A Jewish Cemetery

Whenever the media publishes an article about the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, its usually the work of disaffected skinhead youths. With nothing better to do, these angry kids take out their frustration with the current state of affairs on the memorial space of Jews. Whether in New Jersey, Germany or Brooklyn, the vandalism of graveyards is a tried-and-true way to be unimaginatively antisemitic, and get a little sensationalist attention from the papers. I usually think little of it.
The situation of a destroyed Jewish cemetery in the Ã…Snipiskes neighborhood of Vilnius, Lithuania is remarkably different. Without any remaining tombstones, the cemetery is a vivid reminder to the city’s Jews that their contributions to Vilnius mean little to Lithuanians born after the war. Consequently, the stretch of open land with Jewish bones beneath is the sight of planned King Mindaugas apartments, a new housing development for upwardly mobile Lithuanians intent on redrawing their city to look, above all things, modern and free. Situated close to the commercial, modern center for the capital – its slick construction will obscure forever the memory of our Jerusalem of Lithuania, and set the relationship between a post-Soviet Lithuania and its proud Jewish diaspora even further apart.
Unlike Poland or Germany, Jewish tourism in Lithuania is less lucrative and less attractive to its citizens, as it would force certain elites in the society to acknowledge that their country is at its heart a patchwork of cultures – Lithuanian, Jewish, Tatar, Roma, Russian, German and Polish among others. To places like the Czech Republic or Germany, the European cosmopolitan idea is strong, and despite a rise in right-wing violence, they have poured enormous funds into welcoming Jewish tourists back to a world they lost. For Lithuanians, sacrificing a money-making housing development to erect a plaque to a destroyed cemetery invites the question for Jewschool readers: Why should a Jewish cemetery be preserved in a city that welcomes relatively few Jewish tourists, which has already marked other Jewish sites with memorial plaques and which above all things, needs a housing boom in its capital to boost an economic resurgence that could eventually benefit the Jewish community living there?

One thought on “A Jewish Cemetery

  1. Good question.
    I was in Lithuania about 18 months ago and went to a tiny village to find out something or anything about a friends family who had lived there. Not speaking the language we had great difficulty communicating with the locals who looked like they had never encountered tourists before, and probably hadn’t.
    Eventually we managed to find someone who spoke limited english – the local english teacher, who drove us to just outside of the town, in the middle of nowhere really, to an overgrown Jewish cemetery where the majority of tombstones were illegible.
    It was amazing really to be standing in that cemetery, near a town where jews had not lived for decades and have this english teacher who had some vague idea about its location drive us there.
    We left the town not with any new information on my friends family history but the english teacher was now interested in preserving the jewish cemetery and was formulating how to include it as a project for her school.
    I’m not sure what happened after we left, if she ever went back there, but it was a surreal experience, and theres the hope that it will be preserved and that more people will be able to visit it.
    just thought i’d share

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