Kovno had about 60,000 Jews at the eve of World War II and now has about 500 Jews according to Chaim, who lives in Kovno.
Our presence doubled the congregation.
After about 25 minutes, the service was concluded and as Joel was making my way to the rear of the synagogue, an older man approached me and asked in Hebrew where I was from. Trying to be generic, Joel replied that he was from the East coast of the United States. He then asked if by chance he knew his cousin, Gil Garber. As he was speaking, before he mentioned the name of his cousin, Joel was thinking, "now really, what is the chance that I know his cousin from the millions of Jews living on the East coast of the US?" Then he was stunned as he absorbed "Gil Garber." Turns out that less than two weeks before Joel had spoken to "Gil Garber" at his synagogue in Lexington, Massachusetts. Joel had sought him out on the recommendation of common friends, because they said that he had made a "roots trip" to Lithuania several years before and that he was in the travel business. Gil had even sent Joel his families reports on the trip and given me travel suggestions.
As Joel gathered my wits, and picked up his battered logic from the floor of the Shul and walked out of the Shul with this man to speak more, he realized that he could take a picture of him outside. Then he realized that in hia right hand was a camcorder, so Joel asked him to record a message to Gil, which he did and told him to let Gil know that he had met his cousin Itzhak from Kovno. Itzhak was not the least bit shy about talking into the camcorder and spoke vigorously his greeting to his cousin.
It was a 20 minute walk from the bus, which had driven into the forest on a dirt road. There was one small sign indicating that the massacre site. We only found the site because Chaim had already been there.
Esther's Aunt and family lived in Vilon and likely died here. This was about a 20 minute walk into the woods, and there were virtually no signs. Fortunately Chaim had been to the site before. This was typical of most mass massacre sites we saw, deep into the woods and with out proper signs leading to them. This latter situation distressed Chaim deeply.
Many headstones were standing, and the cemetery was in relatively good shape, with the growth kept under control. It was clear that there were many headstones missing too. We found the headstone of Leah Naividel Krelitz, great grandmother of Esther, Zatz and Joel and great great aunt of Marc, Lottye and Gary. Leon Menzer had previously found the headstone of his grandfather. We also identified the headstone of Sarah Beyleh Naividel Rosin, Great-great aunt of Fania, Joel, Esther, and Zatz.