Common Falsehoods and Misconceptions
about the planned Turto Bankas Conference Center
Turto bankas is a Lithuanian state-owned bank. After purchasing the Sports Palace (built on the Shnipishok cemetery) in Vilnius in 2015, it embarked on an elaborate proposal to build a conference center on its asset. The plan was carefully calculated. It took aim at a soft target: the Lithuanian Jewish community. It was a small community controlled by a single person, Ms Faina Kukliansky.
To make its proposal a reality, Turto bankas together with the City Council of Vilnius was forced to manipulate and spin a set of facts that were totally detached from reality. These are some of the distortions and misrepresentations that Turto bankas and the Vilnius City Council sold to the Lithuanian community and to everyone else.
TURTO BANKAS’ JUSTIFICATION FOR A CONFERENCE CENTER ON SHNIPISHOK JEWISH CEMETERY
1. THE CEMETERY WAS DESTROYED IN THE 1960s WITH THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE SPORTS PALACE AND THEREFORE DESECRATION DOES NOT COME INTO QUESTION.
Untrue. A radar scanning conducted on the property revealed that there are thousands of skeletal remains that still exist on the site. These human bones are also embedded into the Sports Palace complex and lie beneath the ground.
2. MS. FAINA KUKLIANSKY REPRESENTS THE LITHUANIAN JEWISH COMMUNITY. BOTH KUKLIANSKY AND THE LITHUANIAN JEWISH COMMUNITY SUPPORT THE TURTO BANKAS PROJECT.
Untrue. Ms. Kukliansky is the chairperson of the Lithuanian Jewish Committee. She is also the chairperson of the Good Will Foundation (GWF). The GWF has been the recipient to an annual $4 million government grant for war time compensation, over the past 10 years. Ms. Kukliansky made it clear on a radio program in 2017 that she and the Lithuanian Jewish community DO NOT HAVE an opinion on the proposed conference center, as she is simply “not qualified to make that decision.” Turto bankas are claiming otherwise.
Further, although Ms. Faina Kukliansky holds the administrative position of chairperson to the Lithuanian Jewish committee, she does not represent the sentiments of all Jewish communities in Lithuania. Pointedly, the local Vilnius Jewish community expressly opposes the conference center development.
3. THE SPORT’S PALACE (THE SITE OF THE PROPOSED CONFERENCE CENTER) IS NOT SITUATED ON THE LOCATION OF THE OLD JEWISH CEMETERY.
Untrue. According to 1) the Klausner map, a map which predates World War II, according to 2) all official maps and to 3) expert opinion, the Sports Center is located directly in the middle of the Shnipishok cemetery. This is evidenced by an agreement dated January 2020 outlining the developers’ terms of the proposed conference center, in which it specifically states that the Sports Palace is in the Shnipishok cemetery. The lead developer Turto bankas is a principal signatory to that January 2020 agreement.
4. THE CONFERENCE CENTER PROPOSAL HAS THE AUTHORIZATION OF THE CPJCE, RABBIS AND OTHER JEWISH AUTHORITIES.
Untrue. The CPJCE (Committee for Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe) has been barred from assisting any Jewish Community by the Conference of European Rabbis (CER). The ban was issued by Chief Rabbi Pinchus Goldschmidt in 2020. The CER is the most authoritative Jewish body in Europe and oversees over 800 Rabbis and communities. See Rabbi Goldschmidt’s letter. To find out more about the CPJCE, review the ARTICLE on the London committee. No Jewish authority or organization supports the CPJCE in its approach, application or opinion on Jewish law, or the conference center.
5. THE LEAD DEVELOPER TURTO BANKAS HAS PROMISED THAT DURING THE PROPOSED RECONSTRUCTION OF THE OLD SPORTS PALACE, IT WILL NOT BE EXPANDED. THIS IS EVIDENCED BY THEIR WEBSITE WHICH DECLARES “EXCAVATION WORKS OR DIGGING IS NOT POSSIBLE IN THE TERRITORY OF THE JEWISH CEMETERY, AND FOR THIS REASON NEW PAVEMENTS, A MEADOW AND FLOWER BEDS WILL BE INSTALLED ON THE EXISTING CONCRETE SLABS COVERED WITH SOIL.” IF SO, WHY IS THE JEWISH COMMUNITY SO OPPOSED TO THE DEVELOPMENT?
