Thursday, December 29, 2011

Serbia -- Concern at condition of historic Nis Jewish cemetery

Vandalized tomb in Nis Cemetery, Dec. 22, 2011. Photo courtesy of Jasna Ciric

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

More than seven years after a well-publicized clean-up campaign, the historic Jewish cemetery in Nis, Serbia appears to be once again under threat.

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Serbia issued a statement on Wednesday protesting  “catastrophic” conditions in the cemetery and urging authorities to take action.

It said that on a recent inspection visitors found “destroyed and broken monuments, scattered bones, human waste and garbage.” It said that the cemetery was at the mercy of private entrepreneurs who have destroyed one-third of the site by building factories, restaurants and warehouses, while another third of the area is inhabited by Roma families who have built a makeshift village over the graves.

Long abandoned and partially built over and destroyed, the cemetery, which dates back to the 17th century and in 2007 was listed as a national cultural monument, was cleaned up in 2004 in an effort that involved the JDC, Serbian soldiers, and the local Roma community. 

Pictures taken Dec. 22 showed much of the area cleared of undergrowth and the grave markers visible. But Jasna Ciric, the president of the Jewish community in Nis, told me that the situation today was "a horror" and that in some ways was worse than it was in 2004.  "Grave monuments have been smashed with hammers," she said.

She said that on a previous inspection of the cemetery in September, things had been fine and it had been cleaned up.

Now, she said, a telephone line,  sewage drains and water pipes have been introduced in the midst of the cemetery.

"All the established safeguards of the Jewish cemetery in Nis, which under the Law on Cultural Property, have remained only on paper and without respect for the Jewish cemetery or the Jews who are buried there," she said. "Our cemetery is systematically destroyed, all of our long-time efforts and the money invested toward saving  this cemetery are in vain, the city authorities do not understand this issue."

The Federation appealed to the Mayor of Nis, the Ministry of Culture, the Nis Institute for Monuments Protection and other authorities to “once and for all put an end to this vandalism.”

Pictures from Dec. 22, 2011  showing homes and other structures encroaching on the Nis Jewish cemetery. Photos courtesy Jasna Ciric

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