without adequate food and beaten before being shot to death," according to a statement issued by the Office of Special Investigations. .. The Justice Department Monday initiated court proceedings in Chicago, Illinois, to revoke the citizenship of Peter John Bernes of Lockport, Illinois. Authorities in the department's Nazi-hunting Office of Special Investigations filed a complaint accusing Bernes -- then known as Petras Bernotavicius -- of serving as a deputy to Werner Loew, the Nazi-appointed leader of Kupiskis, Lithuania

Pokaras Laikas- After War Times. That's all you have to say and it goes on for about an hour.

According to Kristine's Grandma, the partisans around Kupiskis were young and ruthless. They were jealous of the other kids their age that had some normalcy and could go to school. They shot a boy their age because he was having fun at a party while they sat in the woods. There was a rumor that a girl in the class had family members who were party members. She appeared one day at school with a star branded into her forehead. It was attributed to the partisans, but could have just as easily been KGB. It was a KGB tactic to dress as partisans and commit crimes in an effort to sway public opinion. The girl had surgery years later, but always covered the star with her hair. The boys in class used to pull her hair back and ridicule her.

Stribai (destroyers) were the leading edge in a campaign to twist the soul out of a society. They were the locals who did the dirty work for the Soviet authorities. Everyone knew who they were. They came in the day when it was safe for them. They came to inspect the basements, to take food, to figure out who to deport. They could kill without discretion. They were rewarded with property and power. In later years they became more powerful. They lived comfortable lives. Normal people lived in the middle. Farmers had partisans coming for food at night. The farmer would be sworn to secrecy and asked to give all he could. The Stribai came in the day. If there was no food then partisans must have been there, the farmer would be required to give the names of partisans or get shot or deported, and so it went for several years.

The body of people who watched the holocaust through a crack in the curtain eventually learned to stop looking. KGB was everywhere. Guilt required only the suggestion of truth. She talked at length about the fear her generation carries. The fear of the outside, fear of change, the inability to relate to young people and the democratic shift. She was an honest woman.

I was up there all last week and I followed up on the list from the Litvaks in Israel. Turns out that the only properties than can be reclaimed are those that were public. So the synagogue, a community center and a grocery store are being reclaimed. The synagogue is a library now. The grocery store is a small building with private apartments. Turns out that the vice mayor bought a home in the building just six months ago. There doesn't seem to be any open public backlash, but there's always a lot of word-of-mouth.

The cemetery project is in the details now. Tom's father is a builder and he did a bunch of estimates last week. The main problem at the moment is the headstones. The sun thaws the soil on the south side so they're all leaning back in that direction. Nobody knows what's under them or how they're constructed so we have to dig one up. That means we need a Rabbi for any religious protocols. No big deal except that there's a battle going on in the Jewish community between the two Rabbis in Vilnius. Nobody in the states wants to get involved, or get them involved in the project. I met with the Mayor in Kupiskis and he's all for the project. I also met with the teachers at the school in Skapiskis, they're interested in whatever comes out of it. Part of the project is an educational initiative.

The tickets for Africa are all set. Jake called me two weeks ago and we talked for about 45 seconds on Tony Paul's dime. This should be damn interesting. I went up to Birzai where Jake was assigned in Peace Corps (50 km north of Kupiskis) and met with his old school director and some of his old friends. I want to get some gifts from them to take down, so next week I'll pass through again.

The woodwork opened up again. I heard about a man whose leg was run over by a Russian tank on Jan 13th. Looks like he's willing to talk to me, hopefully next week.

The grey and white blindfold of winter has completely vanished. Spring is here, people are smiling, ice cream cones bob down the street, the gym is packed and all my energy has returned.