Jewish Heritage Report
Vol. I, No. 2 / Summer 1997
News from US Commission for Preservation

NEWS FROM THE US COMMISSION FOR THE PRESERVATION OF AMERICA’S HERITAGE ABROAD

Pope Urges Care of Jewish Cemeteries in Poland
While speaking at Kalisz, Poland, on June 4, 1997, Pope John Paul II made an urgent plea for Poles and Jews to work together to protect Jewish cemeteries. The unexpected remarks appear to be the first time the Polish-born Pope has addressed this sensitive topic.

In the context of longer remarks, the Pope said "…My thought and heart embraces all the brothers and sisters who met the same fate in the death camps throughout Poland and outside its borders. These are horrifying places of torment, where millions of human beings have perished. Among them were many Jews who suffered terrible sacrifice – annihilation. The human past does not pass totally. Polish-Jewish history is still present both in Polish and in Jewish life. The people who lived with us for many generations stayed with us after the terrible death of their sons and daughters. The Jewish cemeteries, which are so numerous on Polish soil, speak of this common past. Such a cemetery is here in Kalisz. These places are of particularly deep spiritual, eschatological and historical significance. Let these places join Poles and Jews, as we are together awaiting the day of Judgment and Resurrection…"

The stage for these remarks, which may have a profound impact on the future of Jewish cemeteries in Poland, and elsewhere, had been set many weeks before, when US Commission Chairman Michael Lewan and Rabbi Moshe Sherer, president of Agudath Israel, met with New York’s Cardinal O’Connor and other Catholic church leaders. Presumably the Cardinal forwarded their concerns to the Pope prior to his visit in Poland. The Commission has been involved for many years in discussions concerning the fate of the Kalisz cemetery, part of which is now used as a school playground.

Ukraine Survey Yields Results
The following information is adapted from a longer report by Commissioner Irving Stolberg

The first formal meeting of the United States of America-Ukraine Joint Cultural Heritage Commission was held in Kiev, Ukraine, May 5, 1997. The Joint Commission was established under the provision of Section 6 of the Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of Ukraine on the Protection and Preservation of Cultural Heritage signed in Washington, DC on March 4, 1994. Several preparatory meetings preceded the formal convening of the Commission.

Among the issues discussed, it was agreed that it would be helpful to have comprehensive lists of cultural assets affecting both sides. Lists of churches, synagogues, cemeteries, works of art, literature, archives and other cultural treasures should be developed. To this end, the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad has been working with the Jewish Heritage Preservation Committee of Ukraine, which is based in Kiev, to develop lists of Jewish cemeteries, mass grave sites and synagogues in Ukraine.

Preservation of Jewish cemeteries was a major theme of the meeting. Prevention of desecration or construction on cemetery sites is an issue that requires cooperation from both sides. It is important that the national government in Ukraine take steps to protect Jewish cemeteries, and indeed, all cemeteries. This respect for the dead and the recognition of the sacred character of consecrated Jewish burial grounds, is paramount in Orthodox Judaism, but is also adhered to by all people. The depredation of many Jewish cemeteries by communist authorities during the 1920s and 30s, followed by the special ravages of Nazism on the Jewish population of Ukraine, makes it difficult for the remaining Jewish communities to adequately protect the cemeteries. It is vital, therefore, that a systematic approach to protecting cemeteries have the force of law and be enforced.

LVIV. There is consensus that the market in Lviv, which is now on the site of a large Jewish cemetery, be moved to another location and that the Jewish cemetery be planted, fenced and maintained. Discussions are being held to assist the city of Lviv in re-locating the market. Non-governmental funds, from Jewish communities outside Ukraine could then contribute to the rehabilitation and maintenance of the cemetery.

BERDICHEV. After a period of uncertainty, the boundaries of the Jewish cemetery in Berdichev can now be delineated. The extensive cemetery is bounded on the west by the major highway leading north from the city; on the north by a road; and on the south by the railroad right of way. It is primarily on the eastern side of the cemetery where numerous garages have been built, desecrating the cemetery. While construction work on the garages is ostensibly frozen, more work still goes on without permission. Bones continue to be regularly unearthed. The cemetery urgently needs to be demarcated and fenced. Construction material and unfinished garages should be removed. Then over time the functioning garages could be relocated one by one and the cemetery returned to its appropriate state.

