The mayor of a city in western Ukraine has vowed to protect the community’s Jewish cemetery even while the country is at war.
Speaking at a conference in Budapest, Ivan Pohorilyak, the Mayor of Perechyn, made the pledge to safeguard the site because “Jewish history is our history”.
The event, which took place on Tuesday was organised by the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative (ESJF), to discuss the future of Jewish cemeteries.
Established in 2015, the ESJF is a German-based non-profit organisation that aims to protect and preserve Jewish cemeteries across Europe by marking cemetery boundaries and constructing walls and locked gates around them.
In recent years the ESJF has been able to fence off more than 250 European Jewish cemeteries.
Palin Jewish Cemetery in Slovakia (Photo: ESJF European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative)
However, the group estimates there are around 10,000 Jewish cemeteries across the continent, many of which are in a state of disrepair or deterioration due to the legacy of Nazi destruction and decades of abandonment and neglect.
This includes sites in Britain, where Jewish heritage organisations have previously listed cemeteries in Exeter, Ipswich, Swansea, and Sunderland as being “at risk” and in need of restoration.
The task of maintaining these spaces often falls on shrunken Jewish communities with sparse resources, so groups including the ESJF aim to help to fill this void.
“The privilege of visiting a loved one’s grave has been taken away from so many. The work of preserving and protecting cemeteries has restored it,” said Lidija Piblersek, president of the Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe.
The British-born ESJF chair, Philip Carmel, said the group would continue to do its utmost to preserve cemeteries but stressed the need for “constant support” from partners and individual initiatives.