Cemeteries: Lo Tishkach Works to List All European Jewish Cemeteries & Laws That Affect Them
By Samuel D. Gruber
ISJM, January 4, 2009
The Lo Tishkach (Hebrew: 'do not forget') Foundation European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative was founded in 2006 as a joint project of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) and the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. The Foundation's goal is to guarantee the effective and lasting preservation and protection of Jewish cemeteries and mass graves throughout the European continent.
This is hardly the first such effort, but it may be the best organized to date, though according to Executive Director Philip Carmel, the Foundation works on a tight budget, and is dependent on a small staff and the efforts of many volunteers. One of the biggest challenges since 2006 has been to gain the trust of and forge partnerships with the many local regional and countrywide organizations that have already invested heavily in time, labor and funds in the documentation of Jewish cemeteries and in some cases, organizing their protection and preservation. Carmel notes that this is not a competitive effort but a cooperative one. The number of Jewish cemeteries in Europe remains unknown, but with 8,593 already listed in Lo Tishkach's database, it seems certain that more than 10,000 sites will eventually be identified. Just listing the cemeteries and trying to gain some little information about them is a difficult job, and keeping track of even a part of these is an almost impossible task. There is room for everyone's participation.
I should know, since I've probably been as involved in this work over the past twenty years as anyone. Through my work with the World Monuments Fund, and then as Research Director of the US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, I've helped organize countrywide inventories and site surveys of Jewish cemeteries in a dozen countries. Many other efforts have been made over the years from St. Petersburg and Jerusalem, as well as from many Jewish Museums and Jewish communities. I'm delighted that there will now be a central place where this information and more up-to-date reports can be processed, stored and made public. More importantly, since Lo Tishkach is affiliated with the Conference of European Rabbis, there is hope for establishing some consistent standards for documentation and conservation. Now, efforts are often haphazard, and so-called conservation and preservation measures are often destructive rather than protective.
Still, whether Lo Tishkach will become an umbrella organization or part of a network remains to be seen. I think if the project can stay funded and active for a few more years, it will earn its position and the respect and appreciation of other organization,s institutions and the hundreds of Jewish communities across Europe. ISJM has agreed to make its files and lists of cemeteries available to Lo Tishkach for use.
Based in Brussels, Lo Tishkach received its official royal decree formally establishing the organization as a Foundation of Public Utility under Belgian law (no. 899.211.180) in June 2008.
The foundation has set itself two important start-up goals. First, is the creation of a comprehensive publicly-accessible database featuring up to date information on all Jewish burial grounds in Europe. This work obviously builds on previous inventories compiled by the Commission and its partners, and by local Jewish communities and monuments authorities. It is doubtful that any country has a complete list of all Jewish cemeteries, since over time, especially in Western Europe, most pre-modern cemeteries have been lost to memory. In Central and Eastern Europe and in the Balkans the destruction of the Holocaust and the policies of Communism have wiped out traces of hundreds of cemeteries, and added to these are the (often unknown) sites of mass graves.
The second goal is the compilation of a compendium of the different national and international laws and practices affecting these sites, to be used as a starting point to advocate for the better protection and preservation of Europe's Jewish heritage. This is a policy begun by the Commission in the early 1990s (see the reports I edited with Phyllis Myers on Poland and the Czech Republic). But laws change, and in many countries there are many different types of laws that affect burial sites. These include cultural heritage laws, land use laws, religious practice laws, human rights policies, etc.
Lo Tishkach is systematically attempting to identify all laws in effect for each country and to post these. Gradually, they are being analysis to see their affect upon cemetery protection and preservation. In many cases laws need to be changed - but governments many government have been loathe to do so. Some of these laws are already posted on the Lo Tishkach website. Some reports are not yet posted, but are available from the Foundation. Legislation has currently been obtained for some 15 of the 48 countries in the remit of the project (see the Compendium of Legislation for more details).
According to the Lo Tishkach website: "A third aim of the project is to engage young Europeans in this process, bringing Europe's history alive, giving a valuable insight into Jewish culture and mobilising young people of all faiths to care for our common heritage. Groups trained by Lo Tishkach will visit Jewish burial sites across Europe, beginning in Poland and Ukraine, gathering vital information on Jewish life and culture in each area and submitting cemetery condition reports that will be used as the basis for actions to preserve and protect these important sites."
