Online Campaign Urging Lithuania to Restore Desecrated Jewish Cemetery in Vilnius Draws Worldwide Support
Thousands of people from across the globe have joined the Save Vilna Coalition’s “Legacy of a Nation” campaign to pressure Lithuanian authorities to preserve and restore the historic Snipiskes Jewish cemetery in present-day Vilnius.
The saga surrounding the cemetery, where more than 50,000 people, including many luminaries from Lithuania’s once-thriving Jewish community — such as the Vilna Gaon and many of his family members — were buried, has been ongoing for years.
After the Holocaust, during which more than 95 percent of Lithuanian Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, the 500-year-old cemetery fell into disuse, and many of the gravestones were plundered for construction projects by the ruling Soviets.
In the 1970s, a now-abandoned sports arena was built on part of the site, and much of the rest of the cemetery is covered by concrete.
In the mid-2000s, two apartment buildings were constructed in another section of the site, which prompted a condemnatory resolution from the U.S. Senate. This led to the Lithuanian government reaching an agreement with the Lithuanian Jewish community prohibiting further development at the site.
Yet, in 2016, the Lithuanian government announced plans to renovate the sports arena and turn it into a national convention and conference center. Those plans, however, were put on an indefinite hold earlier this year after a worldwide lobbying effort against them.
The Save Vilna Coalition — made up of more than 60 different Jewish organizations and human rights groups from around the world — is now pushing for Lithuanian authorities to permanently shelve those plans and commit to restoring the cemetery to its former glory.
An online letter-writing campaign directed at top decision-makers in the Lithuanian Seimas (parliament) and the Vilnius City Council has drawn an outpouring of support from around the world, Grant de Graf — Chief Officer for Combating Antisemitism for the Save Vilna Coalition — told the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) this week.
“The response has been incredible,” he said. “It’s been quite exciting, and very interesting to see.”
De Graf expressed optimism about the Save Vilna Coalition’s effort, saying there was a “good chance there will be a positive outcome to it ultimately, so it’s encouraging.”
The pre-written letter to Lithuanian authorities can be viewed and signed here: secure.everyaction.com/4KxEqjlzWkmsPicrxQ1zgw2
For more information on the Save Vilna Coalition and the Snipiskes Jewish cemetery, visit: savevilna.org