Home of Pauline Hutop, wife of Adolf Spurgat
Our first trip to Gize/Gizai was Saturday evening. We noted the large Catholic Church. PUr guide went into the local grocery store, came out, and announced that the owner’s son was the village historian, and we decided to make an appointment to see him the next day, Sunday, at 3 ‘clock. I reminded our guide to get his phone number so we could call if a change were necessary. It’s a good thing we did!
We headed back to Marijampole for a late dinner of zeppelinas and beer. We walked to a nearby outdoor restaurant, experienced a torrential downpour while we ate, and walked back to the hotel in a light rain.
The next day we met our 24 year old village historian, who used a carefully organized, typewritten notebook he had put together.
He took us on a short walking tour to show us an unusual house belonging to an Argentinian who settled for a brief time in Marijampole. The gentleman built his house in the Argentine style so different from the surrounding homes.
He also stopped to show us a large commemorative stone with names placed there by villagers about 1989 to commemorate several young partisans (aka forest brothers) who were caught, killed, and whose naked bodies were left in the center of the village as a warning to others not to betray Soviet Lithuania. I knew a good deal about these young men from reading Underground by Antanas Sileika. He also pointed out the building next to it, the former home of the priest of the large Catholic Church, which was used at that time as the headquarters of the Soviet Army. I am sure that my Grandma Spurgat alive in Michigan at the time never knew of the atrocities which took place in her native village.
As we passed by the impressive brick St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, our guide told us that the wife of the owner of the manor was from Padua, Italy. She named the church after St. Antanas.
We acknowledged the wooden pagan statues nearby and learned that they commemorated the first attempt to Christianize Lithuania 1000 years ago. The Christians were defeated, and this failed effort is the first time that the name Lithuania was mentioned in writing. We ended the walking tour and continued by car to the site of the manor which had once been there.
As we drove to the site of the manor, our guide told us the owner of the manor was Antanas Vaicekaukas. One building which had been used to store the hay which grew on the manor had been renovated with a new roof. The Soviets had used it for grain storage and it is still used for that purpose today. Village residents wanted the blacksmith’s shop, which had been used as a workshop during the Soviet occupation, pulled down as it blocked their view of the city park, the former grounds of the manor.
In front of where the manor house had stood, was a large mound with a handsome tree protruding from it. Napoleon’s soldiers had been ordered to fill their hats with dirt in order to build this mound, one hatful at a time. Then they planted the tree. (I do not think that this particular tree dates from this time.) Our guide pointed out the site of a distillery no longer exists.
The manor was closed and became a seminary during the period of Lithuanian Independence from about 1920 to 1940. The people of Gize/Gizai have been Jews, Russians, Germans, and a majority of Lithuanians.
Whether or not the Hutop family was associated with the manor in Gizai remains unknown. Research conducted on the name of the owner, Antanas Vaicekaukas, resulted only in a namesake in a later generation. In the stories I was told while researching the Spurgat book, Pauline was a farm-maiden taking home-churned butter to sell in town. Did the butter that she was supposed to deliver come from the manor? To which town was she headed? Where exactly was the road on which she met Adolph Spurgat? Now that I understood the distances between the various locations, Adolph must have been a long way from home that day! Was he sent from the Dydwize/Didvyziai Manor to the manor in Gize/Gizai? One can only guess that these might even be the correct questions to ask.
Our historian gave us a new impression of the life of a young Lithuanian. Educated in Kaunas and Warsaw with a bachelor’s and master’s in history, his history of the village includes only the fifty years of Soviet occupation. The fact that he does not know Russian indicates that he is young enough so that by the time he went to school, he no longer needed to learn Russian. His life has been so full of opportunity that he finds it hard to understand the life of his parents and grandparents from 1944 to 1990. After our visit, he thought perhaps that he might research the history of Gizai in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He disputes the upcoming 400th anniversary on August 3 of Gizai as he has not been able to find any documentation of it.
Upon entering the family store, I thanked his mother for the informative tour he gave us and offered him litas and a Green Bay Packer bag.
I took a few moments to walk the main street of Gizai to literally, as far as was possible, walk in my grandmother’s footsteps. I tried to contemplate the life of a young girl in this place 125 years ago. The death of her mother, Dorota Zering at the young age of 30 in 1881, when she was only six years old, put her in charge of her younger sister Emma, age 2. How often had she walked past that church? Where was the house she lived in? Where did Johann Ferdinand Hutop teach her to read? Where did he make the coffins? Was he a tischler (cabinetmaker) for the manor? We will probably never know.