83 Descendants of People Buried in Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery File Appeal; London’s CPJCE Cited Extensively




VILNIUS—The following are excerpts in English translation (from the original Lithuanian text) of the 9 June 2021 Appeal filed by 83 plaintiffs still recognized by the court as having proper standing, out of the original 157 claimants, all descendants of persons buried in the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (Shnípishok, in today’s Šnipiškės district). These people, whose ancestors paid for their burial plots in freehold perpetuity, do not understand how an EU/NATO member country could plan to cite a national convention center on land surrounded by these graves on all four sides. These excerpts from the translation are limited to paragraphs explicitly citing the London-based “Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe” (CPJCE) which is alleged to accept secret large payments in return for their “permissions and supervisions” of the wanton business-and-profit-led destruction of major Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe.

As detailed in Defending History’s report last week concerning the 10 May 2021 court verdict, the CPJCE’s role has been roundly rejected and condemned by virtually all leading Litvak (Lithuanian tradition) Jewish rabbinic authorities and institutions internationally. The CPJCE has moreover been banned explicitly from further involvement in the Vilnius fiasco by decree of the Conference of European Rabbis duly reported to the former Lithuanian minister of culture, making it clear that the London group has no standing to be representing anyone in the saga.

There is, however, a salient cultural factor not always immediately clear to Western observers. Defending History has learned that some of the 83 descendants  (and indeed of the original group of 157, all of whom remain adamant about the cemetery’s preservation) are Haredi (“ultraorthodox”) Jews who would not be comfortable with a lawsuit in a Lithuanian state court targeting famous London rabbis by name (though the appeal minces no words about their organization, the CPJCE as such). But secular entities are not constrained by such hesitation, and Defending History has been forthright in publicly debating Rabbi Herschel Gluck and Rabbi Abraham Ginsburg, among others. Indeed reports on the CPJCE’s Wikileaks-documented escapades have appeared in the Jerusalem Post and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA).

And, indeed there is  no such hesitation or reticence by the 83 plaintiffs in the 9 June 2021 Appeal now before the Lithuanian courts, in citing by name Dr. Arieh Klein, the scientist and director of a famous Haifa based company, Geotechnical Engineering & GeoEnvironmental. Reporting shows that once upon a time, before he “went to work for the London rabbis” he issued a powerful press release, in 2008, emphasizing that ground penetrating radar had found graves (“remains in anatomical position”) wherever his company had been allowed to go on the site of the Old Cemetery, rendering it more than obvious that there could be graves on all four sides of the proposed convention center, and indeed, confirming that very fact for all four sides of the existing two buildings constructed right on top of the cemetery from 2005 (“the two green buildings”). His 2008 press release speaks for itself. By the following year, we learn from Wikileaks, he had changed his tune (and tone) radically after joining forces with the Londoners. In Dec. 2019, he was flown to Vilnius for the photo-ops of the “Day of Shame.” One isolated part of his fee structure is explicitly mentioned in the new court appeal, below, begging the question of whether the CPJCE and Lithuanian contractors, politicians and authorities are prepared to make transparent all the payments he and his company have received for becoming a poster boy for the “convention center in the old Jewish cemetery project” under the apt cover of “geotechnical science.”

For obvious reasons, what happens to the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery will have a pronounced impact on plans underway to build on hundreds of Jewish cemeteries throughout Eastern Europe, on ground zero of the Holocaust, where ipso facto there is no critical mass of local communities of genuine descendants of the period to stand up for the dignity and integrity of Jewish graves. The tragic scenario of a heavily-medaled bigwig of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) legitimizing the CPJCE, and both being able to wheel out the “geophysical scientific company from Israel” at will has made for a truly unprecedented state of peril for Holocaust-region Jewish cemeteries in Europe as well as for minority cemeteries much more generally.

As an international human rights issue, the graves and cemeteries of minorities around the world are protected by explicit resolutions passed by the United States Congress in 2014, and the European Parliament in 2017.

In the excerpts of the Appeal that follow, mentions of the CPJCE are highlighted in red (in the translation only) for rapid reference.


Excerpts from the 9 June Appeal Filed on Behalf of 83 Descendants of Persons Buried in the Cemetery:

 

  1. Secondly, as is seen from particular actions referred to by the Defendant according to the Case documents, conclusions completely opposite to the Defendant’s statements can be drawn, i. e. that earth-moving works will be carried out both in the main territory of the Cemetery (during construction of the annex and driveways) and in the protected zone (during construction works on the Palace itself), as well as works of the Palace’s reconstruction, and construction of driveways and parking lots.

