After Valda and I had spent a few days exploring Vilnius and then relaxing at Palanga we arrived in Panevezys on the evening of Wednesday September 23rd. Our daughter Jessica had already arrived and Gennady Kofman, Chairman of the Panevezys Jewish Community was pacing around, impatiently awaiting us. He was really excited, had not slept the night before, and could not wait to show us The Memorial and the Jewish sites of Panevezys.

We learned that neither Gennady nor his family was originally from Panevezys. He was born in Ukraine and had been stationed in Panevezys since 1973 whilst with the Russian airforce. Since that time he has played a vital role in the small remaining Jewish Community of about 100 people.  In 2001 he took over as Head of the Community and has been a dynamic, very active force ever since.

He showed us the one remaining synagogue building (which is now used as a garage) and the plaque that he had arranged to be installed . Then the Yeshiva (now a bakery) again with a plaque and The Memorial to the Jewish Ghetto.

The Cemetery Memorial itself had been a dream of Gennady’s for over 5 years. The Cemetery survived The Holocaust, only to be closed under the Soviets in 1955 and then totally destroyed in 1966, making the area into a park and using The Headstones for road and wall building. Old Jewish cemetery

The first thing Gennady achieved several years ago was to get the Panevezys City Council to remove the wall containing The Headstones from in front of the theater. They also agreed, in principal, to changing the nature of the park into a Remembrance Square and the building of a Jewish Memorial. This was provided the Jewish Community raised funds for The Memorial itself, and they would fund all the surrounding landscaping.

Arriving at The Memorial Square in the late afternoon I was quite overcome with what had been achieved since my last visit two years ago. The area had been marked out as an official Remembrance Square with prominent signs. A large Magen Dovid had been landscaped into the grounds with some of the original Headstones used for a surrounding partial wall. Then there was The Memorial itself of the “Grieving Jewish Mother” with the inscriptions. On the front “For these things I am crying, my eyes swimming with tears. Those who could console and comfort my soul are far away …”  (Jeremiah 1:16). On the back the names of the donors. At the bottom on the back are the names of my seven family members who I have documented would have been buried in The Cemetery.

Early the next morning Gennady collected us for a busy day. The festivities started at the Panevezys City Hall with an International Symposium on the Jews of Panevezys. Attending were Ambassadors from Israel, Russia and Austria, the Mayor of Panevezys, the Chief Rabbi of Lithuania as well as the Head of the Vilnius Jewish Community Centre and the Head of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. There were speeches and presentations including awarding Righteous among the Nations Certificates by the Israeli Ambassador to the children of those who helped save Jews during the war. One of the speeches was by Joana Ciplyte who had authored a book “Mini Jerusalem – History of Panevezys Jews” Much of the book is in Lithuanian however all the photos have English subtitles and the parts about the Jewish Community and Gennady’s story as to how The Memorial came into being are all in English. Keith Kaye family

Around noon we all went to Remembrance Square for the official opening. Here a large crowd including school children had gathered as was the press. The statue was now draped in a white cloth. More speeches were made and I had some fun by starting my speech in Lithuanian. I then went on to English and finished off by saying Kaddish for the 7 members of my family.  Four of us then unveiled the Monument followed by the laying of flowers.

After that a luncheon with the handing out of Certificates of Thanks by the Israeli Ambassador and then a visit to the Panevezys Jewish Community Centre (two rooms in what had been large Jewish school for girls – now a Lithuanian school) where Gennady has developed a very nice Museum.

Altogether this was a most memorable, touching day. Everything had been organized to perfection and it is a great tribute to Gennady, his hard work and dedication that his dream finally materialized.

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