“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.I like the way the mapmaker has sketched a plan and pondered what’s absent.But the thing I love most about this rendering of Newtown is that it remains a work in progress and includes an invitation to take part.I trace its carefully rendered streets, named for landmarks like the bathhouse and synagogue.
The town once served as a gateway from Lithuania to East Prussia.
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.
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.
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For me, it serves as proof of how much I still do not know. Hand-drawn in ink, my Newtown map measures almost one square meter.