Registry of Opposition to “The National Convention Center” Atop the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (Šnipiškės)
BRUSSELS—Back in October, 2015, high-level European Union spokesperson Chiara Adamo had replied to French human rights activist Didier Bertin on behalf of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, assuring the public that
“Contrary to reports in some Lithuanian newspapers and international media, the planned renovation project at the Vilnius Snipisek cemetery is not supported by European Union funds.”
NEW YORK—The Brooklyn based office of the international NGO Asra Kadisha that works to preserve Jewish cemeteries worldwide from desecration has released the following statement to coincide with the official visit to Israel of Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaitė. Titled “World Jewry Hopes that Lithuanian President’s Visit to Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem will Result in Government’s Cancellation of Development Plans on Vilnius Cemetery,” it calls on the president to cancel the mass desecration of the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Lithuanian capital by a convention center where crowds would cheer, sing and drink surrounded by many thousands of Jewish graves. The old cemetery is in the Šnipiškės (Shnipishok) district, and is known in Vilna Yiddish culture as Piramónt. The Asra Kadisha statement reads as follows:
Mr. Berel Fried of New York City, an Orthodox Jewish scholar and businessman, has authorized publication of the reply which he received from the European Commission to his letter of 25 August 2015, sent to Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission, regarding plans for a convention center at the old Piramónt (Šnipiškės) Jewish cemetery in Vilnius. He is a frequent visitor to Vilnius, where he is known for his exquisite Torah readings at the Choral Synagogue.
NEW YORK—A spokesperson for the rabbinic delegation from the United States, Israel and Europe that came to plea for a reprieve for the old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius issued the following press release upon completion of the group’s meetings. Its content contrasts sharply with the BNS report published in various Lithuanian media today.
VILNIUS—A rabbinic delegation visited Vilnius yesterday and met the authorities to plea with them to cancel plans to construct a congress hall on Šnipiškės Jewish cemetery. The Šnipiškės cemetery was established over five centuries ago, and it interred the most famous Jewish leaders of Vilnius.
Mr. Berel Fried of New York City, an Orthodox Jewish scholar and businessman, has authorized this publication of his letter, sent earlier today to Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission, regarding plans for a convention center at the old Piramónt (Šnipiškės) Jewish cemetery in Vilnius. He is a frequent visitor to Vilnius, where he is known for his exquisite Torah readings at the Choral Synagogue. The most recent public response from the European Commission is here.
PARIS—Following publication earlier today of Didier Bertin’s letter (in French) to the president of the European Commission, Holocaust documentarian and Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld added his voice to the growing European chorus asking the Europan Commission’s “structural funds” program to desist from funding a convention center in the heart of Vilnius’s oldest Jewish cemetery. The international opposition has been growing by the day.
Mr. Klarsfeld’s statement, issued in response to publication of Mr. Bertin’s, was released today, with Mr. Klarsfeld’s permission, by the France-based Association for a New Model of Human Rights and Duties.
Nous nous associons à votre protestation et il nous parait inadmissible que des fonds européens puissent soutenir ce projet sacrilège.
— Serge Klarsfeld
We join your protest and we consider as unacceptable that EU funds would support a project of such sacrilege.
— Serge Klarsfeld
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK—The high rabbinical court of the most populous Hasidic group in the world, Satmar, today released to the media the text of its judgment of 6 July 2015 calling on the Lithuanian government to abandon its multimillion dollar convention center project in the heart of Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery. The bilingual text, in rabbinic Hebrew and English, also calls on the American government to exert its influence to save the thousands of graves on the site from further desecration. The document was further signed, with an added note, by Satmar grand rabbi (der Sátmerer Rébe) Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum on 10 July 2015.
“We were horrified to hear that the government of Lithuania intends to renovate an abandoned building in the heart of the ancient cemetery of Vilna, and turn it into a place of assemblage and entertainment; and invest a huge sum of money to make it into an attraction for the masses from their country and worldwide.”
— from the Satmar Rabbinic Court’s ruling
VILNIUS—The following is the reply received to an inquiry concerning press reports that European Union funding of 13 million euros (around 14.5 million dollars at current exchange rates) would be sought as part of the new 22.8 million euro (= US 25.4 million dollar) budget for a convention and congress center in the heart of the historic Jewish cemetery at Piramont (Snipiskes). The current debate, entailing reports of high intrigue, has engendered a long paper trail and considerable international opposition to the project. A DH section is dedicated to the topic.
