Rothschild (of London) Finances “Closed” Conference (in Vilnius) on Jewish Cemeteries (That May be Cover for Most Painful Desecration Yet of Vilna’s Old Jewish Cemetery)


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.


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?

Also not for the first time, there is a hidden, or in this case not-so-hidden agenda (not a willful ruse on the part of a hapless Western foundation, but rather on the part of some of the hosting partners here in Eastern Europe). The conference is called “A Cross-Disciplinary Seminar on European Jewish Cemeteries: Theory, Policy, Management and Dissemination.” It is being held in the midst of a major international scandal over a plan by the Lithuanian government and some very rich property developers to construct a twenty-five million dollar convention center smack in the middle of the old Vilna Jewish cemetery, where people will clap, cheer, sing and dance and use bars and toilets surrounded by thousands of still-buried skeletons of Vilna Jews who were laid to rest there, in duly purchased graves, between the late 15th century and the 1830s. They include numerous leading Jewish scholars over a period of centuries. Located in the Šnipiškės (pronounced SHNIP-ish-kess; in Yiddish: Shnípishok) district of Vilnius, it was known to the last generations of Yiddish-speaking Vilna Jewry up until the Holocaust as Piramónt (peer-a-MONT). Reports on the dispute have appeared in (among others) the Algemeiner Journal, Forward, Hamodia, i24Jerusalem Post, Jewish Heritage Europe, Jewish PressJTA, Reuters, Seforim BlogThe Times of Israel, and Yeshiva World.

Public opposition to the “convention center in the cemetery” has come from a variety of citizens of Vilnius, including a Holocaust survivor, an Orthodox kashruth supervisor at the city’s one kosher restaurant, a Protestant pastor, an urban architecture professor, and the nation’s chief rabbi, who was fired two months ago for expressing his opposition. Internationally, the project has been denounced by virtually all the Litvak (Lithuanian Jewish) tradition heads of yeshivas, in America as in Israel, in addition to a unity group of rabbis who visited last August to plead with the government, and an array of institutions worldwide including the Simon Wiesenthal CenterOne of the leading international scholars on the old Vilna cemetery’s history has also spoken out, answering in detail a statement from the current titular head of the Jewish community, who is also Lithuania’s leading citizenship and immigration lawyer.

But not one of the opponents of the project is on the list of speakers! Yet the program (below) begins with this:

“Sunday 25th October, 2.30pm – 4.30pm: Optional walking tour of Jewish built heritage in Vilnius. Meeting point: Cathedral Square. Will include visit to Šnipiškės (Shnipishok) Jewish Cemetery.”

Financed by the Rothschild Foundation, which was badly manipulated by Lithuanian government PR operatives in London back at a 2011 London conference, the conference features participation from leading figures from the American government’s taxpayer-funded “U.S. Commission for the Preservation of the American Heritage Abroad” which has itself been heavily manipulated by Lithuanian government interests close to the property developers, via their presumed-reliable Jewish emissaries.

Perhaps most alarming, one of its designated speakers is the PR maestro from the compromised “Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe” (CPJCE) which was caught on Wikileaks as having wanted $100,000 in “supervision fees” for some “exploratory digging and beautification” of the site back in 2009. Clearly, conference members will want to know, in the interests of transparency, how much grand total they will be paid for “supervising” a twenty-five million dollar convention center. In addition, a secret 2009 agreement details what kinds of discovered bones would be moved, what kind would be left in place, all kept secret because of the outrage it would elicit from virtually all other bona fide rabbis anywhere. The public, however, and the international community, was at the time given to understand that in return for not demanding demolition of the two new apartment and business buildings on the cemetery then completed, there would be no further building works.

The amazing scene (April 2015) of the London CPJCE (not very Litvak looking!) rabbis being feted by the prime minister (!) of Lithuania, Algirdas Butkevičius (3rd from left) and his “Jewish affairs” maestro Lina Saulėnaitė. They were in Vilnius to bless plonking a twenty-five million dollar convention center in the middle of the city’s old Jewish cemetery, without even informing the three local rabbis of the meetings underway.

