Vidas made some astounding discoveries while I was in Lithuania. Please understand, I do not speak word one of Lithuanian. In Vilnius, people spoke English, but in the countryside, not so much.
In Striupai, where the Patz and Eakel/Jakel families were from, he knocked on doors and asked where there might be a German cemetery. One lady told him her mother had told her that there was an abandoned German cemetery in the woods. This is in a place that suffered tremendously in the Second World War. The town was the site of a battle between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army. There were no buildings that pre-dated 1945. They all had the same tired, gray look of Soviet architecture. Some people with money had moved in and there were big houses with swimming pools in a country where it snows most months of the year.
Vidas drove up a rutted path off a dirt road and knocked on a door. A couple of minutes later, he and this burly Lithuanian man bounded out of the house. I followed as they chatted excitedly in Lithuanian. A couple of hundred yards away, we found ourselves in the abandoned German cemetery. The first grave, was that of my great-grand uncle, my great-grandmother’s brother, Adolf Patz. The burly man was the forester of the district, and he knew of several other German cemeteries that had fallen into disrepair. After we took pictures of the graveyard, he drove us to the home of a man who might remember something from World War II. In the interests of privacy I have not identified him. He refused any money for his efforts, but did say that someone from North America had contacted him last summer about a grave in the cemetery.
This gentleman told us that he was a young boy during the war. There had been a German doctor in the town who had treated him; his last name was also my great-grandmother’s maiden name. As the Soviets approached, the Germans retreated; as far as he knew, the Germans had all escaped back to Germany by 1944.
So, I learned that my ancestors, who I always thought had been from Germany, were actually from Lithuania. There were none of them in Lithuania now. But all memory of their presence had not been obliterated. After days of searching we found German language graves in German cemeteries.