The recent rabbinic declaration dated Av 5775 (16 July−15 August 2015) concerning the old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius was released in parallel Hebrew and English texts (and appeared this way in the 30 July 2015 American edition of Hamodia; it was reported on in its 29 July online edition, and in a 30 July DH report). The document is prominently cited in a statement issued earlier today by the office of Lithuania’s chief rabbi.
The English text was in effect a short summary. The following is a draft translation of the original Hebrew text of the proclamation, the image of which follows below.
While serving as deputy chairman of the Jewish Community of Lithuania in July and August of 2005 I participated in discussions at the Urban Development Department of the Vilnius City Municipality Administration regarding the construction of an apartment building near the Mindaugas Bridge. My own profession is civil engineering. Supported by representatives of the United States Senate, delegates of the American Jewish community demanded that the capital’s municipality halt the construction, as the site of the construction once used to be a Jewish cemetery.
VILNIUS—After two apartment and business buildings started to go up a decade ago on the grounds of the old Jewish cemetery at Piramónt in the Šnipiškės (Shnípishok) district of this city, across the river from the city center, a damaging international conflict ensued between elements of the Lithuanian government on the one hand and Jewish groups around the world and a number of Western governments on the other.
VILNIUS—A memo from the United States Embassy here in the Lithuanian capital, dated 27 May 2009, released by Wikileaks and in the public domain, expressed optimism about solution of the disputes that had arisen over desecration of Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery. The cemetery, known to generations of Vilna Jews as Piramónt, is within the Šnipiškės district (itself in Yiddish: Shnípishok).
VILNIUS—Because of its renewed relevance, the press release of the Experts Group summarizing the findings of the Geophysical Survey, dated 3 September 2008, concerning the old Vilna Jewish cemetery, is republished:
VILNIUS—The following excerpt from a 21 June 2006 United States report from the American Embassy here to the Secretary of State in Washington deals with questions around the old Vilna Jewish Cemetery. The site, known to generations of Vilna Jews as Piramónt, is within the Šnipiškės district (itself in Yiddish: Shnípishok).
The document, entitled “Jewish Cemetery in Vilnius — Overview and Update,” now published at part of the Wikileaks Public Library of US Diplomacy (PDF here) emanates from a period when the “current debate” was focused on two new buildings, rather than on the Sports Palace per se.
I am a Holocaust survivor. I was born here in Vilnius (Yiddish: Vílne), today’s capital of Lithuania, known forever as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” for its vibrant Jewish culture, religious and secular, for hundreds of years. Today our post-Holocaust Jewish community is a tiny remnant, just a few thousand people, but we are vibrant, and, as always, a community of many opinions. Once again, a question has arisen that calls for robust discourse.
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK—The Central Rabbinical Congress (CRC) of the U.S.A. and Canada today released to the media the facsimile of the original Hebrew letter it has issued concerning plans for a convention center at the old Vilna Jewish cemetery at Piramónt, now in the Šnipiškės district of modern Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania (background; the paper trail to date). The facsimile is followed by an English translation provided by the CRC.
“We turn to the enlightened government of Lithuania, and to the European Union, and say: Please Brothers—do no evil! O Heaven! Aren’t we all children of the same father and mother? Why are we different than every other nation, that you decreed such terrible things against us?”
VILNIUS—According to Lithuanian media sources, including the highly respected English-language Lithuania Tribune (now merged with Delfi.lt), the government, working in concert with property developers, plans to declare the controversial project of a huge convention and entertainment center in the heart of the old Vilna Jewish cemetery site as a “project of national importance.” The move enables an application to the European Union for a grant of 13 million euros (14.64 million US dollars at current rates) as part of a grand-total (for now) of 22.8 million euros (25.67 million US dollars) for the new complex. The nation’s prime minister has told Lithuanian media that “after the modern congress center is completed, private investors could build a hotel, parking lots and other infrastructure,” eliciting fears that all of the old Jewish cemetery is becoming a cash cow slated for developers for years to come. The Lithuania Tribune / Delfi.lt report concludes with an estimate of “110 million euros in economic and social benefits over 15 years” in addition to “600,000 foreign tourists and 2.2 million local tourists to Vilnius over that time period, with their spending estimated at 183 million and 60 million euros, respectively,” in other words, with profits from the old Jewish cemetery exceeding the equivalent of 250 million dollars, apart from the millions to be had from the building projects per se. Some estimates are provided in Baltic Course.
I would like to make an observation concerning the use of Jewish cemeteries for building projects, as this has come to be a major issue of controversy in Lithuania, and in other nations as well.
I would like to pose a question: Would these building projects be pursued if the cemeteries in question were the resting places of Catholics, Protestant Christians, or other non-Jewish people?