Roma boys help restore forgotten Slovak Jewish cemetery


VINODOL, Slovakia, June 18 (Reuters) - A local enthusiast and several boys from the Roma community have started restoring a forgotten Jewish cemetery in the Slovak village of Vinodol, bringing back a piece of the village’s history.

The cemetery, neighbouring a Catholic one in Vinodol, 80 kms (50 miles) east of Bratislava, was overgrown and tombstones had fallen and been submerged below ground. It had been disused since before World War Two.

Like many others in the central European country, the community was wiped out in the Holocaust and the site had been left neglected and possibly also damaged.

About 105,000 Slovak Jews were killed in the Holocaust, according to the Central Association of Jewish Communities, and today the community numbers around 3,000.

Vladimir Spanik, a 73-year old member of the town council, discovered the cemetery and leads the restoration effort, joined by volunteering Roma children. Like Jews, Roma were targeted by Nazis in the Holocaust, which Spanik said gave the work an extra dimension.

The group has chopped grass and bushes and unearthed dozens of tombstones, which they brushed clean.

"This is not just help but also social work. I am happy they are enjoying it," Spanik told Reuters.

"One part is that they want to help me, old man. But the central issue for me is that they discover the Holocaust and the evil time for both Jews and Roma."

While Spanik and the mostly teenage boys have not found Holocaust histories of their families, he said the topic now resonated in the community.

Franko Lakatos, 15, said the cemetery effort earned them praise at school and at home.

"We dig out these headstones, probe for them," he said. "Thirty-two headstones, I found a large one."

The Slovak Jewish community welcomed their work, as it is unable to take care of the 700-750 known Jewish cemeteries in the country, said Henrich Stern of the Central Association of Jewish Communities.

"Only a small part is being cared for in some way, unfortunately for financial and personnel reasons we cannot manage it," he said.

He said the tombstones cannot be matched to graves and thus the community would ask for them to be placed on the side.

Reporting by Radovan Stoklasa, writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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