MOSCOW (Aug. 10)
Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas has ordered police and security forces to investigate the desecration of a Jewish monument in the Baltic nation’s capital of Vilnius.
Last Friday, vandals scrawled swastikas and spray-painted graffiti on a monument marking the site of Vilnius’ oldest Jewish cemetery.
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.
Commemorations are planned for September to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of the Vilna Gaon, who was a renowned commentator on the Torah and Talmud.
After the desecration, leaders of several Lithuanian ultranationalist groups believed to be connected to the act received official warnings from the Lithuanian Security Service.
But leaders of Lithuania’s Jewish community doubt that those responsible for the vandalism will ever be found.
Last month, another Jewish monument in Vilnius was desecrated.
In that incident, 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.
On the eve of World War II, Lithuania had about a quarter of a million Jews, making it one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe.
Ninety percent of Lithuania’s Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
Lithuania’s Jewish community now numbers about 5,000 out of a total population of 3.7 million.
According to Ilya Lempertas, a Jewish community activist in Vilnius, vandals have targeted several non-Jewish monuments during the past two years.
Police have been unable to arrest the perpetrators in any of the cases.