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Sunday June 27. 2004
We crossed the border into Belarus from Lithuania at Medininkai the road to Minsk. We got there at 10 a.m. and finished at 12:00. I heard tales of longer as well as shorter crossings. John, our driver, had to run from side to side and person to person with the papers. Then we waited for the officials to get back from their break. The other side leaving Belarus had a quarter of a mile long line of trucks trying to go to Lithuania. We were on our way to visit Krasne, the town of my father, a Gordon, and Tolochin from where my grandmother, a Paretzky, came.
The drive through the countryside on a two lane road, consisted of plains and fields of farms and dense forests of silver birch and other trees. We headed for Maladechna about 40 minutes from the border and from there to Krasne (Krasnoie in Russian). We saw few cars, people walking, and some horse carts. We also saw a group of young people marching together down the road all wearing red scarves and knapsacks.
Krasne is made of small, old wooden houses and newer ones of brick, a few newer cinderblock and cement apartment buildings. Of course, the Russian Orthodox Church is at the center of town. This is more of a small village-not more than a square mile. Off the main road nothing is paved. The Jewish cemetery is on a hill nothing is left except a few stones at the bottom, mostly covered in moss, tall grass and weathered, fallen and very hard to read. An old man volunteered to show us. He said that the fascists built steps on the hill leading to what is now his house, made out of the newer Jewish headstones. He said the fascists (no one seems to call them Nazis) had his house before him. We did not see a supermarket or other stores except a small one-room market on the main road. I guess people grow and produce most of what they need because there is no place to go for much at all. They probably have to go to Maladechna for any bigger items. The Jews of Krasne, about 300, had been rounded up and burned in a barn in WWII. Uncle Sidney left in August, 1914 and Grandma Rochel and Dad left in the summer of 1921 or they also would have been in the conflagration. All but two died in the flames. This is a typical small Belarus village. Old houses and out-houses, farms and no Jews. Most houses are raw wood, but we did see a few newly painted ones and one woman up on a roof painting hers. Since Belarus is still a dictatorship, there seem to be no private businesses. Apartments are owned by individuals but are very expensive so it is difficult on young couples. But they do get gas and electricity free. Most people in Belarus are still farmers but the agriculture is primitive for 2004. A cow or horse will be tethered to a stake in the field and a woman can be seen going out to milk the lone cow.
Seeing Krasne, Tolochin, and Orsha, and driving through Belarus and Lithuania have given me a deeper sense of what it means to have freedom and safety. I renewed my sense of gratefulness to my father, uncle and grandparents for having come to the United States in the early 1900's allowing me to be born here and to enjoy the life afforded to us.