Over the summer, I was one of the lucky 11 students who went on the Holocaust and Restoring Jewish Cemeteries mini-term in Poland and Lithuania with Professor Anastasia Pease and Professor Robert Smith.
For three glorious weeks, we traveled around Krakow, Warsaw, Vilnius and two small Lithuanian towns Aukstadvaris and Svencioneliai.
We had our days packed full with visits to Holocaust memorial sites, concentration camps, killing fields, cemeteries, synagogues, museums and exploration around the cities.
The most important thing we did on this adventure was restore an abandoned Jewish cemetery in Aukstadvaris, Lithuania.
Like most European nations affected by Hitler’s Holocaust, there are little to no Jews left in the town of Aukstadvaris.
The town was almost completely depleted of Jews during the war; they either fled or were murdered.
Since then, few Jews have returned to Audstadvaris. Because of this, there were no families left to take care of the graves of their ancestors.
Hundreds of Jewish cemeteries all across Europe have been overgrown, destroyed and abandoned.
Local dentist, Dr. Michael Lozman, made it his personal mission to restore as many Jewish cemeteries as possible. This was his first time working with Union, but he has been responsible for organizing the restoration of more than 10 Jewish cemeteries in Europe.
When we began working on the cemetery, about a third of the gravestones were knocked over, several were buried, weeds covered the site, brush blocked the cemetery’s perimeters and there was no sign or fence marking it.
After four days of hard work, we managed to upright all the stones, clear away the brush and weeds and surround the cemetery with a gated fence with the Star of David above the gate.
Not only could we physically see our hard work in the cemetery, but we made our cause known in the town of Audstadvaris.
At the dedication ceremony. which involved many prestigious town members, the mayor of Audstadvaris vowed to keep up our hard work by hiring an annual cleaning crew.
We helped to fix a little piece of history. In life, one cannot ask for much more than that.