Washington, DC – With historic Jewish cemeteries across Europe being desecrated, vandalized, or redeveloped, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to encourage embassies and local governments abroad to preserve these burial sites, which represent thousands of years of Jewish tradition and are the few ancient European Jewish burial grounds still in existence. Moving or disturbing these sites is a violation of Jewish religious tradition.
Senator Gillibrand said, “We must preserve these historic cemeteries and ensure they are neither neglected nor forgotten. Moving or destroying these cemeteries would be an affront to family members of those buried there and would erase Jewish remnants from that time. I am committed to working with the U.S. State Department to honor and respect those laid to rest there.”
Many families in New York and throughout the United States have enduring personal ties to the historic cemeteries, including those located in Lithuania, Poland and Malta, according to Rabbi David Niederman of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg. The following lists examples of vandalism, redevelopment, and desecration of these burial grounds:
- Snipiskes Cemetery in Vilnius, Lithuania. The Jewish community expressed concerned that expanding or repairing the 1950s Soviet-era sports complex built on top of the Snipiskes Cemetery would disturb the surrounding area, where remains still exist. Scholars say the site is the first Jewish cemetery in Vilnius. The site dates back to the 15th century, with approximately 50,000 Jews buried there.
- RaMah Shul Cemetery in Krakow, Poland. In April 2010, members of New York’s Jewish community who traveled there to pray discovered digging at the side of the synagogue and exposure of human remains.
- Catacombs in Rabat, Malta. Since 2009, at least two out of the five Jewish catacombs were emptied and holy remains taken and used for research. In 2008, there was discovery of bodies strewn and burial holes opened in the Jewish catacombs. The burial site of Malta, which is approximately 2000 years old, is one of the few ancient Jewish burial grounds still in existence.
Senator Gillibrand wrote a letter to Secretary Clinton praising her personal commitment to the preservation of Jewish cemeteries overseas and requesting that the Department of State proactively work with the Jewish community and take full consideration of New York constituents’ concerns.