Vilnius resident discovers electric substation he thinks was built of Jewish tombstones

Giedrius Sakalauskas, a resident of Vilnius, was taking a walk with his son on Sunday when he made a disturbing discovery. An electric substation on Olandų Street that seemed to be built out of Jewish tombstones.
Transformatorinė, kuri, kaip įtariama, sumūryta iš žydų antkapių
Transformatorinė, kuri, kaip įtariama, sumūryta iš žydų antkapių
© Asmeninio archyvo nuotr.

"On Sunday, I wanted to take my younger son to the Military Technology Museum, but it was closed. So we turned back and were walking down a street when that electric substation caught my eye. I started wondering: how can they construct a substation out of granite stones?" he recounts.

"Since I am interested in the history of Vilnius, I know that there used to be a big Jewish cemetery in the vicinity that was demolished in 1961-1963. Could they have used tombstones from the cemetery for construction? I came closer. I inspected the structure and realized that the stones had polished surfaces. It means that they were probably tombstones. In two spots, the cement had crumbled and I could see fragments of lettering."

He says he was appalled by the discovery, believing that tombstones must be put in a cemetery, not used as construction material.

"I wonder who gave the orders to demolish the cemetery. I guess the same authority gave the permission to use the tombstones. [...] There was a supporting wall across the street from the substation. I am sure that it was constructed from the same tombstones. Only the stones were cut into smaller pieces," Giedrius says.

Vilnius City Municipality has refused to comment, promising to give a statement on the matter later on.

Representatives of the Lithuanian Jewish Community have also said they could not comment. Alanas Levinas, a member of the community, told DELFI he needed more information.

"I cannot comment. I do not have enough information, just the notification that such a thing has been spotted. We need to go there and take a look. We will have to do it today," he has said.

He adds that there have been many cases during the Soviet rule when remains of desecrated Jewish cemeteries were used for construction.

"It has happened a lot in, for example, Panevevėžys," Levinas says.

Update: City authorities pledge to relocate tombstones

Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius said on Monday an electric substation built from Jewish tombstones is "unacceptable in a civilized city".

"The first thing is to decide what to do with the substation, who is to rebuild it. The other thing we need to resolve is how to use the remains of those tombstones respectfully. In this case, we plan to consult the Jewish community, and we'll find a proper solution. I don’t think it should be a major project but a simple and respectful way. I do believe we will find one," Šimašius said in a video released by Vilnius Municipality.

His public relations adviser Aleksandras Zubriakovas told BNS the substation in question has two owners, municipal enterprise Vilniaus Šilumos Tinklai (Vilnius Heating Network) and power distribution company LESTO.

The fact that Jewish tombstones were used for the substation's construction has been confirmed by specialists from the municipal City Development Department, Zubriakovas said. It was built in around 1960 on the site of former Jewish cemetery.

Two other similar cases are also being investigated, Zubriakovas said.

Šimašius also said there might more similar cases to be dealt with in the future. "We are just dealing with the Soviet past," he said.

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