  2. This claim is proven by evidence presented to the Court. In Part II of the Technical Specifications, “Conditions of Purchase”, the August 26, 2009, minutes signed by the Defendant, the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (hereinafter: the Committee), and the Lithuanian Jewish Community (hereinafter: the 2009 Meeting) (b. t. III, p. 232), and in the minutes of the December 4, 2019, Meeting on “Reconstruction Works of the Vilnius Congress Center Project, Related to the Site of the Vilnius Old Jewish Cemetery at Šnipiškės“ (hereinafter: the 2019 Meeting) (b. t. VIII, p. 73), it is clearly seen that reconstruction and construction works will be carried out in the main territory of the Cemetery and, later on, commercial economic activities will be carried out here, too.

  1. […] (iii) Point 4 of the 2019 Meeting minutes notes that “During the reconstruction works of the driveway going through the territory of the Šnipiškės Jewish Cemetery, asphalt pavement may be removed and replaced by special metal plates, approved by representatives of the Committee, or other kinds of pavement specified in the plans of the site. Asphalt pavement may also be removed in order to provide adequate growing conditions for the designed decorative lawn.” (iv) Point 12 of the 2019 Meeting minutes notes that “Concrete slabs that are currently in the territory of the Šnipiškės Jewish Cemetery must not be removed from the territory of the Cemetery. The slabs will not be moved unless it is necessary in order to reconstruct or install engineering networks or to carry out archeological surveys. These slabs are to be removed with supervision of representatives of the Committee and according to their instructions.” An analogous provision is also found in Point 13 of the 2009 Meeting minutes. (v) Point 13 of the 2019 Meeting minutes notes that “In exceptional cases, when no other engineering solution can be found, digging works may be carried out in parts of the Šnipiškės Jewish Cemetery territory where ground had already been moved during earlier construction works and essential human remains were removed. Territory parts where such works may be carried out, and nature of such digging works are defined according to data of archeological surveys and instructions of the Committee’s representatives.” An analogous provision is found in Point 14 of the 2019 Meeting minutes. (vi) In Conditions of Purchase of the 2018 Technical Project of Reconstruction, it is also noted that “(i) during earth-moving works both inside and outside the Palace, continuous participation of a rabbi appointed by the Committee is obligatory, and all earth-related works are to be carried out with the rabbi’s supervision; (ii) in the case of human remains, a grave, or its fragments being unearthed, the rabbi may stop the works until further notice.”

  1. […] The Defendant’s cooperation with the Committee and the Lithuanian Jewish Community in no way ensures the Plaintiff’s rights to religion and private life.

  2. The first-instance Court dedicated six paragraphs of its Verdict (see §76–81) to explain why the Defendant’s cooperation with the Committee and the Lithuanian Jewish Community on issues related to the Reconstruction will ensure that the Plaintiff’s interests are met. Minutes of the 2009 Meeting and the 2019 Meeting were submitted to the Case file. These minutes discuss the conditions of the Reconstruction. However, the Court paid no attention to these organizations’, who allegedly represent the Jewish people, issues of competence and their suitability to represent the Plaintiff. Furthermore, the very form of the 2009 Meeting and the 2019 Meeting minutes, as well as incomplete text of these documents submitted to the Case file, should have already roused suspicion. The first-instance Court calls the minutes of the 2009 Meeting in its verdict “the 2009 Agreement”, however, no agreements between the Defendant, the Committee, and the Lithuanian Jewish Community, as such, have been submitted to the Case file.

  3. One cannot agree with the assessment made by the first-instance Court that the Plaintiff’s right to religion will not be violated during the Reconstruction, since negotiations on the issue of the Reconstruction specified by the Defendant were carried out with institutions that have no right to represent the Plaintiff; the negotiations were fictitious and revealed a conflict of interests.

