Mazel tov to Lesley Weiss, the chair of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, who was presented with the U.S. annual Jewish Heritage Celebration’s Jewish Heritage Appreciation Award.
U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) presented the award May 7 at a Tribute to American Jewry ceremony in the U.S. Capitol attended by a number of U.S. senators, congressmen and other officials.
Weiss, who was named Commission Chair a year ago, accepted the award on behalf of all of the Members of the Commission. She is also Deputy Director of NCSJ, formerly the National Council on Soviet Jewry.
The Commission was established by law to identify cemeteries, memorials, and historic buildings associated with the heritage of Americans in Central and Eastern Europe and obtain assurances from the governments of the region that the cultural sites will be protected and preserved. It also encourages, facilitates, and implements privately funded site preservation projects. Its 21 Members are appointed by the president of the United States, with two-thirds recommended by congressional leaders.
Most of its focus has been on Jewish heritage sites.
Among its most important work have been detailed inventories and surveys of Jewish cemeteries, synagogues, mass graves and other sites that were carried out in a number of countries, starting in the 1990s: Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Moldova. Surveys on Hungary and Lithuania are about to be published.
In most cases, these pioneering Surveys represent the most detailed inventories of Jewish sites available. All can be freely accessed online and downloaded.
The list of Commission-sponsored or administered projects includes Holocaust memorials and restorations of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.
Weiss was recently in Belarus to conduct negotiations toward an agreement with the government of Belarus to protect and preserve places of worship, historic sites, cemeteries, and memorials of Second World War genocide victims.
She tells JHE that Holocaust memorials will soon be dedicated in the Jewish cemeteries in Serock, Poland and in Bardejov, Slovakia. Another memorial will be dedicated at the Terezin Holocaust Museum to the first female rabbi, who perished in Auschwitz after being imprisoned in Terezin.
Other recent projects by Commission members include building a Holocaust memorial in Trsice, Czech Republic, through the efforts of New Jersey high school students and their teacher, and a Holocaust memorial placed at an unmarked mass grave in Luta, Poland.