ZHITOMIR. In Zhitomir, the left half of the cemetery is well maintained, but the right half is a disaster. There has been construction. A huge rusting framework for an industrial building dominates the site. Gravestones have been scattered about.

A systematic approach to protecting Jewish cemeteries must be taken. If not, we will face repeated situations such as the destruction of Lviv or the partial destruction of Berdichev. Mr. Federuk, of the Ukrainian Commission on Restitution of Cultural Treasures, indicated that the state could partially support some efforts where the grave sites are deemed cultural monuments. To date, about half of the 2,000 estimated Jewish cemeteries in Ukraine have been identified.

Accessing Survey Results
The US Commission disseminates its cultural heritage survey data in a variety of formats. Survey reports have been published for Poland and the Czech Republic. More detailed data on the condition of the several thousand sites surveyed to date are available on line from the Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (see related story.)

To obtain copies of the Commission’s Annual Report or publications, write: US Commission for Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, 1101 15th St., NW, suite 1040, Washington, DC 20005. fax (202) 254-3934.

Slovak Cemeteries Receive Attention
HUMENNE
Humenne is located in the eastern part of Slovakia, north of Kosice and Michalovce. The town’s population is about 38,000 with fewer than 20 Jews out of a pre-War population of 2300. The cemetery, used by the Orthodox, is located outside the city on Zidovska Hora (Jewish Hill). Situated directly off a public road, and partly surrounded by a wire fence with a locked gate, entrance is arranged with the caretaker who has a key and maintains the site. Approximately 900 gravestones are preserved in the cemetery, which is said to date to the 15th century. Many stones are tilted, sunk-in the ground or deliberately toppled by vandals. The stones are of marble, granite and limestone, with inscriptions in Hebrew, Slovak and German. The older part of the cemetery is barely accessible due to neglect but recently former residents of the city, now living in the US and led by Bert Gross, have begun maintenance work. The erection of a more secure fence is being planned.

In March of 1997, Commissioner Irving Stolberg visited Humenne and was impressed by the work being done. Mr. Julius Levicky, for many years the town’s Cultural Affairs director, oversaw the fencing and restoration. A new stone for Mr. Gross’ mother had just been completed and was soon due to be placed.

The major difficulty in Humenne is the difference of opinion between the American donors to the cemetery restoration and representatives of the Slovak Jewish community over the disposition of proceeds from the sale of the former synagogue in Humenne to the National Bank for approximately $60,000. The Americans feel that most of the proceeds should be used to maintain the cemetery. The Slovak Jewish Community, represented by Mr. Fero Alexander, has committed to expending up to $15,000 of the money for this purpose.

Starting in 1997, the care of the cemetery and synagogues has been delegated to a new committee ("SOS") in Banska Bestir, under the direction of Juraj Turcan. Because the committee has been entrusted with the care of all the cemeteries and synagogues in Slovakia in addition to considerable responsibilities for the surviving Jews, especially the Holocaust survivors, committee members advocate a greater pooling of funds raised from the sale of specific properties. Commissioner Stolberg speculates that the SOS was founded to deflect some of the differences in priorities between the Central Union and overseas Jews with origins in Slovakia.

SUCANY CEMETERY CLEARED
Thanks to the hard work of ISJM member Nadia Grosser Nagarajan of San Jose, CA, the Jewish cemetery in the small western Slovakian village of Sucany (10 km from Martin) is now clean and free of the thick underbrush which covered the site and covered the fallen gravestones. When she first visited the site in 1993, Ms. Nagarajan found a tidy town of a few thousand people, a well-maintained Christian cemetery but a woefully neglected Jewish cemetery enclosed by a broken fence. The last burial had taken place in 1963.

Jews settled in the town in the 1850s, and though there were 249 Jews registered in the city in 1898 (and 1,704 Christians), no Jews live there now. The Jewish cemetery is part of what is known as the "House of Sorrows," an area of cemeteries located about 2 km from the town square – the site, a church, a few buildings with government offices, and a few shops. The Jewish cemetery sits next to the Christian burial ground – hidden from view by a dense thicket of tall trees.

The small town expressed willingness to care for the cemetery – partly out of conscience and partly out of embarrassment -- but cited a lack of funds as a cause of the neglect. An effort began to clear the area, eventually revealing several hundred marble and limestone gravestones with inscriptions in Hebrew and German.

ISJM thanks Paul Klein of Cleveland Heights, Ohio for his contribution of 13 rolls of black and white photos of Slovak Jewish cemeteries to the ISJM photo archives.

AJGS Cemetery Project Online
by Arline Sachs

One the fastest growing areas of research in the field of Jewish monuments is the documentation and study of Jewish cemeteries. This is spearheaded by genealogists in search of the graves of ancestors, and for the information which gravestone inscriptions sometimes provide. While the pursuit of ancestors is often oblivious to larger historical questions, and the documentation of cemeteries often neglects recording important art historical information, increasingly a degree of comprehensive systematization is being adopted. Recording of sites, even by amateurs, is more thorough, and the questions asked of the information are broader and more open ended. Still, much needs to be done, and ISJM hopes to work with genealogists to introduce them to new methodologies and larger issues of demographic, geographic, economic and social history upon which genealogical research can shed light. Similarly, ISJM encourages visitors to cemeteries to record gravestone art and cemetery conditions. We have asked Arline Sachs, director of the AJGS Cemetery Project to report on her work in collating cemetery data. The next Jewish Heritage Report will include a report on art historians’ cemetery efforts. – the editor

Jewish cemeteries are disappearing around the world. Even in areas where Nazis did not destroy Jewish property, cemeteries are neglected as descendants move and old burial grounds are forgotten. This is a world-wide phenomenon.

In the summer of 1993, a few representatives of various Jewish genealogical societies met during their annual Summer Seminar in Toronto. The consensus was that something should be done about gathering as much data as possible about the various cemeteries before they disappear. A project under the auspices of the Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (AJGS) was begun and I was chosen as the project director.

No one imagined that it would grow to the extent that it did. The initial idea was to have three phases: 1) to identify all cemeteries that contained Jewish burials; 2) to retrieve all the names of those buried in as many cemeteries as possible; and 3) to provide a direct access to names. After only four years, the project has identified over 22,000 cemeteries/cemetery sections and landsmanshaften for phase I.

Initially it was thought that the collecting of data would be done by the various genealogy societies, since they were the most interested in this material, but there are many more interested people that have no direct involvement with the societies. A major source of information came through JewishGen -- an electronic bulletin board read mostly by people in the United States. As JewishGen grew, the site was then switched to a website.

Now, all information from the first phase is on the web at: http://www.jewishgen.org/cemetery. If one were to try to print this data – from over 100 countries -- it would take over 3,000 pages. More than 50 persons daily search out this information and many have sent messages updating, correcting or adding new data.

Most of the information from the over 3,000 cemeteries in Eastern Europe has come from the US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, which has created an excellent questionnaire.

For the second phase, over 330,000 names of burials have been gathered, but this is only the beginning. For security reasons this information gathered from about 700 cemeteries is not be available on the web. Among the more interesting contributions received was one from Peter Simonstein Cullman of Toronto, Canada. His cousin, as former head of the Chevra Kadisha of Schneidemuehl (now Pila) in Poland, immigrated to Santiago, Chile in 1938 taking with him a handwritten booklet containing over 500 names, complete with Hebrew death dates pertaining to the second Jewish cemetery of Schhneidemuehl. Cullman, after much further research and correction, enhanced the original list and was able to add the data to the cemetery project. His data may be the only record of the Jewish cemetery of Schneidemuehl as it destroyed by the Germans in 1940.

Several large contributions include over 37,000 names from Johannesburg, South Africa, 34,000 from the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts, and 48,000 burials from Montefiore Cemetery in Philadelphia. To handle the last phase, a web form is being developed that will be allow users to obtain any information on requested names. In the future, AJGS may produce a CD that will have all the information.

In order to continue this project input from people around the world is vital. The data is coordinated and organized by the author, who depends on people all around the world to supply the data in a computerized format. Check the information at the web address listed above for your local cemeteries and areas to which you may be traveling. If you know anything about a Jewish cemetery that is not listed, please contribute that information to the project. If you go to a place that is listed on the web, please check that all the data listed is still relevant. Please notify the project if anything has changed. To help with submitting information, there is a copy of the US Commission form for Eastern Europe at: http://www.jewishgen.org/cemetery/uscomfor.htm and a similar form for the rest of the world at: http://www.jewishgen.org/cemetery/cemform.htm.
Click here to go to the US Commission's home page.
Arline Sachs is a member of the board of directors of AJGS.

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Updated: 25-Jul-98