Welcome to the Shtetl Shkud blog. My plan is to use this blog to share our stories, memories, and thoughts about Shkud, our families in Shkud, and present-day Lithuania and Skuodas.
My relationship with Shkud began when I was a kid, when I first saw my dad’s Yizkor book, and in it, a photo of him as a young man with his football team.
To me, at the time, the book was like a puzzle with no entranceway: a language I couldn’t read, black-and-white photos of people I couldn’t identify, and a town “behind the Iron Curtain” no one could get to. My parents, both survivors (my mom, a Canadian citizen by birth, grew up in Liepaja, Latvia – but that’s another story) told me that all Jewish documents and records had been destroyed in the Holocaust, and that, as I thought, was that.
Fast forward … my dad died in 1982. Lithuanian independence and the Internet arrived about a decade later, but it wasn’t until 2007 that my brother and I had the brilliant idea to find our “roots” in Eastern Europe. Our mom’s hometown, Liepaja, Latvia, was our main port of call, since my mom still had a cousin there, and also, we’d been able to discover quite a bit about Liepaja online. But very little information about Skuodas was available to us – we were thrilled just to be able to find it on a map, a half-hour drive from Liepaja, just across the Latvia-Lithuania border.
Our first attempt, a “shortcut” across farmland on secondary roads, proved unsuccessful. After a brief encounter with a couple of Latvian backwoodsmen, neither of whom could interpret our English, our handwaving or, apparently, our map, we found ourselves on an ever-narrowing lane which eventually devolved to a rutted track through the underbrush, then ended in a swamp.
Back in Liepaja, we recovered over drinks in our hotel and tried again. This time, we got it right, and after a 10-minute wait at the then-manned border station just north of Skuodas where our passports were checked (paranoically, I half-expected a Lithuanian version of “Jews! Out of the car!” but of course nothing happened), we were in Skuodas.
We had no idea what to expect. For all my online research, I’d found very little information, and some of that obviously wrong (“Its territory covers 911 square meters.”). The night before, raking over our memories of the bits and pieces our parents had told us about the place, I’d observed to my brother, “no matter what we expect, for sure it’ll be completely different,” and it was.
For one thing, my mom used to tease my dad about Skuodas’s wooden sidewalks.
For another, she used to tease him about the goats eating the thatched roofs.
What we did find was a quiet town of tree-lined streets, modestly prosperous-looking houses and public buildings, a surprisingly modern town centre that could have been anywhere in North America (“with a bank machine! and a supermarket!” we marvelled), and a populace enthusiastically attending that evening’s pop concert in a beautiful wooded riverside park.
I guess what really struck us was how ordinary the place was, and the gap of decades and cultures between the Skuodas of today and that of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation. We drove around for a while, trying to feel a connection, to put ourselves and our father into the place, and then we went back to Liepaja.
The next summer, I returned to Skuodas. In the meantime, I’d managed to find out a little more about the town and its history, though there still wasn’t much information available. Even better, I’d made online contact with a resident who very kindly arranged for me to meet Joana Sleiniene, a director of the Skuodas Museum. So, on a hot morning in July, 2008, Gene (my travelling companion) and I left Liepaja and headed to our appointment in Skuodas.
To be continued!