A statement by Faina Kukliansky, chairperson of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, on the halting of work at a grave site uncovered during construction

A statement by Faina Kukliansky, chairperson of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, on the halting of work at a grave site uncovered during construction

In consideration of a request by the Jewish community, the government of the city of Šiauliai, Lithuania has shelved plans to move human remains discovered during road construction. The Šiauliai municipality has given assurances no earth moving work will be performed until due respect is guaranteed for the mortal remains of the people murdered and buried in the mass grave.

Lithuanian Jewish Community chairperson Faina Kukliansky would like to underline the stop in construction is not somehow the fault of Jews, but rather happened because human remains were found at a location where they should have been expected before construction began.

“I can’t say what sort of historical research was performed before construction work was begun. If it had been performed and a new location was discovered accidentally, that would be possible to understand, to forgive and to correct. Until now eight such sites were known. The issue of the Pročiūnai mass murder site was raised earlier and all of the material associated with that issue is preserved in primary sources at the Lithuanian Central State Archive, meaning it has been collected and is known. Although the location hasn’t been determined definitively, today we have all sorts of technology which we can use to determine where human remains are located without even disturbing the surface of the ground. It doesn’t matter whether those remains are of Jews or non-Jews.

If construction is taking place, who wants to drive on a road over corpses, or to build a home and later discover people who were brutally murdered are buried in the yard? And now we see from the remains which have been exhumed that many of the victims were children. This is a tragedy which deserves commemoration, not construction projects. The unexpected could have been avoided if there had been a more thorough examination. Of course we will acquaint ourselves with all of the historical material and determine how this project was born. This is not some sort of Jewish  caprice or exceptional demand, it is required by law: to inventory all cemeteries and mass murder sites by 2012 and legally register all such plots of land. The deadline for performing this work has been extended until 2016. The law just needs to be carried out and we will avoid terrible misunderstandings. This episode demonstrates how the Government with the municipality of Šiauliai and the Cultural Heritage Department solves problems when they stand together and seek a solution. I am pleased to note no interference from abroad is needed. I myself invited a rabbi from London to come and survey the site, but I asked for special representative Joe Shik of the Committee of Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, who is recognized by the EU. The Government of Lithuania   cooperates with the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe. Important resolutions are adopted due to the initiative of this group. I say again that truly no foreign intervention is needed in solving domestic matters I would like to emphasize the cooperation with governmental institutions and would like to thank the Government and all institutions including the Cultural Heritage Department for responding quickly and helping solve the problem.”

During World War II people who were likely brought from the Šiauliai jail were shot at this location. The portion of the grave site uncovered by construction revealed the mortal remains of about 40 people. It is likely these include Jews. Jewish religious custom forbids the moving of human remains buried in the ground.