  4. First of all, neither the Committee nor the Lithuanian Jewish Community have any right to represent the Plaintiff.

  5. The Committee has no right to represent the Plaintiff’s interests because of its ambiguous status in the eyes of other Jewish organizations. The whole global Jewish community was stunned and shocked when it learned that the Reconstruction is being negotiated with no one else but the Committee and that the Committee decided to agree with a construction of a recreational building and earth digging works in the territory of the Cemetery: (i) on July 12, 2020, the Rabbinical Court of Bnei Brak forbid the Committee to represent the European Jews’ interests in their relations with the Government of the Republic of Lithuania regarding the Reconstruction of the Palace (b. t. VIII, p. 199): “On July 12, 2020, the Rabbinical Court of rabbi Nissim Korrelitz in Bnei Brak issued a prohibition of works of construction or reconstruction of the Vilnius Congress Center, for it is a desecration of cemetery. The decree is submitted as Appendix B, together with its English version, submitted as Appendix A”; “Since you are one of the sides taking part in the project of the Vilnius Congress Center, your participation in the project is a serious violation of the aforementioned prohibition, issued on July 12, 2020”. (ii) The Conference of European Rabbis, which unites around 700 rabbis in 50 European states, has also stated that the Committee has no mandate to represent the European Jews’ interests in their relations with the Government of the Republic of Lithuania regarding the Reconstruction of the Palace (b. t. IX, p. 71): The Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE) must not, God forbid, give a permission to continue the desecration of the cemetery by digging, exploring and developing it—both of the cemetery and of the territory next to it. In the name of the Conference of European Rabbis, I would like to clarify that the CPJCE has lost all competence to stay in relation with the Government of Lithuania on this crucial issue, as it has not responded to a summons to the Rabbinical Court, and therefore does not represent European Jews anymore. I would also like to state clearly that the Conference of European Rabbis maintains no formal relations with this group. Therefore, we urge the Government of Lithuania to terminate its cooperation with the CPJCE and to establish relations with the Conference of European Rabbis and other most important Jewish organizations, regarding issues related to European Jews”.

  6. There is abundant other evidence in the Case that, to the contrary of the Defendant’s position on the preservation of the Cemetery by the Committee, a large part of foreign organizations and individual rabbis do not agree with the Reconstruction and have, at various points, addressed various institutions of the Republic of Lithuania with this issue, having so demonstrated their concern over the actions of both the Defendant and the Committee. […]

  1. The Defendant cites the Resolution (b. t. VIII, p. 147) as a document that allegedly delivers the Committee the right to represent the rights of all Jews. However, the Plaintiff points out that the Resolution contains no absolute mandate for the Committee. In the Resolution, the Committee, as an organization for possible cooperation, is only referred to as a possible alternative. Quote: “9. The Assembly recommends that member states of the Council of Europe: 9.4. in cooperation with respective institutions of local governance and interested Jewish organizations, such as the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe and Global Organization ‘Agudath Israel’, take up initiatives that would improve management, maintenance, preservation, and restoration of Jewish burial sites”. Furthermore, as has already been partly mentioned in this appeal and as will be stressed below, the first-instance Court in its Verdict has recognized that a truly competent institution in the issue of negotiating the Reconstruction would be a rabbinical court (see §81 of the Verdict).

  1. On the other hand, not all Jewish communities are members of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. For example, the Kaunas Jewish Religious Community, which has declared in this Case a position that is completely opposite to the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s: “We hereby note that the Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sports stands at the site of the Vilnius Old Jewish Cemetery at Šnipiškės, i.e. on the ground that is sacred to the Jewish community. Concerts, celebrations, and similar activities on the cemetery’s grounds are not compatible with the Jewish community’s right to freedom of religion and cultural rights”; “We hereby would like to direct the Esteemed Court’s attention to the fact that most members of the global Jewish community do not support these plans of the reconstruction of the Palace of Concerts and Sports, and do not support these works even with rabbinical supervision, as it is designated in the 2009 Meeting. The Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe does not represent the interests of all the world’s Jews and is nothing but a self-established London-based organization” (b. t. VII, p. 8). Hence, this Case obviously shows that there is no unanimous agreement on the Reconstruction among Jewish organizations that operate in the Republic of Lithuania.

  2. According to the presented facts, the Defendant had the right to negotiate the Reconstruction only with (i) official institutions that represent the Jewish community—one of which the Committee is not, or (ii) institutions or organizations that can provide competent position on the meaning of the Cemetery, the necessity of its preservation, and its importance to the Jewish religion—neither the Lithuanian Jewish Community nor the Committee are among such. The first-instance Court did not pay adequate attention to the fact that the Defendant has not submitted any evidence of such competences of the Committee or the Lithuanian Jewish Community to the Case file. The Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Committee as institutions are not suited for negotiation of the Reconstruction or defense of cultural and traditional values (see more on this in Part v2.6).

  3. Secondly, the Defendant’s willingness to cooperate with the Committee reveals an obvious conflict of interests and the Committee’s bias, since the state of Lithuania, among whose interests is the Reconstruction, pays direct remuneration to the Committee for the services it provides.

