Editor’s Note:

The post below is signed by Emmanuel Cortey, Deputy Director of Yahad- In Unum, who is accompanying the research trip to Lithuania.

Translation from French: Yelena Moskovich

Panevėžys, Lituanie

Thursday July 9th, 2015

We begin our day like most days in the field, by a team meeting between the investigators who locate the witnesses and the team that leads the interviews. Together, they go over the plan of the day in a relaxed but focused manner. After several days of the investigation, everyone knows the historical file of the region like the back of their own hand.

map

Map of execution sites, prepared before each research trip by the Yahad-In Unum research center, it is a key element of the investigation file.

During these morning meetings is the moment when the roles are distributed within the investigation team in order to increase our chances of finding eyewitnesses to the massacres in the area. In this region, many shootings occurred, but often took place within the high pine forests near the villages.

We leave before nine and arrive quickly at Gregenia’s house. She is 86 years old. In the courtyard of the farm where she lives with her daughter and son, we enter the wooden cottage and take a seat around her in the living room. She sits on the edge of a bench, in a violet dress that stands out against the powdered rose of her complexion. A sweet smile lights up her face, framed by her white hair, as she focuses on our questions.

She recounts her childhood in a family of farmers in the region of Utena, the first Soviet occupation, the arrival of the Germans… A world in perpetual turmoil around a child of ten years. She lived in a village near the city of Užpaliai, where hundreds of Jews resided.

witness

One day in the summer of 1941, she was on her way to the market with her father to sell the produce from their farm… As she continues this story, the smile on Gregenia’s face breaks. Her eyes, which were so attentive to each of us just a moment ago, now detach and cloud over. Her hands seem to want to push away the memory, which for 75 years, has not lost its will to surface. It is the memory of dozens of Jewish men, women and children, taken to a forest, from where they would never come back.

UntitledThe revolt, the grief that the memories provoke in Gregenia are frequent in those eye-witnesses who, after so many years, break their silence about the Holocaust by bullets.

I think of all the occasions we see images of massacres in our world today.

Of course, we are only indirect witnesses, and the images we see can not be compared to a living scene. However, I can not help but question myself, with a certain uneasiness, on my own indifference to these images. Sitting there in front of Gregenia, with tears falling from her eyes, I make a vow to always fight this indifference.

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