Built upon Headstones

  • 2015-09-03

Located on Olandų Street in Vilnius there is, by all appearances, a perfectly ordinary substation. Forgettable and unmemorable.  But this substation, built in the 1960s and still in use today, uncovered a dark secret of the city’s past – the use of Jewish tombstones as building materials. Earlier this year, Giedrius Sakalauskas also thought there was something strange about the structure and took a closer look. What he discovered was bone-chilling. Bits of Hebrew Torah and script led him to believe that the stones came from a graveyard across the road, destroyed during the Soviet occupation, and used to construct this substation. After posting photographs of the stones on social media, archaeologists went to examine the structure and confirmed his suspicions. Now, Vilnius officials have launched investigations to find if other buildings and structures were constructed using Jewish tombstones as well.

So far, officials have found the steps of the Reformed Evangelical Church on Pylimo Street in Vilnius and a wall of a city high school to be of particular interest in the investigation. There have been motions to remove these headstones and replace them with regular granite. Of the eleven buildings known to have been built with Jewish tombstones, about six have been dismantled so far.

Signs have now gone up at these locations, informing all who pass of the history within:
This building is an example of Soviet barbarism. It was built using ravaged Jewish gravestones, taken from the old Jewish cemetery on Olandų Street, destroyed in 1965-1968. This building will be taken down in the nearest future and the headstones will be moved to a graveyard memorial being established on Olandų Street.
More than 90% of the city’s Jewish population were killed during World War II.

“Hitler is the one who wanted to destroy Jews physically; Stalin came, and he wanted to destroy the whole memory of the Jewish people,” says Simonas Gurevicius, director of the Lithuanian Jewish Community. “I don’t know if there is a better way to destroy the Jewish cemetery than for building places like this,” he continued.

Photos by Linas Jegelevicius

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