Carrying out surveys in the Rasu Prison was unique, and in the forest of Poneriai was and is (we are not yet done) moving, but carrying out surveys in the very center of this vibrant and historic City is, well, a culinary challenge, as there are so many fine restaurants and coffee shops within a few hundred meters to distract us from our duties.
The Jewish community and its synagogues in Vilnius date back perhaps to the 1490s, but certainly to the latter 1500s. Though there were more than 100 synagogues at the beginning of World War II, the epicenter of Jewish spiritual life in Vilnius was the Great Synagogue. It was largely destroyed by the Nazis in World War II, and with no surviving Jewish community in Vilnius, what was left of the Great Synagogue deteriorated after the War, with the Soviets demolishing the remaining structures - or so they thought - and building a school and playground on site.
Because the Synagogue could not be built taller than the Vilnius churches, as the Synagogue expanded in the 19th and early 20th Century, it was built downward, supposedly down three floors. Now, a joint endeavor of American, Israeli, and Lithuanian archaeologists want to excavate, preserve, and memorialize the Synagogue as a project to commemorate the history of the Jewish community in Vilinius. Alastair and I are trying to use geophysical surveys to assist in guiding the initial phase of excavations.
I have not had time to form my own opinion of this very sensitive project, and we certainly will not have time to investigate more than a few small portions of the site. But by flying a drone directly over the Great Synagogue, looking directly down at the school and playground sitting on the Synagogue footprint, and photographing the old world architecture of Vilnius with the Synagogue clearly sitting in the center, one immediately appreciates that the Great Synagogue, even without the iconic structure, remains present as the geographic heart of Vilnius.
Blogging by Paul Bauman