Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lithuania: The Radviliskis Jewish Cemetery Re-Discovered is an Example of Municipal Engagement and Initiative

Radviliskis, Lithuania. Jewish cemetery. New entrance gate, Photo: Samuel D. Gruber Oct 2015
 
Lithuania: Radviliskis Jewish Cemetery Re-Discovered is an Example of Municipal Engagement and Initiative
by Samuel D. Gruber
(ISJM) I recently wrote about the extensive work to renovate, restore and memorialize the cemetery and mass grave sites in Šeduva, Lithuania.  As an example of the ripple effect of such work, one only has to travel a few kilometers up the road to the district capital of Radviliskis to see how that town's cemetery has now received attention from the municipality. 

The Radviliskis cemetery is a good example of how the land of Lithuanian Jewish cemeteries has often been privatized, but over the last two years the municipality has made an effort to reclaim much of the cemetery and to protect and restore it. Because access to the cemetery had previously been difficult, its existence and condition was hardly mentioned on previous surveys. 

Radviliskis, Lithuania. Inside Jewish cemetery looking towards new gate. Private orchard can be seen on left. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber Oct 2015

We were shown the cemetery at Radviliskis by Sergey Kanovich of MACEVA and the Šeduva Jewish Memorial Fund and by Vytautus Simelis, head of the department of heritage of the Radiliskis District Municipality.

The cemetery is enclosed by a continuous wall; there is no mistaking the location. But this property was privatized in the early 1990s and a single owner lay claim to the entire parcel – and behind the wall no one could see what took place.  A house is built at one end of the site and a small orchard is behind it.  Much of the rest of the cemetery plot was probably farmed – or at least used for gardening.  No stones are seen on much of the plot, and most likely stones were removed over the years to facilitate plowing and planting.

 
Radviliskis, Lithuania. Sign inside Jewish cemetery. New entrance gate, Photo: Samuel D. Gruber Oct 2015
  
 
Radviliskis, Lithuania. Jewish cemetery. Several dozen gravestones survive at the far end of cemetery. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber Oct 2015

Now, in the past few years the municipality has managed to reclaim much of the area – about three quarters of the walled enclosure. This includes all the land except the house, its yard and orchard.  The original entrance was close to the house, but this could not always be accessed, so a new opening and a new attractive gate have been made in the wall facing the major road.  There is also a sign inside the cemetery stating that it is the “old Jewish cemetery (Senosios Zydu Kapines).” A simple high wire fence now separates the municipally controlled and cleaned cemetery from the part of the cemetery still claimed by the private owner. Perhaps in time, this part, too, might be reclaimed and joined to the rest, and the fence can come down. According to Sergey Kanovich, the recent clean-up and restoration "is an obvious result of the Šeduva Jewish cemetery which falls under authority of Radviliskis municipality.
Radviliskis, Lithuania. Jewish cemetery. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber Oct 2015
Radviliskis, Lithuania. Jewish cemetery. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber Oct 2015

Meanwhile, the  municipality has been cleaning the cemetery which will allow the documentation of  the surviving gravestones, most of which are preserved, not surprisingly, at the edge of the cemetery furthest from the house.There appear to about 3-4 dozen intact and erect gravestones. There is also a substantial ruined brick tomb amidst the other stones.

MACEVA has agreed with local gymnasium (high school) that all stones will be photographed next summer. Then MACEVA will follow is established procedure for transcriptions and translations of all legible stones, and these will be made available on the organization's
website.


 The situation at Radviliskis is not perfect. A significant portion of the remains privately controlled and proportionately managed. Still, the improvement of the situation is great and shows that increasingly there is a willingness of Lithuania municipal official to take action to protect Jewish cemeteries - but hits often has to be stimulated by outside attention, and sometimes subtle pressure.

No comments: