Serbia — Concern at conditions at historic Nis Jewish cemetery

 

The Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia has issued a protest at what it called the “catastrophic” condition of the historic Jewish cemetery in Nis and called on the authorities to take actions.

It said that on a recent inspection visitors found “destroyed and broken monuments, scattered bones, human waste and garbage.” It said that the cemetery was at the mercy of private entrepreneurs who have destroyed one-third of the site by building factories, restaurants and warehouses, while another third of the area is inhabited by Roma families who have built a makeshift village over the graves.

Long abandoned and partially built over and destroyed, the cemetery, which dates back to the 17th century and in 2007 was listed as a national cultural monument, was cleaned up in 2004 in an effort that involved the JDC, Serbian soldiers, and the local Roma community.

Pictures taken Dec. 22 showed much of the area cleared of undergrowth and the grave markers visible.

 

But Jasna Ciric, the president of the Jewish community in Nis, called the situation today  “a horror” and said that in some ways was worse than it was in 2004.  “Grave monuments have been smashed with hammers,” she said.

Vandalized tomb in Nis Jewish cemetery, Dec. 22, 2011. Photo courtesy of Jasna Ciric

She said that on a previous inspection of the cemetery in September, things had been fine and it had been cleaned up.

Now, she said, a telephone line,  sewage drains and water pipes have been introduced in the midst of the cemetery.

“All the established safeguards of the Jewish cemetery in Nis, which under the Law on Cultural Property, have remained only on paper and without respect for the Jewish cemetery or the Jews who are buried there,” she said. “Our cemetery is systematically destroyed, all of our long-time efforts and the money invested toward saving  this cemetery are in vain, the city authorities do not understand this issue.”

Read more on Jewish-Heritage-Travel blog

Read (in Serbian) protest statement from Federation of Jewish Communities.

Houses built on cemetery. Photo courtesy Jasna Ciric

 

Construction encroaching on cemetery. Photo courtesy Jasna Ciric

  The Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia has issued a protest at what it called the “catastrophic” condition of the historic Jewish cemetery in Nis and called on the authorities to take actions. It said that on a recent … Continue reading

Croatia — Old Jewish grave markers discovered during archeological work in Dubrovnik

 

During recent archeological work at the imposing Pile Gates of Dubrovnik, researchers discovered old Jewish gravestones and fragments used to line a drainage canal.

Photo: Željko Tutnjević, Dubrovacki Vjesnik: http://www.dubrovacki.hr/

The report in Dubrovacki Vjesnik did not indicate any dates — either for the stones and fragments themselves, or for when the drainage canal was constructed. A  number of fragments of Jewish gravestones have been found used as building material in the Dubrovnik town walls.

  During recent archeological work at the imposing Pile Gates of Dubrovnik, researchers discovered old Jewish gravestones and fragments used to line a drainage canal. The report in Dubrovacki Vjesnik did not indicate any dates — either for the stones … Continue reading

Ireland — Art installation in Cork pays tribute to dwindling Jewish presence

 

Only a small handful of Jews live in Cork, Ireland, but there is an old Jewish neighborhood still known as “Jew town.” This Hanukkah, New Zealand artist Maddie Leach created an art installation to recall the former Jewish presence.

As reported by Brian O’Connell in the Irish Times, Jew town

refers to lanes of small red brick houses near Albert Road, on the south side of Cork city, where upwards of 60 Jewish families settled during the 19th century. Of these only three or so remain, and the Jewish community in Cork is now struggling to hold on to and maintain its property and religious buildings.

 

Leach’s installation is entitled Evening Echo, and involves a system of nine lamps placed in Shalom Park. They will be lit in sequence on the last night of Hanukkah — and according to the article, it is envisaged that the event will take place annually for the coming 50 years!

