When the Lithuanian Prime Minister Interrupts his Schedule to Greet Some Very Non-Litvak Rabbis from London
by Dovid Katz
Updates in [brackets] to 12 July 2015
VILNIUS—According to Lithuanian media sources, including the highly respected English-language Lithuania Tribune (now merged with Delfi.lt), the government, working in concert with property developers, plans to declare the controversial project of a huge convention and entertainment center in the heart of the old Vilna Jewish cemetery site as a “project of national importance.” The move enables an application to the European Union for a grant of 13 million euros (14.64 million US dollars at current rates) as part of a grand-total (for now) of 22.8 million euros (25.67 million US dollars) for the new complex. The nation’s prime minister has told Lithuanian media that “after the modern congress center is completed, private investors could build a hotel, parking lots and other infrastructure,” eliciting fears that all of the old Jewish cemetery is becoming a cash cow slated for developers for years to come. The Lithuania Tribune / Delfi.lt report concludes with an estimate of “110 million euros in economic and social benefits over 15 years” in addition to “600,000 foreign tourists and 2.2 million local tourists to Vilnius over that time period, with their spending estimated at 183 million and 60 million euros, respectively,” in other words, with profits from the old Jewish cemetery exceeding the equivalent of 250 million dollars, apart from the millions to be had from the building projects per se. Some estimates are provided in Baltic Course.
U.S. State Department’s 2009 Memo Refers to Rabbis Compliant on Old Vilna Cemetery, the Need for Paying for their Supervision, and — Need for Secrecy
VILNIUS—A memo from the United States Embassy here in the Lithuanian capital, dated 27 May 2009, released by Wikileaks (as PDF) and in the public domain, expressed optimism about solution of the disputes that had arisen over desecration of Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery. The cemetery, known to generations of Vilna Jews as Piramónt, is within the Šnipiškės district (itself in Yiddish: Shnípishok).
London Based “CPJCE” Rushes to Take Credit for Provincial Mass Grave Site Preservation; Fails to Mention Involvement in “Sale” of Vilna’s Old Jewish Cemetery
O P I N I O N
LONDON—The same London-based European cemetery-preservation group that allegedly takes money (for supervision fees) for “supervising” cemetery “conversions” in Eastern Europe forbidden by other rabbinical authorities, today issued a triumphant press release (image below) about its “rescue” of a provincial mass grave site uncovered during routine roadworks in northern Lithuania, near Šiauliai (Yiddish Shavl). The group is the CPJCE (Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe), which was recently received by the prime minister of Lithuania upon its agreeing to a convention center in the middle of Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery, with no reference to any of the local rabbis or to universal decency on the question of what is appropriate in an old cemetery.
Protocol of 26 August 2009 Meeting in Vilnius on the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (in today’s Šnipiškės)
Related: The 2015 saga. Paper Trail. DH section. Other descriptions of the same 2009 agreement. The U.S. ambassador’s dispatch mentioning the rabbis’ payment for supervising “beautification” of the grounds. Embassy’s dispatch on the secrecy of the document. What were they actually paid? What were the same rabbis promised in 2015? In the past, the slightest digging in the area revealed human remains throughout.
The Question: Does the agreement (which a US State Department cable, published by Wikipedia, makes clear was supposed to remain secret) really permit a twenty-five million dollar convention center in the heart of the old cemetery (and millions in subsequent development) where people will cheer, revel, drink in bars, use toilets and parking areas on top of and surrounded by tens of thousands of Jewish graves paid for by grieving Vilnius families over a period of more than five hundred years? Comment in 2015 by (inter alia) the chief rabbi of Lithuania, resident rabbinical Vilna Gaon scholar in Lithuania, a Christian leader, a Vilnius Holocaust survivor, Gaon of Vilna’s descendants in Israel at Tel Aviv’s Vilna Gaon Synagogue, and the Central Rabbinical Council of the United States and Canada.
O P I N I O N
VILNIUS—After two apartment and business buildings started to go up a decade ago on the grounds of the old Jewish cemetery at Piramónt in the Šnipiškės (Shnípishok) district of this city, across the river from the city center, a damaging international conflict ensued between elements of the Lithuanian government on the one hand and Jewish groups around the world and a number of Western governments on the other.
Open Letter to Members of CPJCE in the UK: Do You Really Want a Convention Center in the Heart of Vilna’s Old Jewish Cemetery?
