With centuries-old Jewish populations in many parts of Europe practically eradicated, many Jewish cemeteries are unattended or abandoned. There are active attempts to keep an eye on old grave sites, but it has been historically difficult to maintain ancient cemeteries, often in the presence of an indifferent, or even hostile, local populace. In Poland, for example, Jewish tombstones have been looted and used for mundane purposes—both during and after World War II—including as construction material. (This became the subject of the controversial 2013 film Aftermath, about Polish brothers trying to restore the graves, angering their neighbors in the process.) Other countries are less pragmatic in their desecration; the ADL reported half a dozen incidents of cemetery vandalism worldwide in the last year alone, most of them in Europe.
So what can scholars and international Jewry do? A lot, apparently. Starting big and growing more detailed, satellite and drone photography like Google Earth can record precise locations of cemeteries, as well as how they are arranged. As Jewish Heritage Europe reports, an exciting new online project allows users to tour a Jewish cemetery in Bialystok, Poland, by drone. Beyond that, the site points out, radar can search beneath the ground for burials no longer marked by stones. As for time-weathered memorials, 3D scanners can help reconstruct a marker’s original text.
Researchers and documenters can also easily share their findings in the age of the Internet, as in the case of researcher Tomek Wisniewski, who shares his extensive work in Poland on his website.
Not only do new technologies facilitate the recording of information before it grows even more difficult to grasp, but it makes it easier to keep watch over these cemeteries in the future, even from a distance.
Gabriela Geselowitz is a writer and the former editor of Jewcy.com.