Growing up in rural ex-Prussian Lithuania had its advantages for my father, especially when, this past summer, he provided me with an all-expense-paid all-inclusive tour of the small fishing village of Rusnė and its surrounding area.
We set of on a horridly soggy and equally early morning, aboard a rather old borrowed car of a brand I’d never even known existed (Proton? Is that even a real company?). Very fortunately for us, the rural Lithuanian roads where nowhere near paved. In fact, they were more along the lines of unceasing rivers of vaguely red sludge upon which our poor vehicle groaned dolefully.
Stopping briefly to chase around a herd of very talkative newly-weaned calves and to scope out the Curonian Lagoon from a watch post, we continued on to a secluded patch of trees that, had I not been told otherwise, I would’ve mistaken for an ideal setting for a gruesome homicidal wood-creature film of sorts. There, I was informed, was the setting of an old Prussian cemetery.
Not knowing what I’d see, I zealously expected some sort of grandiose burial plot complete with granite tombstones, bouts of vigil candles, and an eerie statue or two. The works. The reality was quite, quite different. In fact, the cemetery, if you could call it that, was no more than a plot of dauntingly overgrown vegetation scattered with fragments of broken headstones and iron railing. It was beyond vandalized, it was virtually non-existent.
Fortunately, I was subject to a brief history lesson from my father. Apparently, following the Soviet occupation of Lithuania in 1944, the Russians had sought to eagerly erase every trace of Prussian culture from the nation, especially in the west, where it was most prominent (the west was already the badly battered doorstep between Nazi Germany and the USSR). This involved both the destruction of Lutheran churches, exile of German nationals, and methodical demolition of Evangelical Lutheran burial plots such as the one I was treading upon. The Russians even went so far as to unearth most of the traditionally crafted Prussian ironwork and stick it under the ground several kilometres away to rust.
Names can only be made out on one or two tombstones, and most crumble slowly into the ground in this isolated patch of greenery seemingly exempt from the surrounding agricultural work. Surely, in a few decades, what’s left will be overwhelmed.
I attempted to sift through some of the greenery in the hopes of finding more headstones, or, admittedly less likely, some tremendous historical artifact. My hunger, however, and the prodigious abundance of insect life in the area successfully chased me back into the car a short while later.
I spent the remainder of the evening chiselling mud from my shoes and about the next four weeks recuperating the blood I’d lost to mosquitoes.
|It reads L. Girth 4 Jan 1812 - 21 April 1880|
and L. Girth 29 Dez. 1863 - 35 Febr. 1895
And here are some gratuitous images of unrelated objects in the area.