The Jewish cemetery in Buchach, Ukraine after being restored, 2018..
(photo credit: COURTESY OF ESJF)
A historic Jewish cemetery in Buchach, Ukraine, home of Shmuel Yosef (“Shai”) Agnon and Simon Weisenthal, has recently been restored and walled-off by the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative (ESJF).
The cemetery in the western Ternopil region of the country, contains some 2,000 gravestones dating back as early as the 1590s, but has been badly neglected and overgrown, like many Jewish cemeteries in eastern and central Europe since the decimation of European Jewish communities in the Holocaust.
The ESJF not only restored the cemetery, which covers some three hectares of land, but also established a wall and iron-fence barrier, over one kilometer in length around the site at a total cost of 80,000 euros.
The project, which was finished some ten days ago, was financed by the German government, and Chairman of the ESJF Board Rabbi Isaac Schapira.
Buchach boasts several Jewish luminaries who grew up in the town and went on to excel, such as Agnon who was born there in 1887 and spent his childhood there.
Agnon often referred to Buchach in his writings, and went on to become a Nobel Literature laureate.
Emanuel Ringelblum, a prominent Jewish historian and a chronicler of the Warsaw ghetto, was born in Buchach in 1900, as was renowned Nazi hunter Wiesenthal, who was born in Buchach in 1908, while both of Sigmund Freud’s parents also came from the town.
ESJF CEO Philip Carmel said that “negligence, neglect and antisemitism” towards such cemeteries is leading to their disappearance and that restoration and walling them will help preserve them.
“While also sending an important message to the Jewish people, these projects inform the local populations that there were significant Jewish communities in these areas and hopefully helps create a sustainable link to a Jewish past across Europe,” he said.
Chairman of the ESJF Board Rabbi Isaac Schapira said that preserving the Buchach cemetery and others is vital in preserving Jewish heritage in Europe, especially in places where there is no longer a Jewish community.
“Preserving this history creates a vital link to our past which in turn makes us more aware of the present and shapes our future,” Schapira said.
“For us as Jews, these weren’t figures that lived centuries ago but lives who touch us daily, so we owe our ancestors this mark of respect by ensuring their final resting places are restored and preserved.”
Jews in Buchach are mentioned in documents dating all the way back to 1500. The community grew notably during the 18th century and in the 19th century, a small Hasidic court was established in Buchach, led by the town’s rabbi, Avraham David Worman, a disciple of Moshe Leib of Sassov.
The ESJF was founded in 2015 and has fenced and walled Jewish cemeteries in seven central and eastern European countries, notably in towns and villages where Jewish communities were wiped out in the Holocaust
There are still thousands of sites who remain neglected with no Jewish communities to maintain them.
The fencing project at Buchach is the 107th such completed project by the ESJF, which expects to complete at least a dozen more sites by the end of 2018.
ESJF also recently finished the restoration and fencing of a Jewish cemetery in nearby Zbarazh. The group is based in Germany and receives most of its annual funding from the state.Schapira has personally donated money to the restoration projects for the restoration of both cemeteries.