Activist’s Petition Demanding Restoration of Historic Jewish Cemetery in Lithuania Gathering Pace
A petition opposing plans to build a state-of-the-art convention center on top of a 500-year-old Jewish cemetery in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius has garnered over 50,000 signatures.
Launched by Vilnius-born Ruta Bloshtein — an Orthodox Jewish woman who continues to live in the city — the missive urges the restoration of the Old Šnipiškės Jewish Cemetery — where thousands of Jewish graves are buried — to the Jewish community.
Those interred at the cemetery include successive generations of Jewish scholars whose efforts gave Vilnius — formerly Vilna — the reputation of the “Jerusalem of the North.”
“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,” the petition states. “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.”
The petition also highlights the use of European Union funds in the construction of the convention center — the latest use of the cemetery’s site following a long history of abuse and disrepair during the period of Soviet rule in Lithuania.
“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),” Bloshtein’s petition notes. “This fate would never befall a major Christian cemetery here in the 21st century.”
International opposition to the project has escalated in recent months. Among those who have protested are three US Senators — Benjamin Cardin (D – Maryland.), Pat Roberts (R – Kansas), and James Risch (R – Idaho) — who wrote to Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė calling for the convention center to be sited at a different location.
Opposition to the construction has also come from members of the Israeli Knesset as well as the chief rabbis of Israel and South Africa.