The Jewish cemetery in Buchach, Ukraine after being restored, 2018..
(photo credit: COURTESY OF ESJF)
The European Union awarded the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative (ESJF) a grant of 800,000 Euros to map and survey at least 1,500 Jewish cemeteries in Eastern European countries whose communities were decimated in the Holocaust.
The project, which will map and survey cemeteries in Greece, Moldova, Slovakia, Lithuania and Ukraine, is schedule to begin working in January.
Engineering drones will survey and photograph the sites from the air. Afterwards, an in-depth historical research will scan centuries-old records across many countries and languages.
After many cases of deliberate destruction of the cemeteries by the Nazis, Soviets and other elements hostile to the Jewish people, the project has become somewhat of an urgent case, giving way to the EU funding.
"The virtual annihilation of the Jewish population in many countries has meant that abandoned and neglected cemeteries are often the only testimony of a Jewish presence," said Michel Magnier, Director of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Education and Culture. "Preserving — and wherever possible restoring and maintaining — the spiritual identity and significance of those burial sites is part of our common resposibility towards Europe's history and cultural heritage."
“Today, there are many different threats to these cemeteries due to deterioration, vandalism and antisemitism," said Rabbi Isaac Schapira, Founder and Chairman of the ESJF Board. "But also where they are threatened for financial reasons and expanding local city planning ordinances."
"This is perhaps the last chance to find and protect the graves of our Jewish ancestors and Jewish patrimony in parts of Europe without an existing Jewish presence,” Schapira added.
"Today, more than 20 Jewish cemeteries around Greece need restoration in order to be saved and preserved as the remnants of maybe the oldest Jewish community in Europe dating back to the 3rd BC century," said David Saltiel, President of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece.
The ESJF has been working on Jewish cemetery restoration for quite some time now. In November, they restored a 400-year-old cemetery in Ukraine
. The cemetery contained approximately 2,000 gravestones dating back to the 1590s. After being badly neglected and overgrown, the cemetery was restored and had a wall and fence built around it for protection. The project, like many others of the ESJF, was funded by the German government.Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.
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