  4. The Committee provides its services not as an independent and unbiased expert but as a side of a contract that involves financial remuneration. According to the January 11, 2016 Contract for the Consulting Services for the Vilnius Congress Center Project No. (2.24-23)-51-13, submitted to the Case file (b. t. III, p. 220), the Committee’s leading figure Arieh Klein received an impressive sum of 16 000 EUR for his services: his report as a Geo-environmental Consultant.

  5. Furthermore, the Defendant itself has addressed the Government of the Republic of Lithuania with a request to confirm the Committee as a responsible institution that will take part in the process of negotiations on the Reconstruction. According to the Plaintiff’s understanding, it was the Defendant itself that found the Committee and paid it for its (beneficial to the Defendant) conclusion on the possibilities of the Reconstruction and arranging the 2009 Meeting and the 2019 Meeting (both beneficial to the Defendant). In line with this, the January 22, 2016 letter No. SK4-795 (b. t. III, p. 123) to the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, (i) requests confirmation that the Defendant is to cooperate exclusively with the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Committee during the Reconstruction; (ii) requests confirmation that, during the Reconstruction negotiations, the Committee’s expenses, such as travel, accommodation, and other costs, will be compensated. Therefore, the circumstance found in the Verdict, that, allegedly, “As the Government decreed Turto Bankas to implement the Project, Prime Minister ordered the Ministry of Finance and Turto Bankas to negotiate all issues related to the Project’s implementation with the Lithuanian Jewish Community, the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, and its appointed representatives and cover all related expenses”, is simply misleading. It was not the Ministry of Finance that “ordered”, but rather the Defendant that “requested” to cooperate with the Committee.

  6. Such resolute dedication to negotiate the Reconstruction exclusively with the Committee also rouses suspicion when one tries to find out on what basis and with what aims the Committee operates, but such information is not even publicly available. The Committee has no independent website of its own (or it is not operational), its statute or any other document that would define its activities cannot be found online. Hence, the state has signed a contract with a subject with which the public, realistically speaking, cannot even get acquainted. The Plaintiff presumes that the Committee’s activities are simply and exclusively commercial.

  7. There is no evidence in the Case file that the Defendant addressed any other European institutions or Jewish organizations on the possibility of cooperation on this issue, i. e., supervision of the Reconstruction. It is therefore not clear if some other organization would not have offered its “services” for less money or even free of charge. One can presume that there are no such addresses in the Case file since other European institutions/organizations would not have been so lenient on the Reconstruction, as the Committee has been.

  8. In conclusion, since the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Committee are not suitable subjects for the negotiation of the Reconstruction, statements in the first-instance Court Verdict that the Plaintiff’s interests regarding the Reconstruction are met by the Defendant’s cooperation with institutions representing the Jewish community, and especially with the Committee, are insufficient.

  1. In its Verdict, the first-instance Court stresses that “for example, in 1991, in Hamburg, Germany, an issue of the destroyed Jewish cemetery at Ottensen and reconstruction of a shopping mall built on it arose. In an analogous situation, Orthodox Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi and Judge of the Great Rabbinical Court Yitzhak Kolitz was invited as an arbiter and decided to forbid exhumation of remains but allow additional construction for economic purposes; he forbade carrying out any digging works and saw that the whole process would be supervised by a supervisor that he appointed” (§81 of the Verdict). First of all, the Plaintiff cannot agree with the first-instance Court’s position that this Case and the Hamburg case are analogous. An operational shopping mall was the object of the Hamburg case, whereas the Palace is not being used at the moment. Therefore, there is no issue of continuous activity in the Case. Even more importantly, “additional construction” in Hamburg was allowed not by some single organization or group, but by Judge of the Great Rabbinical Court Yitzhak Kolitz. The Defendant has not submitted a permission from a Rabbinical Court to the Case file. Therefore, assessing these matters hierarchically, the Case could have been directed, analogously to the Hamburg case, according to the verdict of the Rabbinical Court of Bnei Brak, submitted to the Case file by the Plaintiff. As mentioned before, the Committee has no right to represent all European Jews (especially when it comes to their religious interests) or, what is even worse, the most influential rabbis. The Committee is not a Rabbinical Court and does not have such competences.

  2. In accordance with what is presented above, the Plaintiff would like to stress that participation of the Committee or the Lithuanian Jewish Community in the Reconstruction negotiation adds no additional value to the process.

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