Lithuanian Jewish community closes synagogue over threats

Jewish leaders in Lithuania announced that they were temporarily closing the Vilnius Synagogue and the community’s headquarters due to threats, citing an “atmosphere of rising tension”.

The move comes amid a highly-charged public debate over commemorations to Lithuanian wartime officials, who the Lithuanian Jewish Community (LJC) – the country’s EJC affiliate – claims were involved in the Holocaust.

In recent days authorities have acted to remove a plaque to one of the men and rename a street named after another — sparking a backlash which the LJC says has been stoked by some politicians who have called for protests.

“The Lithuanian Jewish Community has received threatening telephone calls and letters in recent days,” the community said in a statement on their website.

“In this atmosphere of rising tension and incitement to more tension, neither the LJC nor the synagogue in Vilnius have the means to insure the safety of visitors, including Holocaust survivors and their families.”

The LJC also asked authorities for additional protection of a Jewish cemetery, located 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the capital Vilnius.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis urged the security services “to take immediate action to prevent possible elements of ethnic hatred and, if necessary, use other means provided by law.”

Before World War II, the 60,000-strong Jewish community accounted for around one-third of Vilnius’s residents, but most of them perished under Nazi Germany’s 1941-1944 occupation.

Lithuania’s tiny Jewish community now numbers around 3,000 people out of a total population of 2.9 million.

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