O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
Historical monuments from ages gone by that are offensive for their anti-humanitarian content — for example racist, antisemitic, insulting to one of the peoples or ethnicities of a country — should not be destroyed or interred in a vault; they are part of our world’s myriad history. Whether they should be moved (say to a museum) or other site is open to debate and dependent on the item, the prestige of the site, the circumstances and implications of public display at a certain spot. Decisions are made with reference to the needs of our times as per consensus of the democratic and humanistic values of member states of NATO and the European Union.
What about an old blood-libel plaque in a Catholic church deep in Eastern Europe, on ground zero, so to say, of the Holocaust? Our view is that it should stay right where it is, untouched, but that it be, as a matter of urgency, accompanied by a modern plaque explaining the mass hatred of Jews historically developed in Christian Europe, in part, by the blood libel, in which typically a Christian boy is allegedly butchered to satisfy the Jews’ supposed need for Christian blood to bake matzah for Passover (which roughly coincides with the Christian Easter, adding the association to the deicide charge for good measure). In many cases, the details of an alleged case are left unsaid. What is left is a memorial for a boy supposedly killed by the Jews. Jews in general.
In this region, where nearly the entire Jewish minority was massacred in the Holocaust by the Nazis and their local collaborators, one would think there might be an added sensitivity to the historic causes and calumnies that cumulatively fed into the genocidal antisemitism of the Holocaust era.
Many visitors to Vilnius, especially Christian-sites oriented visitors, have long been shocked at a prominent blood libel plaque in the magnificent Bernardinai Church, which commemorates a boy “cruelly killed in his seventh year by 170 Jewish blows.” The boy was born in 1592 and the plaque erected in 1623.
Translation of the text:
D.T.O.M.D. The memorial of the noble boy Simon Kierel of the nation of Vilna, cruelly killed in his seventh year by 170 Jewish blows [wounds], laid in a tomb in a corner of this church. Born in the year 1592 from Christ. Erected by the alms of the benefactors AD 1623.
Translation credit: Dr. Aron Sterk, Centre for Jewish Studies, Manchester University.