Ukraine: Town to stop paving with Jewish graves

Hundreds of the old Jewish tombstones are still used as materials for construction projects in Lviv, Ukraine.

Jews digging graves 311 (photo credit: German Federal Archive)
Jews digging graves 311
(photo credit: German Federal Archive)
KRAKOW – The municipality of Lviv, Ukraine, recently announced its decision to stop using Jewish headstones as paving materials.
The announcement follows a protest by members of the town’s Jewish community, who claim that hundreds of the old tombstones are still used as materials for construction projects.
In the years following World War II, the Soviet Red Army used the tombstones to build the town’s roads, sidewalks and the central Krakivsky Market, as well as for rebuilding structures that had been destroyed in the fighting.
The market was built on the site of a Jewish cemetery that had been devastated during the German occupation.
Authorities in Lviv have promised Jewish community leaders that the gravestones will be transferred to the only local cemetery that was not destroyed during the war, the town’s two main synagogues having been destroyed in the Nazi bombardment.
Some fragments of Jewish headstones were also found in villages outside of Lviv, and local residents said that they were waiting for the municipality or the Jewish community to return them to their original locations. Lviv authorities said that they will collect the headstones from around the city, if they can find the necessary financing.
For the past twenty-five years, Meilakh Sheikhet, 59 – the head of a social-religious non-governmental organization in Lviv and Ukraine’s representative on the Union of Councils for Jews in the former Soviet Union – has been the driving force behind the preservation of western Ukraine’s decaying Jewish cultural heritage.
Speaking to the Jewish news channel JN1 about the tombstones, Meilakh said, “You could see writing in Hebrew.
Every epitaph tells us the life story of the person it was written for. Every day, there is a desecration of cemeteries happening here. The market blasphemes everybody. Many people have approached us, and we have many letters supporting the request to remove this market.”
Meilakh received a $32,000 grant from the US government in 2010 for an archaeological investigation of the site of the Golden Rose synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Ukraine, which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1941. However, due to a legal dispute with a developer who wants to build a hotel on the site, the dig has not yet taken place.
In 2011, he uncovered 200 mass graves in Lviv and, thanks to large donations, was able to preserve more than 180 cemeteries and grave sites in Ukraine in recent years.