There is some deeper intra-ultraorthodox intrigue too. The London “grave traders” are affiliated with the “Aaron” branch of Satmar hasidism, which is cumulatively the world’s largest hasidic group. In addition to possible income from “compromises” over other people’s graves, there is the “warrior” satisfaction of fighting endless battles against the dominant “Zalmen” branch of Satmar hasidism, whose High Court (Beth Din), has joined all the Litvak origin rabbis in condemning the desecration of one of Eastern Europe’s great Jewish cemeteries, in a judgment signed by the Rebbe (Grand Rabbi) himself.

It is into this morass that the eminent international specialists are expected to come naively to Vilnius later this month, perhaps not grasping how their very presence (whatever their own lecture topics and specialization) will contribute to the abuse of the conference as a whole as a stamp of legitimization for the property developers and their high government cronies. In addition to the London PR rabbi, there are other delegates who are deeply involved with Lithuanian government controlled commissions on Jewish heritage and Jewish restitution (administered by a couple with the highest governmental ties). As for what the current property developers think of “the Jews” it might suffice to peruse their glossy color brochure which conceptualizes the group of not very Litvak looking rabbis received last April by the prime minister  as “the Jews.” They did not bother to inform any of the three rabbis in Vilnius at the time that such meetings were underway, let alone everyday members of the Jewish community. Why not?

In these circumstances the phrase “closed event” carries extra and potent meaning.

“Please note, this will be a closed event. The conference will bring together a select group of 50-60 professionals working in the field of Jewish Cemeteries including, but not limited to, Scholars, Genealogists, Jewish Communities and Federations, Religious leaders, NGO’s and Policy Makers.”

Put differently, a secret conference is being held not on nuclear proliferation or combatting terrorism, but on preserving Jewish cemeteries. Little wonder, when there is a hidden agenda for the entire event to cover for the single most hurtful case of willful government desecration of a Jewish cemetery in post-Soviet Eastern Europe.

Most hurtful precisely because it is not being done by the czarist regime or by the Soviet Union but in twenty-first century democratic Lithuania, with the regrettable collaboration of a tiny number of Jewish partners in London and the United States, and approximately one highly placed individual locally.

Alas, because of the Holocaust, the thousands of people still buried there have no descendants or relatives on site to fight for their duly-paid-for graves to be restored to dignity. So perhaps the people on the list below might now consider demanding Equal Time for opponents of the convention center in the old Vilna graveyard at this Rothschild-financed conference on Jewish cemeteries.

Sholem Aleichem might have called this story Rótshild kumt ón in Vílne (Rothschild Comes to Vilna). George Orwell would have called it A Conference on Preserving Cemeteries.


A Cross-Disciplinary Seminar on European Jewish Cemeteries: Theory, Policy, Management and Dissemination

Where:  Jewish Community building, Vilnius

When:  October 25th :                    

Optional tour of Jewish heritage in Vilnius in the afternoon

October 26th – 27th: Conference

October 28th: Excursion to a number of Jewish cemeteries in the region

Who:  Please note, this will be a closed event. The conference will bring together a select group of 50-60 professionals working in the field of Jewish Cemeteries including, but not limited to, Scholars, Genealogists, Jewish Communities and Federations, Religious leaders, NGO’s and Policy Makers.

Accommodation and travel: The Foundation will be providing hotel accommodation and will be arranging and covering travel for participants through a designated travel agency (further details to follow).

Aims of the conference:

Review Achievements – following on from the conference on Jewish Immovable Heritage in Krakow 2013, the seminar will provide a chance to conduct an appraisal of what has been done in the field until now. Selected organisations will  share their most important projects and it will give participants a chance for reflection on the progress made in all areas. It is also a chance to look at the development of trends in technology and other areas of development.

Explore Key issues – a chance for discussion, question and answering. A series of roundtable and panel conversations on the central questions and topics affecting the field.

Encourage Future Collaboration – discussion focusing on how organisations can work together, cross-border opportunities, an emphasis on what needs to be done, opportunities with developing technology, looking at forming strategic platforms to further cooperation.

