After years of discussions, agreement appears to have been reached to create a memorial park with an outdoor exhibition on the site of the destroyed Great Synagogue in Vilnius. Details are still being worked out, but no permanent new buildings will be erected, nor will the synagogue be rebuilt.
The Lithuanian Jewish Community posted on its web site an article by Roberta Tracevičiūtė, from 15min.lt quoting Rūta Matonienė, Senior Advisor to the municipal administration’s senior city architect, as saying that
It was agreed during the discussions [between the city and the Jewish community] that the site of Vilnius Great Synagogue and its complex would become a memorial square with an inclusive outdoor exposition about the Vilnius Great Synagogue and its complex, suitable for all ages, and that there would be no underground or overground buildings.
Any other structures, she said, such children’s playgrounds, sports grounds, and the like, would remain located on the other side of the street.
The Great Synagogue was built in the early 1600s in Renaissance-Baroque style. It became the center of Jewish life in Vilnius (Vilna), towering over the Shulhoyf, a teeming complex of alleyways and other Jewish community buildings and institutions including twelve synagogues, ritual baths, the community council, kosher meat stalls, the Strashun library, and other structures and institutions. It was ransacked and torched by the Nazis in World War II, and the postwar Soviet regime tore down the ruins and built a nursery school on the site.
There have been ongoing discussions for years on what to do with the site and how to commemorate the building.
Matonienė said the city’s decision now taken followed the guidelines recommended for commemorating the site set out in December 2019 by an international group of experts.
These guidelines advised against attempts to rebuild the synagogue, but rather to concentrate on conserving and exposing the foundations and other elements of the structure that still exist.
Rebuilding the synagogue, they said, “would convey a false message.” The group recognized the Lithuanian Jewish community as the “historical legal heir and owner of the site.”
The kindergarten built on the site in the Soviet era should be removed, they said, and while use of the site should be “non-commercial,” the site should form the hub of a broader Jewish heritage route through the city.
Archaeological excavations in the past several years have revealed the foundations of the Bimah and also two ritual baths.
The archaeology project began in 2011 with a preliminary excavation, followed by a Ground Penetrating Radar Survey in 2015 and full excavation seasons in 2016 and 2017. The project is partnered and sponsored by a variety of Lithuanian, Israeli, and American institutions.
According to the posted article, Matonienė said specific plans for the site should begin to be drawn up this spring, and demolition of the kindergarten, a process she said that could take “about two months,” was planned for early next year. She said:
There is a plan to launch a public tender in the near future and a designer is expected at the end of April. If demolition permits are obtained by the end of this year, demolition work on the nursery building could begin next February or March.
The article said that an international competition is planned for the park in 2020 or 2021. It noted that Vilnius mayor Remigijus Šimašius has said in the past that “the synagogue site will be commemorated in 2023 when Vilnius celebrates its 700th birthday.”