About surveys project

The ESJF European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative

The ESJF European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative is a German-based NGO active in Central and Eastern Europe. Founded in 2015, in recognition of the thousands of Jewish cemeteries in Europe that lay neglected and threatened, the ESJF began surveying and fencing Jewish cemeteries with funding from the Federal Republic of Germany. To date, it has protected 123 sites in seven countries across Central and Eastern Europe.

Before World War II, more than seven million Jews lived in Central and Eastern Europe. Jews inhabited these towns and villages for centuries. Across the continent, Jewish burial sites provided direct physical evidence of this presence. Eighty years on, all trace of many of these cemeteries has been lost. They lie overgrown and unprotected – the result of the annihilation of their communities in the Holocaust. Centuries of Jewish settlement in Central and Eastern Europe have been erased from memory, as well as the artefacts bearing witness to that lineage.

The ESJF project has begun the process of physically protecting Jewish burial sites across Europe, particularly in places where Jewish communities were wiped out in the Holocaust. Moreover, it has identified resources, limitations, costs, and general practical models in order to provide the prototype for a sustainable, efficient long-term project, with the core objective of protecting and preserving every Jewish cemetery in Europe.

In November 2018, the ESJF received support from the European Union for a mass survey project of Jewish burial sites using cutting-edge drone technology. By June 2020, it will have surveyed at least 1,500 cemeteries in five countries (Greece, Lithuania, Moldova, Slovakia, and Ukraine). The ESJF website hosts a database of the surveyed sites in these countries, with photos, maps, and descriptions to make information on Jewish cemeteries in Europe public and accessible to all.

The ESJF believes that mapping these Jewish cemeteries is an important step in protecting European cultural heritage, and must be carried out on a local level. To that end, it works with local authorities, residents, and Jewish communities through educational outreach projects to ensure long-term success.

Our team

Through ESJF’s educational outreach programmes, secondary school students are encouraged to preserve and maintain the historical memory of local Jewish communities, including cemetery sites. This is of particular importance in the areas in which, in the wake of the Holocaust, Jewish communities no longer exist, as these cemeteries may represent the last physical testament to Jewish presence.

Philip Carmel
Chief Executive Officer
Phil has been Chief Executive Officer of the ESJF since its foundation in 2015. Born in the UK, Phil has lived in Israel, France and Belgium and was International Relations Director of the Conference of European Rabbis based in Brussels, where he set up and was Executive Director of the Lo Tishkach Foundation, a database of Europe’s Jewish cemeteries. He was subsequently Senior Advisor on European Affairs for the European Jewish Congress and a co-chair of the Global Forum on Antisemitism. He lives in Birmingham.
Alexander Bessarab
Office Director
Alexander trained as a construction engineer at Kyiv University of Construction and Architecture. Before joining ESJF, he worked in projects related to construction and civil engineering in Ukraine, Sweden and Dubai, and he managed large engineering projects. As an expert in drone technology and its application, today he is responsible for training and accompanying ESJF’s survey teams in the field, and works as a project manager overseeing the technical aspects of the project and data processing.
Samantha Shokin
Project Manager
Samantha holds a Master’s in Arts Administration from CUNY Baruch College and a Bachelor’s in Journalism from New York University. Prior to ESJF, she worked at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and Center for Traditional Music and Dance in New York, managing public programs and coordinating the city's annual Yiddish culture festival. As a first-generation American, she is excited to return to her Eastern European roots through ESJF.
Alexandra Fishel
Educational Projects Officer
Alexandra Fishel is a specialist in the study of Jewish cemeteries and headstone inscriptions on the ground. She studied at the Institute of Asian and African Studies of Moscow State University (Department of Hebrew Studies) and held an internship at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Currently Alexandra is about to complete a PhD in the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She also lectures on Jewish epigraphics at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. At the ESJF, Alexandra is responsible for educational programs.
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