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 almost 200 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.

Following on from the success of this initial pilot scheme, further funding was granted in December 2019 for a second project, entitled “Protecting the Jewish cemeteries of Europe: Continuation of the mapping process, stakeholders’ involvement and awareness raising”. Taking place between December 15th 2019 and June 15th 2021, this project will be carried out as a consortium, bringing together the renowned international Jewish education NGO Centropa, as well as the UK-based non-profit the Foundation for Jewish Heritage (FJH), who will lend their considerable expertise in education and architectural preservation to help achieve the project’s goals over the coming 18 months.

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As with the initial pilot scheme, this new project involves the mapping of survey sites with the intention of compiling a comprehensive, open-source database of all Jewish cemeteries in Central and Eastern Europe, which will be stored on this site. By expanding the geographical scope of the work to seven countries (Croatia, Georgia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine), the ESJF aims to survey 1,700 cemeteries, using cutting-edge drone technology to create 3D models of the sites which can then be used in protective construction work.

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.
Oleksandr Bessarab
Office Director
Oleksandr 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.
Klara Vlahčević Lisinski
Project Manager EC Grant
Klara is originally from Croatia, and she obtained her bachelor's degree in Journalism and Multimedia in Zagreb and Paris. Her master's, EU and International Relations, Klara did at CIFE - Centre International de Formation Européenne, in Nice, Berlin and Rome, and she is currently doing her second master's on Conflict, Peace and Security. She was awarded the Hubert H. Humphrey Fulbright exchange fellowship program. For more than a decade she has worked as a journalist, editor, project manager and social entrepreneur. She is an active social activist privately and in her work, and at ESJF she will be managing all aspects of the project.
Sophie Pownall
Communications and Media Officer
Sophie Pownall handles internal and external communications, manages the ESJF’s social media accounts, and acts as a liaison to the press. She recently completed her Master’s degree in Contemporary European studies at the University of Bath. Her academic interests include feminism, democracy, social movements, memory politics and culture and EU foreign policy. She earned her undergraduate degree in French, German and European studies at the University of Bath. She works voluntarily as a Communications Officer at think-tank EuropaNova Germany and the Studienkreis für Tourismus und Entwicklung. She enjoys reading, speaking foreign languages and doing Ballroom and Latin dancing.
Agnes Kende
Legal Research Office
Agnes is from Budapest, Hungary and joined the ESJF team as the new Legal Research Officer and she will contribute to address the diverse legal statuses of Jewish cemeteries. Agnes has been teaching European Jewish history, memory politics to University and IB students and finishing her doctoral degree at Central European University, that focuses on the political instrumentalization of the Holocaust memory in Hungary. Throughout her various academic experiences both in Hungary and abroad (Italy, Israel, and Germany) she developed strong appreciation towards Jewish cultural heritage.
Oleksandra Fishel
Educational Projects Officer
Oleksandra 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 Oleksandra 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, Oleksandra is responsible for educational programs.
Olena Kolb
Public Sector Liaison Ambassador
Olena Kolb is a journalist, tour guide and researcher of Jewish history in Eastern Europe and the co-author of the manuals for tour guides with a special focus on the Jewish life on the frontier before World War II. She is a member and organizer of more than 100 expeditions to study Jewish cemeteries. She graduated from the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv. In the ESJF, Olena Kolb is responsible for communication with local authorities of fence sites as well as the organization of educational activities for representatives of local authorities, tourism, culture, education departments, teachers, librarians, museum representatives, and local historians. She also organises educational meetings with school pupils. She is based between Lviv and Kyiv.
Kamila Dąbrowska
Public Sector Liaise Ambassador
PhD holder in cultural anthropology, specialist in memory studies and Polish-Jewish relations, postwar Polish history and Polish Jews migrations/expulsions after the war. Author of articles and a doctoral thesis on individual and collective memory of Polish Jews after the Second World War. A lecturer at the Institute of Ethnography and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Warsaw, and at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences. A long-term employee of POLIN Museum in Warsaw, supervising various projects for adults, anti-discriminatory projects addressed to the Polish Police and managing the museum-guide team. Board member of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland and JCC Warsaw. In ESJF she serves a role of the Public Sector Liaise Ambassador, responsible for the Regional Cemetery Association Project and involved in the Masterclasses Project.
Kateryna Malakhova
Historical Researcher
Katya holds a PhD in philosophy from the Kyiv Mohyla Academy. She was previously a member of the National Academy of Sciences in Ukraine. A specialist in 18th-century Jewish history, hasidism, and Haskalah, she is the lead historian at ESJF.
Kate Kliuchnyk
Survey and Mapping Officer
At ESJF, she was responsible for the production of photo and video materials, as well as for the development of catalogs, presentations, and the administration and design of the website. Now she is currently coordinating research teams.
Ian Galeevskii
Senior Surveyor
Ian has a background in tourism development. He gained practical experience in Turkey and Thailand in various hotels and developing sightseeing services. Before joining ESJF, he worked in Thailand as a hotel guide, catering to tourist groups from across Asia and Europe. He is based between Uzhgorod and Kiev.
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