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.
VILNIUS—Readers are familiar with an English summary of the Vilnius District Court’s 10 May decision paving the way for a massive national convention center and annex to rise in the heart of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (Shnípishok, in today’s Šnipiškės district), surrounded by thousands of extant graves on all four sides. Moreover, the entire text of the Lithuanian original is posted for inspection.
Jump to verdict’s excerpts referencing the CPJCE (and AJC)
What may be lost from the summary, and to those unable to read Lithuanian or to access a translation, is the “insidious and tragic” — and in any case central — role played by London’s “CPJCE” (the Orwellian name is “Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe), whose “Aaronite-Satmar” rabbis have been caught on Wikileaks demanding large sums for their “supervisions” (and in effect, permissions) for effectively selling rights to old Jewish cemeteries on ground zero of the Holocaust. The effects of the genocide include the dearth of viable communities of descendants of the buried who would in the course of things guard the dignity of their ancestors’ burial places (see: 2009 Wikileaks cable confirming secret payments; 2015 reports by JTA and the Jerusalem Post; the “Serious Incident Report” to UK’s Charities Commission. See also last December’s “Day of Shame”). Incidentally, the opposing (“Zalmanite”) branch of Satmar hasidism has boldly condemned the desecration of the old Vilna cemetery in a statement signed by the grandrabbi himself.
From the infamous 2015 video to the present court decision, Defending History has been providing a detailed record of at least the publicly knowable aspects of the group’s shameful role in the Vilna scandal, scoffing and belittling the voices of virtually all Litvak (Lithuanian tradition) rabbis internationally (see DH’s section on the CPJCE (plus the classic video) on the broader Vilna cemetery dispute, and summary pages of the international opposition and more recent developments).
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK—Rabbi Pinchos Hecht, director of New York’s famed Mirrer Yeshiva, issued a two-page letter today expressing an impassioned appeal to Lithuania’s president, prime minister, finance minister, and the Seimas (parliament) budget review team, imploring them to halt the misguided project to erect the nation’s central convention center in the heart of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery, where thousands still lie buried on all four sides of a Soviet eyesore slated for reconstruction. Protests have been lodged by virtually all the leading Lithuanian tradition (Litvak) rabbis internationally, as well as over 53,000 people who have signed a petition. The saga has been dragging on for years.
“Human rights and dignity do not end with one’s death. The individuals buried in the Snipisek cemetery are the most helpless type of individuals, as they are unable to speak for themselves. The Holocaust wiped out the very community in whose care the preservation of the cemetery would have been entrusted.”
The head of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), chief rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, wrote today to Lithuania’s culture minister, Mindaugas Kvietkauskas, who is often deployed by Lithuanian government agencies to placate Jewish groups with his “love of Yiddish”. The letter forcefully strips the London-based “CPJCE” of any further involvement in the Vilna cemetery saga.
The issue at hand is the fate of the old Vilna Jewish Cemetery, that Lithuania’s state-owned Property Bank (Turto bankas) is determined, in alliance with politicians, builders and other partners for profit, to use for a new national convention center, where thousands would each night cheer and clap, drink at bars and flush toilets, surrounded by a multitude of graves of Vilna Jewish citizens going back to the fifteenth century, if not earlier, including many famous rabbinic scholars and close family of the Gaon of Vilna. There has been massive international opposition to the project.
Hopefully, the Yiddish-loving culture minister will raise his voice for the cultural preservation of Vilna’s holiest Jewish site, where so many generations of Yiddish speaking Vilna Jews lie buried. The cemetery lovingly known to generations of Jews in the Lithuanian capital as Der alter feld (‘the old [burial] field’), or simply as Piramónt.
Besides its being addressed to the culture minister, the text of Rabbi Goldschmidt’s letter is especially significant for its issuing an actual edict concerning the “permission” for the “convention center in the cemetery” by the allegedly corrupt London-based CPJCE (“Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe“) who were caught years ago on Wikileaks cables demanding secret payments for their “supervision” of works at the same cemetery.
In his letter, the chief rabbi makes clear the stance of the Conference of European rabbis:
“The Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe does not have the authority to, God forbid, approve the continued desecration of the cemetery […]. On behalf of the Conference of European Rabbis, I want to clarify that the CPJCE lost the authority to liaise with the Lithuanian government on this vital issue, because they did not respond to a summons of the Rabbinical Court, and subsequently do not represent the voice of European Jewry. Let me also be clear that the Conference of European Rabbis no longer maintains an official affiliation with the group. We therefore urge the Lithuanian government to cease all communications with the CPJCE […].”
A facsimile of Rabbi Goldsmith’s letter follows (also available as PDF). Observers eagerly look forward to the response of Minister Kvietkauskas.CONFERENCE OF EUROPEAN RABBIS
VILNIUS—As Jewish communities worldwide continue to prepare during the pandemic for the Jewish New Year (and roughly three weeks of high holidays) that gets underway on Friday evening, the action on the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery has been revving up to a high pitch on a number of fronts. The question revolves around the vast pain caused by government plans to site a national convention center and annex in the heart of the old Vilna cemetery at Piramónt (in the Shnipishok / Šnipiškės section of modern Vilnius).
Conference of European Rabbis Takes Action
In a tweet today, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, for close to a decade president of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), confirmed that the body today formally banned the controversial London-based, Satmar-hasidic (“Aaronite sect” branch) from further involvement in the fate of the Old Vilna Cemetery.
Orthodox Jewish media earlier reported on the background to this development, the London CPJCE’s refusal to honor a formal invitation to come before a rabbinical court to explain their bizarre Vilnius activities in near-rapturous fervent favor of the cemetery’s utter desecration.
VILNIUS—The sad news of the death last April in London (from the coronavirus) of Rabbi Avrohom (Abraham) Pinter, the beloved principal of Yesodei Hatorah school in Stamford Hill, did not reach his friends and admirers in Vilnius until this week. Readers are referred to Cnaan Lifshiz’s JTA obituary, the piece in Yeshiva World, as well as articles in local papers including the Hackney Citizen and the London Jewish Chronicle. The prestigious school he led was founded after the war by his father, the late Rabbi Shmuel-Shmelke Pinter, a native of Vienna, himself son of Rabbi Chaim Pinter, the head of the rabbinical court of Bukovsk (today in Poland).
Image of the large new annex (right, in red—Californian redwood tone) to be built onto the Soviet-era sports palace in Vilnius, as visualized by the City Council and the government’s property bank, recently announced in Lithuanian and in English (English versions seem to omit images of the new structure).
VILNIUS—The recently approved “final plan” for the convention center complex intended for the historic heart of the Old Vilnius Jewish Cemetery (where a multitude of graves still lie, though the stones were all pilfered in Soviet times) features a prominent new red-colored annex on top of and surrounded by extant graves.
VILNIUS—The controversial London-based “grave selling rabbis” of the CPJCE, alongside its American “Admas Kodesh” branch, has posted on Twitter the recent sensational letter by the doyen of Litvak rabbis, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, writing for the vaunted rabbinical court of Bnai Brak, Israel. The edict, in a rabbinic Hebrew that is perhaps not easily read by most Twitter readers, rails against the a convention center in the cemetery under “rabbinic supervision” (referring to the CPJCE’s project), and forbids the convention center project at the old Vilna Jewish cemetery of Piramónt at Shnípishok (Šnipiškės in today’s Vilnius), and demands the old Soviet ruin be left untouched, stressing that the site cannot, in its view, be used for anything but a cemetery.
The tweet, however, seeks to misinform these groups’ Twitter readers as “supporting the almost 20 year struggle” (!) of these groups. Orwell indeed. The tweet also referenced the deeply controversial role of the US taxpayer supported USCPAHA. [UPDATE of 29 Sept. 2020: The Conference of European Rabbis has explicitly disqualified the CPJCE from further involvement in Vilnius.]
[last updated: 6 Feb. 2020]
Are leaders of some American Jewish organizations betraying Jewish interests for a pot of lentils from East European governments? AJC’s Andy Baker trashes Ruta Bloshtein’s petition and its tens of thousands of signatories; another one-sided YIVO “symposium” (but with powerful audience questions from Ms. Rebecca Cook and Prof. Bernard Fryshman)… Top state medals for Yivo and AJC leaders (see Yivo’s “politics in Lithuania” record from 2011). “History will be very clear about all this, notwithstanding the current mush achieved by some big PR bucks.” Recent PR shtik includes claiming some books found decades ago are “just now discovered” and recruiting an American JTS academic (who helped cover for two new buildings on the old Vilna cemetery over a decade ago) to tell the media they are “the new Dead Sea Scrolls”…
If a new national convention center is indeed to open at the old Vilna Jewish cemetery, thousands each night would cheer, sing, clap, dance, use bars and flush toilets surrounded by thousands of Vilna Jewish graves going back over 500 years. Including the parents and son of the Gaon of Vilna. Just as the state-sponsored “2020 Year of the Gaon” gets underway, including a handsome new recombinated menorah coin.
