Upon leaving Vilnius, we drove for ~2.5 hours through the Lithuanian countryside, eventually crossing the Lithuanian border into Poland. From there, it was short drive to Krasnogruda, where we would be staying for the next several nights. Krasnogruda is on the outskirts of Sejny and is very close to the current Lithuanian border.
Driving to our destination took a little longer than one might expect however, because we were driving on a “two” lane country road that looked like it had never heard of a tour bus, much less had one drive on it. Due to this, we were actually dropped off at the end of the driveway, left to carry our bags the rest of the way.
After the struggle of getting our luggage there, we finally arrived at the Manor. Our residence for the next several nights was the former home of Nobel Prize winner, Czesław Miłosz, and the current home of the Borderlands Foundation.
The next morning we began the discussion portion of our class (Negotiating Identities Across Europe’s Borders) in a conference room upstairs in the Manor. It was nice to finally be able to discuss the immense amount of information we were fed over the last several days.
In between discussions, we went to the basement of the manor for lunch. Lunch was soczewiaki (lentil-filled potato dough dumplings), a salad, and a drink that tasted a lot like Kool-Aid. Our meal was then followed by coffee, as most of our meals have been. It must be a Polish/Central European tradition.
The next day we got back on the bus and headed into Sejny for a few workshops with the Borderlands Foundation. The Borderlands Foundation was created here in an attempt to reconcile the local community with their multicultural past. Prior to World War II, Sejny had been 70% Jewish. Of that community, only one member survived the war. Due to this, there was no transmission of information of Jewish culture to the new generations at home or at school. As a solution, the Borderlands Foundation hopes to act as a bridge between the community and its Jewish past.
The Borderlands Foundation is centered in an old synagogue in the center of Sejny and acts as a common gathering place for the community. In order to inform the community of its multicultural past, the foundation took to the arts to spread their message. By starting out by listening and gathering stories from the locals, they were slowly able to piece together the place’s past.
One key aspect of the foundation is its work with children. The foundation reaches out to children in the local public school and helps them come up with ways to engage the community with its past.The outcomes of this work are absolutely beautiful. The first group of children they worked with made a model of what Sejny once looked like and wrote a play to display what Sejny was once like. This piece of work has been shown all over the world. Other groups of children have done things such as creating a game to help learn the history of a person or place and even making multimedia videos to share stories.
Compared to Lithuania, Sejny’s attempts to reconcile with its past are well thought out and really seem to be making a difference in both the local and global communities. It was really quite incredible to see all of the great things the Borderlands Foundation has been able to accomplish so far (with limited help at that) and I look forward to seeing what more they will do in the future.
Later that night, back in Krasnogruda, we were lucky enough to receive a private performance of traditional Jewish music from one aspect of the Borderlands Foundation. The music was absolutely phenomenal and I wish I was able to understand the words.
During our final full day in Krasnogruda, we followed up the previous day with more discussions and general classwork. Despite all of the work we did while here, it was really nice to be on the countryside for a few days and just relax. That night, we finished our time here with a bonfire, complete with kielbasa.
As a final goodbye to this beautiful place, Tory and I woke up especially early the next morning to watch the sunrise over the lake (located behind the manor). It was the perfect way to leave Sejny. Next stop, Krynki!