Thursday, September 4, 2008

Lithuanian, Israeli experts at odds over pre-war Jewish cemetery

Is a Lithuanian building project desecrating graves? Israeli experts say yes, Lithuanian experts say no.

from the AFP via EJP | European Jewish News:

Lithuanian and Israeli experts on Wednesday failed to resolve an old row over whether a pre-World War II Jewish cemetery in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius has been desecrated by new buildings. The findings of separate and independent archaeological and radar studies released Wednesday by the two sides proved contradictory.

According to Lithuanian archaeologists quoted in statement issued Wednesday by Lithuania's culture ministry, no graves were found beyond the existing location of the Snipiskes Jewish cemetery. Israeli experts, however, disagree. "During their excavations, Lithuanian archaeologists did not find graves or traces of graves", rather only "scattered human bones not in anatomical position," the statement said. But Israeli experts insist radar tests found graves beyond the cemetery's existing limits. "The main results of the geophysical survey show graves at the correct alignment (north-west to south-east) and at the relevant depths, further south than any of the previous maps, including those of the Historical Institute,"
Israeli experts announced.

They believe their new findings strengthen "the conclusion of the Experts Group from May 2007 that the King Mindaugas buildings were erected within the boundaries of the Snipiskes Jewish cemetery." Lithuanian authorities argue such radar studies cannot be considered conclusive. Archaeological digs launched in June in the direct vicinity of the Snipiskes cemetery were aimed at resolving the row over whether buildings in the area desecrated it.

First announced in 2005, the building project drew protest from Jewish groups in the United States, where in February the US Congress criticised the project and Lithuania's alleged failure to protect historic sites.

The Snipiskes Jewish cemetery operated between the 16th and 19th centuries. Prior to World War II, Lithuania boasted a 220,000-strong Jewish community. Vilnius was a centre for Jewish culture -- sometimes called the Jerusalem of the north -- attracting Yiddish intellectuals and writers. Ninety-five percent of Lithuania's Jews perished in the Holocaust. Currently there are 4,000 Jews living in Lithuania, a former Soviet Baltic republic that joined the European Union in 2004.


Anonymous said...

One of the most ridiculous things in this long story is that those new "King Mindaugas" apartmens has been built in the place of a former building of the city swimming pool, one can see the rare photo here
and yet more photos here
And btw, all this scandal was started by one ethnic lithuanian by publishing the montage of 2 different plans (each of the diferent scale) merged into 1 plan.
"...First announced in 2005, the building project drew protest from Jewish groups in the United States..." - true, Swimming pool was ok, apartments are evil, probably americans aware what they are talking about, US itself is right next to this place in Vilnius, why they shouldn't be so aware ;).
Recent investigations are very positive thing, no matter if there is disagrement - good job had been done anyway.

Vilna resident

Adam Holland said...

Vilna resident:

Thanks for posting your comment. Can you provide a source for your claim that the controversy was created by "one ethnic lithuanian by publishing the montage of 2 different plans (each of the diferent scale) merged into 1 plan"? I'd like to see what you're basing this on.

My understanding is that, as the construction started, it uncovered human remains mere centimeters beneath the surface. That's what created the controversy. The sole question to be resolved is whether these remains indicate that the range of the cemetery is larger than the antique map relied on by the developers indicated and include the area being built upon. There's another map which included the disputed area in the cemetery and there is no apparent way to know which is accurate without analysis of the site.

The Israeli expert has concluded, after analyzing the density beneath the ground that the cemetery includes the disputed area.

You are right that a portion of the disputed area was built on by the Soviets. But a cemetery is still a cemetery, no? Does anyone propose digging up and disposing human remains to build apartments?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, it was a long post, forgot to add:
" uncovered human remains mere centimeters beneath the surface..".

Don't know about the centimeters or meters, but 2 human remains were found; there are experts in LT, but there are no experts of the Jewish burial traditions (i mean the professional experts, not the amateurs), so the remains were sent to Russia to make an expertise. Since they are experts of Jewish traditions in particular, but not the experts of "anything" (or "all"), their conclusion was that there are no features of the Jewish burial tradition, or something (one can make some effort and find the entire text of the expertise). That's a common practice. There is nothing strange or exeptional. Especially taken into account the fact, that all the soil from the former cemetary was dug up and put down few hundred meters north during the construction of a stadium nearby. The bones were found (completely destroyed) during another construction and reburied in a cemetary according the rules and the law.
So there were 2 remains found under the swimming pool - so what? It's a result of the archeological investigations - it's done, what else one want to be done? To dig the ground second time? What number of times would be OK, let's leave the sanity aside?
And to complete the picture one should add that although Israeli experts' job was (and is) great, and lithuanians even didn't know such equipment they (experts) were using, the final joke is that americans (or, say, foreign side of the "action") forbade to continue the archeological investigations which are necessary to prove or deny the theorical guess about the different kinds of "density beneath the ground". Now it is sort of 'echoscopy', it's a "geodesy thing", not the archeological one. Rather pricy sense of humour, to say the least.

Vilna resident


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