Carol Lieberman <cmenetwork@...>
In Libau, we went to the Jewish cemetery.
We walked into the Cantorial, the cemetery office where Sandris and his mother
were sitting. I couldn't help but think what a strange, old-feeling, musty
place it was. Aleksandr greeted them in Russian. The two ladies and I said
hello. Then Alex asked about the names that the ladies were looking for. I
asked if he had a B list, and he pulled out an old and crumbling book, Alex
telling me it dated to the cemetery opening.
He opened the book to BERNHARDT and there were about 8 pages. Even though they
were written in German (Russian speaking Latvian people in a German cemetery),
they were in beautiful handwriting and I could read all. I quickly saw there
were a few Bernhardts -- Rossa and Julian, to name those I could recall. As I
did not know the name of my ggf's first wife, I thought perhaps it might be
Rossa. Sandris shook his head and said to Alex -- very difficult to find the
old graves. I probably can't. He said he would try. In order to do that, he
had to research a second set of books that gave directions to where a grave
was located. When this book was opened, it appeared that the B list was
considerably longer. As we both looked at the pages, I suddenly found YETTA
BERNHARDT staring me in the face. The Hebrew year next to it indicated 1887,
the year my ggm died. Yetta could certainly be translated to Ethel. I felt
faint -- but then you cannot imagine the sticky heat there.
With directions in hand for all of us, we left the Cantorial. Striding into
the cemetery, one could not help noticing the beautifully kept graves of
modern times, planted with flowers and plants of all descriptions. They were
on the right. On the left were other graves, not totally ignored, but covered
with weeds that were two to three feet high. We followed him through many rows
of these weeds, and I kept hoping that nothing sinister would bite me on the
leg. Actually I received not even one bug bite in any cemetery. It was the
Metropole Hotel that would do me in!
Sandris stopped and started counting plots. Finally he said, 'There it is.'
'Where?' I asked Alex. Alex strode over to the spot, ripped up a handful of
ivy-looking weeds, scooped up the turf, and there underneath was the stone! It
was dirt covered, but it was easy for him to read the word in (Hebrew?
Yiddish? German?) I couldn't really read it. But Alex did as well as the date.
So it was Yetta Bernhardt and was she my Yetta? Who knows? I believe so and I
have chosen to adopt her as mine.
Sandris, for a small fee, will restore the stone, take pictures and send them
to me. Also, he will copy the entire Bernhardt list for me so I can see if
there is also a place for my ggf's first wife who died earlier. I don't think
it is in Liepaja. But that's a story for the next day.
We next visited the Liepaja Jewish Community Center. What a dismal place. A
three-room cement walled and floored establishment, with one room as a place
and the other with card tables and chairs and oil cloth covers for the tables.
There were pictures and memories on the walls, but it was a dark and
non-memorable spot. How I wished I could do something for the people who
remained there. Possibly 60 young Jewish people and maybe a total of 300 in
the community. My thoughts there and in other cities were that we give so much
money to Israel, why not to the forgotten Jews of Latvia and Lithuania?
Soon after, I purchased a book with photos of the beautiful buildings in
Liepaja. You cannot believe the low cost of everything there, and we took off
down the road again towards Memel. It was already nearly 4 PM and we had the
experience of the border to cross.
There is nothing more interesting than crossing a border where one speaks
neither language. Other than their silence to me, their intense exploration of
luggage and papers, it was uneventful. Between the Latvian and Lithuanian
sides, we took up one hour of time, then racing ahead to beat the impending
dusk. We finally reached Palanga, the first town in Lithuania on the coast,
formerly the last town in Courland.
The significance of this to me is that opposite the beaches of Palanga are the
beaches of the Courland Spit. Was this the Courland my grandmother spoke of?
If she were >from Gargzdai, the closest Courland water to her would have been
Palanga, 9 KM >from Memel, and another 16 >from Gargzdai. As both cities were on
a direct route >from Konigsberg (Alex had found a Behr Bernhardt in the
Konigsberg directory of 1865) and both Memel and Gargdai had many Jewish
schools and scholars, I felt sure I was on to something.