Jewish Heritage Europe

Lithuania: Cemetery work in Kaunas and Vilnius

Kaunas Jewish Cemetery, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber
Kaunas Jewish Cemetery, 2006. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Restoration work is beginning at the Old Jewish Cemetery in Zaliakalnis in Kaunas, Lithuania, the online news site delfi.lt reports.

As we reported in August, the Municipality of Kaunas signed a cooperation agreement with Maceva, an NGO devoted to documenting and maintaining Jewish cemeteries in Lithuania,  regarding the care, maintenance and restoration of the cemetery. Opened in 1861 and closed in 1952, the cemetery is on the Lithuanian Heritage Registry and is a state-protected site, but it has been long neglected and also subject to vandalism.

Delfi reports that a task force has been set up to coordinate the project, whose first step will be making an inventory of the graves.

[I]t includes the city’s leaders and the municipality’s specialists, with consultations planned with representatives of Jewish (Litvak) communities of Lithuania, the Jewish Community of Kaunas, the Department of Cultural Heritage, Maceva and other organizations. 

 

The Delfi article includes an extensive photo documentation of the cemetery.

Monument in Vilnius built of recovered gravestones that had been used in construction. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber
Monument in Vilnius built of recovered gravestones that had been used in construction. Photo © Ruth Ellen Gruber

Meanwhile, the Lithuanian Jewish Community web site reports that restoration work carried out by the Vilnius municipality has been going on at the old Užupis Jewish cemetery on Olandų street, in Vilnius.

“Alleys and paths are gradually emerging from the brush and parts of the cemetery wall and fragments of headstones are becoming visible again,” it reports in an item reposted from the Vilnius Municipality public relations department. “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.”

The post states that the Works and Transportation Department of the Vilnius municipality has already cleared 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.”

As many as 70,000 Vilnius Jews were buried in what was a huge, hillside cemetery. When it was destroyed in the 1960s, gravestones were removed and used as building material. Among the sites constructed with the stones was a grand staircase — 380 steps leading up to the huge headquarters of the state trade union. The stairway was dismantled and the stones returned to the Jewish community in the 1990s, and some were used to create a monument at the site. (see picture above)

Read the full post on the Lithuanian Jewish community web site

 

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