Rabbi Elchonon Baron, Asserting that Bnei Brak Rabbi was Misrepresented, Makes Clear: ‘There Will NOT be a Museum on Shnípishok Cemetery’


Excerpts from Rabbi Elchonon Baron’s video:

“The use of any Jewish cemetery, for anything except the cemetery, is strictly forbidden in Jewish law and tradition. Most senior rabbis are very perplexed at the recent indication here in Vilna that perhaps there is an attempt to make a museum on the Shnípishok Cemetery, where our giants are buried. And they are claiming that this is in the name of senior rabbis. I mentioned to Rabbi Sariel Rosenberg [head of the Bnei Brak Beth Din] a few weeks ago that people are saying in his name that we can make a museum on the cemetery. We asked him exactly what it is possible to do. And he said: Nothing else — except matséyves [gravestones].

“There will not be a museum on Shnípishok Cemetery! There will not be a convention center! Woe is to anyone who tries. Because the Jewish souls want to rest in peace. Nothing will succeed there. There’s nothing to talk about. We won’t let it, it won’t happen!

“The Shnípishok Cemetery will be returned to the Jewish people, who own it, and the representatives of the 50,000 souls that are buried there. We will have it restored. It will be to the beauty and to the honor to the Lithuanian people and to the people of Vilna.

“There will not be any museum, in any form, in any shape, in any name, you can call it ‘The Cemetery Museum’ or ‘[Cemetery] Memorial’.

“It won’t happen!”

VILNIUS—The office of Rabbi Elchonon Baron, head of the Lithuanian-tradition Baranovich Yeshiva in Jerusalem, today released a youtube video that is potentially of historic proportions on the integrity of endangered Jewish cemeteries on ground zero of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe (see from timecode 2:45). This follows yesterday’s mailing of the clip to hundreds of Jewish leaders. Rabbi Baron’s words break through the fog of months of rumors to reveal, in effect, that the “Proposals” document of the 2023-2024 “Working Group” set up by the Lithuanian government are entirely in violation not only of Jewish law (which prescribes that a cemetery is a cemetery forever). Moreover, he reports that in the face of reports implying acquiescence to proposals for a massive museum or memorial by Rabbi Sariel Rosenberg, head of the Bnei Brak rabbinical court, he visited the rabbi, who explicitly denied his agreement to proposals for the museum/memorial on the cemetery. Indeed the selfsame Rabbi Rosenberg himself issued an edict in 2020 forbidding any such use.

The question at hand concerns the fate of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt in the Shnípishok district, today the Šnipiškės district of modern, thriving Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, a successful democracy and proud member of the European Union and NATO. Defending History has been covering the remarkable saga, and advocating for the cemetery’s preservation inter alia on human rights grounds, since 2015. The issue itself goes back to the earlier years of the century, when “two green buildings” were erected right on the cemetery at the start of the modern effort to pilfer, section by section, the entire cemetery.

One of the proverbial elephants in the discourse is the seating capacity for more than five thousand people in the building. Once restored, it would obviously be used for an array of mass public events, with people cheering, clapping, using toilets and electricity cables, surrounded by Jewish graves. (The Proposals generously make clear that there won’t be a bar or souvenir shop within the building, presented as a grand  concession in a spirit of European humanism.)


Two recent videos by Rabbi S.J. Feffer in Vilnius, on: the current peril faced by Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt, and on the mystery of the role played by the Conference of European Rabbis. DH’s Report.

One of the thoughts frequently heard among everyday Lithuanians and Jews alike asserts that a future Lithuania will realize who the country’s true friends were in this debate: those that toiled, amid much invective and personal abuse, to save the country from a massive self-inflicted wound — not the crooked money-thirsty contractors, builders, politicians, ersatz community leaders and foreign interlopers out for profit or payment from the reconstruction of a major events building in the heart of a Jewish cemetery.

This is a country where 96% of Jewish residents were murdered. As a result, there is no viable presence of descendants of the buried to stand up for their rights as is the case for communities not subject to genocide. Not to mention that special brand of East European antisemitism rearing its well dressed-up head every now and again: “We don’t want restored medieval Jewish gravestones near the center of town. Let the Jews keep coming in the summer and take buses to the mass graves in the forests for all that stuff.”

The ruins of the Soviet-era “Sports Palace” in the middle of the cemetery, instead of being demolished (like so many other Soviet eyesores in Vilnius once on the “architectural monuments” list), are, according to the Proposals published (semi-furtively, with no date or gov. stamp) by the Working Group, to be turned into a museum/memorial center that will be “75% Jewish and 25% Lithuanian.” As if this is some debased, primitive and immature interethnic negotiation of relative importance.

The real issue is another one, that of equal rights and human rights in the European Union and NATO communities. No convention center or museum would ever be seriously proposed if this were a medieval Christian or ethnic Lithuanian cemetery, burial site of the greatest heroes of the nation, that the Soviets had desecrated. Human rights must be equal rights and they apply to minorities as well. The rights of the deceased, who families purchased their plots freehold, in perpetuity, are also human rights, in stark contrast to Soviet Communist attempts to reverse, via state diktat, private ownership honestly purchased.

In the eyes of many, the role played by the ostensibly “Orthodox members of the Working Group” appointed by the Conference of European Rabbis (CER)” will go down in Lithuanian Jewish history as an act of abject betrayal. The one great exception, who will go down in history for his integrity is Professor Sid Leiman, whose powerful, and enduring statements of protest to his fellow Working Group members and the results will stand in Litvak history and lore as a pillar of simple justice, common sense, good will, and human courage.

The other “Orthodox members” of the Working Group (list of members) will hopefully consider speaking out on the document that implicitly represents them before the concrete of history sets in. As best we can tell, none has yet uttered a public word, and one is even a veteran of a much earlier Working Group that enabled the second of two “green buildings” to be built right on the cemetery. These are all non-residents of Lithuania, some of who come for periodic conferences, publications, translations, grants, honors, photo-ops, and junket-fun escapes to a delightful East European capital city.

As for residents of Lithuania, it was a Catholic Lithuanian scholar, Dr. Andrius Kulikauskas, who warned on the eve of the Working Group’s appointment, that it must include representatives of the democratically elected Vilnius Jewish Community, and more generally, residents who for years spoke up against the earlier convention center project. That project was cancelled in 2021, after a petition by Vilnius resident Ruta Bloshtein garnered over 50,000 signatures worldwide, and an international campaign over the years spearheaded by, among others, DefendingHistory.com. Another powerful Lithuanian voice has come from Julius Norwilla over many years, including a list of other “architecturally protected objects” whose protection orders were simply rescinded. Ms. Bloshtein, Dr. Kulikauskas, and Mr. Norwilla were not invited to join the Working Group. Moreover, its local Jewish members are all allegedly beneficiaries of the state-sponsored largesse of the “Good Will Foundation.” Who ever heard of rigging a commission on whether a cemetery can be a cemetery? To get some of the flavor, see the minutes released which seem to come right out of George Orwell.

Indeed, the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) itself issued a dignified and much admired statement in 2020 with the opposite conclusion (albeit indirectly expressed via explicit disqualification of the conclusions of the London based CPJCE). What happened between 2020 and the Working Group of 2023-2024? Perhaps various mischief makers have spread false reports. Hopefully, the CER’s storied leader, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, will  very soon issue a public statement confirming that the CER has not received, and is not slated to receive, a single penny from the Lithuanian government’s state-funded “Good Will Foundation (GWF)” whose nonrotating (lifetime?) chairpersons are the foreign affairs chief of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and the alleged “steal-the-election” ersatz head of the state-sponsored Lithuanian Jewish Community, which resembles a government “agency for Jewish affairs” more than a Jewish community. To this day, the democratically elected Vilnius Jewish Community, which represents the vast majority of the small Jewish community here, has not received a solitary penny from the GWF (despite sincere efforts of some foreign board members), and no longer even has a premises in town. Sounds rather more like an effort to undermine the actual living Jewish community.

It is a magnificent moment for Rabbi Goldschmidt to make clear that the CER had nothing to do with the Working Group’s Proposals, or with the attempted stamp of legitimacy provided by its “Orthodox members” and their unseemly silence since the Proposals document was issued on 22 February of this year. To draw a line under the affair before it permanently tarnishes the CER, he can simply ascertain that the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery must be lovingly restored as the cemetery that it is and will always be, and not become the renovated state-of-the-art venue for crowds attending international events, whether it’s called a “museum,” a “memorial” or a “convention center.” That was the whole point of the CER’s 2020 public statement disallowing the CPJCE’s alleged attempts to “sell” the Vilna cemetery. Surely, the purpose was not for “CPJCE” to be replaced by “CER” in the history of a woeful tale of supposed Jewish legitimization for further destruction and desecration of Lithuania’s most sacred Jewish site.

In terms of Jewish law — and universal ethics — Rabbi Baron has set the record straight. He is to be congratulated for his courage and honesty in demanding that a Jewish cemetery remain a Jewish cemetery, once and for all. A Jewish cemetery stolen and desecrated in Lithuania under Soviet domination needs to be restored to its owners and rededicated as a Jewish cemetery by independent and democratic Lithuania.


This entry was posted in "Good Will Foundation" (Jewish Restitution in Lithuania), 2023-2024 'Working Group' on the Future of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery, Cemeteries and Mass Graves, Christian-Jewish Issues, Conference of European Rabbis (CER), Human Rights, Lithuania, Litvak Affairs, News & Views, Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (in Šnipiškės / Shnípishok), Opinion, Politics of Memory, Rabbi Elchonon Baron, Vilnius and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
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