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May 29, 2014 11:42 am

Protect Cemeteries Act Praised by Group Preserving Poland’s Desecrated Jewish Grave Sites

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

A Jewish graveyard. Photo: Roman Zacharij.

An organization working to preserve old Jewish cemeteries in Poland expressed support for U.S. Rep. Grace Meng’s (D-NY) legislation passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, which classifies the desecration of cemeteries – including Jewish cemeteries across the globe – a violation of religious freedom.

“With over 1,200 ransacked and downtrodden Jewish cemeteries in Poland, Congresswoman Meng’s bill is incredibly positive and a step in the right direction,” Jonny Daniels, founder and executive director of From The Depths, told The Algemeiner.

The group works to reclaim Jewish cemeteries destroyed during the Holocaust that have been turned into public parks and waste-sites, Daniels said.

Daniels said that Meng’s bill “would enable us to apply more pressure to a relatively positive attitude that we see on behalf of the Polish government and would further enable us to ensure after the extensive restoration work From The Depths undertakes in returning tombstones to the cemetery, removing garbage and building fences around it, [that] the cemetery is maintained with the utmost respect it deserves.”

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Meng’s Protect Cemeteries Act amends the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 to include the vandalizing of cemeteries as one of many infringements on the right to freedom of religion.

The legislation is critical to Jews in the U.S. and around the world who have ancestors buried in other countries. In many cases, there are no Jewish communities or relatives left in those locales to preserve and protect the graves.

Meng said the bill is “largely devoted” to the millions who perished in 20th century genocides that destroyed communities, leaving their burial grounds neglected and unpreserved.

“This legislation would be a new and important tool in our fight against the desecration of cemeteries,” said Meng, who is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and its Subcommittee on the Middle East. “It would combat religiously-motivated vandalism of cemeteries and also prevent developers from building over cemeteries, a new and emerging threat in places where there are no Jewish communities left to protect burial grounds. It is essential that we increase preservation, tolerance and respect for cemeteries across the globe, and this legislation would go a long way towards accomplishing that critical goal. I applaud my colleagues in the House for approving this important bipartisan legislation, and I now call on the Senate to do the same.”

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