It sounds very grandeur. However, the statement actually contradicts a January 2020 agreement outlining the terms for the development of which Turto bankas is a signatory. The respective agreement provides for digging and excavation in and around the Sports Palace building (with Rabbinical supervision). Turto bankas is not being totally candid in its disclosures. The fact that the added provision for digging and excavation was made "with Rabbinical provision", proves that there is a strong probability that bones and skeletal remains are still to be found in the building.
There is an additional point, a critical fact in the equation that the Turto bankas statement misses entirely:
“According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to use a cemetery for any purpose, other than as a resting place for the deceased. Further, pursuant to Jewish law even if skeletal remains are exhumed, the respective ground retains the status of a cemetery with the same restrictions as that of a cemetery with skeletal remains.
6. JEWISH OPPOSITION TO THE CONFERENCE CENTER IS BASED ON EMOTIONAL CONSIDERATIONS AND SENTIMENTAL FEELINGS.
It is true that the Holocaust and the decimation of virtually the entire Jewish community in Lithuania during World War II, elicits strong emotive sentiments for any Jew. The desecration of the skeletal remains of a family member or ancestor is even more poignant. However, the question of whether Turto bankas’ conference center development complies with Jewish law is very much an objective issue, based on sound Torah law and precedent. Jewish law is clear on the issue. To quote an adage: "Facts don’t care about feelings." Emotions aside, the development of a conference center on a cemetery is a violation of the Torah, Jewish law and Jewish culture. See Jewish law ruling on cemeteries.
7. OPPONENTS TO THE CONFERENCE CENTER ARE REALLY INTERESTED IN A PAYOUT, AND WOULD BE AMICABLE TO A GIVING A GREEN LIGHT FOR THE DEVELOPMENT, IF THEY WERE FINANCIALLY COMPENSATED.
Untrue. There is no money in the world that can provide any level of compensation for building a conference center on the Jewish cemetery. It’s simply not negotiable and forbidden according to Torah law.
8. A COMPROMISE CAN BE ACHIEVED BETWEEN THE DEVELOPERS OF THE CONFERENCE CENTER AND THE JEWISH COMMUNITY, BY DESIGNATING PART OF THE CEMETERY AREA AS A MEMORIAL TO THE DECEASED.
Untrue. Remembering the lives of legendary Jewish sages is commendable and praiseworthy. However, the proposition misses the critical issue at stake. That is that Jewish law prohibits a cemetery from being used for any purpose, other than as a resting place for the deceased. The notion of constructing a memorial, in order to facilitate the desecration of the cemetery, undermines the basic tenets of Jewish law.
9. CHAIRPERSON TO THE LITHUANIAN JEWISH COMMUNITY MS. FAINA KUKLIANSKY BELIEVES THERE ARE NO "FORMER" CEMETERIES FOR JEWS.
This statement appears on Turto bankas website and is difficult to understand. However, her previous statement that she made on a radio show in 2017 stating that she is not qualified nor does she have the authority to have an opinion on the matter would in reality make her opinion on the matter irrelevant. Further, the possibility that there are “no Jewish cemeteries" does contradict another statement on the website in her name:
“Our goal is not to disturb the peace of the souls of the dead and to show them due respect. If no tombstones have survived, the memory of the Jews buried there must be commemorated with dignity. The former cemetery should become a reminiscent part of the city. The immortality must meet the requirements and tenets of Judaism. I have no doubt that we will achieve this, says Faina Kukliansky, Chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community."
The notion of a “former” Jewish cemetery, is contrary to Judaism. There is no expiration date for a Jewish cemetery. A Jewish cemetery exists forever. Kukliansky contends that the conference center “must meet the requirements and tenets of Judaism.” However it does not. There never were and there never will be a Jewish authority who gives permission to build a conference center on a cemetery. It is a contradiction in terms. Pointedly, a previous text on the Turbo bankas’ website, stating that Ms. Kukliansky reiterated that “Jewish cemeteries are forever” has been removed.
Additionally, Ms Kukliansky is chairperson of the Lithuanian Jewish committee. However, she does not represent the Lithuanian Jewish community or their sentiments.
10. A REGIONAL INDEPENDENT JEWISH COMMUNITY CAN UNILATERALLY DECIDE TO GO AGAINST JEWISH LAW IF IT CHOOSES. ALTERNATIVELY IT CAN MAKE ITS OWN INDEPENDENT DETERMINATION.
Yes it can, but then it will not be Jewish. A Jewish community, together with individual Jews are required to comply with Jewish law as determined by leading Jewish rabbinical authorities. These determinations are not made independently. Rather they are made in compliance with the strict code of Jewish law which has been the essence of the Jewish nation for more than 3,500 years.
