The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has adopted a far-reaching Resolution and set of Recommendations that recognize the importance of Jewish heritage and call for local, national, and international efforts to preserve and protect Jewish heritage sites around the continent.
The documents were prepared by Swiss MP Raphael Comte, who also prepared a detailed Explanatory Memorandum — a lengthy report that explains and documents the background to the Resolution and Recommendations.
These documents — which should be viewed as a whole — represent a major step in the international European institutional recognition of the value and importance of Jewish heritage. They reference Jewish tangible and intangible heritage but focus on Jewish built heritage.
To this end, in addition to providing the links, we are publishing the full texts of all three documents in the Resources section of this web site.
We urge you to read them carefully and use them as resources.
It’s important to note that they follow on after several other Assembly resolutions since the 1980s: Resolution 885 (1987) on the Jewish Contribution to European Culture, Recommendation 1291 (1996) in relation to Yiddish Culture, Resolution 1883 (2012) on Jewish Cemeteries and Resolution 1981 (2014) on Europe’s Endangered Heritage.
In an introduction, Comte’s Report states that:
Jewish cultural heritage forms an integral part of the shared cultural heritage in Europe and therefore requires a common responsibility to preserve it. By ensuring the survival of Jewish historic sites, collective memory would also be preserved. Valuing and having a deeper understanding of Jewish culture and heritage, which reveal significant cross-cultural exchanges and mutual enrichment with other cultures, will also contribute to inter-cultural dialogue, promoting inclusiveness and social cohesion, and combating ignorance and prejudice.
to develop guidance for the protection and preservation of Jewish heritage sites in line with the Council of Europe’s acquis on cultural heritage protection;
to assist member States to further develop educational programmes on the value of Jewish cultural heritage, widely embracing schools, universities, museums and the cultural sector;
and to consider, in co-operation with the European Union, the possibility to create an award for outstanding volunteer work on Jewish heritage preservation.
The Report singles out several international projects already in place.
These include the Jewish Heritage Routes (part of the COE Cultural Routes project) and European Day of Jewish Culture, both coordinated by the European Association for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish Culture and Heritage (AEPJ), and the synagogue mapping and other work of the Foundation for Jewish Heritage, which assisted on the formulation of the documents,.
Foundation Chair Dame Helen Hyde praised the Report, saying in a statement:
We hope this recognition by the Council of Europe of the value of Jewish heritage will lead to greater action by the countries of Europe to preserve Jewish heritage which is particularly vulnerable given the tragic events of the 20th century.
Among other things, the documents note that “fewer than one quarter of historic synagogue buildings in Europe still function as synagogues, [and] the majority are often neglected and are therefore especially vulnerable.”
By ensuring the survival of such sites, collective memory would also be preserved, and they could continue to serve as “living heritage” able to engage and educate people, especially the young, about their history and culture, strengthening identity and sense of place.
It also provides case studies on six synagogues that are either under restoration, have been restored, or are at the center of plans for restoration.
These briefly summarize the history of the building, the challenges in preserving it, and steps that are planned or already undertaken.
The synagogues come under different ownerships; and the restoration projects have been funded, carried out, and managed by a number of different sources and stakeholders.
These are the White Stork Synagogue in Wroclaw, Poland; the Etz Hayim Synagogue, Izmir, Turkey; the Wooden Synagogue, Pakruojis, Lithuania; the Synagogue, Merthyr Tydfil, Wales; the Great Synagogue, Dąbrowa Tarnowska, Poland; the Second Temple Synagogue, Hamburg, Germany.
We have written on JHE about most of these projects — click the hyperlinks to see some of our articles about them (use the Search pane to find other articles).