Chief rabbi: Remove headstones from Lithuanian church stairs
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Chief rabbi: Remove headstones from Lithuanian church stairs

Staircase made out of Jewish tombstones at entrance to Vilnius house of prayer was installed under Soviets

Inside the Evangelical Reformed Church in Vilnius, Lithuania. (screen capture: YouTube)
Inside the Evangelical Reformed Church in Vilnius, Lithuania. (screen capture: YouTube)

Lithuania’s chief rabbi urged the country’s Evangelical Reformed Church to remove Jewish headstones being used as stairs to a Vilnius Christian house of worship.

Rabbi Chaim Burshtein’s call on Facebook last month concerns 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. The headstones 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.”

The church on Pylimo Street was featured in an article published in 2013 on the website DefendingHistory.com, run by Dovid Katz, a Yiddish scholar and member of the Jewish Community of Lithuania.

Dovid Katz has become a target of scorn for speaking out against ultranationalist groups in Lithuania. (photo credit: Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)
Dovid Katz has become a target of scorn for speaking out against ultranationalist groups in Lithuania. (photo credit: Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

The building, which was confiscated by the government during communist rule, was returned to the church after Lithuania’s independence and, following renovations, reopened in 2007.

“These headstones need to be removed and preserved,” Katz told JTA Tuesday. “It is very painful that, in Lithuania, which likes to boast about its commitment to preserving the memory of its once great Jewish community, churchgoers literally walk over Jewish headstones on their way to pray.”

Separately, the Jewish community of Lithuania condemned the appearance of banner reading “Lithuania for Lithuanians” at a March 11 independence day march through Vilnius.

The Jewish community monitored the event, which drew many far-right demonstrators. Also present was a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which this year monitored far-right events in Lithuania and other Baltic states.

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