During the Holocaust, Jewish cemeteries across Europe were desecrated by the Nazis and their collaborators in an attempt to erase Jewish culture. Some of these spaces, central to Jewish religious life, were even used as killing sites or mass graves. Despite this, many of these important sites of Jewish history and culture continue to be vandalized, misused, and neglected today. Jewish cemeteries as examples of cultural genocide and its consequences for the present day is the subject of the IHRA grant recipient and research project, “Recording Cultural Genocide and Killing Sites in Jewish Cemeteries.”
Sharing evidence of cultural genocide and mass violence via a digital platform
Since 2016, the project, led by Professor Caroline Sturdy Colls from the Center of Archeology at Staffordshire University, has used non-invasive archeological methods to uncover the history and consequences of cultural genocide and mass violence at Jewish cemeteries. In collaboration with Fundacja Zapomniane and the Matzevah Foundation, the research findings of the interdisciplinary team can now be explored on their latest website: https://www.recordingculturalgenocide.com/
The engaging digital platform serves as an invaluable resource. It provides users with information on the unique research methods used, behind-the-scenes project footage, eyewitness testimony, stories from the team, and resources to learn more. Testament to the project’s emphasis on connections between the past and the present, the digital platform explores Jewish life in the selected sites prior to the Holocaust as well.
Restoring the memory of those impacted by cultural genocide
This painstaking research process has been interwoven with efforts to directly tackle racism, xenophobia and intolerance in the present with unique social action projects. These are based in community archeology and engage local volunteers to carry out restoration efforts at the sites, while sharing related information and testimony. Although the challenges at each site differ, efforts included clearing away overgrowth, removing graffiti, and helping document the found matzevot, or tombstones, using photogrammetry.
In the process of uncovering Nazi crimes, the team has helped to restore the memory of those who were buried in the cemetery prior to the Second World War, honor the memory of those murdered during it, and contribute to addressing the mechanisms of intolerance and genocide today.