A mass grave of Jewish Holocaust victims is under threat as private construction, deemed to be illegal, has begun on the site.

The news was reported by JTA this week from the witness account of Ruta Vanagaite, a well-known author who has written extensively on the Holocaust.

Ruta visited the site earlier this month and took the picture above, which shows heavy machinery being used on the site just yards away from a Holocaust memorial was erected. However, it is believed the remains of Jews who were murdered are located all over the area.

According to Lithuania’s own laws, this type of activity is illegal and the state is able to confiscate land from private owners if it is found to be on a site such as this, with the landowner being compensated by the government.

Ruta has had an interest in this area of land for a number of years discovering in 2017 that it was privately owned. She alerted the Ministry of Culture, which is responsible for maintaining mass graves and Holocaust sites. The ministry said it would block the sale and take over the land.

However, the land was later sold, and then resold, and is now the scene of extensive earthworks, Vanagaite said she discovered during a tour of the place this month with Israel’s ambassador to Lithuania, Yossi Levy.

“There’s no way of actually knowing where the bodies are buried,” Vanagaite told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “What’s certain is that 1,159 bodies could not have fit where they built the small monument. So there are likely human remains spread out over that land.”

She also saw a pit she believes may have been used for burning bodies to destroy the evidence. If true, then it raises serious concerns and requires swift action from Lithuanian authorities who have so far been silent on the issue.

It is important that the memory of the Holocaust is not forgotten. We believe sites like this should be protected and that memorials should stand to teach future generations of the atrocities committed against the Jewish people and as a reminder that we must all stand up to hatred and discrimination wherever it rears its head. Erasing the past means we will not learn from it.

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