A COVID-19 pandemic in Lithuania is being pushed to the back burner and the winner is the Lithuanian courts.
Descendants of the Vilna Gaon recently made attempts to postpone a court case that has been scheduled to be heard at the Vilnius District Court, on Monday,19th April, 2021. Their request however was denied. The reason for the descendants making their request, was so that they could travel to be present at the hearing. Because of current COVID restrictions, travel is extremely restricted, if not impossible.
Since 2017, Mr. Itzik Pines, on behalf of over 160 descendents of the Vilna Gaon has been making efforts in the Lithuanian court to terminate a plan by Turto bankas to build a conference center on a Jewish cemetery.
Although 2,000 Lithuanian citizens are being tested COVID positive every day with the possibility of a third wave, the Lithuanian courts have insisted that the show must go on.
Since 2015, state-owned Turto bankas has made efforts to develop a conference center on the grounds of a 500-year old Jewish cemetery. Those efforts have been strongly contested by Jewish communities in Lithuania and from across the globe.
The Old Cemetery in Vilnius (Shnipishok), founded in 1487, represents the beautiful Jewish community that was decimated in World War II, where close to 95% of 210,000 Jews were massacred. This amount is according to the Lithuanian statistics department. Other historians report the number being closer to 254,000.
The Vilnius Jewish community, Jewish authorities across the globe, and more than 50 leading human rights and Jewish organizations, have opposed the plan that was hatched by Turto bankas and the Vilnius City Counsel.
Lawyers for Turto bankas, the lead project manager in the conference center project, have claimed that the target of their development, the Sports Palace is not in the cemetery. Expert witnesses and a pre-war Klausner map have proven otherwise.
A few Seimas members contend that it is pointless to build on Shnipishok cemetery ground because there will be no ability to expand and in a few years they will need to build another conference center. A Seimas member said that the economics do not play out.
Although international Jewish activists did attempt to pitch alternative proposals to the conference center, their presentations were dismissed out of hand. One local Vilnius resident said that city councillors had kicked a gift horse in the mouth and turned down millions of Euros that could have benefitted the local economy. "It's a shame," the local said.