The situation of Jewish cemetery desecration in northeastern France has become so severe that a group of volunteers have assembled to guard cemeteries in the Alsace region, Le mode reported.
Incidents such as the February 19, 2019 desecration of 92 graves at the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim – for which police encountered difficulty in their investigation and never identified the antisemitic vandals responsible – and other shocking antisemitic acts of vandalism, that were internationally condemned, led to a call to action.
In response, the Bas-Rain and Haut-Rhin governments launched a volunteer recruitment campaign to find people to protect the grave sites. The process was conducted in partnership with the French Jewish community.
Volunteers include teachers, municipal officials, religious clergy, retirees, community leaders and everyday residents of all backgrounds. All have signed up for this virtuous task.
As of February 2022, there were 80 “memory watchers” guarding 67 Jewish cemeteries throughout Alsace. The majority of these caretakers are not Jewish.
Frédéric Bierry, president of the Departmenal Council of Alsace, told Le Monde that the volunteers are “symbols of the democracy of involvement.”
“We support them so that they can exchange ideas with each other, but also so that they are recognizable and able to prevent certain situations of racism and xenophobia,” he explained.
Beginning in the 14th century, French Jews were banned form living in cities. By the 18th century, Jews living in rural areas in Alsace totalled over half of the Jewish population of France. It was not until 1791 that Jews were permitted to again live in cities. As of today, around 20,000 Jews live in northeastern France, mainly in Strasbourg.