Summary in English of Vilnius District Court’s Decision of 10 May 2021

VILNIUS—In the interest of public information, Defending History has posted the original Lithuanian text of the verdict of the District Court of Vilnius City of 10 May 2021  For the benefit of English readers interested in the main points of the verdict, DH has commissioned an English language summary of the decision, that went against the petition filed by 157 plaintiffs, all of whom are descendants of persons buried in the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt in the Šnipiškės district of the modern city. The state property bank (Turto bankas) and its partners plan to situate a national convention center in the heart of the site, based on the ruin of the old Soviet sports palace, At the new convention center, thousands would revel each night surrounded by many more thousands of Jewish graves on all four sides. Human rights advocates have pointed out that this would never be the fate of a medieval Christian Lithuanian cemetery,, nor would authorities accept “permissions” from groups proven to take secret payments. For background see, DH’s section chronicling events from 2015 onward, its summary of recent years’ events, and its page slinking to the opposition to the cemetery’s desecration from around the world. Note that the verdict gives the plaintiffs thirty days to appeal. An appeal was duly filed by the plaintiffs within the time allotted

The English summary prepared by Lithuanian legal language experts follows. Note that the reference to the “Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe” (CPJCE) is to the  discredited group of Aaronite-Satmar rabbis in London who have accepted large secret payments coinciding with their “permissions” to desecrate cemeteries on the Eastern European ground zero of the Holocaust. Follow the sad history here. Their profitable involvement has been condemned by genuine rabbinic authorities, including the Conference of European Rabbis, as well by virtually all major Litvak (Lithuanian tradition) rabbis internationally.

Summary of Verdict in the Civil Case No e2-219-918/2021

District Court of Vilnius City, Judge Aistė Petrevičienė

Plaintiff: Yosef Yizhak Pines and 156 other persons

Defendant: State Enterprise Turto Bankas

Third parties: Administration of Vilnius Municipality, Government of the Republic of Lithuania (represented by the Ministry of Finance), Lithuanian Jewish (Litvak) Community

Object matter: the Plaintiff claims that the Defendant should be prevented from carrying out actions that represent a realistic possibility of harm in the future; namely, reconstruction and construction works in the territory of the Vilnius Old Jewish Cemetery at Šnipiškės, including the territory of the Vilnius Palace of Concerts and Sports

Verdict: to dismiss the claim (with a 30-day window of appeal to the Vilnius Regional Court)

Summary of the verdict:

  • The Court notes that the territory of the Vilnius Old Jewish Cemetery at Šnipiškės is a state-protected object of cultural heritage (§56). However, the exact historical territory of the Cemetery could only be determined by an extensive archeological survey, hence, the Ministry of Culture has designated the official territory of protection from physical impact to include all sites that were marked as the Cemetery in historical sources, as well as sites where other archeological surveys found proof of burial (§58, §60).

  • The Plaintiff is obliged to prove their legal interest (i. e., the right to claim) in the object matter. As they are not allowed to represent the public interest, they must prove that people buried in the territory are their personal ancestors (§67). The Court mostly dismissed this claim of the Plaintiff (§68):

    • Legal records are the only direct proof of ancestry. As it is understandable that, due to historical circumstances, no legal records may have survived, ancestry could be proven indirectly. However, written testimonies of S. Z. Leiman and N. Rozenstein, although based on sources of indubitable significance, have not fulfilled the legal criteria for such cases. The ancestry in question, therefore, is deemed unproven (§70).

    • Although the Plaintiff’s concern for the proper preservation of the Jewish Cemetery is understandable, this personal concern alone is not enough to claim that the Plaintiff has the right to a preventative claim. However, due to the case’s social importance, the Court decided to assess other elements of the claim, too (§71)

  • The Court found no reason to conclude with certainty that there are Jewish remains under the Palace of Sports or in its structure, as the Plaintiff claimed. The Court noted that if the remains of Vilna Gaon were removed before the construction of the Palace, it may have happened with other Jewish remains, too. Besides, the Court “concludes with some plausibility” that the Palace was built on the part of the Cemetery that had already been destroyed (§73). The Court accepted the Defendant’s clarification that a 6-meter deep hole had been dug out for the foundations of the Palace, and depth of a usual grave is around 2 meters, hence, “it can be concluded” that all the remains under the Palace of Sports have already been desecrated and removed by Soviet builders (§74).

  • The Court found no reasonable grounds to believe that the Defendant would desecrate the Cemetery during or after the construction works:

    • The conditions for the Palace’s reconstruction have been negotiated with the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE). Although the Court understands the democratic pluralism of opinions, it maintains that a difference of opinion inside the Jewish community does not negate these organizations’ right to officially represent the community (§76).

    • The Court “sees obvious effort” on the Defendant’s side to properly commemorate the site of the Old Cemetery: namely, its willingness to carry out the reconstruction works without moving the earth, to establish a Jewish museum in the reconstructed building, to make sure that no heavy machinery operates in the territory of the Cemetery, and to include representatives of both the LJC and the CPJCE as observers with rights to halt the works if remains are found (§76).

    • The Court agrees with the Defendant’s claim that the Palace of Sports is in poor physical condition at the moment (§61) and is in danger of collapsing. The Court found it “obvious” that in the case of collapse earth-moving works would be inevitable and would harm immaterial interests of the Jewish community, hence, the building must be reconstructed (§80).

  • The Court noted that the issue of preservation of old Jewish cemeteries is relevant and discussed not only in Lithuania, but in other countries, too. There have been cases when Israeli rabbis allow the use of cemetery territories for other purposes. For example, in 1991, in Hamburg, a shopping mall built on the Ottensen Jewish Cemetery was about to be reconstructed, and the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem Yitzhak Kolitz decided to allow it under the conditions that no earth-moving works will be carried out and that the whole process would be supervised by Kolitz’s appointee (§81).

  • The Court did not accept the Plaintiff’s claim that they would be harmed by events taking place, people gathering, dancing, and consuming alcohol in the reconstructed Palace of Sports. Although the Court “understands their human concern,” it maintains that mere concern is not a proof of plausible harm in the future (§83).

  • In conclusion, the Court found that the Plaintiff failed to prove their right to claim, as well as plausibility of future harm done to them, as well as illegal action or inaction by the Defendant that would make such harm plausible. Therefore, the Court dismissed the claim (§84).

This entry was posted in Cemeteries and Mass Graves, Lithuania, Litvak Affairs, News & Views, Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (in Šnipiškės / Shnípishok) and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
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