VILNIUS—Rabbi Chaim Burshtein, chief rabbi of Lithuania (and of Vilnius) today issued a heartfelt appeal to both national government authorities, and to the municipal leadership of Šiauliai (known in Jewish history as Shavl), to call an immediate halt to the excavation of hundreds of victims’ remains from a Holocaust-era mass grave site uncovered during a highway construction project.
The discovery was widely reported in the Lithuanian and regional media, including the English-language Lithuania Tribune (English Delfi.lt). Various Lithuanian media outlets have reveled in publishing photos of skulls, bones and other remains from the mass grave being dismantled, sometimes including shoes and clothing (among others: 15min.lt; Etaplius.lt; Skrastas.lt; Snaujienos.lt).
The BNS (Baltic News Service) report quotes the official responsible archaeologist, Audronė Šapaitė on the decision reached (apparently without consultation with Jewish religious authorities): “It’s been decided to excavate the remains, do anthropological tests and then rebury them and also mark this place.”
UPDATE OF 16 JULY:
Rabbi Burshtein’s Vilnius office released the following statement this morning:
As the Chief Rabbi of Lithuania, and as a member of the Conference of European Rabbis, I address the esteemed governmental authorities of Lithuania, and the municipal authorities of Šiauliai and its region, concerning the ongoing humiliation of the dead.
I refer to the humiliation of the excavation of the human remains of hundreds of people from the Holocaust-era mass-murder grave uncovered this week. Please halt all disturbance and moving of these human remains.
In accordance with Halacha — Jewish Law — and indeed, common human values of all humankind, and the ethical standards of the European Union, the people murdered by the Nazis deserve to be left intact where they perished. The claim that the grave included non-Jewish people cannot in any way justify destruction of their grave.
I ask you to immediately halt the works underway to disturb and move the remains of these hundreds of victims of the Lithuanian Holocaust, and to preserve the grave precisely where it stands. Thank you.
Rabbi Chaim Burshtein
Chief Rabbi of Lithuania; Chief Rabbi of Vilnius