11. SOME AUTHORITIES IN THE JEWISH COMMUNITY ARE AMIABLE TO A MANAGED RECONSTRUCTION.
Untrue. There are no Jewish authorities who support the conference center development. A leading Israeli Rabbinical Court and the leading Rabbinical Authority on Jewish law Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky have ruled that the conference development is a violation of Jewish law and forbidden. This ruling has been endorsed by dozens of authorities on Jewish law and culture.
12. THERE IS A PRECEDENT FOR ALLOWING THE CONSTRUCTION OF A BUILDING ON A JEWISH CEMETERY AND THEREFORE THE SHNIPISHOK JEWISH COMMUNITY SHOULD GIVE THE DEVELOPMENT THE GREEN LIGHT.
Untrue. There is no precedent for building a conference center on a Jewish cemetery according to Jewish law and there never will be.
13. JEWISH COMMUNITIES ACROSS THE GLOBE WHO HAVE ANCESTORS THAT COME FROM LITHUANIA, DO NOT FEEL ANY CONNECTION TO LITHUANIA.
Untrue. International Jewish communities who are of Lithuanian decent, feel a deep connection to their Lithuanian roots. It is something which they hold and cherish in high regard. The Jewish community is also appreciative of Lithuanian nationalism and patriotism. However, it does not support Antisemitism, human rights violations and cemetery desecration.
14. THE PROPOSED CONFERENCE CENTER MEETS ALL THE REQUIREMENTS IN TERMS OF INTERNATIONAL AND LITHUANIAN LAW.
No it does not. The proposed conference center violates the Geneva Convention and International Rights law. It further violates US Protect Cemeteries Act (H.R. 4028) of 2014, an amendment to the International Freedom Act of 1998, which gives Congress the ability to impose sanctions on a defaulting foreign nation.
Further, both the Sports Palace and the Shnipishok cemetery are registered as landmarks. According to Lithuanian law a development on a landmark that violates cultural considerations, invalidates the prospective development. The conference center proposal has already been certified as a desecration to Jewish law and culture by a Rabbinical Court in Israel. Accordingly, a conference center development on the Sports Palace site which is inside the cemetery would be invalid, pursuant to Lithuanian law.
15. THE PROPOSED CONFERENCE CENTER IS NOT A PERPETRATION OF ANTISEMITISM.
Untrue. The proposed Vilnius Congress Center by Turtos bankas is a violation of the 2010 U.S. State Department’s working definition of Antisemitism, which states inter alia, “Acts are Antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.” One could argue that the project does not specifically target Jewish property. However, it's important to note that the City Council dismissed out of hand, alternative proposals of significant economic benefit, to push its controversial conference center development. These were projects that would not have violated Jewish cultural laws. It's totally illogical.
16. ALL ALTERNATIVES TO THE CONFERENCE CENTER DEVELOPMENT HAVE ALREADY BEEN CONSIDERED AND FOUND TO BE NOT VIABLE.
Untrue. Recent attempts to present local Lithuanian authorities with a plan that would upgrade the area aesthetically and bring in hundreds of millions of Euros in the way of income from tourists, was dismissed out of hand.
17. A JEWISH CEMETERY CAN BE BOUGHT AND SOLD ACCORDING TO STANDARD LEGAL CONTRACT LAW.
Untrue. The purchase of ground for Jewish burial according to Jewish law is for eternity. Without the fulfillment of that requirement, any purchase of ground is invalid. A Jewish cemetery cannot be sold ever. That principal has been enforced internationally in perpetuity, for over 3,500 years.
18. THE SHNIPISHOK CEMETERY WAS LEGITIMATELY ACQUIRED AND IT IS THE PREROGATIVE OF THE CURRENT OWNERS TO DO WITH IT, AS THEY WISH.
Untrue. The Jewish cemetery was purchased freehold in perpetuity over 500 years ago. In between, some parts of it were stolen from the Jewish community and expropriated by the Czar. Up until the post War II Russian occupation, the bulk of it was kept in tact and protected.
19. MOST LITHUANIANS SUPPORT THE TURTO BANKAS CONFERENCE CENTER DEVELOPMENT.
Untrue. An independent poll in 2020 concluded 58.4% Lithuanians did not favor the construction of the conference centre in Vilnius, 16.3% believed it would be favorable and 25.3% didn’t have an opinion. Additionally, recent results from a public poll on Twitter revealed that 94% of the public were opposed to the development of a conference center on the Shnipishok Jewish cemetery in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Opposition to the development of the conference center is not limited to the Jewish community. Pointedly, it comes from all quarters.
