By Samuel D. Gruber
I am pleased to report the release by the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad of a report on the survey of Jewish Heritage Sites of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The survey of over 60 sites was organized and sponsored by the Commission, and carried out by researcher Ivan Ceresnjes, a former leader of the Bosnian Jewish community who is now with the Center for Jewish Art in Jerusalem. I edited the report and contributed to some of the sections when serving as Research Director of the Commission. Ruth Ellen Gruber also provided important information.
Most of the data and photos in the report were collected from the early to mid-2000s. Some additions and corrections were made as late 2008. For the most part the situation for Bosnian Jewish sites has gotten worse except in the major centers of Sarajevo and Mostar.
Photo: Samuel D. Gruber / US Commission for Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad
The report includes information on synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust sites in about three dozen towns. Most of this materials has never been published.The survey focused on cemeteries and Holocaust-related sites. Synagogues and former synagogues are listed and briefly described, but photos of synagogues are no not included.
Photo: Ivan Ceresnjes / US Commission for Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad
I first got involved in Jewish heritage sites in Bosnia when the Commission helped raise funds and organize the restoration of the prayer and pre-burial house at the venerable Sephardi cemetery in Sarajevo. The cemetery had suffered greatly during the Siege of Sarajevo and the building had been heavily damaged by fire. A picture of the restored structure is on the cover of the report. Many other sites have not fared so well. Many sites are still in ruins, and cemeteries are overgrown. Some cemeteries may still have landmines from the civil war.
The Commission has also recently posted edited versions of my reports on the surveys of Jewish sites in Romania and Moldova. In all, the Commission organized close to 20 countrywide surveys of Jewish and other religious and ethnic minority sites during the years I was involved as Research Director. We did this work on shoestring budgets, always collaborating with local experts and enthusiasts and making our findings available to local Jewish communities and government cultural authorities. You can read more here about the Commission's work and consult some of the surveys.