The only recorded Spurgat in this location is the marriage of Auguste Spurgat and Ferdinand Neubacher on May 8, 1911. Neither is attached to any of the three Spurgat families at this point.
At the church in Zukai we met with our local guide, age 75, who singlehandedly has kept this church open for a number of years. She greeted us by showing us the large key used to open the door. Accompanying her was a younger man, who will take over her duties when she is ready to hand them over to the next generation. He wore a uniform and a yellow vest.
This church was built in 1907 after the time that the ancestors of our Spurgats could have lived here. Prior to that families went to Viesvile, (Wischwill in German) to church. When a congregation became too large, the state church and government decided where and when a new church should be built. The nobles were taxed accordingly, and the peasants paid through additional labor and taxes.
Our local guide’s family had lived in Szukgen/Zukai until the beginning of WWII. She had a younger sister who died young. At the beginning of the war, her family was evacuated. Her parents were separated, and her father worked in Germany during the war. Somehow her mother managed to take care of the rest of the family. After the war they were allowed to return to their village, and when they came back, their house still stood, unoccupied, which was a surprise as I had read that those who were left behind (i. e. Lithuanians) and Soviet Russians occupied empty houses. Her father died in Germany. She stayed in the village the rest of her life.
Today services are held once a month in this church. After the younger man left, our guide showed us the treasures she had brought with her. Last year the church had held a major celebration, and one of the visitors had presented her with a book he had compiled to commemorate the event. Additionally, an article had been written about her in a church magazine which she was proud to show us. She had just seen Darius Petkunas (the pastor we had talked to in Palanga the previous afternoon) the week before.
As our local guide talked about her life story, the contrast of her life and mine became evident. Only five years older than I, but worlds apart, she survived a war and lived her life in a small village, was evacuated by Germans, allowed to return home only to experience Soviet occupation for the next 50 years. The last 22 years of her life she had seen the area around her home return to the normalcy of her grandparents, parents, and very early childhood when Lithuania was an independent country. On the other hand, because my grandparents had left 20 and 40 years before two world wars decimated the area, followed by 50 more years of Soviets control, my family remained intact. I had lived my life “in the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I had received a free public education, graduated from college, had a career, and still work in my profession more than a dozen years after retiring. I could have been this local guide with stories of death at a young age, war, loss of family life, and spent most of my life under Communism. How could I ever repay my poverty stricken grandparents who risked everything as a young married couple for a better life in America for themselves and their children? How can one measure the good fortune and determination of one’s grandparents?
All too soon it was time to leave Szukgen/Zukai, to head east, and to meet another local guide in Schmalleningken/Smalininkai. We whisked through Viesvile. I wished Spurgats had lived here as the LDS has records for this parish.