birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


Eishyshok, now Eisiskes, was not part of our itinerary on a trip to Lithuania. I wanted to visit my maternal grandfather’s shtetl, Olkiniki, the place he was from, his hometown. We spent a few hours there with Rosa, out guide and translator. Our Belarusian driver, Victor, seemed to know the ins and outs of this neglected village, that was once a vibrant town. He guided us down a dirt road to the magical Jewish cemetery in the middle of a pine forest. There were acres and acres of headstones, rounded rocks with Hebrew letters eroded by wind and winters. The last person to be buried there, someone special as his grave was surrounded by a peeling wooden blue fence, turned out to be a relative of mine from the Farber family, well respected in the village. After spending an hour walking the soft, pine needled earth, our driver insisted we go to Eishyshok. The guide had never been there. They were talking in Lithuanian with a serious tone. We drove through the countryside on roads surrounded by fields of barley until we came to the tree-lined street that was the entrance to Eishyshok. Once we arrived it turned out to be a depressing Soviet era town with dilapidated cinderblock buildings. We drove to the shell of synagogue. We drove by a children’s graveyards and then to the outside of town, to a clearing, a large grassy area with a monument at the end of the lawn. Victor parked the car and we walked to see what this was. It was a memorial to the people who had been brutally murdered one September day in 1941. Beneath this earth, were the bones of my ancestors, relatives I never knew, a woman I was named after. I didn’t feel anything. I had no expectations of ever seeing the place with my family line ended with the exception of my grandfather who had the wisdom to escape decades before the Holocaust. It wasn’t until I returned home and read a tome, 600 pages called There Once was a World about the story of this town, this hellhole of horror on the Lithuanian-Belaurus border. It wasn’t until I plowed through this book that I understood what our driver was trying to tell us, the story he was attempting to relay by pointing out the sights. We were hungry after our drive and asked about a restaurant. We were directed to a basement, a Soviet era soup kitchen filled with steel pots of meat and a shelves of alcohol. The patrons were somber thuggish looking young men, probably the spawn of the people who murdered my great grandparents. We opted not to eat. Believe it or not, I would like to return to Eishyshok and place a stone from home on the monument. I would like to understand this world that once was a bit more.