Jewish Heritage Report
Vol. I, Nos. 3-4 / Winter 1997-98
Lithuanian President Orders Investigation
Lithuanian President Orders Investigation into Desecration of Jewish Monuments
Algirdas Brazauskas, president of Lithuania, ordered police to investigate the desecration of a Jewish monument in the capital of Vilnius (Vilna). It was the second such act of vandalism in a month. Authorities discovered on August 6, 1997, that a monument marking the site of Vilnius' oldest Jewish cemetery had been covered with graffiti and painted with swastikas. The cemetery was founded in the early 16th century and was destroyed by the Soviet authorities in 1950. The desecrated monument bears an inscription indicating that the 18th-century spiritual leader of Lithuanian Jewry, Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Shlomo Zalman, also known as the Vilna Gaon, was buried in the cemetery. In a statement, Brazauskas called the desecration a "shameful act undermining the prestige of our state." He called for better care of the Jewish cultural heritage in Lithuania.
In July, 1997, a memorial stone marking the site of the Vilnius ghetto was removed by vandals. Also in July, vandals destroyed a just-built monument marking the site from which the last inmates of the Vilna Ghetto were deported to death camps in 1943. About 100,000 Jews were killed in the ghetto. Lithuania's Jewish community now numbers about 5,000 out of the country's total population of 3.7 million.
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