Twenty nine Jewish coffins have been transferred from a cemetery south of Paris to eastern France in an unprecedented operation carried out before the remains were set to be exhumed and put in an ossuary, as required by French law.
When someone dies in France, their families can pay for their bodies to be buried in a cemetery plot for ten, thirty, fifty years or longer. Once that time is up, city services can remove remains to make room for other coffins. By paying extra, families can get so-called perpetual rights, but even they only last 99 years.
“The problem is that once bodies are put in ossuaries, when those are full the remains are incinerated. That’s what we wanted to prevent,” Albert Elharrar, the man behind the coffin transfers, told the JC. “This operation was a miracle.”
Mr Elharrar is also the head of Creteil’s Jewish community, which buries some of its dead in the Valenton cemetery from where the coffins were exhumed. “The cemetery told us that unless we paid 135,000 euros they would exhume those bodies. But even if we did pay, they said this would only postpone the problem. That’s when I contacted the mayor to ask for an exceptional authorisation to transfer the bodies and he miraculously accepted.”
The community asked for special permission to move tombs to eastern France where the legal system is different and where Jewish communities own their cemeteries.
While some eastern communities asked for financial compensation for the space, the Metz community said it would not charge.
A special legal arrangement says no Jewish person killed during World War II can be exhumed, because they often have no descendants to take care of their graves.