O P I N I O N / O P E N L E T T E R
Dear Esteemed Associates of the “Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe” enumerated on the CPJCE letterhead [more than one eminent personage on the list is deceased; their precious names might perhaps best not be invoked for the organization’s current adventures?]
S.B.E. Berger, Rabbi B.Z. Blum, L. Davis, Rabbi J.H. Dunner, Rabbi Z. Feldman, D. Frand, B.S.E. Freshwater, A.C. Ginsberg, Rabbi H. Gluck OBE, A. Goldman, S. Grosz, M. Hershaft, D. Herzka, M.B. Krausz, J. Kruskal, J. Lobenstein MBE, Y. Marmorstein, Rabbi A. Pinter, Rabbi E. Schlesinger, Rabbi E. Shechter, J. Shik, M.E. Stern, S.B. Stern, Rabbi C. M. Wosner
O P I N I ON
VILNIUS—The battle over the preservation of Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery at Piramónt (now part of the Šnipiškės [Yiddish: Shnípishok] district) has taken some bizarre turns.
In an article that appeared today in English in The Lithuania Tribune, city architects and officials excited by the prospects for the new convention and congress center planned for the heart of the cemetery, announced further plans for its rapid development. Proposals include “a hall for 3,000 people which could be flexibly converted into smaller spaces.” One of the plans cited explains that the center “should not be a venue exclusively for conferences, it should also host concerts and theatre performances. There are ideas to build an annex with a universal ‘black box’ suitable for various events, including circus shows.” Needless to say, there is no mention of any cemetery there, let alone having to ask any rabbis permission for any of this.
BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Followers of the Jewish cemetery saga in Vilnius were shocked at the most recent “game playing” by a haredi splinter group allied with Admas Kodesh (“Holy Earth”) and the CPJCE (the London based “Committee for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe”) that was last April entertained by the prime minister of Lithuania and gave its blessing for a $25,000,000 convention center in the heart of the old Piramónt (Šnipiškes) Jewish cemetery that goes back to the fifteenth century, if not earlier. The group has been implicated by Wikileaks’ release of a 2009 U.S. ambassador’s cable explaining that their quiet permissions for digging and “beautification” comes with big price tags.
VILNIUS—The website of the Jewish Community of Lithuania today posted an English version of its chairperson’s reply to a Jerusalem Post article of 11 August 2015 by Sam Sokol. The following is the text of the reply reposted in full with no textual changes. For more background from the Defending History perspective, please see the list of publications on the topic to date, DH’s summary of the high political and finance-sector intrigue, a registry of public opposition to the convention center project, and our editor’s open letter to the group of London rabbis invoked in recent debates.
Lithuania’s Chief Rabbi Cites Evidence that London CPJCE Gets Paid Secretly for “Permissions” to Desecrate Vilnius Jewish Cemetery
VILNIUS—In a new Facebook post today, Lithuania’s official chief rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Burshtein, mentioned a Wikileaks-published cable sent by the United Stated ambassador to Lithuania to Washington in 2009. The cable references the need to supply a $100,000 payment to the London-based CPJCE (Committee for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe) for “supervision” of “beautification” and “exploratory digging” at the old cemetery. It notes the rabbis’ request for secrecy about their doings. In the chronology, the cable postdates the unknown arrangements by which the two buildings started in 2005 were allowed to stand, and it predates public mention of future plans for a congress and convention center. Observers have been struck, however, by the disparity between one of the secret agreements reached and the impression given in 2009 to the outside world by press releases that in effect, in return for no further “fuss” over the two buildings on the old cemetery’s land, no more would ever be built on the remainder. It was a “compromise” many could “live with.”
European Commission Redirects Cemetery Inquiry to Lith. Finance Ministry, Cites CPJCE’S “Close Cooperation”
VILNIUS—The following is the reply received to an inquiry concerning press reports that European Union funding of 13 million euros (around 14.5 million dollars at current exchange rates) would be sought as part of the new 22.8 million euro (= US 25.4 million dollar) budget for a convention and congress center in the heart of the historic Jewish cemetery at Piramont (Snipiskes). The current debate, entailing reports of high intrigue, has engendered a long paper trail and considerable international opposition to the project. A DH section is dedicated to the topic.
What Does the 27 May 2009 Cable from the US Embassy in Vilnius Tell Us About the CPJCE, Money and Secrecy?
