Carol Lieberman <cmenetwork@...>
Yesterday I told you about events that lead up to the trip. I suddenly
realized as I was leaving for Italy that I would arrive in Riga at 11:30PM.
Would the airport be deserted? How could I take a cab if I couldn't ask for
help? So, I faxed the Metropole and they said they would send a car for me
but=91to bring $10 American money to pay him.
As the plane landed in Riga, I thought of the five days that lay ahead and
what I might or might not find. The opportunity to locate some information
about the elusive ggf and my ggm - for whom my mother was named -- had become obsessively important to me. What if I found nothing? I left the plane, noting that it wasn't really even dark (White Nights in the summer) got my luggage and exited customs quickly and easily, finding a driver holding a card with my name. How civilized! Just like New York.
He quickly drove me to the hotel about 9 kilometers away and since we could
not speak to one another, I was able to view the buildings while it finally
got dark. Didn't look particularly strange, so I stopped worrying. I checked in quickly with English speaking and courteous hosts, and was shown to a small single room, without air conditioning. I soon learned that the lack of air conditioning all through the area would be my undoing!
In the morning I called National Auto Rental, the firm that had the best price with no charge per kilometer, and got a fabulous English-speaking young man who planned to bring the car to the hotel. Fabulous. I was to pay $239 flat rate for three day, returning it the fourth morning. Ivar was as good as his word. He brought the car, showed me how it worked and how the security lock functioned and then told me it had no air conditioning. Nothing to do about it, but the air was already getting hotter and damper and I worried about that.
The hotel served a fabulous buffet breakfast. I found it to be true in
Lithuania as well. Four kinds of bread, four kinds of cake, four kinds of meat ( four was the magic number), eggs, sausage, bacon, salad, fish, fruit, enough to keep one going for the whole day. And as we drove south along the coast highway, it became apparent that I was lucky to get that food because the highway stops were not anything an American would stop at in the 1990s. Maybe in 1942!
At 9:30AM Aleksandr Feigmanis showed up. What a surprise. He was young (28
years) a pleasant-faced person, soft-spoken but authoritative young man who immediately made me feel at ease. We initially reviewed our plans to drive south to Klapeida, with a slight detour to Liepaja (Libau) for two ladies who would join us >from another car. We were to tour the Liepaja cemetery and see the Jewish Center.
This was to be a drive of several hours >from Riga. I followed the other car
out of the city, cursing the heat and the gear shift ( I was knowledgeable,
just spoiled) and began driving down the only highway on the west coast of
Latvia towards Libau. It was day time, there were no towns to pass through -- the road didn't even have a line to divide the lanes or any signs -- an=
d so we went. There were no service stations that I could see. Lucky I didn't need gas. We stopped for a break, and found primitive but acceptable toilets.
To get a drink, we purchased bottled water. I noticed that the bottles were
recycles, as the labels and bottles showed signs of significant wear.
Some several hours later we reached Liepaja and immediately drove to the
cemetery through cobble-stoned streets. We passed both old old wooden
buildings that to me looked like they would go up in smoke with one match, as well as cement structure of several stories with a Russian influence. Other buildings were beautiful and must have been very old. As we passed the business parts of town, I noted the lack of modern signs or colors in the area. We parked at the cemetery and went quickly to the office. There we met the family that had been caretakers of the cemetery since its opening in 1886.
I already knew that officially the records for the years I wanted (1850 -
1890) were sketchy at best for Libau, but I found out that the cemetery was
intact. It had been a multi-denominational cemetery and thus the Nazis did not decimate it. Imagine my surprise when we got there to find that the same family had been running it since 1886. Now, there was a young man
SANDRIS UN MAREKS
Betone Kapu Apmales
VAeic Kapu Labiekartosanas Darbus
Piedave Neseju Brigades Pakalpojumus
Cenkones iela 18, Liepaja
and his mother. They spoke only Russian, it seemed, but Aleksandr was greatly familiar with them, having been there many times. He told me that they were slightly erratic, but that they had been helpful to him. Actually, later Aleksandr told me he had most of the list of all Jewish burials since its opening, and was photographing the stones when he had the chance.