Back in 2009, a rancorous dispute over the old Vilna Jewish cemetery was ostensibly solved. Two new buildings, despite worldwide protests, would be allowed to remain, and in return, no more land would be pilfered from the cemetery at Piramónt, in the Šnipiškės district of modern Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. The burial ground goes back to the late fifteenth century, at least. After the Holocaust, with virtually no descendants left to worry about, Soviet authorities helped themselves to the gravestones for use in building projects, but left many thousands of graves intact. A galaxy of eminent European rabbinic scholars and authors were buried there. But once the 2009 “Peace of Piramónt” was brokered (with help from Western embassies here), emotions cooled as all sides got on with their lives.
VILNIUS—Polish scholar, author, film maker and Jewish heritage specialist Dr. Tomasz (Tomek) Wiśniewski is renowned as a world specialist on the culture and remnants of numerous erstwhile centers of East European Jewish life, most famously Białystok (in Poland, but in Jewish culture within the Litvak north of Jewish Eastern Europe). He was a delegate at last month’s Rothschild Foundation London (Hanadiv) conference on Jewish cemeteries, held here in Vilnius. Following the event, he issued a statement on his Facebook page concerning the fate of the old Vilna Jewish cemetery, known as Piramónt, in today’s Šnipiškės district. A slightly revised version was translated from Polish by Julius Norwilla and the translation approved by the author. It reads as follows:
VILNIUS—Slovakian scholar, author and Jewish heritage specialist Dr. Beata Nemcová, a delegate at last week’s Rothschild Foundation London (Hanadiv) conference on Jewish cemeteries, has issued a statement calling on authorities here to move the state’s $25,000,000 convention center project away from the old Vilna Jewish cemetery, known as Piramónt, in today’s Šnipiškės district, to another location. The statement reads as follows (followed by a facsimile).
VILNIUS—The controversial Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) London conference on Jewish cemeteries wound up here in the Lithuanian capital yesterday afternoon with a triumphant press release that seemed to suggest that there are no serious objections to a $25,000,000 convention center in the middle of the old Jewish cemetery (the release says little about most of the diverse topics and academic contributions that made up the bulk of the actual academically and culturally rich event). A dozen delegates contacted by DefendingHistory.com had no idea from one-sided conference presentations that there was a highly specific, budgeted-for decision taken for the multimillion dollar facility not necessarily appropriate for a historic cemetery where thousands of people’s remains are interred. They were under the impression that there is some consultative, respectful dialogue between the different sides. There was much more they were not told about.
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?
Member of the UK Parliament, human rights champion and author RH Denis MacShane (right), led a good-natured moment of protest Monday morning, 7 February in London at the Lithuanian Embassy, 84 Gloucester Place, London W1.
MP MacShane presented a letter of protest to the embassy, drafted and organized by Professor Danny Ben-Moshe (center), who flew in from Melbourne to be at the event. At left is Danny Stone, director of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism. The letter was signed by 21 people, including academics, political figures, those involved with the fight against antisemitism, representatives of Litvak organizations, and Lithuanian Holocaust survivors. The ambassador declined a written request to meet to discuss the letter.
O P I N I O N
by Dovid Katz
The Holocaust Survivor community is responding with a mixture of sadness and defiance to news that the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry, which actively coordinated the recent attempt (December 2010) to underpin ‘Double Genocide’ and downgrade the Holocaust in European Union law (see top story on home page), is now financing, in partnership with (naive?) parties in London, a starkly one-sided colloquium on ‘Jewish-Lithuanian Relations Between Coexistence and Violence’ on 6-7 Feb 2011 in London.