The Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjoern Jagland, has pledged support for the renovation of Jewish cemeteries during a visit on Tuesday to the to the newly fenced Jewish cemetery in the town of Frampol, Poland.
Jagland visited the cemetery to show general support for Jewish cemetery preservation and specific efforts of the German-funded European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative (ESJF), which works to protect Jewish burial grounds in Central and Eastern Europe.
“In the Jewish faith, burial sites are even more sacred than synagogues. Not just cemeteries, but also the mass graves created during the Second World War. These are the ‘houses of the living’ where souls remain unbreakably linked to their former bodies, awaiting the resurrection,” wrote Jagland in a Jerusalem Post op-ed.
“The loss of Jewish cemeteries on European soil is a problem. And not just for historians or the descendants of the deceased, but for all those who value tolerant and inclusive societies.”
Residents of the small town in the Lublin province helped protect the local Jewish burial ground. Jagland described Frampol as an example of how cultural heritage can be protected by local people, and urged that this sort of protection be extended to other sites of religious heritage.
“The Frampol example can and should be applied across different faiths. Many mosques and churches have also suffered vandalism and neglect. This is no good in a Europe where populism and xenophobia are becoming troublingly commonplace. I am neither Jewish nor Muslim, but I am a believer in open and diverse nations. Democracy is my creed and the rich patchwork of religious and cultural sites adorning the continent is thus my – and your – heritage too.”
"The Council of Europe supports projects of cultural heritage which contribute to reconciliation, mutual understanding and inclusive societies. I am grateful to the ESJF European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative, for sharing our vision and promoting Jewish heritage which is integral to our common European culture and society," Jagland said.
Philip Carmel, chief executive of the ESJF, said: “We are in a race against time to protect the last physical vestiges of Jewish presence in the thousands of towns and villages of Central and Eastern Europe wiped out by the Nazis. Our role is to physically protect these sites, and we must act now as memory becomes history and it will soon be too late.”
The ESJF has already completed over 30 fencing projects in Ukraine, Poland and the Czech Republic and is due to expand its activities in into Belarus, Serbia and Hungary. There are approximately 10,000 known Jewish cemetery sites across the 46 member states of the Council of Europe.