On his Vanished World blog, Christian Herrmann reports on the work of volunteers who spent three weeks in August cleaning up the vast Jewish cemetery in Chernivtsi (Czernowitz) Ukraine, clearing it of the weeds, vines, bushes and other other vegetation that chokes the gravestones. It’s a program that has been under way for six years — sponsored by SVIT Ukraine. Action Reconciliation Service for Peace in Germany also sends volunteers to help clear the cemetery.
Given the never-ending cycle of vegetation that grows back each year, he quotes Camus in the title of his article “One Has to Imagine Sisyphus as a Happy Man.”
This year they were back again: Volunteers of SVIT Ukraine, the Ukrainian branch of Service Civil International. For the sixth year they come to clean the Jewish cemetery of Czernowitz, they make the place accessible again to visitors and family members. Their names are Olena, Mikhailo, Jasmin, Tiago, Amanda, Martin, or Robin and Miriam. They come from Hungary, Germany, Slovenia, Italy, Ukraine, the Netherlands, Belgium, Bulgaria and even from Japan. Three weeks they have been working in the Czernowitz cemetery, have pulled out weeds and shrubs. Three weeks in August, when others are on the beach or earn money for the next semester at the University. Why do they do that? And is this work worth to be done at all – considering a completely indifferent cemetery administration?
It’s a Friday morning, when the volunteers come to the cemetery for the first time. The sky is cloudless and bright blue. Even now it is hot – to work in this heat will not be easy. Amanda, the young Dutch wears a floppy hat, she has pulled it down over her face to protect herself from the sun. Somewhat perplexed the young people look around. Before them are eleven hectares of scrub and weeds – emerging from them grave stones. Where to begin here? Whether someone was working here before, Miklós from Hungary wants to know. “Yes,” says Julia, founder and president of SVIT Ukraine. Almost all areas have previously been cleaned – not only by SVIT, also by volunteers of Action Reconciliation Service for Peace and workers hired by the Czernowitz Jewish Cemetery Restoration Organization. “A veritable forest has been here before,” Julia continues. “Now the state is indeed still bad, but hardly comparable with what we found here in 2008 when we started to clean the cemetery,” she says. Julia creates a plan how to start and in which direction the volunteers should continue to work. […]
The work-camps of SVIT Ukraine and Action Reconciliation Service for Peace have a media response. Local press and regional television report. There is an official reception in the City Hall – this is worth media reports as well. This has effects. Today, everyone in town knows that there is a significant Jewish cemetery. It was different a few years ago. With a map in hand, you could ask a passerby for the direction to the cemetery and earn a shake of the head. Perhaps this is the most important change. In the end, what matters is whether local people accept and appreciate the Jewish cemetery as worth of preservation and part of their own heritage. This road is long and winding. But it’s worth to try. “One has to imagine Sisyphus as a happy man,” the French philosopher Albert Camus once wrote. He’s right.