photos: Saulius Žiūra
Following the initiative by the Vilnius municipality to renovate and clean up the old Jewish cemetery on Olandų street, alleys and paths are gradually emerging from the brush and parts of the cemetery wall and fragments of headstones are becoming visible again. The 11 hectare territory was a working Jewish cemetery until 1940, but was destroyed during the Soviet period, and has been overgrown with bushes and small trees for decades, and many Vilnius residents never knew there was an old Jewish cemetery there in the Užupis neighborhood of Vilnius.
Today Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius, municipal personnel and representatives of the Pavilniai and Verkiai Regional Parks, the Cultural Heritage Protection Department and the Lithuanian Jewish Community discussed the work already completed and plans for the further renovation of the cemetery. The Works and Transportation Department of the Vilnius municipality has already cleared many of the trees and bushes so that about 1.5 hectares have now been cleaned up. Work to clean up and refurbish another 2.5 hectares begins this week.
“We have very exemplary and constructive cooperation with the Jewish community. We listen and come to agreement on how to show due respect to the memory of the dead, where the headstones should be placed in the destroyed cemetery… It’s very good the Jewish community understands that not everything which has been destroyed can be restored. After the territory is restored aesthetically, this old Jewish cemetery could become a cultural heritage site which attracts local visitors and tourists. It is a placid and beautiful place to stroll,” the mayor said.
Lithuanian Jewish Holocaust Victims Remembered at Ponar
September 23 is Lithuanian Holocaust Remembrance Day and it’s been 72 years since the Vilnius ghetto was liquidated. Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius visited the memorial on the eve of the memorial date and participated in a ceremony to honor Holocaust victims, where wreaths were placed at the monument there and a minute of silence was observed. The actual date, September 23, coincided with Yom Kippur this year.
Vilnius Street Named after Righteous Gentile Ona Šimaitė
During the grave ceremonies today, the Jewish community also found something to be happy about. Today Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius officially unveiled a plaque to Ona Šimaitė, a righteous gentile who saved Jews during the Holocaust, on the newly-renamed Onos Šimaitės street (the former Kūdrų street) in Vilnius.
A decision by an earlier city council and the Lithuanian Jewish Community’s opinion were at odds over the issue of naming a street after Ona Šimaitė. The Community said it was odd there was a street named after the woman in Jerusalem, but not closer to the Vilnius Old Town where the ghetto was located. The Vilna Gaon State Jewish Museum, the Lithuanian Jewish Community and relatives of Ona Šimaitė petitioned the Vilnius municipality repeatedly to rename Kūdrų street, located near the Tymas market, after Šimaitė.
“I am so happy we found a solution and that we are honoring Ona Šimaitė by opening a street with her name on it in the Old Town, not far from where she lived and worked. This is the least we can do for a woman who risked everything but was determined to help others, and gave all of herself to others,” mayor Šimašius said.
Vilnius University librarian Ona Šimaitė rescued Jews during World War II and was one of the first Lithuanians to be awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations/Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem in 1966.
Public Relations Department, City of Vilnius, email@example.com