Day 1

Sunday 25th October

2.30pm – 4.30pm: Optional walking tour of Jewish built heritage in Vilnius

Meeting point: Cathedral Square

Will include visit to Šnipiškės (Shnipishok) Jewish Cemetery

Monday 26th October


Tea, coffee and pastries:  8.30 – 9.00

Welcome: Faina Kukliansky and Sally Berkovic  9.00 – 9.15

Keynote Address:  Professor Michael Brocke  9.15 – 10.00

The value of a Jewish cemetery:

Panel session:     Lesley Weiss, Ruth Ellen Gruber, Rabbi Abraham Ginsberg. Facilitator Connie Webber 10.00 – 11.00       

Break:  11.10 – 11.30

Cemetery restoration perspectives from a landscape architect:

Parallel sessions:

Dr Joachim Jacobs: 11.30-12.30: A Break in Tradition: Care for Cemeteries Before and After the Holocaust           

Samuel D. Gruber: 11.30-12.30:  Jewish Burial Customs and Practices        

Prof. Dr. Falk Wiesemann: 11.30-12.30

Lunch: 12.30 – 1.30

Ownership and accessibility of information: Panel session: Zuzana Berankova and Ruta Anulyte, Witold Wrzosinski.  Facilitator  Tobias Ruetnik: 1.30 – 2.30

Restoration vs Preservation vs Fencing vs Documentation           

Panel session: Philip Carmel, Monika Krawczyk, Michael Lozman, Stephen Reece, Facilitator: Lucia Apostol: 2.40 – 3.40


3.40 – 4.00

Jewish cemeteries as part of European/World heritage Panel session: Rudolf Klein, Susan Sandler, Herbert Block, Dr Michael Studeman HaLevy. Facilitator William Gross     4.00 – 4.50

Food and drink reception 5.00 – 6.30

A focus on Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania:

Panel session: Dr. Romas Jarockis, Samuel D. Gruber, Faina Kukliansky, Alminas Mačiulis. Facilitator Herbert Block: 6.30 – 7.30


Day 2

Tea, coffee and pastries 8.30 – 9.00

The role of the internet:                

Panel session     Albert Stankowski, Ruth Ellen Gruber, Marla Osborn, Michael Tobias. Facilitator:  Witold Wrzosinski: 9.00 – 10.00

Advances in the Use of Technology

Panel session:Dr Caroline Sturdy Colls, Dr Leonard Rutgers. Facilitator Ruth Ellen Gruber: 10.10 – 11.10


11.10 -11.30

Cemetery restoration: perspectives from a landscape architect

Parallel sessions

Dr Joachim Jacobs: 11.30-12.30: A Break in Tradition: Care for Cemeteries Before and After the Holocaust             

Samuel D. Gruber: 11.30-12.30: Jewish Burial Customs and Practices        

Prof. Dr. Falk Wiesemann:  11.30-12.30

Lunch 12.30 – 1.30

Cemeteries and scholarship       

Panel Session:    Dr Gerard Nahon, Dr Carsten Wilke, Professor David Malkiel, Anna Klein. Facilitator: Dr Philippe Pierret   1.30 – 2.30

Building relationships    

Panel session: Beata Nemcova, Tudor Drambarean, Anna Chipczynsk, Annemarie Grosse-Juette. Facilitator Ruth Ellen Gruber     2.40 – 3.40


3.40 – 4.00

Concluding session                         

Sally Berkovic 4.00 – 4.30

A Town Called Brzostek: film and presentation: Jonathan Webber  4.30 – 5.30

Day 3

Bus trip to Jewish Cemeteries in Vilnius and the region:

8:00 Departure from hotel “Novotel”

8:15-9:00 Uzupis Old Jewish Cemetery (Olandu str.)

9:15-10:15 Vilnius Jewish Cemetery (functioning) (Suderves rd)

11:00-11:45 Pabrade Jewish Cemetery

12:30-13:15 Svencioneliai Jewish Cemetery

13:30-14:15 Svencionys Jewish Cemetery

14:30-15:00 Summing up (in Svencionys)

16:30 Returning to Vilnius (hotel “Novotel”)







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