• January 24, 2022
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Dariusz Lewicki: digitization of the historical cemeteries of Vilnius below criticism

In the second half of last year, great news spread around Vilnius – the local government of the Lithuanian capital finalized the first stage of digitization of data from Vilnius cemeteries. These works cost 161 thousand euro.


On the interactive map  https://zemelapiai.vplanas.lt/kapines/  you can familiarize yourself with the boundaries of cemeteries, their sectors, and rows, you can find the graves by name and surname, and in detailed photos, you can see how to find the sought-after burial place. Similar systems have long been popular in Western Europe. Donatas Gudelis, head of the analysis and modeling department of the local government company “Vilniaus planas,” once stated that by using the Vilnius municipal cemetery register, the burial places of relatives or famous people can be found quickly without leaving home, which is very convenient.


I started checking the entries with great interest, and in a short time, I regretted to say that the work was done negligently. Therefore, I will not bow to the creators of the Internet register of Vilnius necropolises. The method of filling in the record cards is far from the accepted and generally used rules for the inventory of cemeteries and tombstones. All grave inscriptions and signatures should be given in their original form. In the worst case, the Lithuanian equivalents should be used while giving the original subtitles in parentheses. It seems to me that the creation of these lists has been entrusted to unskilled workers who lack literacy.


Let us use the examples of tombstones located in the cemetery of St. Peter and Paul in Antakalnis in a small sector No. 5, with 150 burial spaces. The tombstones with linguistic errors or inaccuracies related to the inventory have been marked in red on the map. I found 47 of them, which equals 31.3%. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.


The first thing I noticed was the lack of competence in execution of documentary photography. Some photos are taken very badly, i.e., not using equipment that provides adequate exposure in various lighting conditions and allows you to capture details. Consequently, there occurs inaccuracy in reading the inscriptions on the tombstones. In most cases, no attempts were made in computer processing to make the lettering readable by using negative filters, by changing the temperature or white balance, etc. No other technique was used to read the inscriptions, e.g., matting the inscription field with chalk, pouring water over the inscription field, reading at different angles, shading, or illuminating the inscription with a flashlight.


A more serious problem arises in the hasty treatment of names and surnames.


It is important to note:


a) lack of knowledge of the Polish language (Kazimiera of Kleczkowscy Wojtasińska (on the tombstone) – Vojtasiuskas Marimiera (in the database), Andrzej Trzepacz – Andrej Tilspar, Józef Marciniani – Josef Marcinionienė, Bolesław Marcinianin – Boleslav Marciniaurine, Krystyna Natalja Pankominówna – Kristina Pankominova. Here lie the remains of Józef Czyż <…> and his wife Ewa Czyżowa – Czvza Jozefa (Čuž Josef), Czvzowe Ewy (Čuž Eva)

b) lack of knowledge of Lithuanian language (Pilžys Jadwiga (on the tombstone) – Pilžis Jadviga (in the database), Sawicki Edward – Sawickas Edvard, Fryderyk Nausner – Nausner Frideryk)

c) entry of another person (Antonina Zabelska (on the tombstone) – Zavelska Mičeslava (in the database), Kazimiera Baczulowa – Barul Kazimier, Kazimiera Wojtasińska – Vojtasiuskas Marimiera, Bolesław Marcinianin (masculine) – Mauciniaurine Boleslav, Józef Marciniani (masculine) – Marcinionienė Josef

d) lack of hard and soft consonants (Boratynski, Wojtasinska, Sidzinski, Malyszczycki, Doboszynski, Swirszczewski, Osinski, Slizewska, Walaugo, Wladyslaw, Boleslaw, Stanislaw) e) no ó vowel (Jozef, Piorko, Pankominowna)

e) no ó vowel (Jozef, Piorko, Pankominowna)

f) twisted surnames (Kowszuk (on the tombstone) – Povšuk (in the database), Trzepacz – Tilspar, Wojtasińska – Vojtasiuskas, Marciniani – Mauciniauriene, Marcinionienė, Zdanowicz – Ždanovič, Małyszczycki – Malencilskij, Bohdziun – Bordiuk, Stachowska – Stachovskoja, Klukowska – Kmokovska, Zabelska – Zavelska, Kielczewska – Kolčevska, Świrszczewski – Cvirščevskij, Parejanowicz – Fartijanovič, Doboszyński – Dobotinskij, Budlewska – Budlovska, Dutkiewicz – Butkevič, Bartoszewicz – Bartasevič, Baczul – Bagur, Wałaugo – Vamjugo, Bratkowska – Glatkovska)

g) suffix -skij, which can usually be found among some Russian last names, added to Polish surnames (Osiński (on the tombstone) – Osinskij (in the database), Świrszczewski – Cvirščevskij, Małyszczycki – Malencilskij, Sidziński – Sidinskij, Maciejewski – Macijevjskij , Kielczewski – Kelčevskij, Doboszyński – Dobotinskij, Rebkowski – Rabkovskij)

h) first names once spelled in the original (Anna, Jan, Adam, Leon) and second time spelled in Lithuanian (Elena, Kazimieras, Petronėlė) or Russianized (Petr, Andrej, Josef, Aleksandr, Gelena, Genrik, Baleslav, Kazimir)

i) the language in which the names are written is unknown (Telesrom, Telecvor)


I would recommend the authors of the online register of Vilnius necropolises to use the Manual for the inventory of Polish cemeteries and tombstones abroad, published by the POLONIKA Institute in 2020. Authors of the publication Prof. Dr. habil. Anna Sylwia Czyż and Dr. Bartłomiej Gutowski from Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University presented information about how the inventory of necropolises and tombstones works, how to measure and photograph graveyards and gravestones, how to read the inscription, and how to prepare documentation of such works. Last year, the textbook won the plebiscite “Historia Zebrana!” for the best history book in the category “Okiem badacza” and is available online  https://polonika.pl/upload/2021/03/cmentarza-light-17-03-www.pdf  In my opinion, with the permission of the authors, the publication should be translated into Lithuanian, so as not to make big mistakes in the future. However, the decision and attempt to establish cooperation depends on the creators of the project…


I dare to say that the further continuation of work with participation of illiterates will lead to enormous consequences for the consolidation and preservation of historical and national memory. As shown by the effects of the works carried out so far on the historic cemetery of St. Peter and Paul, digitization of historic necropolises in the presented form is impossible without the knowledge of the basic principles of tombstones inventory. The Vilnius city government should immediately hire specialists with good knowledge of languages, especially Polish, Russian and Lithuanian, who have experience in this type of work. In addition, it is necessary to control the implementation of entries in the extensive online database of Vilnius cemeteries.


To sum up, I would like to ask the only question: will the Polish community in Lithuania turn a blind eye and come to terms with mass errors, inaccuracies, and unjustified marginalization of the national minority, visible in the database of the Internet register of historic Vilnius cemeteries and tombstones? Probably the answer will be “NO” because we have the ZPL counting about 11 thousand members, a political party AWPL-ZCHR fighting for the Polishness, representatives of Poles in the Parliament of the Republic of Lithuania, deputy mayor of Vilnius, Ms. Edyta Tamošiūnaitė, and several famous Poles in the local government, the ad extremum opposition, incl. Minister of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania, Ms. Ewelina Dobrowolska, who successively fights for the act on the spelling of non-Lithuanian surnames in identity documents. Or maybe I’m wrong…


Dariusz Lewicki

 member of the Social Committee for the Care of Old Rasos

Translated by Marta Graban within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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