At the initiative of the Moldovan government, the vast, long-ruined Jewish cemetery in the capital, Chisinau, will be cleaned up and restored to anchor a Jewish history, heritage, and cultural center. Work on the project — approved by a government decision December 5 — has already begun.
According to a government announcement, the move came at the initiative of Prime Minister Pavel Filip, who recently visited the cemetery, described as in “a disastrous state — two thirds of the cemetery is practically destroyed.”
It said that thanks to that visit, Filip “demanded working out of an action plan for the cemetery’s restoration and building a Jewish historical cultural center on this place.”
The cemetery will now be administered by the Chisinau Municipal Council, under the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research.
The new center will include an exhibition on Jewish history and also serve as a Holocaust memorial.
Moldovan Jewish heritage scholar Irina Shikhova told JHE that the move means that the state intends to develop interest and awareness of Jewish heritage and history in four ways:
– creation of a National Jewish Museum;
– promotion of Jewish heritage for tourists;
– recovering the Chisinau Jewish cemetery;
– Holocaust education & commemoration.
She said the cemetery will serve as a sort of open-air museum. New construction at the site is not planned, except for a possible memorial; the main work will be cleaning and recovering the cemetery and conservation of the ruined pre-burial hall.
She reports that work is already under way to clear the cemetery of trees and other vegetation, with more than 100 people working fulltime.
“Cutting the trees has bared the extent of the disastrous situation,” she said.
The cemetery, at Milano st., though ravaged and long-neglected, is the single largest Jewish heritage site in Moldova and was listed as a national monument in 2012.
The U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad survey of Jewish sites in Moldova writes:
The approximately 100 hectare area is surrounded by a continuous masonry wall with a gate. It contains more than 20,000 graves, which date back to the 17th century. Gravestones and markers are made of marble, granite, limestone, sandstone, slate and other materials. Some graves are marked with ornate structures in the form of mausoleums. Many graves have metal fences around them; others have portraits applied to the stones, as well as other decorative items.
(Thanks to Irina Shikhova for providing the pictures)