VILNIUS—The American taxpayer-funded agency known as the “U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad” has a mission statement that stresses commitment to preserving Jewish cemeteries in post-Holocaust Eastern Europe. They are in special danger because of the Holocaust: the people buried have no descendants or relatives to care for the preservation of their final resting place. Moreover, nationalism and antisemitism sometimes come into play, with powers that be not wanting any city-center reminders of major erstwhile Jewish populations in their cities, and in any case, applying very different standards to the preservation of Jewish and Christian cemeteries. The issue was addressed in a 2014 U.S. Congressional resolution.
Suspicions Rise on Role of “U.S. Commission for Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad” in Plans to Build a $25,000,000 Convention Center in Heart of Vilnius’s Old Jewish Cemetery
First Moral Victory in the EU, in Effort to Prevent Unprecedented Desecration of Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery
Lithuanian Government Announces Construction of a $25,000,000 Convention Center in the Center of Vilna’s Oldest Jewish Cemetery
by Sid Leiman
The following is a reprint, with Professor Leiman’s permission, of his essay originally published on 13 September 2015 (Erev Rosh Ha-Shanah 5776) in The Seforim Blog. He is Professor Emeritus of Jewish History and Literature at Brooklyn College in the City University of New York. Russian versions have to date appeared twice, here and here.
CONCERN SPREADING OVER “CLOSED [SECRET?] CONFERENCE” IN VILNIUS 25-28 OCTOBER FINANCED BY ROTHSCHILD FOUNDATION (HANADIV LONDON)! LIST OF SPEAKERS INCLUDES SPOKESMAN OF THE LONDON CPJCE “GRAVE TRADER RABBIS” BUT NOT ONE FROM THE MASSIVE INTERNATIONAL OPPOSITION
Rothschild (of London) Finances “Closed” Conference (in Vilnius) on Jewish Cemeteries (That May be Cover for Most Painful Desecration Yet of Vilna’s Old Jewish Cemetery)
VILNIUS—Not for the first time, outstanding scholars and professionals are happy to accept a gracious invitation to a Jewish-topic international conference in this beautiful East European capital city that has for centuries been a symbol of the resilience of various minority cultures, including stateless cultures, to thrive side by side.
“HISTORY IN THE MAKING”
Delegates to a conference on Jewish cemeteries, held in Vilnius in 2015, can get to read the statement in 2015 on a certain Jewish cemetery by the Chief Rabbi of Lithuania of 11 years’ standing, for which he was dismissed a couple of months before the conference. Would the conference not wish to hear from the rabbi too?
by Dovid Katz
VILNIUS—This city’s dashing young new mayor, Remigijus Šimašius, elected last spring, has now added Yiddish to the previously bilingual (Lithuanian-English) signs, wrought of expensive metal in rounded-edged casement, in times of austerity for pensioners and others in town. These signs are being placed near Soviet-era edifices made of pilfered Jewish gravestones (matséyves) that are a blot on this charming East European capital. This is the latest model featured on the mayor’s office website:
LONDON—At the initiative of Monica Lowenberg, Defending History’s London correspondent, UK member of parliament Gareth Thomas (Labour) tabled a question in the House of Commons (no. 14144) on 29 October 2015 on the planned desecration of the old Jewish cemetery at Piramónt (in the Šnipiškės district of Vilnius, Lithuania) by construction of a twenty-five million dollar national convention center. His question, and the reply by the current Minister for Europe, David Lidington, of 3 November 2015, are reproduced below (and available online).
Is Lithuania’s President Distancing Herself from Prime Minister’s “Religious Zeal” for the “Convention Center in the Old Jewish Cemetery”?
NEW YORK—In response to his 20 Nov. 2015 letter that has been described by some who have seen it as “powerful,” New York businessman Berel Fried, an Orthodox Jewish scholar and descendant of many people buried at the old Piramónt Jewish cemetery in Vilnius received a reply this week from the office of Lithuania’s president, Dalia Grybauskaitė. Her reply, dated 18 Dec. 2015, was released today by Mr. Fried’s office in New York City. Mr. Fried has been a frequent visitor to Vilnius and Kaunas for many years and is a celebrated guest reader of the Torah when he visits the Choral Synagogue on Pylimo Street in Vilnius.
NY Satmar Affiliate of “London Grave Traders” Tweets Triumphant Photos with US Gov “Heritage Abroad Commission” Rep
DOCUMENTS| | US GOV’S “HERITAGE ABROAD” COMMISSION | OPPOSITION TO DATE | PAPER TRAIL | SECTION | EU ASPECTS
KIRYAS JOEL, NY—The “Satmar Headquarters” of the movement’s “Aaronite” branch, partners of the London-based “CPJCE / Admas Kodesh” issued this tweet earlier today, which some observers take to convey the message that the politically connected Hasidic group continues to boast of preventing the “United States Commission for the Preservation [emphasis added] of America’s Heritage Abroad” from expressing even the mildest protest at plans to erect a twenty-five million dollar convention center in the heart of Vilnius’s oldest Jewish cemetery. With the exception of the CPJCE, exposed in Wikileaks as having demanded money for their “supervision” at the same cemetery in 2009 (see Jerusalem Post and JTA reports), major rabbis and rabbinic associations, alongside a variety of Jewish and non-Jewish figures, have expressed unanimous condemnation of the project.
The condemnations include the major groups of Lithuanian (Litvak) rabbis internationally, and also the rival branch of Satmar itself, the “Zalmanite” branch, whose own highest rabbinic court last summer added its voice to the Lithuanian rabbis worldwide. Vilnius has numerous venues appropriate for the new convention center. Some observers remain baffled at the insistence on the old cemetery site, where thousands of graves lie intact, and where revelers would clap, cheer, and use bars and toilets surrounded by a half millennium’s Jewish graves, including major Jewish scholars of the city, historically Vilna, once known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania.
Jews and Other Minorities in Eastern Europe Concerned by EU Chief’s Addition of a Single Word about Old Jewish Cemetery
BRUSSELS—Back in October, 2015, high-level European Union spokesperson Chiara Adamo had replied to French human rights activist Didier Bertin on behalf of European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, assuring the public that
“Contrary to reports in some Lithuanian newspapers and international media, the planned renovation project at the Vilnius Snipisek cemetery is not supported by European Union funds.”
VILNIUS—When Lithuania’s official chief rabbi of eleven years’ standing, Rabbi Chaim Burshtein, was dismissed last summer after disagreeing with the government’s plan to erect a national convention center in the heart of Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery, the event caught the attention of both local and international media. It was quietly hoped, both in Vilnius and abroad, that the eventual replacement would be loyal to sacred Jewish causes (see Rabbi Burshtein’s final statement of his tenure in Vilnius), someone who would not dare, for the considerations of a job, betray the letter and spirit of Jewish law, or the living and the deceased actual Jews of Vilna over the centuries. See Prof. Shnayer Leiman’s essay on the subject, our editor’s summary, a satiric Motke Chabad take, and Dr. Bernard Fryshman’s reminder that “Even now, the cemetery contains the bodies of the Chayey Odom and the Be’eyr ha-Goylo among many others.” A second essay by Professor Leiman paves the way for inspiring reconstruction of many of the major historic structures of Lithuania’s foremost Jewish cemetery.
VILNIUS—Between October 2014 and October 2015, the international Jewish-cemetery group Asra Kadisha, coordinated by haredim largely affiliated with the “Zalmen” branch of the split Hasidic Satmar group (today the world’s largest Hasidic group) made a number of contributions that will remain permanent. Thanks in whole or in part to Asra Kadisha, eighteen important documents were published opposing the antisemitic decision of some Lithuanian government officials to allow a convention center to rise, surrounded by thousands upon thousands of skeletons on all four sides, skeletons of Jewish citizens of Vilnius buried there between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. As a Protestant minister and Catholic philosopher have pointed out, such would not have been the decision were it a Christian cemetery or one housing heroes of Lithuanian culture between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries. Of course the millions in store for property developers and their many “beneficiaries” (for decades to come) play a prime role; antisemitism enters the picture when the state fails to put in play the same brakes which it applies for majority culture and majority religion sacred sites.
VILNIUS—The following is a reprint of the article published on 2 July 2016 in Yated Ne’eman, authored by the eminent scholar, Professor Bernard Fryshman. The title refers to the accompanying illustration which considers the views of the many thousands of Jews buried at Piramónt, Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery in the Šnipiškės (Shnípishok) district, in active use from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries. See also background to the article, PDF of the original article, the catalogue of international opposition, the paper trail, the DH section, and our editor’s summary of the issue published in December 2015 in The Times of Israel.
VILNIUS—Turto Bankas, the state bank here whose main mission is to “organize and coordinate renewal of state-owned real estate,” has again revealed itself to be deeply involved in the international scandal of constructing a new National Congress Center in the heart of the old Vilna Jewish cemetery, whose graves date back to the fifteenth century and include some of the leading European Jewish scholars of the last millennium. The project continues to attract opposition from various parts of the world, including major Lithuania-descended rabbis internationally and some members of Lithuania’s small Jewish community. Moreover, Protestant and Catholic authors have pointed out that this would not likely be the fate of an analogous medieval vintage Christian cemetery.
Dramatic Pre-Annual Litvak Conference About-Face as Official Jewish Community Finally Protests Something of 2016 Desecration of Vilna’s Old Jewish Cemetery
But new alarm bells as community calls in as “fixers” the same anti-Litvak London rabbis exposed in “$$$ for graveyard permissions” scandal by Wikileaks, Jerusalem Post, JTA, and DH; They get royal treatment by politicians with interest in the building projects, and have utterly rejected heartfelt pleas from the world’s great Litvak rabbis to move the new congress center away from the old Jewish cemetery to another venue where it can be a source of pride for all the people of Europe and beyond.
LONDON—The world’s greatest rabbinic authorities are unanimously opposed to the project to construct a 34 million euro convention center in the heart of Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery, surrounded by thousands of graves on all four sides. And now, 34,000 people around the world have also spoken up in a new international petition. Nevertheless, one group of London rabbis, the “CPJCE” (Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe [italics added]) continues to campaign for the convention center in close cooperation with the local business interests and politicians. Its Rabbi Herschel (Hershel) Gluck OBE has spoken out in the London Jewish Chronicle, trashing the petition of a Vilnius born Orthodox Jewish woman, Ruta Bloshtein.
Neither Rabbi Gluck nor the Jewish Chronicle mention that his “CPJCE” was allegedly exposed in Wikileaks (reports in the Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, DH) for demanding money for their “supervision”. Rabbi Gluck told the London Jewish Chronicle:
A Year & One Month Since US Commission on Heritage Abroad (USCPAHA) “Reported to Satmar Rebba” in Monroe, N.Y.
VILNIUS—Today marks one calendar year-and-a-month since “Admas Kodesh,” the American affiliate of the London “grave trading unit” called CPJCE (Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe) boasted on Twitter that Herbert Block, a prominent member of the State Department linked Commission for Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad (USCPAHA), came to Monroe, New York to “report to the Satmar Rebba”… Thirteen months later, there has still not been a single public word from the taxpayer-funded commission urging the Lithuanian government to move its convention center project away from the old Jewish cemetery, as now called for by a petition signed by 38,000 people including, in its first moments online in December, the official chief rabbi of Lithuania. The “Admas Kodesh” group had previously, in August 2015, posted triumphant photo-ops with the commission’s chairperson, Ms. Lesley Weiss. Earlier that month, they posted photos of USCPAHA’s Jules Fleischer thanking (!) the Lithuanian Consul General in New York for preserving the cemetery. The same “Admas Kodesh” group so dear to the US taxpayer-funded USPACAHA regularly attacks major Jewish scholars with whom it disagrees, particularly on the Vilna cemetery. One infamous July 2016 tweet refers to the esteemed Professor Bernard Fryshman, who played a major role in the US Congress’s passing of a 2014 law on preservation of cemeteries of minorities, as “Lying Professor Bernard Fryshman” for holding a different point of view on CPJCE / Admas Kodesh role in the Vilnius scandal.
See earlier summary of USCPAHA’s Vilnius cemetery record and DH’s USCPAHA section (best to scroll to bottom and peruse chronologically)
London CPJCE Spokesman Proclaims a Soviet Ruin in Vilnius to be Lithuania’s “Tower of London” and its “Statue of Liberty”
OPINION | PIRAMÓNT | PAPER TRAIL | OPPOSITION | CEMETERIES
MORE ON THE CPJCE. OUR OPEN LETTER TO THEM. Exposés by Wikileaks, Jerusalem Post, JTA, and DH.
UPDATE: THIS ARTICLE WAS REPUBLISHED IN THE FIVE TOWNS JEWISH TIMES
In a remarkable interview cited today in the highly respected Five Towns Jewish Times, an Orthodox publication based in Inwood, Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Woodmere, and Hewlett, all in Nassau County, Queens, New York, Rabbi Abraham Ginsberg, the PR specialist for the London-based CPJCE (“Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe”) is quoted as explaining why, in his estimation, the Lithuanian state feels the burning national-priority need to build a convention center and annex in the heart of Vilna’s historic Jewish cemetery that dates to the 15th century and continues to hold the remains of thousands of Vilna Jewish citizens whose families duly bought their plots over the centuries:
“I asked the rabbi why we are accepting the fact that this excavation and construction that will potentially unearth more bones and destroy many more graves must go forward.
“The rabbi explained that the location is important to Lithuanians because it was in this stadium now in disrepair and rotting that the Lithuanians declared their independence in the aftermath of the collapse of Communism in 1990. ‘This location is Lithuania’s London Tower and Statue of Liberty; they are not letting it go anytime soon,’ Rabbi Ginsberg said.
“He’s a little upset at the American rabbis who met with the Lithuanian ambassador in Washington last week.”
Ethical & Cultural Level of “Admas Kodesh” (/CPJCE) that is Underpinned by Taxpayer-Supported USCPAHA
The reference in the tweet is to the outstanding 24 June 2016 essay by the eminent Professor Bernard Fryshman in Yated Ne’eman. Professor Fryshman’s critical role in a landmark 2014 United States Congress law protecting vulnerable cemeteries of minorities internationally was explicitly recognized in the applicable Congressional Resolution. Why would a taxpayer supported agency, USPACHA, now be engaged in repeatedly honoring the Satmar-Aaronite sect’s de facto unit for trading away other people’s graves that publicly libels Professor Fryshman and any others who seek to defend the sanctity of human burial grounds around the world?
London Beth Din (Rabbinical Court) Issues Summons to Two Leaders of Lithuania’s Official Jewish Community
LONDON—Defending History has learned from reliable sources that The Judicial Division of the London Beth Din (Court of the Chief Rabbi) issued a summons on 27 February 2017 (1 Adar 5777 by the Hebrew calendar) calling upon Simas Levinas, chairperson of the Vilna Jewish Religious Community, and Faina Kukliansky, chairperson of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, to “agree to attend a hearing and sign a binding Arbitration Agreement, on receipt of which we will fix a hearing date for the mutual convenience of all parties.”