VILNIUS - The Lithuanian government and Vilnius City Council are moving forward with their plan to construct a conference center on a 500-year old Jewish cemetery. The property accommodates between 50 to 80 thousand Jewish souls, many of whom were prominent Torah sages.

World leaders, multi denominational community heads, the White House, senators and congressmen from both sides of the house, have slammed the proposal. In an attempt to fudge the claims that desecration will be perpetrated to the Jewish cemetery, the government is promoting several misnomers.

Firstly, protagonists for the government’s plan argue that the cemetery was sold to the Russian Czarist regime about 150 years ago. This is a lie. According to Jewish law, a cemetery cannot be sold. It was purchased by the Jewish community about 500 years, under a freehold license, to be held in perpetuity. The claim is being made despite the fact that no deed of sale has ever been produced. But then of course, if the Czar wanted to confiscate or expropriate the property, seemingly that would have been within his province without the need to obtain permission from the Jewish community. The bottom line is that the cemetery accommodates tens of thousands of Jewish souls. This cemetery was designated as their final resting place. Even according to the Geneva Convention and the EU Charter of Human Rights, what the Lithuanian government is doing is a violation of the most basic principles of human rights.

The second claim by the government is that all the skeletal remains have been moved. This too is a lie. In 2005, the Lithuanian government further desecrated the cemetery by constructing two apartment buildings on the property. During this process human bones and skeletal remains were uncovered. Further, the existence of several layers of human bones which extend several meters below the surface also confirms that even where construction may have occurred on the property, skeletal remains still exist. A geological report verified that bodies lie buried across large segments of the property, also covering areas where construction has taken place.

The third claim is that the proposed construction of the conference center will not take place on the cemetery. To substantiate this assertion, the government conveniently rezoned segments of the cemetery and reproduced the map. This fraudulent attempt by the government to geographically move the cemetery, can be clarified through a cursory inspection of original maps.

The fourth falsehood is that the proposed development has the support of the Jewish community and rabbis. The Lithuanian community’s green-light is being facilitated by a one person committee who is on the government’s payroll. Pointedly, the Vilnius Jewish community is vehemently against the conference center. The other Jewish individuals behind the government’s plan have a dismal history of opposing cemetery desecration. Representations they made to the government to stop the 2005 desecration with the construction of the two apartment buildings on the cemetery, failed. They do not represent the Jewish community, nor are they authorized to make any representations on behalf of Jewish interests, to facilitate wholesale desecration. Neither do they have the authority to express an independent opinion on the matter and misrepresent it as the opinion of world Jewry and the world authorities on Jewish law who have ruled against them in this instance. Most certainly their efforts to work with the government on the construction are contrary to the sentiments of world Jewry and should be viewed as a rogue initiative which is meaningless. The opposition to their unwarranted involvement in the desecration is supported by some of the most senior Jewish authorities in the world.

The fifth misnomer is that the international conference center will bring prosperity to Lithuania. This is another misperception. Construction of the conference center on the cemetery will bring in its wake sanctions, boycotts and political isolation, as the world comes to terms with a policy of systematic anti-semitism, which is enshrined in Lithuanian governance. 

And lastly, although the government’s plan promises an improvement in the aesthetic beauty of the area, the Lithuanian government has poo-pooed proposals by Jewish activists to restore the cemetery and create attractive pathways.

Lithuanians are being lied to. The government has not been honest with the public about its plan for the conference center and the details which are misrepresented. The construction of a conference center on a cemetery, is Lithuania's racist endeavor to erase the memory of prewar Jewish life. Going ahead with the proposal will have serious consequences for Lithuania. It will not end well. 

Save Vilna is an action group spearheading an effort to stop the construction of the conference center (Vilnius Congress Centre) on a cemetery, by the Lithuanian government. The initiative has the support of world leaders, U.S. senators, congressmen and multi-denominational spiritual leaders. You can view more about the saga in video here.

Jonathan Braun




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