We met our local guide at the Wirballen/Virbalis Lutheran Church. He reaffirmed what the pastor of the Marijampole Lutheran church had just told us: the Wirballen/Virbalis Church was older than the Marijampole church as it was founded in 1731 by Salzburgers. The present church was built in 1878. The cemetery dates to 1833. The church in Wirballen/Virbalis has services once a month conducted by the pastor from Marijampole, with whom we had just met. The congregation has just received funding to restore the bell tower.
Our local guide also told us that Wirballen/Virbalis means “tall forest.” The town was founded in the 16th century by Bonasfarca, the Italian wife of a Lithuanian king who gave her the land. He wanted to strengthen the border with a settlement so he sent colonists. Later he built a manor. Still later the settlement moved to its current location. The names of the streets originally given the town are the same as they are today. He planned Wirballen/Virbalis to be a strong trade city but over time three fires took their toll, the settlement was burned to the ground, and the role of Wirballen/Virbalis as a strong trade center did not materialize. In between WWI and WWII the land allocated for Wirballen/Virbalis was the same size as Kaunas. After WWII 20% of the residents left. The Lutheran church sits on the town square. Around the square there was a Roman Catholic Church and a Jewish synagogue.
Wirballen/Virbalis recently celebrated 420 years of receiving the rights of a city.
We drove past the Wirballen/Virbalis cemetery. I had originally thought that I wanted to stop there. Vilius had replied, “We’ll try to find it though I’m not sure in shape of the place.”
The descendant who found me in November 2009 had written:
There, in winter 1944 his (August Spurgat) wife (Anna Raudonat Spurgat) died and was buried by her family in Wirballen/Virbalis, Lithuania. We do not know what happened with August after that. None of our family knows. Last trace is his presence at the burial of his wife in winter, 1944.
Because I now understood the proximity of the various locations and the fact that the local people in Iskarty/Iskarti had doubted the fact that Anna Raudonat Spurgat living in Gudkaimas could have been buried in Wirballen/Virbalis, and not Kibarty/Kybartai, I did not believe it was necessary to stop. (See Iskarty/Iskarti.)