20. TURTO BANKAS’ CONFERENCE CENTER WILL BENEFIT THE ECONOMY. WHY SHOULD IT NOT BE SUPPORTED?
Critique from several Seimas members has already been propagated that the Shnipishok location is inconveniently positioned and that it will not allow for any expansion. In a few years it will be too small. Because of its limited capacity it will preclude it from becoming a conference center which can compete with other European/ Lithuanian destinations.
Further, the COVID-19 pandemic has inspired a renaissance in Zoom online conferencing. Today conference center developments are considered in the ultra high risk category. Economists are asking whether the Lithuanian government should be playing lotto with taxpayers’ money. The conference center is a bad idea.
21. OPPOSITION TO THE CONFERENCE CENTER IS NOT WIDE-SPREAD
Untrue. The Save Vilna Coalition consists of more than 11 leading International Jewish Organizations and 45 Human Rights groups. The total extent of these organizations essentially represents the international Jewish community. The coalition also has the support of U.S. Congress, the U.S. Senate, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa and the Council of Torah Sages of the USA and Canada.
22. IT IS PERMISSIBLE TO CARRY OUT IMPROVEMENTS AND CHANGES TO THE SPORTS AND CONCERT HALL (SPORTS PALACE). AS A 2009 AGREEMENT PROVIDES FOR ALTERATION, EXCAVATION AND DIGGING.
Untrue. According to the said 2009 Agreement, the Sports Palace is marked as Functional Zone A. In fact point 13 of the Agreement expressly prohibits any excavation, digging or construction for alteration purposes. Maintenance is allowed under special circumstances with authorized rabbinical management. See image of map below articulating the 2009 agreement provisions. The Vilnius Congress Center project can hardly be considered as maintenance.
23. ACCORDING TO A TURTO BANKAS WRITTEN STATEMENT, THE REASON WHY THE LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT ACQUIRED THE SPORTS PALACE IN 2015, WAS SO THAT THE GOVERNMENT COULD PROTECT THE HOLY SITE FROM CEMETERY DESECRATION BY A PRVATE INVESTOR, WHO WANTED TO CONVERT THE SPORTS PALACE INTO A CENTER.
However, the current Turto bankas' Vilnius Congress Center proposal is exactly the same development (with some cosmetic changes), which the Lithuanian Government ostensibly tried to prevent, through its acquisition of the Sports Palace in 2015.
24. TURTO BANKAS DOES NOT DISPUTE THAT THE SPORTS PALACE IS IN THE CEMETERY, HOWEVER IT CLAIMS THAT DEVELOPMENT IS PERMISSIBLE BECAUSE THERE ARE NO SKELETAL REMAINS IN ITS PROXIMITY.
Untrue. The cemetery is registered as a landmark and a protected Holy Site. According to Lithuanian law, because proposed development on the cemetery would violate Jewish law, it is not permitted. Further, evidence shows that there are skeletal remains entombed in and below the building. See credible testimony in VIDEO which articulates that historical documents show that bones and skeletal remains are encrusted in the Sports Palace edifice.
Additionally, Jewish law prohibits using a cemetery for any purpose other than as a resting place for the deceased, so even if the skeletal remains are displaced, the area takes on the same restrictions as a cemetery.
25. JEWISH GRAVES IN LITHUANIA WERE PREVIOUSLY RAISED AND THE AREA IS NOW BEING USED FOR LIVING CONDITIONS, SO WHY NOT THE TURTO BANKAS SPORTS AND CONCERT HALL?
True, in 2005 a section of the Šnipiškės cemetery was raised and skeletal remains scattered in desecration of the graves. After the Jewish community and international organizations rallied to oppose the construction, a U.S Senate resolution was passed condemning the action and urging the Lithuanian government not to perpetrate any further desecration of the cemetery. In 2004, a bill was passed by both the House and the Senate in the way of US Protect Cemeteries Act (H.R. 4028) making it unlawful to conduct such offenses on cemeteries in the US and Abroad. A violation of the law, which was sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng, has consequences.
Under the law, the U.S. can impose penalties on countries that obstruct religious freedom. These include slashing foreign aid, public condemnation, cancelling official visits and cultural or scientific exchanges, and prohibiting import and exporting agreements, among others.
Map of Sports and Concert Hall (Sports Palace) according to 2009 Agreement, showing that earth-moving construction, digging, excavation, alteration is not permitted, with the exception of "maintenance" under special circumstances.