Please Move New Vilnius Convention Center Project AWAY from the Old Jewish Cemetery
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For close to five hundred years (starting in the 15th century), many thousands of Jewish residents of Vilnius (Vilna), the capital of Lithuania, were buried in its old Jewish cemetery at Piramónt (in the Shnípishok / Šnipiškės district), including many of the great Jewish scholars of a city once known as the “Jerusalem of Lithuania”. During the Soviet Union’s misrule, the gravestones were all pilfered, and a sports arena was built in the middle of the cemetery, itself on a base mixed with human remains (the photo above is from before the war, of course). But most of the graves on all four sides were left untouched, and many thousands are still buried there. It is sacred ground and should be restored as a cemetery and memorial park to which pilfered gravestones (which turn up all over the city) can be returned. Instead, some greedy business interests, cooperating politicians, antisemitic nationalists and "pliant Jewish figures" have joined forces for a new National Convention Center to rise on the site, where thousands would revel, cheer, sing, drink at bars and use toilets surrounded by Jewish graves.
Because of the Holocaust and the murder of around 99% of Vilna's Jewry, the buried people, whose families paid honestly over centuries for their perpetual place of rest, have no local descendants to take up their cause. To make matters worse, the developers and the politicians have boasted that many millions in European Union “structural funds” would be put toward the project (and European Commission leaders have thus far failed to take a clear moral stand on that). This fate would never befall a major Christian cemetery here in the 21st century. There has been staunch opposition from local Jewish and non-Jewish people, and from voices from around the world. Major Litvak rabbis around the world, as well as those from other traditions, have published protests expressing their shock and calling on our nation's leaders to reconsider. The city has many ideal alternative sites for the new convention center.
For a listing of the substantial opposition expressed to date, please see: http://defendinghistory.com/who-is-opposed-to-the-convention-center-on-the-old-vilna-jewish-cemetery-at-piramont-in-snipiskes/75558.
I am myself an Orthodox Jew born in Vilnius, and I write in the hope and belief that this cause will also be close to the hearts of peoples of all faiths and backgrounds. My own two articles on this subject are here and here.
For a summary of some of the events of recent years in this regard please see:
http://blogs.timesofisrael com/lithuanias-liveliest- cemetery/
For the views of a leading international scholar on the cemetery’s history, please see:
http://seforim.blogspot.lt/ 2015/09/lithuanian-government- announces.html.
For some of the letters to and from the leaders of the European Commission, please see: http://defendinghistory.com/category/european- commission-on-piramont-snipiskes.
The decision to mock the memory of Vilna Jewry with a convention center in the middle of the city's medieval Jewish cemetery would be a grave error with unfortunate consequences, making for a blot on this city's status for centuries to come. By contrast, moving the convention center project to another site and preserving with respect the old Jewish cemetery at Piramónt would bring great honor to modern democratic, EU member Lithuania. Thank you for considering my petition.
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