OPINION | HUMAN RIGHTS | CEMETERIES & MASS GRAVES | OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY AT PIRAMÓNT | OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT | INTERNATIONAL PETITION | USCPAHA | CPJCE | ADMAS KODESH
VILNIUS—In a shock both to human rights activists here and the small but vibrant Jewish community, the “Open House Vilnius” project of the NGO “Architektūros fondas”, in partnership with M. K. Čiurlionis House and Museum is organizing a major event this coming weekend to feature an “audio-visual installation by the composer Vytautas Paukštelis”. The event is being sponsored by European Union taxpayer euros via the EU’s “Creative Europe and European Music Paths” program.
The problem? It is being staged right smack in the middle of the Old Vilna Jewish at Piramónt (in today’s Šnipiškės district, Shnípeshok in Yiddish). In fact, the staging could not be some kind of clerical error resulting from lack of being informed. For years now, there has been an international (and local!) movement beseeching the Lithuanian government and its state-owned Turto bankas, and the City of Vilnius, to move the convention center project away from the old Jewish cemetery, so that it might be lovingly restored, as, for example, per the Frankfurt model, and become an international site that will attract people from around the world, instead of a mark of racism and antisemitism in the city that was once the “Jerusalem of Lithuania” and even today uses that phrase for marketing and PR.
Is this part of the new genre of European Institutionalized Antisemitism? Would this weekend’s jamboree of music and arts be taking place in the heart of an old Lithuanian Christian cemetery where great figures of the majority population still lie buried? Some of the greatest Lithuanian Jewish scholars from the 15th to the 19th century are still buried at Piramónt.
Vilnius native Ruta Bloshtein’s international petition approached the 46,000 signature mark this week. Last week, the European Foundation for Human Rights filed a court case in Vilnius, reported on in the Lithuania Tribune (Delfi English), the Jerusalem Post, and the Algemeiner Journal in New York, in addition to wide coverage in Lithuanian language media. International protests have included twelve US congressmen and three senators, as well as ten members of Israel’s Knesset.
Instead of even pretending to show respect to the many thousands still buried at Piramónt, this weekend’s event, sponsored by the EU, this weekend fails to even mention the cemetery’s existence (the cemetery comprises the people buried in it, not the above-ground stones pilfered by the Soviets). Perhaps even worse, is a possibly new strategy by builders and coopted politicians and community leaders to start glorifying the ugly Soviet dump that represents the Soviet moral destruction of Vilnius. Simon Gurevich, elected leader of the Vilnius Jewish Community, told the New York Times last year: “The Soviets didn’t build just coincidentally the Sports Palace there, they built it as part of an anti-Semitic campaign of destruction of Jewish sites. Is this Soviet despotism a part of the heritage we would like to keep?” See also the now classic comments on this by the leading international scholar of the cemetery’s history, Prof. S. Leiman of New York City.
“The people of Vilnius deserve a sparkling new convention center that would be a source of pride and joy for the peoples of Lithuania, and for visitors from every corner of the earth.”
The question comes in to focus as the press PR released by Sunday’s shameful desecration of one of the most important Jewish cemeteries, while failing to mention the cemetery on all four sides of the Soviet monstrosity that is the ruin of the Sports Palace, turns to glorification of the Soviet architecture intended to destroy the last serious vestiges of Jewish history in central Vilnius: “ARCHITECTS – Eduardas Chlomauskas, Jonas Kriukelis, Zigmantas Liandzbergis. STRUCTURAL ENGINEERS – Henrikas Karvelis, Algimantas Katilius, Aleksejus Kamarauskas, Sofija Kovarskaja, 1971. Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sports – one of the most famous buildings of Vilnius – will open its doors during our festival.”
Would the EU be financing such a sham for an event that humiliated any another minority cemetery in Eastern Europe? For years now, the US Congress and EU documents have in fact enshrined on paper the rights of minority cemeteries. So what happened this time around?
Will it be silence as usual from Admas Kodesh, CPJCE, USCPAHA and the other entities that receive millions to “save Jewish cemeteries”?