Lithuanians from all walks of life came together recently, on the banks of the Neris river to protest the Turto Bankas’ plan, to develop a conference center on the 500-year old Shnipishok cemetery.
In January 2020, the Turto Bankas bank and the City Council of Vilnius announced a proposal to develop a conference center on the cemetery in which between 50,000 to 70,000 Jews are buried. World communities responded in shock at the atrocity which has been decried as a horrific desecration of a cemetery and disregard for Jewish law.
As a show of its opposition to the conference center proposal, Lithuanians met on the banks of the Neris river to protest the desecration, lighting candles in the shape of a Magen David, in solidarity of Jewish communities around the globe.
The cemetery in Vilnius, is the location where the Vilna Gaon was initially buried. He was a leading Torah scholar who made an unforgettable mark on the generation. Other prominent Jews buried in the cemetery include the extended family of the Vilna Gaon, R. Abraham Danzig (famed author of the "Chayei Adam”), R. Moshe Rivkes (author of the "Be’er Hagolah") and hundreds more.
The saga of the Jewish community in Vilnius is a story of hardship and prosperity. It’s a history which Jewish communities across tell their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. “It’s a case of recognizing where we come from,” said a member of the Jewish community.
Dov and Chaya Fried who have a strong connection to the Jewish community, have lobbied aggressively to stop the development of the conference center and prevent the desecration. “Our dream is to restore the tombstones which were destroyed by the Russians. We want to re-establish the Shnipishok cemetery to its former glory,” said Mr. Fried.
A class action suit has been filed in the Vilnius court, in an effort to prevent the Turto Bankas government owned land bank and the Vilnius City Council from going ahead with the conference center development. The legal action is in the District Court of Vilnius, case no. e2-625-918/2020.
International supporters who have have fought vigorously to prevent the development of the conference center, celebrate the prospect of a new Lithuanian government, following recent elections. A new government brings hope and anticipation that the desecration of this age old cemetery can be averted.