Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Holland: Effort to Improve Amsterdam's Zeeburg Cemetery

Holland: Effort to Improve Amsterdam's Zeeburg Cemetery
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) Thousands of foreign tourists visit some of Amsterdam's famous Jewish sites every year, notably the great Esnoga, or Portuguese synagogue (1675). Tens of thousands of Dutch attend the exhibits and events at the Joods Historich Museum, located in a group of historic Ashkenazi synagogues, including the Great Synagogue (1671). Art historians are familiar with the old Jewish cemetery of Ouderkirk with its many elaborately carved and inscribed gravestones.  But few people - within Holland or abroad - are aware of the great Zeeburg cemetery, reputed to be Europe's largest Jewish cemetery, containing between 100,000 and 200,000 graves, and now neglected and in ruin. (click here for photos).
According to Jan Stoutenbeek and Paul Vigeveno (Jewish Amsterdam, 2003) the Zeeburg Cemetery was opened in 1714 and because it was in walking distance to Amsterdam it became the resting place of the city's poor Jews who could not afford the contribution to the Jewish Community allowing burial at the Muiderberg Cemetery.
By the 20th century, Zeeburg was filled, and a new cemetery at Diemen was consecrated. Zeeburg fell out of use, and the after the the relatives and descendants of the buried there were mostly killed in the Holocaust, and the cemetery was left to fall into disrepair, most recently serving used for paintball games by local teenagers.
On Sunday, October 30, 2011, Amsterdam’s Stichting Eerherstel Joodse Begraafplaats Zeeburg (Rehabilitation Foundation for Jewish Cemetery Zeeburg) began a collaborative program for Moroccan and Jewish youth to clean the large and neglected Zeeburg Jewish cemetery. On six Sundays, as many as 100 young people will collaborate to improve the condition of the cemetery and in the process to learn more about the history of Jews of Amsterdam.
The program to engage young people in the protection of the cemetery was initiated by Frans Stuy and Jaap Meijers who in contacted the Foundation for Rehabilitation Zeeburg. Jaap Meijers said "The cemetery is completely overgrown, it's a jungle. There is a huge wall built around it and making it impossible for regular visitors to visit. We are now looking for the original gate, which is still somewhere, and with the the help of young people, to make it presentable again. Of course we also hope that it will initiate awareness. "
For more information on the cemetery and plans for its restoration go to the Foundation webpage.

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