Remove Jewish headstones from church stairs, says chief Lithuanian rabbi

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) – Lithuania’s chief rabbi urged the country’s Evangelical Reformed Church to remove Jewish headstones being used as stairs to a Vilnius Christian place 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 featured in an expose published in 2013 on the website, run by Dovid Katz, a Yiddish scholar and member of the Jewish Community of Lithuania.

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

“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 o the event, which drew many far-right demonstrators. Also present was a delegation of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which this year monitored far-right events in all three Baltic states.