OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY | OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT | INTERNATIONAL PETITION | HUMAN RIGHTS | DOCUMENTS
VILNIUS—A recent social media campaign has been spreading the message that there are no longer human remains at the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt, in today’s Šnipiškės section of modern Vilnius, the capital of democratic EU and NATO member Lithuania. Of course within the Jewish faith the sanctity of Jewish cemeteries remains in situ despite earth disruptions. “There is no such thing as a former Jewish cemetery,” Lithuania’s last chief rabbi, Chaim Burshtein, pointed out, before being fired in 2015 for expressing his opposition to “the convention center in the cemetery.”
But in the case of this cemetery, even the most perfunctory works over the years have invariably hit upon human remains. The builders of the two infamous “green buildings” (2005 and 2007-8) have still not agreed to provide the location of the earth and bones removed during their construction works (when a security operation prevented viewing, and an American JTS professor was brought in to a “commission” to help cover up for the buildings with “complicated niceties”).
That entire debate then concerned two new buildings on the cemetery’s edge.
As the United States Embassy investigation determined in 2006, “the Sports Palace property indisputably rests in the middle of the former cemetery.” The issue of remaining graves on all four sides of the building is separate from whether, as alleged, the Soviets used on-site bones in the cement mix for the building’s foundations per se (see e.g. the PS to Rabbi S.J. Feffer’s edict).
It is widely agreed that modern technology can rapidly demonstrate the presence of remains; pilfered gravestones and memorial structures can always be reconstructed as per the “Frankfurt model“). By giving the necessary permissions to remove the multitude of Soviet-era slab stones, the scope of a “contact-free” geophysical radar survey could be enhanced dramatically.
What has been forgotten over the years is that in 2008, a geophysical survey was carried out (minus all the parts to which access was not granted). Surely permission could be granted today for a new survey by an independent body unconnected to the alleged “grave trading” London “CPJCE” rabbis whose earlier secret deals were exposed in a 2009 Wikileaks cable, and reported on in 2015 by the Jerusalem Post and JTA. Virtually all other rabbis, in Lithuania and internationally, have pleaded with the government to move the convention center project to another venue.
The results of the 2008 geophysical survey were summarized in the 3 September 2008 press release circulated via email by Dr. Arieh Klein, who headed the experts group in partnership with Dr. Gintautas Zabiela.
The following is the text of the press release provided at the time by Dr. Klein. No changes have been made.
3 September 2008
Conclusion of Geophysical Survey
Snipiskes Jewish Cemetery, Vilnius
The Experts Group which met in May 2007 appointed Arieh Klein, a geotechnical consultant from Israel, and Gintautas Zabiela, a leading Lithuanian archaeologist, to oversee a geophysical and archaeological research program to try to find the boundaries of the Jewish cemetery in Snipiskes, Vilnius.
In June 2008 the Lithuanian Geological Survey signed contracts with Geotec, a geophysical survey company, to conduct the geophysical survey of the cemetery, and with Arieh Klein to supervise the survey. The actual survey was carried out from June 25 – July 6, 2008.
On Sept. 3, 2008, the results of the geophysical survey were presented by Mr. Amit Ronen of Geotec to Mr. Mockevicius and his team at the Lithuanian Geological Survey. Arieh Klein also presented his summary report and conclusions at the same meeting.
The main results of the geophysical survey show graves at the correct alignment (north-west to south-east) and at the relevant depths, further south than any of the previous maps, including those of the Historical Institute. There are graves in the south-west corner, under the grass and the paved area directly to the east of the new King Mindaugas buildings. The geophysical survey also showed that there are graves in the south-eastern corner, east of the memorial, again in lines along the correct alignment and at the relevant depths.
One conclusion that arose from the geophysical survey is that the southern boundary of the cemetery runs along Olimpieciu St. This finding, when combined with the results of previous archaeological surveys (laying of pipes, etc.) strengthens the conclusion of the Experts Group from May 2007 that the King Mindaugas buildings were erected within the boundaries of the Snipiskes Jewish cemetery.
It was impossible to determine the northern and eastern boundaries of the cemetery, since that part of the cemetery is covered with reinforced concrete plates, which prevented the geophysical equipment from penetrating into the ground underneath.
The owners of the cemetery did not agree to remove some of the concrete plates, in order to find the northern and eastern boundaries. Also, the geophysical survey team was not allowed to work in the southern part of the Zalgiris Stadium, just north of the northern fence of the parking area, in order to possibly confirm that no graves exist in this area. We hope that the government of Lithuania will come to an agreement with the owners of these areas, in order to allow the completion of the geophysical survey.
Unfortunately, the archaeological survey, which was meant to support the geophysical survey by uncovering the tops of some of the graves discovered in the geophysical survey, did not succeed. This was because in the first excavation, on the grassy area to the east of the Mindaugas buildings, many human bones were uncovered in the fill above the graves. The rabbinical authorities who supervised the archaeological excavation, demanded that the excavations cease, and they have not agreed to allow the renewal of the archaeological survey.