The only synagogue in Lithuania’s capital city Vilnius has shut indefinitely over concerns about the safety of the Jewish community.
The move follows what the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) called “rising tension and incitement” in the wake of the city council’s vote to rename a street that had been named in honour of a Hitler ally.
The chairwoman for the LJC, Faina Kukliansky, wrote there was a “continual, escalating publicly-expressed desire by one political party for recognizing perpetrators of the mass murder of the Jews of Lithuania as national heroes”, accusing the political party of setting factions against one another.
The Times of Israel reports nationalists were angry over the decision to change the name of a street named after Hitler ally Kazys Skirpa, as well as the removal of a plaque to Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika. Both men fought against the Soviets, and are revered as heroes by some in the country.
In a statement on the LJC’s website, Kukliansky cited “anti-Semitic comments and inscriptions” posted to political party social media pages, and questioned the safety of Jews in the community. She said the Choral Synagogue and the LJC centre would be shut indefinitely.
She adds that in the wake of “threatening calls and letters in recent days” neither the LJC or the synagogue have the means to ensure the safety of visitors, “including Holocaust survivors and their families”.
She called on the leaders of Lithuania to publicly respond to the rising tensions.
Lithuania’s president did respond to the debate over the changing of the street name, with a post on his website on 30 July: “The recent decisions of the Vilnius City Municipality have created a resonance in the society and once again demonstrated that historical memory should not be a matter for any city or municipality, but rather a national decision.
Before the Second World War and the Nazi persecution of Jews across Europe, Lithuania had a large Jewish population and many synagogues. Only around 2,000 Jews were counted in the country’s 2005 census.