Ariella Woitchik addresses conference on protection of Jewish cemeteries

EJC Director of European Affairs Ariella Woitchik addressed an online conference on the protection of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe.

The conference was organised by the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative (ESJF), in cooperation with Centropa, and the Foundation for Jewish Heritage.

The conference presented findings of the pilot project “Protecting the Jewish cemeteries of Europe”, funded by the European Commission, and including a series of actions, such as educational activities, a Catalogue of Best Practices for Jewish Cemetery Preservation, an innovative cemetery search tool and 3D models of burial sites.

As part of this project, a consortium led by the ESJF was tasked between 2019 and 2021  with mapping and surveying 1,700 Jewish burial sites across Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

In her remarks, Ms. Woitchik congratulated this initiative, emphasising its importance, not only for Jewish communities, but for European society: “The important message that needs to be conveyed to future generations is that we must learn from the last physical witness of a Jewish presence contained in every town and village where Jewish communities were decimated in the Shoah.”

“This is the material heritage of our Jewish communities, but it is also the material heritage of all European citizens, one that so often Jewish communities alone have been unable to preserve for the simple reason that there are no longer Jews in these towns and villages,” she stated, “In fact, there is no greater rejection of Holocaust minimisation and denial than the physical proof that once there were Jews in thousands of towns and villages in these areas and today there are none.

Stressing the importance of continuing this crucial work, Ms. Woitchik added: “We have learned today of 3,000 cemeteries. There are more to save and to record, more towns and cities and local authorities to be engaged, more teachers and students to be taught.”

“It is our hope and the hope of all our communities that this is just the beginning, that the lessons learnt from this project can lead to the comprehensive presence and collection of data from the remaining 3,000 sites not yet surveyed,” she concluded.

Alongside Ms. Woitchik, the conference was addressed by European Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life Margaritis Schinas, Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs Dr. Nachman Shai, MEP Charles Goerens, , European Commission Co-ordinator on Combating Antisemitism Katharina von Schnurbein, and ESJF CEO Philip Carmel, among others.

“Jewish life has been, is, and will continue to be an essential part of what Europe stands for,” said Vice-President Schinas. Discussing the European Commission’s upcoming strategy on combatting antisemitism, he added. “We want an ambitious and operational framework that addresses the issue comprehensively.”

For his part, Dr. Nachman Shai thanked the ESJF for “turning these spaces not only into historical landmarks but educational tools for schools, universities, and communities both local and global.”

In his remarks, MEP Charles Goerens addressed the plight of Jewish communities that are no longer able to finance the protection of cemeteries: “[They]should not be forgotten and we should build bridges from the past to the future.”

Katharina von Schnurbein highlighed the importance of projects such as these as a source of information in this era of online disinformation and antisemitic conspiracy theories: “This work has been a battle against ignorance, a battle against antisemitism, a battle for restoring historical truth, for putting forgotten Jewish communities back on the map.”

The results of the extensive surveys conducted by the ESJF are available to the public here.

Watch again the conference :

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