The Lithuanian state budget for 2021 is torn between the need to increase spending on vital areas during a time of significantly less income. For the pandemic year of 2021, the postponement of some half a million euros toward initial stages of the (shameful) convention center project in the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery has not, in fact, been a big issue. Nor is it the great “victory” for our movement to save the cemetery that it has been trumped up to be. Half a million euros is about one percent of the total real budget. First, the convention center (Sports Palace restoration) project has been classified as of national significance. Second, there has been no decision of any kind to move the convention center to a new morally clean venue, away from the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery, as per the call of some 54,000 people in Ruta Bloshtein’s petition.
“Gerbkime kapines” (Respect Cemeteries) at www.kapines.com is our small team of Lithuanians and Litvaks who are working together locally to defend the honor of the oldest Vilnius Jewish Cemetery, known variously as the Piramont or Šnipiškės Cemetery. The Soviets desecrated the site by building a Sports Palace there. The Republic of Lithuania and the City of Vilnius are moving ahead with their plans to open a convention center there in 2023.
Our team is now reaching out internationally with a variety of activities to join or support. We need writers, translators, researcher, web page creators and maintainers, and we also need donations.
[last updated: 6 Feb. 2020]
JOHANNESBURG—The Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein, today added his voice to the international Litvak and wider opposition to state-sponsored desecration of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt in the form of a national convention center surrounded by Jewish graves going back half a millennium in Vilna, the city once known as Jerusalem of Lithuania. The office of the chief rabbinate made public his letter to Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda and prime minister Saulius Skvernelis.
A PDF of his letter is available here, and follows below. Please use handles in the upper left-hand corner to turn pages.
Pope Francis’s two-day visit to Lithuania this weekend includes a symbolic stop at the Vilna Ghetto on his second day, September 23, at roughly 4 PM at Rūdininkai Square. On that day, 75 years ago, Nazi Germans liquidated the Vilna Ghetto, murdering some of its Jews in Paneriai Forest (Ponár), and moving the rest to concentration camps in Latvia, Estonia and Germany. Since 1994, it has been the National Day of Commemoration of the Genocide of Lithuania’s Jews. Now it will surely be linked in the Lithuanian psyche with this visit by Pope Francis, and perhaps some day, Saint Francis.
However, his visit is also a chance for him to make plain to the children of God our lack of empathy for Lithuania’s Jews. A very short detour to the “Vilnius Sports Palace” — and a heavenly nod by the Pope — would let us tear down that “Soviet temple”, resurrect the holy Jewish cemetery beneath it, and enjoy a symbol of Litvak and Lithuanian friendship forever. This brings to mind the detour Jesus made in Jericho, when two blind men called out, “Lord, have mercy on us, you son of David!” And Jesus halted the crowd.
VILNIUS—Ms. Milda Dargužaitė, since December 2016 the highly respected Chancellor of the Office of the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, on 2 June 2017 issued a written reply to Ruta Bloshtein, the Vilnius-born Orthodox Jew who last December initiated a petition on the old Vilna Jewish cemetery at Piramónt, in today’s Šnipiškės (Yiddish: Shnípishek). The petition asks the Lithuanian government to move the national convention center project away from the old Jewish cemetery, and to restore the historic burial ground which dates to the fifteenth century and contains the remains of many of the greatest Lithuanian Jewish scholars. There has been a massive international outcry against plans to cite a convention center in the heart of the old cemetery where revelers would cheer, clap, do politics, sing, drink at bars and use toilets surrounded by thousands of Jewish graves. Ms. Bloshtein’s petition has been signed by 40,000 people, and has been the subject of coverage in Algemeiner.com, Ami, the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish Journal, Tablet, and numerous other publications.
BROOKLYN, NEW YORK—The high rabbinical court of the most populous Hasidic group in the world, Satmar, today released to the media the text of its judgment of 6 July 2015 calling on the Lithuanian government to abandon its multimillion dollar convention center project in the heart of Vilna’s old Jewish cemetery. The bilingual text, in rabbinic Hebrew and English, also calls on the American government to exert its influence to save the thousands of graves on the site from further desecration. The document was further signed, with an added note, by Satmar grand rabbi (der Sátmerer Rébe) Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum on 10 July 2015.
“We were horrified to hear that the government of Lithuania intends to renovate an abandoned building in the heart of the ancient cemetery of Vilna, and turn it into a place of assemblage and entertainment; and invest a huge sum of money to make it into an attraction for the masses from their country and worldwide.”
— from the Satmar Rabbinic Court’s ruling
Šią savaitę mes, žydai, minėjome tragiškiausią mūsų tautos istorijos datą — Tiša b’Av (jidiš: Tišebov) — abiejų Jeruzalės Šventyklų sugriovimą. Gedulą ir netekties skausmą išreiškiame pasninkaudami. Sėdėdama ant grindų ir skaitydama Kinojs knygą (gedulingas elegijas), mąsčiau ir apie tradiciją šią dieną lankyti mūsų didžių išminčių kapus.
Vilniuje ši tradicija buvo puoselėjama lankant Piramont kapines, kuriose per penkis šimtmečius palaidoti šimtai tūkstančių mano protėvių — Vilniaus žydų, tarp jų iškilių rabinų ir išminčių, palikusių neišsemiamus išminties lobius mums, siekiantiems kilniai ir dorai eiti gyvenimo keliu. Per jų nuopelnus bus, duok Dieve, pagreitintas Trečiosios Šventyklos atstatymas.
VILNIUS—After two apartment and business buildings started to go up a decade ago on the grounds of the old Jewish cemetery at Piramónt in the Šnipiškės (Shnípishok) district of this city, across the river from the city center, a damaging international conflict ensued between elements of the Lithuanian government on the one hand and Jewish groups around the world and a number of Western governments on the other.