Victims Throughout the 20th Century: Vilnius Part 3

Between September 9-13 I had the pleasure of exploring the beautiful city of Vilnius, Lithuania while simultaneously getting the opportunity to learn about the oppression and destruction of the Jewish culture that occurred here.

Day 4

Our final day in Vilnius was also the heaviest of the four. We started out the morning by packing our lives back up into our suitcases and putting them on the bus. From there it was a short bus ride over to the Museum of Genocide Victims (KGB Museum). We ended up getting there before the museum opened, giving us time to explore the area some.

During this time I chose to sit in a nearby park and soak up some vitamin D with my classmates. It was nice having this free time to laugh and get to know each other. On many levels, it feels as if I have known my class for so much longer than 3 days. Traveling in this foreign place brought us together incredibly fast.

Sam and Kelsey walking around the park.
Sam and Kelsey walking around the park.

The KGB museum opened at 10am and our guide met us in the lobby. She started our tour with a short history of the building we were in. Built in 1899, the building was originally a courthouse until it was taken over by the predecessor of the KGB in 1940. The Gestapo were centered here in 1941-1944 until the KGB regained control of the building and kept control until 1991.

Entrance to KGB prison.
Entrance to KGB prison.

With this introduction, the guide led us into the basement of the building where the secret prison for political prisoners was kept. When prisoners were brought here they were first placed in very small rooms, referenced to as the “boxes,” where they waited for their documents to go through. From here they went to the search room where everything was taken from them and they were photographed and fingerprinted. Continue reading “Victims Throughout the 20th Century: Vilnius Part 3”

Tolerance and Culture: Vilnius Part 2

Between September 9-13 I had the pleasure of exploring the beautiful city of Vilnius, Lithuania while simultaneously getting the opportunity to learn about the oppression and destruction of the Jewish culture that occurred here.

Day 3

Our first stop on day 3 of our stay was the Jewish Museum Center of Tolerance. The center was started about 20 years ago and is owned by the state. They hold many concerts and talks and their main activities include education, culture and arts.  Despite being named the Center of Tolerance, I felt that it was more of a museum of Jewish culture. As we walked through the different floors, we were met with many pieces of work done by Jewish artists and artifacts of old synagogues. I really enjoyed one room in particular that allowed you to take a memory stone (a part of Jewish culture) and leave it by the picture of a child. When you placed the memory stone by the picture, the room lit up and a song written while in the ghetto played. It was beautiful.

Ark from the Great Synagogue (holds the Torah)
Ark from the Great Synagogue (holds the Torah)

Upon leaving the Center of Tolerance, we walked farther into town to head to the Jewish Museum also known as the Green House. The Green House is a small building hidden from the main road as it is set far back in an alley, shaded by the trees.

Road/alley to the Green House
Road/alley to the Green House

As we walk up to the museum, the tucked away location automatically gives you a feeling of secrecy, as the Lithuanians have yet to fully accept their role in the Holocaust. When we get to the museum, we are shown through the rooms by our Austrian guide, Marcus, who is there fulfilling his required military duty.

When you walk into the first room of the exhibit, you are immediately hit with the hard facts of the Holocaust in Lithuania. Lithuania was the first German occupied country in 1941 with an original population of about 220,000 Jews. By the end of WWII, 90% of those Jews will be killed. Unlike other countries, there was massive Lithuanian collaboration to kill the Jews and the Lithuanian Nationalists helped the Nazis. Perhaps the most striking incident of this is the mass murder of Jews in Paneriu Forest, where about 70,000 Jews were shot, killed and left in pits. (I will go more into this later).

Continue reading “Tolerance and Culture: Vilnius Part 2”

Walking Around Town: Vilnius Part 1

Between September 9-13 I had the pleasure of exploring the beautiful city of Vilnius, Lithuania while simultaneously getting the opportunity to learn about the oppression and destruction of the Jewish culture that occurred here.

