Seventy-five years after the Holocaust, and thirty years after the fall of Communism, how is the Jewish past being preserved and presented in Eastern Europe? In these three illustrated lectures Dr. Samuel Gruber reviews efforts in Eastern Europe by government and private agencies, institutions, and organizations to document, protect, conserve, and maintain Jewish historic and religious sites, especially synagogues, cemeteries, and Holocaust-related sites. In the decades since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the quantity and quality of this work keeps growing, as well as increased engagement Jewish and non-Jewish communities, and the interest of travelers from around the world.
Sunday April 11, 2021SAVING SYNAGOGUES – In the world of Jewish “monuments,” synagogues are the big-ticket items. There are always considerable political, financial, and technical challenges in restoring synagogues in Eastern Europe, but the biggest problem is always what will the building be used for. Does it have a Jewish use? Can it retain some Jewish identity? How can saving an old building most effectively do justice to past events and contribute to a better present and future. This talk will look at a range of projects big and small – many of which the speaker has been actively involved – including the restoration of the beautiful Tempel Synagogue in Krakow, Poland and synagogues in Boskovice (Czech Republic), and Plovdiv (Bulgaria). We’ll visit a range of projects in the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Some have been successful, some not.
Sunday April 18, 2021PRESERVING CEMETERIES – For Jews, cemeteries are inviolable sacred sites, but Nazi and Communist regimes carried out policies that ruined Jewish cemeteries and often stripped them entirely of their gravestones and even despoiled graves. For decades, the only Jewish cemetery in Eastern Europe that was well known was the Old Cemetery in Prague. Since 1990 enormous strides have been taken in the identification and documentation of thousands Jewish cemeteries in Central and Eastern Europe. Some of these have often stunningly beautiful remaining matzevot (gravestones), but many have been stripped of their stones and have even been paved or built over. Beginning in 1991, as Research Director the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Aboard, Dr. Gruber was a leader in the identification and documentation of thousands of these sites. Since then efforts to protect and preserve these sites have been erratic, but there have been hundreds of successful interventions – ranging from simple cleaning of sites by local school and church groups, to full-scale restorations of walls and re-erection of gravestones and mausolea by Jewish communities, government agencies and private foundations. Today several organizations are carrying out extensive mapping, fencing and conservation projects.
Sunday April 25, 2021COMMEMORATING HOLOCAUST SITES – In a sense, every place in eastern Europe where Jews once lived but now do not should be considered a Holocaust-related site. A goal of educators and activists in many countries has been to bring back the history of Jews in a place especially when those communities were irrevocably destroyed. This talk will focus on the commemoration of those destroyed communities and their murdered members and how the places of their suffering – ghettos, deportation centers, concentration, labor and death camps, and mass grave sites are being remembered and identified. Dr. Gruber will discuss key examples of the memorialization process a Holocaust-related sites in Germany, Poland, Lithuania and the Czech Republic.