09 March 2007

Restoring a Bosnian Jewish cemetery

An abandoned Jewish cemetery in Bosnia, a nation whose Jewish community was nearly extinguished in World War II and then further thinned by aliyah after the violent dissolution of Yugoslavia in 1991, is being restored with the help of the local Muslim authority and a young Canadian Jewish soldier.

"Lt. Gabriel Granatstein, 25, of Montreal, who has been serving with a peacekeeping mission since September, said in a telephone interview that a local municipal leader, Salko Rekanovic, a Muslim, approached Canadian and other international forces about helping fix up the cemetery.

"As the only Jew among the 11 Canadian soldiers serving with the European Union Force-led mission, Granatstein took up the challenge."

His group is stationed in Bihac, a largely Muslim area with no remaining Jewish residents. The cemetery is in Jezero-Privilica, about 15 minutes away.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was home to some 14,000 Jews before WWII. The community dates back to refugees of the 1492 exile from Spain. About 4,000 Jews survived the deportations and executions. Following the 1991 Yugoslav civil war hostilities, the JDC took 2,000 Bosnian Jews to Israel, where most have remained.

Says Granatstein about his recent visit with the Sarajevo Jewish community: “They treated me like family that had never left. It was a pretty powerful experience.”

Read more here.

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