In March 2017, the historian at the Rokiškis Regional Museum, Giedrius Kujelis, asked if Remembering Litvaks, Inc., could assist the museum in its efforts to have the Lithuanian government recognize, mark, and protect two locations in the Rokiškis area where Jews were tortured, robbed, and murdered by pro-Nazi Lithuanian partisans in the summer of 1941. The first site was in a remote location near the road from Kamajai / Kamai to Rokiškis where 28 Jews from the town of Svėdasai were killed and buried while being transported to Rokiškis. The second site was in Kavoliškes, a remote farming area on near road from Panemunėlis to Rokiškis where the Lithuanian-Jewish poet Matilda Olkinaitė and her extended family were murdered.
RLI arranged for Prof. Richard Freund, Prof. Romas Jarockis (ya-RAWTZ-kis), and their interdisciplinary team of university professors and students to come to the Rokiškis region in July 2018 to use ground-penetrating radar (“GPR”) technology to investigate several locations, including the two unmarked Holocaust killing sites that the Rokiškis Regional Museum had identified.
In December 2018, Prof. Jarockis submitted to the Lithuanian Ministry of Culture’s Department of Cultural Heritage (“Department”) a detailed scientific report with evidence proving that both unmarked Holocaust killing sites had been found and asking the Department to grant the museum’s request that the sites be officially recognized and protected.
The Department did not immediately act on the submission. In August 2019, RLI wrote to the director of the Department asking for a status report on Prof. Jarockis’ recommendations. Our request was copied to the Prime Minister’s office, which followed up with a similar request to the director. Still, the Department took no action. In July 2020, we visited the Olkin family’s murder and burial site with museum representatives and Lithuania’s then-Minister of Culture, Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, who agreed that the Department (which reported to him) should act on the museum’s requests. However, no action was taken.
Meanwhile, the national visibility of Matilda Olkinaitė’s life, death, and legacy began to grow. Matilda’s full diary and poetry of Matilda was published in February 2020 with RLI’s financial support. The book appeared as a significant “prop” and subject of discussion in the LRT Zachor episode about the Jewish community of Rokiškis. In 2021, the English translation of the diary and poetry, entitled, The Unlocked Diary: The Diary and Poems of Matilda Olkinaitė, was published. (Related: https://www.laimavince.com/matilda. On March 1, 2021, LRT’s “Daiktų Istorijos” (“The Stories of Things”), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lErvwXc0Ofk (from timestamps 20:30 to 36:05)). At various memorial events in 2021 to mark the 80th anniversary of the destruction of Lithuania’s Jews, various dignitaries, including the ambassadors from Germany and Israel, read excerpts from the book.
With the museum’s request still unresolved, Prof. Jarockis tragically passed away on November 24, 2020.
Finally, on September 21, 2021, the Department recognized the Kavoliškes site (where the Olkin family was murdered). After a little prodding, the Department a few weeks later also recognized the site where the 28 Svėdasai Jews are buried.
RLI has informed other Lithuanian institutions that we would be willing to support their efforts to work with Prof. Freund’s team to locate and help protect heretofore unmarked Holocaust killing sites.