And just as the village itself, the cemetery dates back to the early 1900s and late 1800s. The higher ground to the left off of the cemetery gate is the ‘old’ part of the cemetery, and that to the right is the ‘new’ one, though in times it’s hard to tell the difference as some of the newer burials are in the ‘old’ part so that at least in death family members are once again together. There’s usually a spooky feeling to the old cemeteries, and as people go in through the gates of any cemetery they hush their voices as if not to disturb those at peace. Yet I’ve known this place for all of my life, and at some point in my childhood it has even made some sort of a spooky playground where I’ve spent time wondering as a child who was who, and imagining whom and how big was the ‘grieving family’ often mentioned on the tombstones, and thus for me the spookiness of the place is long gone, and just calm and quiet feel to the place prevails.
The crosses and tombstones in the cemetery are like monuments of the changing ‘fashions’ of burial customs, and is a source of village (and to some degree even country) history all at the same time. Some of the oldest graves have no headstones or crosses by now, and only a small, if yet still visible at all, bump on the ground marks such a place. Some of the others still have their tombstones intact, but they often are so mossy and so washed down by the harsh weather conditions that they’ve encountered during all these years, that words and dates once carved deep into the stone are by now either entirely gone, either so indistinct that one could hardly read them at all. But the ones that still could be read still tells you their story – two dates, a name, and sometimes a line or two about who rests there or whom the deceased left behind.
The village, which could once boast a populace of over 100, and which is now reduced to less than 30, has been (probably) founded in late 19th century or early in the 20th century, and the earliest of the dates on those tombstones date back to that time bearing dates of birth that of late 19th century or that of early 20th as well as dates of deaths in the same time period. The manner of inscriptions is also a short lesson of history in itself – the very oldest ones and some of those from the period in between the two world wars have no diacritical markings for Lithuanian ‘č’, ‘š’, ‘ė’, etc., which were introduced to Lithuanian language during the rather brief period of independence between the the two wars, and instead uses the Polish ‘fashion’ of ‘cz’ and ‘sz’ respectively. And since this region during that time was for most of the time under the Polish jurisdiction (or occupation, as history books calls it), such fashion of the inscriptions carry on on some of the tombstones as late as to 1930s.
The dates of death on the tombstones vary, yet a great number of them are that from 1940s, and such a ‘peak’ in death rate isn’t surprising at all taking into consideration that at the time WW2 was rolling all around Europe and beyond it at the time, and that time and again this region and the whole country was torn apart by destructive forces of war and occupying regimes. Since my family on my mother’s side takes root from this very village and some of the nearby ones, the cemetery is also the place where a couple of generations of the family rest. Some of them I’ve had a privilege to know in person, some of them were long gone before I came to this world.
Among those family graves there is one with a prominent 1940s date of death. And it’s that of my grand-father’s brother and his wife’s. One tomb for the two of them, one tombstone for two young people who’d died in their early 20s. While the tombstone gives away only the dates of their respective births and deaths, and while it tells you that ‘family is grieving’, it fails to tell one a story of how and why. I’m not going into any details of ‘how’, neither could I claim that I know all of them, enough would be just to say, that my grandfather lost one of his brothers at that time, and that while he cursed the Nazis and all the perils of war he’d had to endure in his lifetime, it was Soviets whom he really and truly FEARED.
He’d sometimes say, though he very very rarely went down this particular memory lane, that life was never easy on him, and that sometimes onions with salt were all he had for a meal for days, yet he was young, and he’s built a life and started a family under Poles. Then the WW2 has begun, Poland was no more, and the Reds came instead and were about to raze all to the ground and to their liking in the region, but just before they did, there were Germans already taking over for a spell. Just like the Reds before them, the Germans would plunder and loot, there were terrors unspeakable and terrible rumors (at that time) of mass killings were spreading, yet, as he’d say, at least the land was still his and there to feed you. Then Soviets were back again, this time to stay, and there’s nothing left after them, and even the land was not his anymore. Sometimes he’d also add, that were he living IN this very village with the cemetery in 1940s, he’d have died there and then.
Luckily (if ‘luck’ applies), he wasn’t, as at the time he and his wife has had a house in a small (of just some 5 to 8 households in total) village which is now non-existent anymore on an island close by, and surrounded by a lake on the one side, and by hardly accessible swamp on the rest. The somewhat hushed family story says, that my grandfather’s brother and his spouse were arrested by the Soviets and were killed by them due to their alleged ties with the partisans. I’m not sure what ties they’ve had with the Resistance, if any, as I did not pay much of the attention to the details as a kid, and now there’s no one to ask for more and my mom also does not know/ remember much either. The fact is that, soon after the faithful for his brother and his wife arrest, my grandfather was also taken into custody and ‘gently’ interrogated. While he survived, and while most of his wounds, but those to one’s mind, have healed, to the end of his days he feared most and hated most Russians. What is worst in this world he wholeheartedly attribute to the Soviets and Russians. After that ‘talk’ he came home to his family and lived to a respectable age. Yet labeled as ‘kulak’, he was ever since under watchful eye of the regime, and often had to run an obstacle course where others, not tainted in the eyes of the Soviets, could just simply go and get things done.
In late 1970s the island village dwellers, all sort of ‘kulaks’ by then just because they’ve lived on this hardly accessible patch of land and were hard to be spied on, were forced to eviction, and my grandfather with my grandmother after over 30 years had to move back to the village of his patrimony, back to his family roots.