PRESS RELEASE by the Committee for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe
January 18, 2022
The Lithuanian Government reaffirms its commitment to follow CPJCE guidelines on future plans of the Sports Palace Building situated in the Snipiskes Jewish cemetery in Vilnius.
The future function of the existing Sports Palace Building was discussed at a meeting held in Vilnius on November 25, 2021, between first deputy chancellor Mr. Rolandas Krisciunas, accompanied by his working team, and Mrs. Faina Kukliansky, chairwoman of the Lithuanian Jewish Community, together with Rabbi H. Gluck OBE and Rabbi Y. Schlesinger representing the CPJCE.
Rabbi Gluck pointed out that regardless what the future plans hold, the Government must respect the agreements signed between the Government and the CPJCE in 2009 and 2015 and therefore no movement of soil is allowed in the entire cemetery area, and the Government should continue to work hand-in-hand with CPJCE to ensure the safeguarding of the cemetery and other cemeteries in the framework of the halachic guidelines.
Rabbi Schlesinger responding to a question of Mr. Krisciunas, reassured him that the CPJCE remains strongly involved and engaged in all matters concerning the safeguarding of the Snipiskes Cemetery and all other Jewish cemeteries and mass graves around Lithuania, and will continue to work with the Lithuanian government to find an ultimate and lasting solution acceptable to all parties as to the future of the Sport Palace.
The first deputy chancellor agreed that in the interest of securing the Snipiskes cemetery area, it is of the utmost importance to find a permanent solution for the Sports Palace and have the cemetery suitably fenced, honored, and marked as an old Jewish cemetery, as well as listed as an important Jewish heritage site.
It has been agreed that the dialogue with the Government should continue, resulting in an exchange of ideas and suggestions.
Rabbi Gluck has conveyed that the Lithuanian Government is sincerely devoted and dedicated to the Jewish heritage within Lithuania, which should be upheld in the most appropriate, respectful, and venerable manner.
We feel that it is important and appropriate to share some information regarding the recent history of this sacred Snipiskes Cemetery site, and the devoted engagement by CPJCE in its protection and preservation.
In 2009 the Lithuanian Government had decided to build apartment buildings on the whole area of the Snipiskes Cemetery in Vilnius.
They had already constructed one building and were in the process of constructing a second, despite the strong protests of Orthodox Jewry worldwide.
CPJCE were then approached by the Lithuanian authorities, as the preeminent organization involved in safeguarding and preserving Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, and following two weeks of intense discussion and deliberation with the Government we managed to stop all the building work on the site.
Following further meetings between the Lithuanian Government and our Rabbis, we arrived at a mutual agreement to sign a resolution which lists in precise detail that the entire area of the Snipiskes Cemetery, including the surrounding area where there are or might be graves, will be transferred to the Vilnius Jewish Community, and be fully protected and preserved in accordance to Jewish law (halacha).
At the same time, the future of the the Sports Palace which had been constructed, many years previously during the Soviet period, on the site, and which extended to the depths of six meters underground, was considered. Following extensive and painstaking investigation we definitively established that there were no graves extant at all, under or in the direct vicinity, of the building. We therefore came to the conclusion, that as requested, the Lithuanian Government could proceed to use the building according to their requirements, with the caveat that this must take into account the sanctity and sensitivity of the site.
All the above points were approved by a committee of seven leading rabbis and received the agreement and seal of approval from the highest international authority in Jewish law at the time, Grand Rabbi Shmuel Wosner.
Up to the present time the Lithuanian Government has shown extraordinary consideration and respect, regarding all matters concerning the Snipiskes Cemetery, and other Jewish cemeteries and mass graves throughout Lithuania.
For reasons unknown to us the Lithuanian Government has not yet started renovating the Sports Palace and are yet to decide what to do with it. Therefore, as long as this situation continues, despite the cemetery being protected, it is not fully safeguarded. Nevertheless, we are in constant dialogue with representatives of the Lithuanian Government to find a resolution regarding how best to utilize the adjacent area in a manner that is sensitive to the site’s sanctity and surroundings.
We wish to state clearly, that any intervention by outside parties could only delay, postpone and disturb the safeguarding of this holy site.
As long as the oversight of this matter is in the very experienced and capable hands of the CPJCE, with its exceptional and widely respected rabbinic leadership, all can definitely rest assured that everything is fully compliant with Jewish law (halacha) and tradition.