Paris Jewish graves in danger

Conference of European Rabbis discusses phenomenon of Paris authorities digging up graves to resell plots in cemeteries.

Yoni Kempinski ,

Conference of European Rabbis meets in Riga
Conference of European Rabbis meets in Riga
Eli Itkin

The Conference of European Rabbis' Standing Committee met this week in Riga, Latvia, to discuss strengthening the Jewish community and its institutions.

One of the most sensitive and charged issues that arose at the negotiating table was the removal of human skeletons from their graves by the Paris municipality. Rabbi Natan Kahan, the editor of a French haredi magazine, has been dealing with the matter for many years and explained to the rabbis the complexity and problematic nature of the issue.

The rabbis discovered that according to the law in Paris it is now possible to purchase a plot of land for burial for only a limited time - from five to one hundred years. After these years, the municipal authorities are permitted to remove any human body skeleton from his grave unless the family purchases the burial plot for additional years.

In addition, Rabbi Kahan said that under French law, authorities are allowed to dig up graves which have been abandoned and which no one has visited for three years.

The law also prevents the establishment of Jewish cemeteries. It only allows the establishment of Jewish quarters in the public cemeteries.

According to estimates, the authorities have been digging up bodies skeletons since the 1950s, and the city's warehouses currently contain some 10,000 bodies and skeletons, dozens of which the rabbis estimate are Jewish corpses.

Rabbi Haim Korsia, the Chief Rabbi of France and the Vice President of the Conference, as well as his deputy, Rabbi Moshe Levin, another one of the leaders of the Conference of European Rabbis, are active in this complex and sensitive issue.

Rabbi Korsia said that he had met with the mayor of Paris Ann Hidalgo and that they had agreed that those who passed away before World War II would not be removed from their graves.

"I explained to her that these deceased people have no relatives," said Rabbi Korsia. "Because their descendants were murdered by the Nazis, their names are destroyed. I am aware that this is only part of the solution, but we will do everything in order that the deceased who were buried in [Paris cemeteries] will rest in peace for the rest of their lives until the end of days."

"World Jewry insists on finding a constitutional and legal solution for the burial of Jews in Paris," said Rabbi Pinhas Goldschmidt, president of the European Rabbis' Conference. "Until the solution is found, Jewish families should be allowed to re-bury the skeletons of their families who were exhumed from their graves in France or to bring them for burial in Israel. The authorities must be required to to devote greater efforts to locating relatives of the deceased. This will allow the reburial of Jews who were exhumed from their graves if the authorities did not find their relatives because they had emigrated from France or moved to other addresses in France and now wish to allow them to re-purchase the burial plot and bury their loved ones"

"We are still worried and appalled by the fate of thousands of Jewish graves and hundreds of bones that have already been taken out of their graves and are being disgraced in the city's warehouses," said Rabbi Goldschmidt. "It is a mitzvah that we must do everything in order to bring them for burial. Who will not be horrified by the terrible danger that, according to the law, they can also burn the skeletons."

Rabbi Rabbi Yichya Tubul, head of the rabbinical court, said: "We must tell the Paris authorities that if they do not comply with our demands, we will inform the world that they should not be buried in [Paris cemeteries]. It is only because of the great demand that they wanted to remove the dead from their graves in order to sell [the graves] for full price."

At the end of the extensive discussion, the rabbis decided to establish a committee with members: Rabbi Hhaim KOrsia, Rabbi Yichya Tubul, and Rabbi Moshe Levin, The committee will talk to Rabbi Yitzhak Guggenheim, the rabbi of Paris, and together they will set a date for the Paris authorities to come up with a list of the deceased who are in danger of being exhumed from their graves and a list of the deceased who were transferred from their graves and placed in the municipal warehouses."

At the same time, the Rabbis call upon the descendants to visit the graves of their loved ones and to ensure the maintenance of the graves, as well as to keep updated addresses with the municipal authorities so that they can know in a reasonable time about the danger hovering over the graves of their loved ones.