NEW YORK—Rabbi Lazar Stern, New York area chairman of the international religious Asra Kadisha organization that calls for preservation of threatened Jewish cemeteries, issued a statement today concerning the latest prima facie instance of desecration of the final resting place of dead Jewish citizens of Lithuania. This time the fracas concerns a Holocaust-era mass grave site in Šiauliai (Shavl), in northwestern Lithuania. Published in a number of media outlets, including Baltic News Service (BNS), News.lt, Gnome.es, the Asra Kadisha statement calls for an immediate halt to the ongoing excavations. These works rapidly resulted in lurid pictures of human remains and personal possessions (including shoes) with which these people were murdered, being splashed over a number of Lithuanian online publications, including 15min.lt; Etaplius.lt; Skrastas.lt; Snaujienos.lt. Asra Kadisha is Aramaic for “Holy Place” and refers here to the sanctity of human burial grounds.
UPDATE OF 16 JULY:
The statement also makes reference to the plans for a convention center in the heart of the historic old Jewish cemetery in Vilnius at Piramónt in the Šnipiškės district, and the state’s apparent games in recent months whereby plans for desecration are covered with a new heritage commission ostensibly set up, inter alia, to preserve Jewish cemeteries.
The statement released today reads as follows:
Jewish groups are appealing to the Lithuanian Government to halt the excavation and desecration of a World War II era mass grave in Šiauliai. Local authorities were quoted in the press that they decided to excavate the remains — found during road construction — and conduct anthropological testing, which is prohibited under the Halachah.
“In accordance with Halacha — Jewish Law — and indeed, common human values of all humankind, and the ethical standards of the European Union, the people murdered by the Nazis deserve to be left intact where they perished,”
Rabbi Chaim Burshtein, Lithuanian Chief Rabbi, wrote in a statement. He continued, saying:
“I ask you to immediately halt the works underway to disturb and move the remains of these hundreds of victims of the Lithuanian Holocaust, and to preserve the grave precisely where it stands.”
The plea of Rabbi Burshtein, the respected Chief Rabbi of Lithuania, created an outcry worldwide. Rabbinic organizations and famous institutions — including the Central Rabbinical Congress of USA and Canada — contacted the Lithuanian authorities to halt the desecration of this holy site, in accordance with the ruling of the country’s leading Rabbi.
Asra Kadisha — the organization that is active to protect Jewish cemeteries worldwide and is currently fighting to stop the renovation of a sports palace in the Snipisek Jewish cemetery — contacted US authorities to intervene to preserve the mass graves.
According to Rabbi Lazar Stern, NY chairman of Asra Kadisha,
“Unfortunately, there is a total disconnect between the words and deeds of Lithuanian authorities. At a time when they are forming commissions and organizing conferences to preserve the Jewish heritage, the opposite is happening on the ground. We appeal to the Lithuanian authorities to fulfill their various commitments to honor and fully preserve the little that was left from the once-glorious Vilnius and Lithuanian Jewry, their cemeteries and rest-places.
“We call upon Lithuanian descendants and world-Jewry to contact the Lithuanian embassies in their respective countries and the Lithuanian government to ask them to fully preserve the Jewish rest-places in their country — including the mass grave in Šiauliai, and cancel plans to renovate and reestablish an entertainment center in the Snipisek Jewish cemetery.”
Section on the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (see also: Paper Trail and Narrative)