VILNIUS—The following is the text of a cable sent by the United States ambassador in Vilnius to Washington, on 27 May 2015, concerning the old Jewish cemetery at Piramont (Snipiskes). Though initially confidential, it enetered the public domain via publication by Wikileaks where the document is available at: http://cables.mrkva.eu/cable.php?id=208864.
Satmar Grand Rabbi and Rabbinical Court Call on Lithuanian Gov. to Abandon Convention Center in Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK—The high rabbinical court of the most populous Hasidic group in the world, Satmar, today released to the media the text of its judgment of 6 July 2015 calling on the Lithuanian government to abandon its multimillion dollar convention center project in the heart of Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery. The bilingual text, in rabbinic Hebrew and English, also calls on the American government to exert its influence to save the thousands of graves on the site from further desecration. The document was further signed, with an added note, by Satmar grand rabbi (der Sátmerer Rébe) Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum on 10 July 2015.
“We were horrified to hear that the government of Lithuania intends to renovate an abandoned building in the heart of the ancient cemetery of Vilna, and turn it into a place of assemblage and entertainment; and invest a huge sum of money to make it into an attraction for the masses from their country and worldwide.”
— from the Satmar Rabbinic Court’s ruling
VILNIUS—Several hours after the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s website announced the effective dismissal of Chief Rabbi Chaim Burshtein (rapidly reported by JTA and in DH), the community chairperson issued the following statement, also on its website, focusing on the debate over the planned $25,000,000 convention center in Vilnius’s oldest Jewish cemetery, a project that has attracted considerable international opposition and press coverage, and has involved both political and financial intrigue. The text follows:
LONDON—The “Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe” (CPJCE), affiliated with “Admas Kodesh” and the “Aaronite” splinter group of Satmar hasidism, comprising the rabbis received by the prime minister of Lithuania in Vilnius last April, issued an extraordinary press release today, full of praise for the prime minister (which he no doubt deserves), but without even mentioning the issue at hand: the imminent construction of a twenty-five million dollar convention center in the heart of the cemetery. People attending conventions, concerts, and congresses naturally cheer, clap, drink in bars and use toilets. Here they will do so surrounded by thousands of Jewish graves from over a half millennium of Jewish life in Vilna, once known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania.
Mr. Berel Fried of New York City, an Orthodox Jewish scholar and businessman, has authorized this publication of his letter, sent earlier today to Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission, regarding plans for a convention center at the old Piramónt (Šnipiškės) Jewish cemetery in Vilnius. He is a frequent visitor to Vilnius, where he is known for his exquisite Torah readings at the Choral Synagogue. The most recent public response from the European Commission is here.
Hon. Frans Timmermans
First Vice President of the European Commission
US Rep of London Rabbis Involved with Vilnius Cemetery Fiasco Boasts of Photo-Ops at the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad
O P I N I O N
WASHINGTON, DC—The chairman of “Admas Kodesh” today posted on a public Facebook page the following item and images, including an obviously posed photo featuring the chairperson of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, and Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee, a close ally of the Lithuanian government and member of its controversial “red-brown commission” that has caused some pain to Holocaust survivors via its support of Baltic “Double Genocide” Holocaust revisionism. “Admas Kodesh” (‘holy earth) is generally used interchangeably for the London-based CPJCE (“Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe”), which is currently involved in a potentially major scandal over alleged payments in return for paid “supervisions” of cemetery desecrations allowed at the old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius. The CPJCE continues to adamantly defend the twenty-five million dollar convention center slated for the middle of the old Jewish cemetery, at a time of virtually unanimous condemnation by rabbis internationally and local people alike. That story was covered in today’s Jerusalem Post.
US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad Does Photo-Op with CPJCE in Washington D.C.
The following image and text appeared on the website of the Jewish Community of Lithuania earlier today.
by Defending History Staff
VILNIUS—For many years it has been a source of deep pain to many Lithuanians, Jews and others that the capital (and cities and towns around the country) continue to have street names honoring Holocaust perpetrators and collaborators but none for the true heroes of the Lithuanian Holocaust — the Lithuanian rescuers, who risked their and their families’ lives to “just do the right thing” and rescue some person or persons of a minority marked for rapid murder on the basis of Jewish birth. In the Baltics, the rescuers had to have much more courage even than in many other countries, because they were regarded as enemies of nationalist patriotism, as then constructed, not only as defiers of the German occupying forces’ program of extermination. They were regarded here as “enemies of Lithuania” (or Latvia, or Estonia), and sympathizes of communism who could expect no mercy if found out either by the German authorities or the local Lithuanian forces.