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Word Travels - Behind the Scenes in Lithuania by Robin Esrock
Behind the Scenes in Lithuania
by Robin Esrock / Published March 25 2008

LithuaniaLithuania was always going to be a personal story.  When the opportunity arose to go travelling again, it was one of the first places I thought of.  People don't know much about it, but I had a hunch it would be beautiful, and for me, a vital piece in my jigsaw puzzle of life,  since it's where 3/4 of my grandparents come from.    A couple of years ago, I travelled to Poland to find my grandmother's village (you can read about that here) and it was one of the most rewarding stories I've ever experienced.    I was hoping Lithuania would be similar, and while we only spent a week in the country, I wasn't disappointed.

Our schedule at this point was beyond insane.   Ethiopia to Dubai, Dubai to Lithuania - three countries in three weeks on three continents in three climates.  After the heat of Dubai, we relished the cool Autumn in Vilnius, and the city was exploding in colour.   Vilnius charmed us immediately, a catwalk model of European style parading on cobblestone.   After a couple days exploring the city, my wonderful guide Regina came by in the "Rustbucket" and it was off to find Kupiskis.

There was a brick in my gut during the drive. I knew I would find nothing left about my family, because I knew the history.   My great-grandparents managed to leave for South Africa in the early 1900's, but  other family members didn't, and all were murdered during World War II.   I volunteer for Jewish seniors back home, and the war stories I'd heard from them about Lithuania were beyond shocking. Some of them could not believe I would want to visit at all - the wounds still run deep.   Walking around those mass graves, the horrors of the Holocaust left me choked.  It is one thing to learn about 6 million dead, another to see the names of your family engraved on a wall of victims.   At this point, whether I was here shooting a TV show became irrelevant.  I just wanted to record as much as I could, so I could share my experiences with family and readers.    This is truly the gift of my profession.  I get to share my world, words and images, with those who don't have the opportunity to follow in my footsteps.   We shot loads of footage and other amazing interviews, and hopefully I'll be able to put that all together into something at a later date.

JumpBy the way, that's me,the blonde kid playing with my grandfather in that old super 8mm shot. I thought it would make the personal connection that this was really my life, not something we were doing for a TV show.   The music in my sequence is a song called Shine from a fantastic Victoria-based artist named Vince Vacarro.   

On a lighter note, I scaled the roof of a shed alongside an old grain mill to get a cool writing shot.  Thing is,  by standing on the shoulders of Sean and Zach, getting down became somewhat problematic.   Fortunately, there was a forklift on hand to rescue me.   The things I do for this show!     Like.   Driving a crackly old van on a highway with a broken speedometer in a strange country where you don't even know the speed limit.   Not to worry, I'm a professional.  

We stayed in a B&B in the old town, and my room was in an attic of sorts.   I remember writing my story, looking out at the wet sky, reflecting on how lucky I am to be doing what I do, and to have been born in the time I was.   My article was about genealogical tourism, and my conclusion was true:  Genealogical travel has all the rewards of travel anywhere:  encountering beautiful landscapes, interesting new cultures, people, food, and history.  However, when you journey into the land of your heritage, it makes those rewards all the more relevant. 

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