photo: Samuel D. Gruber 1993
Conference of Poles Who Preserve Jewish Heritage, September 15-16, 2008
by Samuel D. Gruber
(ISJM) The first national conference of (non-Jewish) Poles who care for Jewish heritage sites in
This conference is a welcome development and similar events are being encouraged in other countries where Jews are often “caretaker” communities, and cannot provide alone the protection and maintenance that so many of the Jewish sites for which they are responsible require. Only with the help of local people can this be done, and locals are most often willing to help when the better understand the sanctity of sites, and their history and cultural significance. I am pleased to see that Jan Jagielski of the Jewish Historical Institute in
No one knows more about the location and condition of Jewish sites in
That work, which was a project of the Jewish Heritage Council of the World Monuments Fund on behalf of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, was in a small way the foundation on which almost all subsequent planning, preservation and legal actions were built.
Today, Lena, Jan and many of those first survey field workers still lead the way in the care of
We must remember, too, that volunteerism is only one part of what is required to protect and preserve Jewish heritage sites in Poland and elsewhere. There must be government recognition and support of these activites, and they must be fully integrated into broader cultural heritage, education and economic development policies. Lastly, more Jewish communities must be educated and empowered to participate more fully in this role. Sometimes small communities are too overwhelmed with the needs of the present to look back at the remains from the past. Sometimes Jewish leadership is scared (often with good reason) to take on local vested interests of government and business to insist on return of religious and cultural heritage sites. In the 1990s Central and Eastern European governments had incentives - EU and NATO membership among them - to cooperate in this effort. Now, with other global problems looming, it is difficult to gain (often new) governments' interest and commitment.
ISJM applauds the efforts of the volunteers of Poland and encourages others to learn from their example.