Corner of Disappearing Names
Music by Kevin Bobo. Text by Emily Bobo. Performed and recorded by Troy University Collegiate Singers (2014).
At the corner of Headstone Street,
And Disappearing Lane,
Heat rattles the leaves of the Redwood tree
And burns the evergreens ever-brown.
A young girl’s tears once kissed these stones,
As faint as memory,
Where now an old woman’s rage calls forth the bones,
And the Redwood sheds its leaves, like history.
The text for “The Corner of Disappearing Names” is based on our first, international experience. In 2008, we traveled to Vilnius, Lithuania, for a marimba concert and video project. While Kevin practiced and taught, I explored Vilnius with our friend, Linda Maxey.
Linda showed me the Parliament Building where Lithuanians formed the human chain which stretched across the Baltics and withstood the Soviet tanks in 1991. She showed me the KGB Museum—its detailed history of Nazi and Soviet occupation and Lithuanian revolution as well as its basement rooms for detention, torture, and execution. She showed me the statue of the Gaon, “the greatest sage of the 18th century” (The Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum). She showed me Vilnius’s last intact Jewish cemetery and what the locals referred to as the Street of Disappearing Names.
The street was constructed of headstones stolen from Jewish cemeteries in the second half of the 1950s. The names and dates of the deceased had been worn away by five decades of rain and sleet, by wheels and feet and a desire to forget. But, half a century later, I could still feel the indentations in the stones where letters and numbers once encoded them.
On our walks, I learned that the Nazis and Nazi sympathizers murdered over 70,000 Vilnius Jews at Ponár and that, in total, they killed 95 % of the Jews in Lithuania. The Nazis razed Jewish synagogues and dismantled Jewish cemeteries to steal from their corpses. But it was the occupying Soviets who raided their headstones.
According to Milan Chersonski, writing for Defending History, “Centuries-old gravestones at Jewish cemeteries [. . .] turned into a free-of-charge, unguarded source of building materials for cowsheds, pigsties, poultry houses, [ . . .] administrative offices, new theaters and cinemas, school buildings, palaces of culture, newly laid roads, street sidewalks, retaining walls and more” (Chersonski). The Soviets removed the “eternal memory books of their ancestors and their history” (Chersonski). It was an act of erasure, an act from which Vilnius is still trying to recover.