Photo credit: Bartosz Frantczak
VILNIUS - Local Lithuanian residents staged a gathering to remind the world that a Jewish cemetery is not just about remembering, but that there are graves and skeletal parts that remain buried.
The Shnipshok cemetery, the initial burial place of the Vilna Gaon is host to between 50,000-70,000 Jewish graves. A plan by the Turtos bank, the Vilnius City Council and Lithuanian government was recently placed on hold, following international condemnation of the proposal. A court battle is still in progress. The Lithuanian government decision to nix any expenditure in 2021 towards the conference center development was met with wide support and praise.
The cemetery memorial stones from most of the graves were desecrated in about 1950 by the Soviet occupation. Due to a shortage a building materials the memorial stones were used for construction purposes. The thousands of skeletal remains still remain buried.
Rabbi Dov Fried responded positively to the budget allocation cut by the government. "The decision is in line is consistent with public consensus," Rabbi Fried said. Other local and Jewish organizations agreed.
The organizer to the event Julius Norvila said, “A cemetery is not just a monument. It is important not to forget about the skeletal remains of Lithuanians, those who remain buried. I hope that this initiative will awaken the awareness of this place and that passersbys will become part of the collective memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust."
These are bold words in difficult times, when antisemitism is rising at dramatic rates across Europe and the rest of the globe. Julius Norvila is a righteous Lithuanian who cares about a fair deal for the Jewish nation and the cemetery.
The event was to be one of the highlights of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27 January, but due to organizational reasons, it took place only on February 3.
Mr Norvilla said, “I applied for permission in order to organize an event for six people, during which the Magen David (Star of David) was to be created and there were to be readings of poems and fragments of memoirs in Yiddish. However, due to the pandemic, I was refused permission."
Mr. Norvilla was later informed that he did not need permission. The efforts by Lithuanians to remember the Holocaust and the presence of the Jewish cemetery is indicative of the strong feelings amongst locals not to develop the conference center on this holy site.
Bartosz Frantczak (Photo credit); Arkadij Kurliandchik, Julius (Yeyel) Norwilla participants.