Lithuania’s Prime Minister Announces Members of New Commission on Fate of Hated Soviet Ruin in Heart of Vilna’s Old Jewish Cemetery


VILNIUS—The office of the Lithuanian prime minister today released the list of members of its new commission (The Working Group) to advise on the future of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery. Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė was highly praised by Defending History for her bold and historic August 2021 cancellation of the “convention center in the Jewish cemetery” project that had been causing Lithuania’s stature so much unnecessary damage (see Šimonytė section). It had been supported by corrupt politicians, money-hungry builders and contractors, a corrupt group of London “grave sellers” (the CPJCE), and an array of “Useful Jewish Idiots” who have repeatedly betrayed the living remnants of Lithuanian Jewry over decades, via what some describe as an acquired addiction to honors, photo-ops, grants, junkets, medals, translations of their writings, and assorted other catnip products. One of them was even a JTS-based veteran of a 2007-2008 commission who helped provide “American Jewish cover” for the “two green buildings” (combined residence and business) on the cemetery site that are surrounded by graves on all four sides to this day (more exactly: he was brought in after construction of the first to help smooth the way for the second; he did utter some general sentiments of protest in a New York Yiddish newspaper but refused the editor’s permission for his piece to appear in the paper’s English supplement “because I’m going to be there soon in an important government group”).

Missing from the commission (the PM’s advisors really missed an opportunity here) are the three Lithuanian-citizen, Lithuania-resident heroes of the story who steadfast work over years saved their country from the future humiliation of an American president refusing to set foot in a “convention center in the Jewish cemetery” — Ruta Bloshtein (author of the international petition), Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas, and Julius Norwilla.

The wider Defending History community is deeply proud of its role over the years (see Ben Cohen’s report on the day Prime Minister Šimonytė made her historic announcement). For more coverage over the years, see Defending History’s sections on the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery, the London-based CPJCE, and the United States taxpayer supported USCPAHA. See also the DH editor’s 2015 opinion piece in The Times of Israel, and, not least, Vulovak’s cartoons that made it into numerous publications, leaflets and posters. The numerous memorable essays over the years include (among many others) those by Rabbi Chaim Burshtein (who paid with his job), Milan Chersonski (1937-2021, longtime editor of the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s newspaper), Rabbi Samuel Jacob FefferProf. Pinchos Fridberg, Dov (Berel) FriedProf. Bernard Fryshman, Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas, Julius Norwilla, Prof. Josif Parasonis, and of course Ruta Bloshtein, whose international petition garnered over 53,000 signatures (see also Bloshtein section in DH).

Today, the prime minister released the list of members of the new commission tasked with deciding the future of the site, particularly the fate of the unsightly Soviet dump in its heart. The list is available online, and appears at the end of this report.

The new commission’s establishment comes in 2023, when virtually all remaining hated Soviet relics have been removed in the wake of Putin’s criminal and barbaric assault on Ukraine, amid a broader understanding that such monuments (and none more so than in the heart of sacred religious ground) represent Soviet brutalism and barbarism imposed on the free lands their forces cruelly occupied for so many decades.

“Never before has a state commission been empaneled on such a ‘Water is wet’ question. Of course the capital’s last Soviet eyesore (and symbol of brutal foreign domination) should be demolished and the 500 year old Vilna Jewish Cemetery restored. Elementary, Watson. The argument that it can’t be touched because its preservation status is sacred and immutable to the end of time is an insult to modern democratic Lithuania and all who hold her dear.”

Against this backdrop, there is little understanding why there would even be consideration given to preserving, as a single (!) exception a hated Soviet ruin in the heart of Vilnius. For three distinct takes by DH contributors on recent extraordinary whinings in the spirit of “Sorry, just this one alone is really a listed object that we can never touch,” see the views of Julius Norwilla, Andrius Kulikauskas, and Dovid Katz.

Like other distasteful reminders of Soviet misrule around town, the “preservation order for a an object of value” for this one can easily be reversed (indeed, it would be sheer 21st century state antisemitism for the one exception to reversal on preserving Soviet dumps to “happen to be the one situated by the Soviet regime in the heart of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery”).

Plans for a “Jewish museum or memorial center” are dead on the ground, as Jewish law prohibits the use of cemeteries for such. Verily, there is not a single Jewish museum or center on the planet situated in a Jewish cemetery, let alone surrounded by extant graves on all four sides.

Recent revival of the convention center plans by the new mayor of Vilnius and his city council entailing a demand that the prime minister’s cancellation be cancelled itself, have led to fears that some quarters would seek to manipulate the new commission to go along, misinformed that the preservation order is “eternal” and using worthless “Jewish approval” of the discredited London grave-selling CPJCE. Expectations that after the Wikileaks exposure of their accepting large secret payments in Vilnius for their “supervision” of “works” in the cemetery, they would be content to stay as far as possible from the Lithuanian capital have turned out to be naive in the untoward jungle of intrigue and power games that was once the Jerusalem of Lithuania.

The new commission includes fine people of great accomplishment in their fields. But it also includes a number of veteran betrayers of Jewish causes, local and international. Saddest of all is perhaps who it does not include, which says a lot about the reality of “Jewish-related affairs” in Eastern Europe. There is not a single member from the Vilnius Jewish Community (VJC) which represents the vast majority of living Jews in Vilnius (and for that matter, Lithuania) today. This is truly flabbergasting, and could still be repaired by rapid action. And for that matter, not a single rabbi from among those who live, or have ever lived, in Lithuania, and served its Jewish community (but the standard American Jewish Committee (ACJ) powerman rabbi from DC is naturally on board). Try a thought experiment: a commission on a historic African-American cemetery in Alabama, long desecrated by various powers-that-be, without a single member of the local African-American community, only some power-brokers on a state-sponsored fake-election “show community” loyal to government or to “out of state” interests. See Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas’s recent pieces on the eve of the announcement of members.

But to the truly huge credit of Prime Minister Šimonytė, the list of commission members released today includes one major public international hero of the years-long movement to stop the convention center project, Professor Shnayer (Sid) Leiman of New York. See his powerful 2015 essay (classic version is in The Seforim Blog), and his other published contributions on these issues in recent years. Indeed, Prof. Leiman, the world’s preeminent scholar on the Old Vina Jewish Cemetery, did a huge favor for Lithuania’s standing in the world by preventing a blunder that would have cost the country dearly.

With his usual intellectual and academic powers, combined with a deep integrity of seeing the need to contemplate the next step (not just stopping the “convention center in the cemetery”), Professor Leiman has published his now compact-but-classic “What Should Be Done with the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery?” As happens not rarely, the common sense of the truly great scholar coincides with the common sense of many thousands of everyday good people. The Soviet eyesore needs to come down, and the cemetery restored to its historic splendor to the grand benefit of Lithuania. While there is little hope that longtime recipients of “stuff” from the old gravy train here will budge far from the political and financial powers here, the presence of new outside blood in the form of men and women of accomplishment who come to the issue fresh, presents a splendid opportunity: to read Prof. Leiman’s work on the subject, and to understand how proud they should be to be joining the preeminent scholar on the very site whose fate the commission is tasked with determining.

A PDF of the prime minister’s announcement of the commission’s members follows (please use the arrow at top left to turn the page):

Lithuanian PM appoints new Piramónt Vilna Jewish Cemetery Commission (4 May 2023)
This entry was posted in 2023-2024 'Working Group' on the Future of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery, Cemeteries and Mass Graves, Christian-Jewish Issues, Lithuania, Litvak Affairs, News & Views, Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (in Šnipiškės / Shnípishok), Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
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