Petition update

Incredibly, US Taxpayer-Funded Commission is HURTING instead of HELPING the Cause!

Ruta Bloshtein
Vilnius, Lithuania

Jan 4, 2019 — 

My Dear Friends,

Thanks to all of you who signed our petition, there have been various delays in the onset of works to erect a national convention center and large new annex on the site of a Soviet ruin that is right in the middle of our sacred Old Vilna Jewish Cemetery, where the B’er Hagola Reb Moshe Rivkes; the Chayei Adam Reb Avrom Dantsig; Reb Menachem-Manes Chayes; Reb Boruch Romm, Reb Avrom the son of the Gaon of Vilna; Reb Yitzchok the father of Chaim of Volozhin lie buried, alongside many other thousands of Jewish citizens of Vilna (today’s Vilnius, capital of Lithuania) whose families duly paid for their plots in perpetuity. This would never happen if it were a Christian or Lithuanian national cemetery where nationally beloved figures found what was meant to be their place of rest.

Now, unfortunately, imminent danger lurks again, as the government’s own bank has just announced that building is again soon scheduled to start.

We must therefore redouble our polite and civil protests to ensure that this does not happen, that the government finds ANOTHER place for its new national convention center (that will be a pride, not a “shande” for our country), and that the cemetery can be lovingly restored as has been done in other European cities.

I am sorry to report that in recent times one of the main obstacles has been the (US taxpayer funded!) "United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad” (known as “USCPAHA” for short) that exists to PRESERVE endangered cemeteries, not to collude with foreign governments and their agents to help with excuses and cover-ups to destroy them!

It was therefore a source of great sadness and humiliation that on the two (!) visits to Lithuania in 2018 of the chairman of the commission, Hon. Paul Packer, he didn’t even bother to hold official meetings with any of us opposed to the project. He merely went for the glorious photo ops with government officials and the “official” Jewish community that is paid for by the government and, to put it mildly, does not represent the living Jewish people here. During his first visit, there was one informal late-night meeting at his hotel with several local Jewish people and a non-Jewish Lithuanian friend who has joined our cause, at which he simply made fun of  the idea that one could disagree with the local authorities here and their “official court Jews”. Those who attended went away shocked and humiliated.

Last November, the Commission was taken to court by two prominent members of New York's Jewish community over the Vilnius fiasco; one is a professor who has championed the rights of minority cemeteries all over the world, the other a person with many ancestors buried in the cemetery. Details of the legal action and PDF of the court papers are available here: http://defendinghistory.com/uscpaha-us-taxpayer-funded-commission-is-taken-to-court-for-malpractice-for-aiding-the-destructon-of-the-old-vilna-jewish-cemetery/96471.

Then, came last Sunday’s article in the New York Daily News. It’s available at: https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/ny-metro-cemetery-lithuania-20181227-story.html (in some countries their website doesn’t work; there’s a PDF of the article at: http://defendinghistory.com/new-york-daily-news-covers-struggle-to-preserve-the-old-vilna-jewish-cemetery/97242). The article highlights the inspiring and successful work of Mr. Dov Fried of New York who has over the years taught all of us here in Vilnius not to lose hope and to keep working tirelessly for saving the cemetery until the goal is accomplished. He, working closely with his dear wife Chaya, herself an inspirational symbol of unbounded energy when it comes to fighting for true Yiddishkait, are living examples of the great things that a very few people are capable of accomplishing together when the sense of purpose and determination to succeed are there from the start.

Incredibly, the US Commission's Mr. Packer tells the Daily News reporter: “There’s never been more attention paid to the cemetery than under the Trump administration”. That may be true, but what use is it if he is betraying the trust of the very higher purpose for which the commission was formed and is colluding with the Lithuanian government authorities and the corrupt builders, politicians and their acquiescing “Jewish leaders”? According to a letter Mr. Packer wrote to the mayor of Vilnius in 2018 (obtained from a person with a conscience in the Vilnius mayor’s office), he demands not that the convention center be moved away from the cemetery (the elementary honest solution!), but that “if human remains are found, then all work in that area will be halted.” Incredible! We all know here in Vilnius what an identical clause meant over ten years ago when two large buildings were first erected right on top of the same cemetery. Truckfulls of earth and bones were removed in the dead of night, and that was that. In fact, whenever ANYONE has done any digging on the site, human remains turn up EVERYWHERE, and this was reported many years ago by the Baltic Times where you can also see exactly how the local authorities REALLY treat this when it happens, and this is from back in 2008: https://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/21257/.

Beyond that, Mr. Packer’s letter calls for “signs to be put up about the holiness of the place”. These signs were indeed rapidly put up, but what a  (to be perfectly frank) sick joke to have signs all around about holiness on all sides of a building site for a national convention center where very soon  thousands each night will be clapping, cheering, singing and using bars and toilets surrounded by all these sacred graves. As if we are all idiots! It is important that American officials come here to HELP the cause of SAVING cemeteries, not to play the disgraceful games of the local builders, government hacks, anti-Semites, paid Jewish lackeys, and others who want a national convention center in the heart of the old Jewish cemetery. Mr. Packer’s sacred trust is to OPPOSE such plans, not to cover for them by pretending to issue "demands" that have nothing to do with the question at hand which is the moving of the convention center project AWAY from the cemetery, as our international petition has been pointing out for several years now.

IT IS NOW VITAL TO PROTEST to the U.S. Senate Oversight Committee, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which is responsible for overseeing the work of this USCPAHA commission which is supported by taxpayers. Please send your emails to https://www.hsgac.senate.gov/contact/committee (to fill out on their website, it’s enough to write something like: “USCPAHA’S sad and immoral collusion with those seeking to DESTROY the old Vilnius Jewish cemetery with a convention center”).

Direct emails can be written to the Senate oversight committee’s chair: whistleblower@ronjohnson.senate.gov, or to the ranking member: whistleblower@garypeters.senate.gov. 

The majority party’s members on the committee are senators Mike Enzi, Josh Hawley, Ron Johnson (chair), James Lankford, Rand Paul, Rob Portman, Mitt Romney, and Rick Scott. The minority party’s members are senators Tom Carper, Kamala Harris, Maggie Hassan, Gary Peters (ranking member), Jacky Rosen and Kyrsten Sinema.

It is painful to report that over the years (under both the Obama and Trump administrations) the Commission itself has been deeply insensitive to communication from people shocked at their “performance” in the service of the opposite of what they exist to protect (for their record on Vilnius in recent years see:  http://defendinghistory.com/category/us-commission-for-preservation-of-the-heritage?order=asc).

But it cannot hurt to contact the commission directly with your views. The publicly available details are: Hon. Paul Packer, Chairman, United States Commission For the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, 633 3rd Street NW Suite 515, Washington, DC 20001; +1-202-304-9966; emails: Packer@heritageabroad.gov and uscommission@heritageabroad.gov. Incidentally, one of the commission members is Chelsea Clinton’s mother in law, Hon. Marjorie Margolies.

Last but not least, please please consider sending whatever donation you can to DefendingHistory.com, the central address of all our efforts, with a note “FOR VILNA CEMETERY CAMPAIGN”. It is not easy for a small unsupported group to stand up to the vast wealth and power of the builders and politicians and allied interests, some of whom are motivated by money and honors, others by sheer anti-semitism (they don't want a restored old Jewish cemetery near the heart of the city). It’s easy to paypal the amount of your choice at: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?token=DgZr0nKVkQNdAt9W9x2PYDB1umxpZLmRsL-rZ_to6HMnDkB4fkc8fqycb0Gm3c-SR9h6nm&country.x=GB&locale.x=GB (or via the DH page at: http://defendinghistory.com/donors-page).

For updates see Defending History's summary page (http://defendinghistory.com/who-is-opposed-to-the-convention-center-on-the-old-vilna-jewish-cemetery-at-piramont-in-snipiskes/75558) and its section on the Old Vilna Jewish cemetery (http://defendinghistory.com/category/jewish-cemetery-piramont-snipiskes-shnipishok).

Thank you. A Good Shabbos / Wonderful Weekend to everyone!

 


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