Read full Irish Times article

  Only a small handful of Jews live in Cork, Ireland, but there is an old Jewish neighborhood still known as “Jew town.” This Hanukkah, New Zealand artist Maddie Leach created an art installation to recall the former Jewish presence. … Continue reading

Netherlands: Restoration of Amsterdam’s Portuguese Synagogue completed; Queen attends ceremony

 

Two years of restoration work on Amsterdam’s historic Portuguese synagogue — or “Esnoga” — have been completed, and Queen Beatrix attended the festive celebration Dec. 20 marking the completion of work and presentation of the newly accessible treasure rooms. The red-brick synagogue, with its distinctive arched windows and magnificent interior, dates from 1675 and is sometimes called the “pearl of Amsterdam”.

From the synagogue’s web site:

In January 2010 the current restoration project began. This restoration was necessary because the annexes were in very poor condition and had never previously been restored from the foundations. The aim of the restoration and provision of access was to maintain the Synagogue’s authenticity. The restoration is taking place under the supervision of the architecture firm Rappange & Partners. The restoration is being conducted by the contractor Konst & van Polen.

Renovation of and rearrangement to ensure easy access to the Portuguese Synagogue is a wonderful and unique addition to the city’s cultural features. It will reinforce the cultural and economic infrastructure and make the city and region more attractive for residents and visitors. This heritage is unique, in that it remains a lively building with an equally vibrant community that uses it to this day.

The Esnoga is a pearl for Amsterdam and the Netherlands. In use for centuries, it is now literally opening its doors to the general public. Visitors will be able to view the art treasures, which are maintained according to museum preservation standards, in their natural context. The functional areas will also be made visible and accessible to visitors, who will thus feel like guests in the community. Visiting this historic complex is like taking a stroll through the past and present of a community that has been celebrating its religion and culture for three centuries within these walls.

 

For details of the restoration work see:

  • The Esnoga and annexes 

    In January 2010 the current restoration project began. After the restauration this cultural and religious heritage will become accessible to a large and broad public.

  • Treasure chambers 

    Special climate-controlled spaces will accommodate the valuables of the Portuguese Synagogue. In the future, the concealed treasures will be on public display here.

  Two years of restoration work on Amsterdam’s historic Portuguese synagogue — or “Esnoga” — have been completed, and Queen Beatrix attended the festive celebration Dec. 20 marking the completion of work and presentation of the newly accessible treasure rooms. … Continue reading

Poland: Debates over planned demolition of historic Jewish communal building in Warsaw

Debates  have been going on in Warsaw over the Jewish community’s planned demolition of the Jewish community building  at Twarda 6, one of the few 19th century buildings to survive in that part of the city, to make way for a modern tower office/hotel complex.

Ha’aretz reports on the story:

The old office block in question is situated in the heart of the city. Plans are in place to demolish the historical building, and replace it with a tower that would include residential and office spaces, as well as a hotel for ultra-Orthodox Jews – a project that is expected to attract significant revenues.

Heads of the community maintain that the building, which underwent certain changes in the 1990s, has practically lost its historical value, and – equally as important, they say – it no longer fulfills the needs of its institutions. [. . .] Those who oppose the demolition are trying to get the building heritage listed, which would prevent any changes being made to it.

 

Read more

The Virtual Shtetl web site cites an article by Tomasz Urzykowski,  published Dec. 19 in Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper:

This historical building may be rescued only by entering it into the monuments’ register. Half a year ago, the provincial monuments’ restorer launched the relevant procedure but, upon the request of the Jewish Community, it was suspended so that the Community could collect all required documents. The proceedings are to be resumed at the beginning of the next year. The Community desires to preserve selected parts of the White Building and use them in the future investment. It plans to build an office building the design of which will fit in with the changing space in the close vicinity of the Community. The unique and most valuable elements of the building will remain. The architects who are famous for their desire to commemorate Jewish residents of the capital city, Hanna Szmalenberg (co-author of the Umschlagplatz monument), Tomasz Lec (the creator of the installation dealing with the footbridge over Chlodna St.) and the monuments’ overseer in the capital city Joanna Jaszunska, who opened a Facebook account for the White Building, do not want the White Building to be pulled down. All of these individuals have issued a declaration against the dismantling works, listing arguments in favor of the preservation of the building.

