KAUNAS—Moushe Beirakas (Moyshe Beirak), head of the Kaunas Jewish Religious Community, which administers the city’s historic Choral Synagogue, issued the following statement today. The original is in Lithuanian, and the translation was approved by the author. [Update: A version of the English text appears on the community’s Facebook page.]
We, Jews around the world, respect the history of our nation and the memory of our ancestors and predecessors. Among them, we cherish the memory of the spiritual leader of Vilna (Vilnius) Jewry Rabbi Chaim-Ozer Grodzenski (1863—1940), and the lifetime of effort he put into preserving the old Jewish cemetery at Šnipiškės (at Piramont, as it was known to the Jews of Vilna), which the municipal authorities of the then Polish government tried to destroy to make way for a stadium.
If we shall fail, and not dare to express our standpoint and firm position, and if shall remain silent, adulating the self-centered interests of temporarily influential people who disregard any historical responsibility and pursue completion of a macabre activity that was started by the Soviet government – the destruction of Jewish cemeteries and historical memory of Lithuanian Jews, then we would be complicit.
The Kaunas Jewish Religious Community disagrees with the position of the Chair of the official Jewish Community of Lithuania, Faina Kukliansky, regarding Šnipiškės cemetery. The chairperson, in assertively representing her position, can sometimes perhaps leave people thinking that she represents the whole of the Lithuanian Jewish community and speaks on behalf of Jews here or elsewhere and that her position is supported by the Conference of European Rabbis. But the reality is completely different. The overwhelming majority of European rabbis, and the overwhelming majority of Jewish people, do not support the plans for a convention center in the heart of the old Jewish cemetery, surrounded by thousands and thousands of Jewish graves.
The Šnipiškės cemetery is a sacred place, where thousands of the most scholarly of our ancestors were buried. In 1965 the construction of Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sports was started, and many graves were destroyed, and the sacred burial place defiled and transformed into a place of amusement. The independent and democratic Republic of Lithuania carries on the “macabre tradition” by extending the possible usage of the territory of Jewish cemetery to a new convention center and business zone.
It is unbearable anguish for us, Jews here who are still alive, to witness this case of history repeating itself as the very dignity of our ancestors in Lithuania is trampled and desecrated.
The Kaunas Jewish Religious Community does not support the agreements on this subject announced between the Lithuanian Government and the Jewish Community of Lithuania regarding construction works on Šnipiškės cemetery territory and the conversion of the unused building of the old Palace of Concerts and Sports into a new convention center that would bring so much harm to the name of our beloved capital city and our beloved country.
Chairperson of Kaunas Jewish Religious Community