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“Macabre.” When colleagues pop their heads into my doorway, they instinctively grin up at it: it’s rare to see a document so large, so detailed, and so obviously handmade. My colleagues excuse themselves and take their leave.
But once their eyes settle on the block letters printed at the bottom right-hand corner of the map, they understand what they’re looking at: MASS GRAVE OF ALL WOMEN AND CHILDREN 3RD DAY IN ELUL-5701 SEPTEMBER 16TH 1941 An arrow points to a place beyond the paper’s edge. Though I respect their discomfort, I leave the map on the wall, because I need this object of contemplation.
Out beyond the known world lay the realms of fast-running, backward-footed Abarimon and dog-headed Cynocephali. And yes, beyond Newtown’s edge once lurked the cruelest creatures of all: men with guns.
I’ve hung the map despite my husband’s warnings: “It’s in bad taste,” he says.
It is my hope that this will remind him not to forget and not to forgive. In the spring of 2014, I take the map down from my office wall, fold it four ways, and slip it into a suitcase. Instead, on my first jetlagged morning, I buy a road atlas in a bookshop and drive out to the western border region, alone.
The friend who sent me the map believes I’m the heir its maker had in mind. “He drew this thing for you.” I, on the other hand, am not so sure. Upon arrival at Newtown’s market square I tuck Ralph Goldberg’s map under my arm and make my way across the street to the municipal museum to explain my quest.
I trace its carefully rendered streets, named for landmarks like the bathhouse and synagogue.
Next, I follow paths beyond the paper’s limits to territories that ancient cartographers ascribed to dangerous creatures: , they wrote. Christopher as he carried the young Christ across a river sometimes portrayed him as a giant Cynocephalus. History books and archives remind us that humans can be monstrous.
He will also read about how and when the terrible Holocaust happened. The mapmaker’s last sentence, in particular, fills me with dread. I tell no relatives of my visit and ask them for no assistance.They agree to help me find the mass grave beyond the map’s edge. But after her arrest, he escaped to the safety of the West, by luck and through cunning, with his children.Every family tells its children the story of who it is. Our job, as kids growing up in Canada in the 1970s and ’80s, was to learn this story and remember it.There was always, for example, a great hush surrounding the years between 1941, the year my paternal grandmother was deported to Siberia, and 1944, when her husband Anthony and his three children—my father was the youngest of the trio—fled westward.These years demarcate the Nazi occupation of Lithuania.