In the city of Lviv in the Ukraine there are two cemeteries for the burial of Jews. The old Jewish cemetery, one of the most famous in Europe, was started in around 1420 and was closed by 1855 due to the cholera epidemic. Then in 1850, a new Jewish cemetery was started and today it is the only cemetery for Jewish families in the Lviv area. This new Jewish cemetery was intended to be used as the communal cemetery, where more than 70-percent of the Jewish graves were buried alongside the non-Jewish citizens of Lviv. This cemetery is controlled by the City Hall of Lviv. Many of the great Sages of the Ukraine are buried in both the old and new cemeteries. As the Jewish population of the Ukraine was reduced by the Holocaust and emigration, the responsibility for protecting the cemeteries has fallen on the small Jewish community. In Lviv this has become a project of great concern for the Union of Councils for Jews in the former Soviet Union (UCSJ) Lviv office run by Meylach Schochet, a dedicated Orthodox Jew who has worked continuously to prevent the local City Council of Lviv from issuing a contract to build a hotel on the site of the new cemeteries and to close two flea markets, a city toilet and to move a Christian chapel built atop the graves of the Old Jewish cemetery.
For the last eight years, Meylach, on behalf of the UCSJ and Jewish population of Lviv, has successfully brought suits in the courts of the Ukraine to enjoin the City Council from issuing a contract to build a hotel on the site of the Old Jewish Quarter of Lviv and another two court suits to stop construction of a luxury hotel atop the New Jewish cemetery. Despite the decisions of the Courts of the Ukraine, the City Council is unmoved by the Rule of Law and persists in issuing a contract for the construction of the hotels.
Numerous pleas by the U.S. Ambassador to the Ukraine in Kiev have been ignored and letters to the President of the Ukraine have also been unavailing in stopping this outrage. A year ago the City Council allowed a bulldozer to go on the Old Jewish cemetery and start digging up the area. Skeletons were strewn over the landscape until a public outcry caused a temporary stoppage. The Jewish community then worked at trying to return the skeletal remains to their proper place. The UCSJ here in the US and in the Ukraine have prepared a Petition to the President of the Ukraine Petro Porochenko and the City Council of the Ukraine (in the Ukrainian language) and to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to take whatever steps are necessary to stop the destruction of the cemeteries. The Petition has been signed by over 30 religious freedom NGOs both here in the U.S. and in Europe and Canada as well as dozens of distinguished individuals.
We will be following up to determine whether we will be successful. This effort has far reaching significance as there are hundreds of cemeteries in the Ukraine which are also at risk. In addition to the old and new cemeteries there are the remains of over 500,000 Holcaust victims in the Lviv area and in Ukraine for which there should be some memorialization. The UCSJ will be working to insure that those who were the victims of the Nazis are properly remembered.