Day 1

After everyone’s flights arrived in Vilnius on Wednesday, we met up with our instructors Hana and Juliet in the lobby of our hotel at 7:45 to walk to dinner. While everyone was clearly somewhat tired from their travels, the excitement of walking through this new city was palpable. The journey to our restaurant took about 20 minutes of walking through winding roads, small alleys and unique architecture. I was somewhat surprised by the amount of graffiti I saw on the walls of buildings, but it somehow added to the atmosphere of the city.

The restaurant was small, but quaint, tucked into an alleyway. The dining room had maybe four or five tables and our party of 12 seemed to overwhelm the room. For dinner I ordered the beef cheeks with a potato cake and glazed carrots. Everything was incredibly delicious and made me excited for more Eastern European food.

Beef cheeks with potato cake and glazed carrots
Beef cheeks with potato cake and glazed carrots

Walking home from dinner, I couldn’t help but feel thankful for the opportunity to be here while also bursting with excitement to see more of the city tomorrow.

Day 2

We began our first full day in Vilnius eating breakfast as a group in the lobby and going over the syllabus for our first class, Negotiating Identities Across Europe’s Borders. The main thing on our schedule today is a walking tour of Vilnius.

Breakfast with the group.
Breakfast with the group.

Despite my original thought that the walking tour would be of touristy Vilnius, we immediately jumped into our class with a walking tour of Vilnius’s Jewish history. Our first stop was inside a building off of a small alleyway near “Old Town” to see the remains of an old Yiddish sign. Continue reading “Walking Around Town: Vilnius Part 1”

Leaving on a Jet Plane

As unbelievable as it feels, I am finally in the incredibly beautiful city of Vilnius, Lithuania!

I left home on Tuesday, September 9 to start the adventure of a lifetime. After an uneventful ride to the airport, I checked my bag, said my goodbyes, went through security and walked to my gate to wait for my flight.

Ready to go!
Ready to go!

Nearly seconds after hanging up with my mom after I got to the gate, a young woman came up to me and asked if I was going to Poland and if I was Katelyn Olsen. I said yes, with what I’m sure was the most befuddled look on my face. Turns out she was another student on our trip! Kelsey (the other student) and I chatted for a bit about the trip before boarding our plane to Brussels. I felt fortunate to have a flying buddy.

I did not have the option to choose my seat on the flight so I was semi-concerned about the potentially less than desirable seat I could receive. However, I was lucky enough to somehow get upgraded to Economy Plus where I got so much leg room, I had no where to rest my feet (first world problems?).

My feet could barely reach the wall in front of me.
My feet could barely reach the wall in front of me.

Despite all the legroom I had, I couldn’t help but be jealous of the business class passengers that sat the row in front of me, with only a thin veil separating us. The flight itself was uneventful, and I was in Brussels before I knew it. Continue reading “Leaving on a Jet Plane”

Crunch Time

As I am writing this, there are currently only 3 (3!!!) days left before I leave for a semester of adventure, kielbasa, and airline-supplied peanuts. I have not packed a single thing yet, nor have I fully figured out what I should pack. So I’m clearly totally prepared to leave for three months.

That being said, I do believe that I have everything I need to go and only have a few things left to do before boarding the plane on Tuesday. It is absolutely insane to think that I will be in Lithuania in just a few days!

When I leave on Tuesday I will be flying into Vilnius (the capital of Lithuania) to begin our 16 day traveling seminar. Over these first 16 days we will be exploring Vilnius, Sejny, Krynki, Kruszyniany, Lublin, and Warsaw.

Map of the cities I will be visiting during my semester abroad. The orange dots indicate the cities I will be visiting during our 16 day traveling seminar.
Map of the cities I will be visiting during my semester abroad. The orange dots indicate the cities I will be seeing during our 16 day traveling seminar.

During this time we will be jump-starting our semester abroad, making these sites of history our new and ever-changing classroom. While we will be crazy busy during this time and will have lots of work to do, I know this will be the most incredible way to begin my semester abroad.

Next time I write, it will be from Europe! I can’t wait to tell you all about my time across the pond!

Do widzenia!

KCO