A new initiative aims to foster and coordinate clean-up and restoration work at the nearly 1,500 Jewish cemeteries all around Poland.
The new bid — called a Coalition of Guardians of Jewish Cemeteries in Poland — was announced by Piotr Puchta, the CEO of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODZ), during an online international conference August 18 on Jewish cemeteries in Poland.
“It is urgent to create a set of instruments to foster joint cooperation,” he said. “The way forward is that we have to work together.”
The Coalition operates via a new web site — https://cmentarzezydowskie.org/.
Plans are for it to be in English and Hebrew as well as Polish.
The aim is to engage the many volunteers, be they individuals, NGOs or others, who annually work to clean-up and restore Jewish cemeteries around the country.
Our goal is to create a partner network of all keepers of Jewish cemeteries in Poland. The network is addressed both to local governments, formal non-governmental organizations, and to informal social leaders who, as part of their voluntary work, restore the memory of the heritage of the Jewish co-inhabitants of our lands.
“There are a lot of individuals and organizations,” Puchta said. “We really need to bring may people on board [and foster] joint efforts.”
Clean-up and restoration efforts include volunteer initiatives that are long-standing and well organized, as well as those that are just getting off the ground and are seeking advice. Some are locally run; others involve descendants groups from abroad; some are civic projects.
“We are the guardians of the memory of Jewish heritage in Poland,” the web site states.
We keep the memory of those who have passed away. We take care to preserve memory. What do we do? We clean and restore the original borders of Jewish cemeteries, renovate and restore tombstones, read and inventory everything that is remembered for those who lived next door. We want to preserve the memory of multicultural Poland for future generations. It’s up to us how much of it is left.
We are ordinary inhabitants of our towns and villages, local government officials, representatives of non-governmental organizations, pupils and students, teachers – we have a common goal. Salvation of Jewish cemeteries, the most important witnesses of the presence of the Jewish community in our lands.
People already engaged in cemetery work can click a button on the web site and use a form to “join the coalition as a guardian.”
Are you cleaning up the Jewish cemetery? Does your organization handle this? Would you like to take part in cleaning up the cemetery, but you don’t know how to do it? Complete a simple form to join the Coalition as a Guardian! Together we can do more!
“We need to know who’s out there working in Poland,” said Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who was also one of the speakers at the online conference.
Another button leads to a Forum where people will be able to ask questions and discuss their needs and share experiences.
The new Coalition web site includes a map locating Jewish cemeteries around Poland that links to an online cemetery database.
Each cemetery has a sub-page that provides further (though not consistent) information from the database, such as: location; ownership/administrator; who cares or or administers it; whether there is a mass grave; whether it is registered as a local or national monument; links to further web resources about the cemetery.
You will be able to search for the cemetery by local, owner, or who is the “guardian” — that is, who or what organization is maintaining or administering it.
The web site is a project of the Foundation for Cultural Heritage and is co-financed by the Polish Foreign Ministry. The Foundation also already oversees current restoration work in the Okopowa Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, financed from the profits of investments of the approx. €24 million granted by the Polish government in 2017 to an endowment fund for the cemetery.
Partners of the Coalition project include the Warsaw Jewish Community, the Polish Culture Ministry, and the National Heritage Board, as well as others.