2019.12.19 17:30

Jewish organisations greenlight reconstruction of Vilnius congress hall built on cemetery 2019.12.19 17:30

A state-owned company and Jewish organisations have reached an agreement on reconstructing a congress venue built on a former Jewish cemetery.

Turto Bankas, the manager of state property, the Lithuanian Jewish Community and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE) signed a protocol on the redevelopment project for the Palace of Concerts and Sports in central Vilnius.

The project will ensure respectful treatment of the cemetery site while adapting the Soviet-built facility for modern use, Turto Bankas, the state property management enterprise, said in a press release.

The 1970s venue was built on top of the Old Jewish Cemetery of Šnipiškės, but has been disused since 2004. The building has been listed as architectural heritage and the state purchased it four years ago. Plans to convert the building into a modern conference centre have stalled due to its sensitive location.

“We are happy to have been able to agree on this issue, which is of great relevance for both our state and the Lithuanian Jewish Community. This gives us the green light to immediately reconstruct the congress centre while ensuring due respect for the memory of the old Šnipiškės cemetery,” First Deputy Chancellor of the Government Deividas Matulionis is quoted in the press release.

CPJCE executive director Rabbi Abraham Ginsberg, who attended the signing ceremony, said that the project was instrumental in stopping further construction on the cemetery site.

“If the tombstones are not preserved, the memory of the Jews buried there must be dignified. The Old Cemetery of Šnipiškės should become part of the city,” said the Lithuanian Jewish Community chairwoman Faina Kukliansky. “Preservation must conform to the Judaist canon. I have no doubt that we will achieve it.”

The Jewish organisations agreed with essential solutions in the reconstruction project, architectural plans, structures, communications, land and work organisation plans. CPJCE representatives will be involved during the implementation of the project.

Turto Bankas plans to pick a general contractor for the reconstruction works next year and then hire a manager to run the venue. The Vilnius Congress Centre will open in late 2022 or early 2023, according to the press release.