 

The building is one of the few in the district that survived World War II and the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto. Since the early 1990s, it has housed local Jewish organization offices and facilities. In 1994, during renovation works, a cache of documents was found shedding light on Jewish life in the WW2 Ghetto.

JTA reported at the time:

The collection of letters, notebooks, photographs, and other material was discovered during renovation work on a building that now houses the Warsaw offices of the Ronald Lauder Foundation, which runs a number of Jewish educational programs throughout Poland.

Prior to World War II and the forced ghettoization of Warsaw’s Jews, the building served as a Jewish medical clinic.

The retrieved documents were personal papers and memorabilia of the residents of two apartments that were in the building, the four-member Melchior family and a 20-year-old bachelor, Moses Dov Bursztyn.

Debates  have been going on in Warsaw over the Jewish community’s planned demolition of the Jewish community building  at Twarda 6, one of the few 19th century buildings to survive in that part of the city, to make way for … Continue reading

Poland — Jewish cemetery art installation

Students have created an “ice cemetery” in the northern Polish town of Olsztyn to recall the former Jewish presence.

According to an article in the local newspaper,  pupils of the Erich Mendelsohn Plastic Arts Senior High School and students from Eichstätt in Germany cur ice blocks in the form of matzevot, or Jewish gravetones. It took them a dozen or so hours to engrave the ice sculptures. The duration of the installation will depend on weather conditions. Last Friday, volunteers mounted lamps which stretched from the old town, where the architect Erich Mendelsohn was born, to the Jewish cemetery. In the pre-burial house on Zyndrama z Maszkowic a luminous David Star has been displayed.

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza Olsztyn daily, Tomasz Kurs, Lodowy cmentarz przypomina o historii Żydów (December 12th, 2011) as quoted on Virtual Shtetl

Students have created an “ice cemetery” in the northern Polish town of Olsztyn to recall the former Jewish presence. According to an article in the local newspaper,  pupils of the Erich Mendelsohn Plastic Arts Senior High School and students from … Continue reading

Germany — Berlin’s Jewish Cemeteries

 

Moment Magazine runs a lengthy interview with Britta Wauer, the director of  In Heaven, Underground — a documentary film exploring the 131-year history of Berlin’s Weisensee Jewish cemetery that has been garnering enthusiastic reviews.

Most Berliners have heard of Weissensee, but never went there, though there were always people who were interested and went there. There’s a German term for this kind of Jewish cemetery—they call it an orphan cemetery, because all the relatives [of those buried there] were murdered or had to leave Germany. There’s no one really to take care of it. In the 1950s, the German government decided that they were responsible for Jewish cemeteries because they killed the people in charge, or forced them to flee. There are also private citizens who want to help, who go to the registry and say, ‘I really want to do something. What can I do?’ The people at the registry might say, ‘These are graves of families who committed suicide, so there’s really no one who can take care of the graves. If you want to, you’re welcome to.’ They choose one or two graves and say, ‘I’m the one who goes there now because there’s no one left to do this job.’ So for every birthday or date of death there’s someone coming, sometimes with flowers, or to put stones on it. They feel responsible for it. We, the Germans, are responsible. But there are also governmental intitiatives to take care of the mausoleums, because they say, ‘That’s something that belongs to our culture, and we have to preserve it.’

Read the full article HERE

Watch the trailer for the film!

 

  Moment Magazine runs a lengthy interview with Britta Wauer, the director of  In Heaven, Underground — a documentary film exploring the 131-year history of Berlin’s Weisensee Jewish cemetery that has been garnering enthusiastic reviews. Most Berliners have heard of … Continue reading

Lithuania — Jewish gravestone fragments used as building materials for a school

In Vilnius, the  hillside Užupis cemetery, the final resting place of some 70,000 people, was demolished under  Soviet rule in the 1960s and basically used as a quarry for building material….Many of the gravestones were used to construct a stairway leading up to the city’s trade union headquarters. These stones were removed in the 1990s and returned to the Jewish community;  some of them were used to construct the monument dedicated in 2004 that now marks the site of the cemetery.

Uzupis cemetery monument. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

 

Monument at Uzupis cemetery site. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Dovid Katz and Richard Schofield have documented  how Jewish gravestones from the  destroyed Jewish cemetery of Užupis were used in the construction of a middle school built in the 1970s. Schofield has provided a detailed photo documentation of the stones.

The school grounds’ outside walls comprised of the pilfered Jewish gravestones have nothing to do with the structure of the school’s building and removing the stones and finding a culturally respectful home for them would not touch the school building with so much as a hair.

Moreover, the walls made from the stones extend well beyond the school’s grounds to surrounding parts of Lazdynai, where a large supply of Jewish gravestones were brought from the cemetery site after the city’s Soviet-era administration destroyed the cemetery.

 

Read the article and see the pictures HERE

Samuel Gruber has written a thoughtful piece about this on his blog.

In Vilnius, the  hillside Užupis cemetery, the final resting place of some 70,000 people, was demolished under  Soviet rule in the 1960s and basically used as a quarry for building material….Many of the gravestones were used to construct a stairway … Continue reading

Lithuania — Vilnius Jewish Library to Open Dec. 16

After seven years of work, the Vilnius Jewish Library will be opening on December 16, at Gedimino Prospektas 24, LT 01013 Vilnius, Lithuania. The first Jewish library in Lithuania since the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto in 1943, it is the brainchild of Wyman Brent, a long-haired, self-described atheist from San Diego, who has made founding the library a mission.

As The Forward wrote in a recent lengthy profile of Brent:

Brent has spent $50,000 of his own money and seven years building up his curious collection, mostly buying used books, CDs and DVDs in stores and online. In 2008, he shipped his collection — about 4,500 items packed in 165 boxes — from San Diego to Vilna.

After seven years of work, the Vilnius Jewish Library will be opening on December 16, at Gedimino Prospektas 24, LT 01013 Vilnius, Lithuania. The first Jewish library in Lithuania since the liquidation of the Vilna Ghetto in 1943, it is … Continue reading

Kosovo — OSCE Condemns Desecration of Jewish Cemetery in Pristina

Photo from http://www.kurir-info.rs

The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) mission in Kosovo has condemned the recent desecration of the Jewish cemetery in the Kosovo capital, Pristina. Nazi swastikas were painted over a majority of the fifty tombstones, and the message “Jud Raus”  — a misspelling of the German for “Jews Out” — was scrawled on the foot of the central memorial monument, in a vandal act believed to have taken place Nov. 29.

In a statement issued December 2, the Acting Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo, Edward P. Joseph called on law enforcement to investigate, and the municipality to repair the damage.

“As the leading international human rights organization in Kosovo, the OSCE wholeheartedly condemns this disgraceful act. To damage or desecrate the graveyard of any community is a contemptible insult and expression of hate. To do so in this manner, towards a community whose members were hunted down for extermination within living memory is an obscenity.

“The swift condemnation issued by members of the Kosovo government is an encouraging rebuttal to this smear on democracy in Kosovo.  It is our hope that law enforcement will likewise act responsibly by bringing the perpetrators to justice, and that the municipality with quickly remove the contemptible symbols of hate left by the perpetrators.”

“The OSCE stands for tolerance, coexistence and mutual respect. We will not hesitate to call for justice wherever those norms are threatened.”

Photo from http://www.kurir-info.rsThe OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) mission in Kosovo has condemned the recent desecration of the Jewish cemetery in the Kosovo capital, Pristina. Nazi swastikas were painted over a majority of the fifty tombstones, and the message … Continue reading