(JTA) – A fire that raged for hours in the city of Voronezh in Russia consumed large parts of its 19th century Jewish cemetery.
The fire appears to have started Friday in the immediate vicinity of the cemetery in the country’s northwest, the news website 36on reported Monday. Police are investigating whether it was the result of arson directed against the Jewish cemetery in an anti-Semitic attack, the report said. The Jewish cemetery in Voronezh has been targeted in such attacks in the past.
Some of the cemetery’s graves date back to the early 19th century.
Pictures of the cemetery showed charred vegetation covering substantial parts of the fence area as well as several headstones with extensive damage from the fire. Some wooden monuments also were consumed by the fire, according to the report.
“We are very worried,” the local rabbi, Avigdor Nosikov, told the news website. “The state of the cemetery after the fire causes pain to everyone.”
In 2012, the Council of Europe, a non-executive body that is unconnected to the European Union, adopted a non-binding resolution placing responsibility for the care of Jewish cemeteries on national governments. The resolution was based in part on a report that said Jewish cemeteries are “probably” more vulnerable than other cemeteries.
In addition to frequent vandalism, including for anti-Semitic reasons, at Jewish cemeteries, the report also noted instances of cemeteries in Eastern Europe that have been turned into “residential areas, public gardens, leisure parks, army grounds and storage sites; some have been turned into lakes.”
Poland and Slovakia alone have more than 2,000 Jewish cemeteries between them, many of them in disrepair. Just the fencing for all of Poland’s 1,400 Jewish cemeteries would cost approximately $32 million, according to the country’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich.