On October 9, 2015 the impressive “Lost Shtetl” memorial complex was officially dedicated in and around the small town of Šeduva, Lithuania, with a ceremony attended by Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius and other VIPs, including Amir Maimon, Israel’s first ambassador to Lithuania; Darius Degutis, Lithuania’s former ambassador to Israel and Mantvydas Bekešius, deputy Lithuanian foreign minister.
Soon after, following the conference on Jewish cemeteries in Vilnius October 25-28, Jewish Heritage Europe coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber and several other conference participants visited the site, located off the main highway linking Panevėžys and Šiauliai. They were guided by Sergey Kanovich, founder of the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund, which oversaw the development and construction of the complex, and Jonas Dovydaitis, the Fund’s director.
The memorial, costing about €3 million, took more than two years to bring to fruition, and encompasses to date four main sites.
These include newly-commissioned monuments by Lithuanian sculptor Romas Kvintas that mark three sites in the area — in the Liaudiškiai and Pakuteniai forests — where, in the summer of 1941, local Jews were taken to be killed by Nazis and their Lithuanian accomplices and were buried in mass graves. These monuments, free-standing structures in black marble standing in open, landscaped plazas, replace memorials erected during Soviet times, whose incomplete inscriptions (as in many other sites of the World War II mass execution of Jews) did not provide proper details of the persecution or the perpetrators.
The memorial complex also encompasses the entire large, and long-neglected, Jewish cemetery in Šeduva, which has been restored — a process that entailed the identification and preservation of hundreds of gravestones. Those that were standing were kept in place; those that had fallen were conserved and re-erected.
For at least ten years visitors and genealogists had been visiting the site and transcribing visible gravestones, but though accessible the cemetery was not maintained. The condition of the large site was better than at many cemeteries in Lithuania, and at least its broken walls clearly defined its sacred space – which had not been encroached upon. Still, the wall was broken, parts of the site were overgrown, and the entire place was pervaded by an overwhelming sense of neglect. Since work began in earnest on the restoration a few years ago, more than 400 tombstones have been identified and more than 1,300 have been either restored or preserved.
Fragments of shattered stones, meanwhile, were gathered together and piled in an iron enclosure shaped like a distorted star of David to form a memorial lapidarium.
Many of the grave markers in the cemetery were unfinished field stones or boulders and others were re-used millstones — Šeduva, 175 kms north of Vilnius, is in an agricultural region known for its windmills.
In the future, the memorial complex will also include a museum of local Jewish history that is to be built in a field adjacent to the cemetery.
Meanwhile, in the town of Šeduva itself, a statue commemorating the destroyed Jewish community has been erected — the figure of a young girl. Moreover, the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund has contributed a fully equipped ambulance to the town, as part of its aim of engaging with the local community in restoring memory and commemorating the “lost shtetl.”