VILNIUS - President Valdas Adamkus has expressed outrage over the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Vilnius last weekend. "I am sorry that there are people in Lithuania who dare to vandalize the memory of the dead and hurt their relatives," Adamkus said in a statement issued June 27.
In the president's words, such actions trample on common human values. "The whole civilized world condemns any contempt for a person and the person's memory," Adamkus said.
Nineteen monuments were torn down or smashed at a Jewish cemetery in Vilnius last weekend, and the flowers lying on several other graves were trampled.
Valentinas Kotovas from the Vilnius police commissioner's office told Lithuanian National Radio that a cemetery watch guard spotted overturned monuments on June 25 and called the police.
Simonas Alperavicius, chairman of Lithuania's Jewish community, has emphasized the importance of finding and punishing the vandals.
Taking into account that the incident occurred over the long midsummer weekend, with a work holiday on Monday, the act could be nothing more than mindless vandalism. But Alperavicius believes there were other motivations, since June 23 is the anniversary of the Lithuanian uprising in Kaunas in 1941.
On June 23, 1941, a Lithuanian provincial government tried to assert power as the Soviets fled the invading Nazi troops, having spent a year committing many atrocities in the Baltics. Amid the chaos, Lithuanian groups also helped the Nazis murder Jews, the most infamous example being the Kaunas Garage massacre.
According to Alperavicius, it was this date that the vandals could have been "commemorating" by smashing the Jewish gravestones.
One of the gravestones destroyed was that of Chatzkel Lemchen (1904-2001), a famous Jewish Lithuanian scholar and lexicographer.
According to the Vilna Gaon Jewish State Museum Web site, Lemchen had lived through the Russian revolution, two world wars, a communist regime and the transition of Lithuania from Soviet rule to an independent state.
Most of his family perished in the Holocaust. Lemchen and his wife Ella survived the Kaunas ghetto and the concentration camps and returned to Lithuania after the war.
The scholar's role in science has been described as a bridge among Russian, Lithuanian and Yiddish languages and cultures. In 1994, the 90-year-old was honored with the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas Order.
A pretrial investigation has been launched into the act, but no suspects have yet been found. Damages to the cemetery will be assessed as part of the probe.