Lithuanian chief rabbi protests excavation of WWII mass grave
July 14, '15
(JTA) — The chief rabbi of Lithuania appealed to authorities to prevent the excavation of a mass grave of Holocaust victims in the country’s north.
Rabbi Chaim Burshtein issued the statement Tuesday about the mass grave discovered this week during road construction work in Siauliai, a city located 120 miles northwest of Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital.
“Please halt all disturbance and moving of these human remains,” wrote Burshtein in reference to the work, which he called “the humiliation of the excavation of the human remains of hundreds of people from the Holocaust-era mass-murder grave uncovered this week.”
Originally written in Russian, the statement was translated to English and reproduced by Dovid Katz, an American scholar of Yiddish who runs the defendinghistory.comwebsite on Jewish issues in Lithuania.
Though some human remains were unearthed during construction, a forensic excavation has not yet begun, though a local government commission gave its approval for one on Monday, the Delfi news agency reported.
“It’s been decided to excavate the remains, do anthropological tests and then rebury them and also mark this place,” archaeologist Audrone Sapaite, who is in charge of the investigation, told the BNS news agency. She said that the remains of 40 people were found at the burial site. In all, around 700 people shot dead by the Nazis were buried there. The reports by BNS and Delfi did not mention Jews.
According to halacha, or traditional Jewish law, Jewish burial sites are not to be disturbed unless there is danger to the dignity of the dead or other special reasons. Archeologists’ desire to conduct forensic tests on mass graves has prompted fierce opposition by rabbinical groups throughout Eastern Europe for this reason.
Before World War II, Siauliai was home to some 6,600 Jews, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. Many escaped to the Soviet Union but the Nazis and Lithuanian collaborators murdered hundreds of those who stayed in 1941 and in later mass killings. Some Jews from the city were conscripted to forced labor.
According to Sapaite, the bodies found in the mass grave belonged to “prisoners of various nationalities.”
Here's the actual statement --
Lithuania’s Chief Rabbi Pleads for Preservation of Holocaust-Era Mass Grave in Šiauliai
VILNIUS—Rabbi Chaim Burshtein, chief rabbi of Lithuania (and of Vilnius) today issued a heartfelt appeal to both national government authorities, and to the municipal leadership of Šiauliai (known in Jewish history as Shavl), to call an immediate halt to the excavation of hundreds of victims’ remains from a Holocaust-era mass grave site uncovered during a highway construction project.
The discovery was widely reported in the Lithuanian and regional media, including the English-language Lithuania Tribune (English Delfi.lt). Various Lithuanian media outlets have reveled in publishing photos of skulls, bones and other remains from the mass grave being dismantled, sometimes including shoes and clothing.
The BNS (Baltic News Service) report quotes the official responsible archaeologist, Audronė Šapaitė on the decision reached (apparently without consultation with Jewish religious authorities): “It’s been decided to excavate the remains, do anthropological tests and then rebury them and also mark this place.”
Rabbi Burshtein’s Vilnius office released the following statement this morning:
As the Chief Rabbi of Lithuania, and as a member of the Conference of European Rabbis, I address the esteemed governmental authorities of Lithuania, and the municipal authorities of Šiauliai and its region, concerning the ongoing humiliation of the dead.
I refer to the humiliation of the excavation of the human remains of hundreds of people from the Holocaust-era mass-murder grave uncovered this week. Please halt all disturbance and moving of these human remains.
In accordance with Halacha — Jewish Law — and indeed, common human values of all humankind, and the ethical standards of the European Union, the people murdered by the Nazis deserve to be left intact where they perished. The claim that the grave included non-Jewish people cannot in any way justify destruction of their grave.
I ask you to immediately halt the works underway to disturb and move the remains of these hundreds of victims of the Lithuanian Holocaust, and to preserve the grave precisely where it stands. Thank you.
Rabbi Chaim Burshtein
Chief Rabbi of Lithuania; Chief Rabbi of Vilnius