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND—The following is the text of the complaint that was filed with the UK Charity Commission by Stone King solicitors here, a firm specializing in the righting of alleged corruption by charitable organizations recognized by the commission concerning. The “Serious Incident Report”, as these are known in the UK, includes the following text:
“Put simply it is alleged that this Charity [CPJCE—“Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe”], in collaboration, for payment, to the further destruction through development of the old Vilna Jewish Cemetery in the Snipiskes district of the modern Vilnius, the Capital of Lithuania (See Lithuania liveliest Cemetery” in The Times of Israel, 13.12.15). This proposed development has been met with universal protest and condemnation by the international Jewish Community. This includes an international petition which currently contains 45,000 signatures, a letter from 12 Congressmen, oppositions from the 12 greatest Lithuanian origin rabbis and a letter from Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites to the President of Lithuania dated 1.2.18. We set below for ease of reference a list of hyperlinks which demonstrates the scale of opposition.”
NEW YORK CITY—A New York Institute of Technology professor of physics, Prof. Bernard Fryshman, who is also one of the world’s major advocates for the preservation of endangered minority cemeteries (he helped the US Congress draft its 2014 resolution on the subject) has teamed up with Boruch Pines, a New York based descendant of many persons buried in the old Vilna Jewish cemetery at Piramónt in the Šnipiškės (Yiddish: Shnípeshok) district of modern Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. Together, they filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on 8 November 2018. Defending History has obtained a copy of the summons and complaint, available as PDF, and below immediately following this report.
LONDON—Reliable sources in London reported this morning that solicitors are being instructed by a group of international clients whose ancestors lie buried in the old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt, in today’s Snipiskes district of Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. For years, the Lithuanian government’s justification for planning to situate in the cemetery its new national convention project, confirmed on numerous occasions in writing, is the “permission of the CPJCE in London,” a group of renegade rabbis who have ignored the pleas of all other rabbinical groups, and all major Litvak (Lithuanian origin) rabbis internationally, to give “permission” for the convention center in the heart of the cemetery. When Rabbi Chaim Burshtein, the then chief rabbi of Lithuania dared speak up in opposition, in 2015, he was rapidly dismissed. In late 2016, Rabbis Kalev Krelin and Sholom-Ber Krinsky were among the first to sign the international petition (see also Rabbi Krinsky’s blog and DH section). Rabbi S. J. Feffer, author of dozens of learned books on the Gaon of Vilna, based in the city for a quarter century and head of its Litvak rabbinic authority, published a powerful ruling in 2017.
VILNIUS—Ruta Bloshtein, a native of this city and stalwart of its small Orthodox Jewish community, this week published an update to her international petition calling on the Lithuanian government to move its national convention center project away from the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt in today’s Snipiskes district of Vilnius. Over 43,000 people from several dozen countries have signed her petition to date.
In the update, Ms. Bloshtein calls on people of good will to contact the United Kingdom’s Charities Commission to file complaints against a rogue group of allegedly “cemetery selling rabbis” who allegedly issue permissions for building projects on old Jewish cemeteries on ground zero of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe in return for secret cash payments. They have been exposed by Wikileaks, and in reports in the Jerusalem Post, JTA, and Times of Israel. They are known as the “CPJCE” which stands for “Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe.” See Defending History’s section on the group, and DH’s 2015 open letter (to which a reply was never received). Ms. Bloshtein asks in her update, that when reporting the “CPJCE” to the Charities Commission, its official charity-status number, 1073225, be mentioned.
JERUSALEM—The 1 February 2018 letter of Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites in Israel to the president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, was released here today for publication. In it, the world-renowned rabbi who heads the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, pleads with the president of Lithuania to “cancel this plan to make this site a convention center.” He reminds her of the tens of thousands of Jews buried at the old Piramónt cemetery of Vilna, now in the Šnipiškės district of Vilnius, capital of Lithuania. His letter follows the 7 January 2018 letter from the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau, and the pleas of virtually all the world’s leading rabbis of Litvak heritage (and many others) over recent years, in addition to many people of good faith of all backgrounds.
Not only the living turn to dust; the dead do so as well. So too the tombstones we erect in their memory. Some people merit having their tombstone stand for one generation; others merit having their tombstone stand for two generations. But in the end, it gradually sinks until it is swallowed up by the earth.
S. Y. Agnon, A City in Its Fullness
VILNIUS—In comments reported today by the Lithuanian press service ELTA, the nation’s prime minister, Saulius Skvernelis has announced and hailed the decision to proceed with a national convention center in the heart of the old Vilna Jewish cemetery as one that “will lift the Lithuanian capital to a higher level of competitiveness in tourism.” He also notes that “the lack of a modern congress center in Vilnius is the main obstacle for the development of conference tourism in Lithuania,” not mentioning that there are numerous alternative sites for much more rapid and hassle-free construction of such a center.