by: Macey Gerster
Throughout this journey, we have been preparing ourselves to begin our work to restore the Jewish cemetery located in Stakliškės, Lithuania. Now that our work has finally began, I am more eager than ever to make this a place that will honor all of the Jews that once lived here. Though to some it may seem as if this cemetery is simply a memorial to those who are buried there, it has taken on a much greater meaning. After learning about the atrocities of the Holocaust that destroyed the lives of so many, this cemetery is not only for those who died before 1940, but for all of their family members who were never given the dignity of a proper burial. As we work to restore this cemetery that was almost lost forever, I cannot help but feel a presence surrounding us as we work. It is as if these individuals from the past are standing by our side as we work to preserve what is left of their physical memory. The more we work in the cemetery, the more passionate I become about restoring this resting place to the best of our ability. Though I know that the cemetery will not be perfect when we leave due to the limited time that we have, I want to make sure that we do the best we can do to bring awareness to the world. I want everyone to know that this cemetery exists and that Jews once lived in the town of Stakliškės, Lithuania.
Knowing that each grave represented an individual who was unique to the world and there will never be another person like him or her, has inspired me to put my heart into all parts of our work no matter how hard it is. For example, one tombstone that we found had been buried by dirt that had accumulated over decades. Though this one tombstone took almost two hours for a group of us to pull out of the ground and get it standing the way that it was meant to, the effort and time was worth it. The stone belonged to a woman named Rachel, and I believe that she was with us the whole time as we worked to restore the dignity of her grave. She must have been smiling and cheering as her grave began to look similar to how it had when her children had placed it there in her memory. Each of these graves deserves this respect, and I hope that our involvement in Stakliškės has inspired the community to continue to watch over these graves in order to preserve them for future generations to see. By liberating this cemetery from the forest, we are doing what we can to show the world that Jews once lived in Lithuania. As long as we continue to fuel our labor with the passion that we have for our cause and we use the inspiration given to us from the souls that are surrounding us, I do not doubt that our task can be completed.