Lithuanian mayor dismantles building made from Jewish headstones


The municipality of Vilnius in Lithuania began dismantling a Soviet-era structure made from Jewish headstones.

On Wednesday, Mayor Remigijus Šimašius removed the first stone from the structure housing an electricity and heating generator on Olandų Street, his office said in a statement.

The generator was built by the Soviet authorities of Lithuania between 1965 and 1968, when it was part of the Soviet Union. The headstones had been removed from a Jewish cemetery.

 

“After 26 years as an independent country it is now the time to remove these stones, which are a clear mark of disrespect to our Jewish community,” Šimašius said. “The stones will be removed from the generator and moved to a memorial, which will be built on Olandų Street with the cooperation of Vilnius’ Jewish community.”

The Vilnius municipality also confirmed that the smaller fragments of the gravestones will be reburied in the cemetery. The headstones are to be moved to a memorial made from marble stones that is to be finished this fall.

Last year, Šimašius met with Faina Kulansky, the head of the city’s Jewish community, and Cultural Heritage director Diana Varnaite to discuss dismantling structures built from Jewish gravestones in Vilnius during the Soviet period as a mark of respect to the city’s Jewish history.

The municipality is also consulting with the owner of the generator, energy supplier Vilniaus Energija, in order to find a solution on how to replace it.

The building is expected to be fully dismantled by August.

Last year, Lithuania’s then-chief rabbi urged the country’s Evangelical Reformed Church to remove Jewish headstones being used as stairs to a Vilnius church.

Rabbi Chaim Burshtein’s call concerned a 30-foot-long staircase made out of Jewish headstones that leads to the main entrance of the church’s largest building in the Lithuanian capital, on Pylimo Street. The headstones also were installed when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union.

“We regret the deplorable state and destruction of the last remnants of the memory of Lithuanian Jewry,” Burshtein told JTA.

Lithuania, he added, “has many places built out of Jewish headstones. I think the authorities and the Jewish community need to perform thorough research and correct at least this historic wrong.”

More than 100 headstones toppled at Philadelphia Jewish cemetery


A historic Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia was vandalized, with 124 of its headstones knocked over.

The caretaker of Adath Jeshurun Cemetery discovered the toppled tombstones Thursday morning, NBC Philadelphia reported.

Johnny Gibson, who has worked at the 12-acre, 160-year-old cemetery for 44 years, said the vandals did not leave any markings or graffiti.

There are only a few new burials annually at the cemetery, which is in the northeastern neighborhood of Frankford and has not been vandalized in decades, according to Gibson.

“I don’t know who would do it,” he told NBC Philadelphia. “Were the people on drugs? Were they drunk? I don’t know. But you wouldn’t be in your right mind, I don’t think, to do something like this.”

 

 

Warsaw to restore 1,000 Jewish tombstones used for construction


The City of Warsaw has agreed to return and preserve 1,000 Jewish headstones that were used to construct a recreational facility inside one of the city’s parks.

The headstones, which are currently part of a pergola and stairs at a park in Warsaw’s Praga district, will be returned in the coming months to the Brudo Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw, according to a statement Friday by From the Depths, the international commemoration nonprofit that led talks on the subject with city officials.

The city allocated a budget of $180,000 for the project, according to Jonny Daniels, From the Depths’ U.K.-born, Israel-based founder.

The pergola at Praga district is one of countless sites scattered across Poland in which Jewish tombstones were used as construction material, according to Daniels, whose group earlier this year brought dozens of Israeli lawmakers to a meeting with counterparts from Poland and other countries, and a visit to the Auschwitz death camp on the 69th anniversary of its liberation.

“In the 1950s, the communists were in full swing of building structures and monuments out of matzevas, which they often broke into pieces,” Daniels said, using the Hebrew word for a Jewish tombstone.

From the Depths’ involvement in the subject is part of the organization’s Matzeva Project, which aims to restore an estimated one million gravestones hidden in buildings and urban spaces. The Jewish Historical Institute and the chief rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, are official partners of the project.

An effort to locate headstones will begin this month with help from volunteers from the University of Warsaw.

“Since we’ve started being interested in the question of matzevas used as a building material, there was a noticeable influx of information,” Daniels said, adding that his group is receiving calls and emails on a daily basis with information about tombstone and fragments that were used to make roads, walls, knife sharpeners and even toilets.