The Lo Tishkach European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative founding partners are: The Conference of European Rabbis federates Jewish religious leaders in over 40 European countries and includes all the continent's chief rabbis and senior rabbinical judges. The CER holds consultancy status as an international non-governmental organisation at the Council of Europe and within the institutions of the European Union.
The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany works to secure compensation and restitution for survivors of the Holocaust and heirs of victims. Since 1951, the Claims Conference – working in partnership with the State of Israel – has negotiated for and distributed payments from Germany, Austria, other governments, and certain industry; recovered unclaimed German Jewish property; and funded programs to assist the neediest Jewish victims of Nazism.
European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS)
Foundation for Jewish Cemeteries in Hungary (MAZSIT)
Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODZ)
Jewish Community of Cyprus
Jewish Community of Warsaw
International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS)
Rabbinic Commission for Cemeteries (Poland)
The Foundation is looking for assistance with the collection of any legislation which does not currently feature in the Compendium, and particularly for those countries for which legislation has not been found. As a guide, appropriate legislation may include that dealing with the protection of monuments, burial sites or war graves.
The Foundation aims to collate all appropriate legislation in both English and the original language, we would also greatly appreciate any voluntary assistance with translation from anyone fluent in an Eastern or Central European language and English.
For further information please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone +32 (0) 2 649 11 08.
Cemetery Condition Reports
The foundation also invites volunteers to use the website to fill out forms about visited cemeteries. If you have recently visited a Jewish cemetery anywhere in Europe, or plan to make a visit in the future you can send a Cemetery Update. This inclusive practice is adapted from the policy of the Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, but with the intent of greater scrutiny for consistency and accuracy. If you are interested in volunteering as a Cemetery Condition Officer and submitting reports for a number of cemeteries in your area, please contact email@example.com or telephone +32 (0) 2 649 11 08.
World Monuments Fund Announces Jewish Heritage Grants
ISJM, September 16, 2008
The New York-based World Monuments Fund has announced four grants totaling $235,000 to European Jewish preservation projects as part of its Jewish Heritage Grant Program. Funds will be allocated to on-going projects at three historic synagogues and for conservation planning for the former Volozhin Yeshiva Building in Belarus.
The projects include the important 17th-century synagogue in Zamosc, Poland, that in recent decades served as a municipal library, but is now restituted to the Jewish Community of Warsaw which is overseeing a needed conservation and repair program; the Jugenstil synagogue of Subotica, Serbia, which has been a focus of WMF concern for more than a decade; and the 1903 Choral Synagogue of Vilnius, Lithuania, the only surviving intact synagogue in the city, and now the focal point of it religious life.
ISJM will report more about these projects in the future.
September 7th set for European Day of Jewish Culture
This year's European Day of Jewish Culture has been set for September 7, 2008. The day is a celebration of Jewish heritage sites and culture across Europe and is now observed in 30 countries. Developed following a program in Alsace that arranged for dozens of usually inaccessible synagogues, former synagogues and cemeteries to be open to the public, the Day of Jewish Culture now includes almost every conceivable type of cultural event including lectures, concerts, tours, and seminars. But access to Jewish sties for a wide (and mostly local public) and instruction about them remains at the heart of the celebration.
This year, the theme is "Testimonies", chosen to highlight the cultural "imprint" left by the Jews wherever they have lived in Europe. Thus, the Cultural Day unites those places which retain active Jewish communities and those Jewish spaces without Jews.
Participating countries include Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and United Kingdom. In past years throughout Europe as many as 1,000 volunteers joined to organize and coordinate events.
The official program for the day is posted as it is developed, at www.jewisheritage.org Each country arranges its day differently. For some, it is the only time that certain places are open. Elsewhere, the Day is used to draw attention to otherwise little-known sites that are now accessible year-round.
Since 2004, the event has being co-organized by B'nai B'rith Europe, the European Council of Jewish Communities and Red de Juderías de España.
For more information: www.jewisheritage.org; details of the events online from June 2007 onwards.