The Coronavirus crisis closed down normal Jewish community activity but in northern Slovakia it has allowed time for intensified efforts by face mask-wearing volunteers to clear and clean up Jewish cemeteries.
“Every cloud has a silver lining,” Pavel Frankl, chairman of the Jewish community in Žilina said in a report on the Union of Slovak Jewish Communities web site. “The bad time, when many can’t work in their normal jobs, offered us the opportunity to deal more intensively with old Jewish cemeteries, and that’s good.”
There are 28 Jewish cemeteries in the Žilina area, Frankl said. Only the cemetery in Žilina itself is active; most of the others are neglected, with some in seriously overgrown condition. The tiny community does not have the resources to maintain them all, he wrote. With the COVID-19 crisis, he said, there has been an upsurge in volunteers working in Jewish cemeteries.
Frankl described clean-up and restoration efforts undertaken during the past couple of months in the Jewish cemeteries in Kysucké Nové Mesto, Kotešová, and Rajec –which had been damaged in a vandal attack in December — and provided some step-by-step and before-and-after pictures to show results of the work.
Frankl also reported an unusual form of vandalism at the historic Jewish cemetery in Dolny Kubin — none of the gravestones was damaged, but nine large trees were cut down, damaging its concrete fence. Police are investigating a man for the illegal felling and theft of the trees. Frankl wrote that the Jewish community will demand compensation from him.
In response to the incident, the local NGO Aktiv – Relax Dolný Kubín organized a volunteer action for a seasonal clean up of the tree-shaded cemetery — which is fenced, has a gate and signage in Slovak and English, and is generally well maintained. Nearly two dozen volunteers — wearing face masks to conform to coronavirus regulations — worked to repair the fence and clear brush and weeds.
“We have taken over the auspices of the cemetery and we will help with its restoration and maintenance,” said Emília Jurčíková, a member of the city council, who is also the association’s statutory director, was quoted as saying by the news site SME.sk. “After autumn and winter, there are many branches and leaves on the ground, they must be removed so that we can mow in the summer.”
Watch a local TV video of the clean-up: