Historic Statements by Prof. Sid Leiman Clarify Need to Dismantle Soviet Eyesore & Restore Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery


The office of Professor Sid Leiman, a member of the Commission (or “Working Group”) established in 2023 to advise Lithuania’s prime minister on the future of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery, today followed up on yesterday’s release of his Nov. 2023 letters (to fellow Commission members and to the prime minister of Lithuania) with a further release, below, of (1) an excerpt from his Oct. 2023 paper presented to the Commission, and (2) his statement issued today confirming his view that the Commission’s final report of Feb. 2024 fails to rise to the occasion.  Defending History’s take.

(1) Excerpt from Prof. Leiman’s 22 Oct. 2023 paper circulated to members of the commission:


A remedy is at hand. The Jewish cemeteries in Vilnius are standing, despite the false claims that they were destroyed. A cemetery is not defined by its tombstones. It is defined by the dead who are buried in the cemeteries. Both in the case of the Old Jewish Cemetery and the Zaretcha cemetery the graves – for the most part – have not been disturbed. Often, we have records of actual burials, who is buried in which row, in a section of the cemetery. Even when cemetery records are lacking, we have literary evidence that records who was buried next to whom, and often preserves the full text of the original tombstone inscriptions. Most important, we have hundreds of photographs of tombstones and of the terrain in both cemeteries, that can be used to restore large sections of the cemeteries.

We don’t need a Jewish museum on the Old Jewish Cemetery grounds; what we need to do is to restore the Old Jewish Cemetery and its successor cemetery, Zaretcha, as well. And that – together with the Gaon of Vilna’s tomb in the Suderves Street cemetery – will surely attract Jewish visitors to Vilnius in numbers never seen before. If you have any doubts, just visit Prague, Warsaw, Krakow, Frankfurt, Mainz, and Worms, where the Jewish cemeteries have been preserved (and in many instances: restored after World War II). It is the heroes of the past that attract visitors, plus the original (and again, in many instances: the restored) tombstones and their inscriptions.

When money is stolen, it needs to be returned.

When property is stolen, it needs to be returned.

As is well documented, the Jews of Vilna paid for their Old Jewish Cemetery. Indeed, in Jewish law, a Jew may only be buried in a cemetery that provides for eternal rest. Any Jewish cemetery must be owned by the Jewish community. You can be certain that the Gaon of Vilna, and all the famous rabbis of Vilna, were familiar with Jewish law – which is why they allowed themselves to be buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery. The cemetery should be returned to its rightful owners, the Jewish community.

The Sports Palace, itself, needs to be dismantled. It serves no purpose. Quite the opposite, it has become an unsafe area, riddled by petty crime and drug dealers. It does not honor the Lithuanian heroes of 1990-1991. Let their memory be properly honored by a new and handsome memorial, perhaps an exact replica of the Television Tower Memorial, at an appropriate place in, outside, or on the walls, of the cemetery, where it can be seen by all.

(2) Professor Leiman’s comment of 20 March 2024 after reading the commission’s final report:

I explained in detail how easy it would be to restore the tombstones that were pilfered from the Old Jewish cemetery, and how this has been done in many cities throughout Europe. Nothing in the final report addresses these issues.

The final report refuses to dismantle the Sports Palace, even as it refuses to restore the Old Jewish cemetery to its rightful owners. It calls for the construction of a museum in the Sports Palace, with detailed instructions of what will be memorialized. This will be the first museum ever constructed over graves in the center of a Jewish cemetery! And it is not just any Jewish cemetery, it is a world-famous Jewish cemetery.



This entry was posted in Cemeteries and Mass Graves, Human Rights, Lithuania, Litvak Affairs, News & Views, Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery at Piramónt (in Šnipiškės / Shnípishok), The 2023 'Working Group' on the Future of the Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
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