Reviews 12 Jul 11

Students Restore Jewish Cemetery in Pristina

Eleven students from Dartmouth College and ten students from the American University in Kosovo, AUK, have restored the rundown Jewish Cemetery in Pristina.

Shengjyl Osmani
Pristina

Dartmouth College in the US, for the tenth year, took a group of students of different ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds to Eastern Europe to carry out a restoration project.

Alongside peers from AUK, the students set about improving the cemetery for the once vibrant Jewish community in Kosovo.

Debris was cleared and the overgrown grass cut back at this neglected Jewish cemetery, a lone remaining sign of a dwindling community in this majority Muslim country.

After the 1999 war, these graves have been abandoned and forgotten, although a Czech scheme launched in 2008 also attempted to restore the site to its former beauty.

The Czech Embassy in Kosovo and the Kosovo Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports spent 13,000 euro for the improvements, which were unveiled in October 26, 2009, at which the Czech Ambassador, Janina Hrebickova, as well as then Minister of Culture, Valton Beqiri, spoke on the importance of preserving and protecting a site that bears testimony to a civilization that lived in Kosovo for so long. However, the site soon fell back into disrepair.

Max Yoeli, a Dartmouth student, visiting Kosovo for the first time, said that the experience in Kosovo had been different than the previous ones in Eastern Europe.

“For the first time we are working with local peers who really helped us a lot to found out more about the genocide history of this newly born country,” claimed Max.

Lauren Pace, one of the team leaders from Dartmouth students, agreed with Max’s statement and added that the experience in Kosovo is one that they will remember for good.

“As my second year on Project Preservation, I am proud to have been one of the leaders of this year's trip. The work we did was enhanced so much by the friendships that we made with our peers at AUK. I am so proud of what we have done in Pristina,” added Lauren.

Susan Matthew, the other leader of the Dartmouth group, claimed that they are proud of the new look of the cemetery, and hope these graves remain as such for a long time.

The monument at the Jewish cemetery in Pristina
The monument built at the Jewish Cemetery | photo by Lancel Joseph

“We worked under the sun, from the morning ‘til the afternoon and our hard work goes to all these buried people so that they are remembered as once having been inhabitants of this city,” added Susan.

Dradan Hajrizi, the team leader of AUK students, said that “it is very important for Kosovo people to still keep the memory of Jews who lived in Kosovo”.

“As my grandfather told me once about the dark history of Jews during the Nazi period, through this project finally I got the opportunity to continue the family tradition, to help Jewish people again, this time through the cemetery. I hope Kosovo will continue to show how helpful and tolerant we are as a nation.”

Anesa Colakovic, AUK student from Mitrovica, added that this experience had helped her understand that during the history many people had suffered in the Balkan and across Europe.

“The Project Preservation made me think further about the people who suffered during WWII and their dark ending, a similar picture to what we had once gone through,” concluded Anesa.

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