OLD VILNA JEWISH CEMETERY | OPPOSITION TO CONVENTION CENTER PROJECT | INTERNATIONAL PETITION | HUMAN RIGHTS
VILNIUS—Today’s edition of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung carries Judith Leister’s article (in German) on issues arising during the current official Lithuanian government celebrations of the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of the Gaon of Vilna, Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (Eylyóhu ben Shlóyme-Zálmen, 1720–1797).
Among the issues highlighted in the article (whose title suggests that the Gaon of Vilna might not quite be resting in peace) is that of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt, in the Šnipiškės section of modern Vilnius, slated to soon become a national convention center where thousands of people would on a daily basis cheer and sing, and use bars and washrooms, surrounded by thousands of extant Jewish graves (though not gravestones) on all four sides. The state owned property bank is pursuing the project relentlessly despite vast international and local opposition, and an international petition. In a move causing “pain” to Holocaust survivors and their families and Litvaks internationally, it has recently been cited as a major economic antidote to the Covid-19 recession.
The article quotes from an interview conducted by its author with Simon Gurevich (Simonas Gurevičius), democratically elected head of the Vilnius Jewish Community, which includes around 2,200 of the approximately 2,800 Jews who live in today’s Lithuania. In English translation:
“After the Second World War, the Soviets continued the physical destruction of the Nazis on an intellectual level. Through the sports center in the middle of the Old Jewish Cemetery, they not only ignored the Jewish heritage, but also violated fundamental human values.” The convention center can be built anywhere else, but not here, says Gurevičius. “Nobody would think it would be good if a house were built on the bones of their grandparents!” His position has long been shared by the majority of Jewish voices in the United States and Israel.
The article also quotes from Defending History editorial staff member and author Julius Norwilla (Norvila), who is chair of the Vilnius Committee for the Preservation of the Old Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt.
“For centuries, the Lithuanian grand dukes looked down from the Gediminas Castle Mount onto the cemetery,” says Julius Norwilla, spokesman for an activist group that is fighting for the preservation of the cemetery. “This cemetery is a pantheon of the Litvaks. The writings of the scholars who rest there are still being studied.”