Roma Children Help Restore Forgotten Jewish Cemetery in Slovak Village

The volunteers who are cleaning up an abandoned Jewish cemetery in Vinodol, Slovakia.

June 24, 2021

Several young boys from the Roma community, along with a local elderly restoration enthusiast, have begun cleaning up a forgotten Jewish cemetery in the Slovak village of Vinodol, located 50 miles east of Bratislava.

Vladimir Spanik, a 73-year-old Vinodol resident, recently discovered the disused cemetery, finding it partially submerged, overgrown, and damaged. He soon got to work, leading a group of young volunteers from the local Roma community to help him clean up the area.

So far, the group has unearthed and cleaned dozens of Jewish tombstones, each dating back to before World War Two when the cemetery was abandoned.

“One part is [the Roma children] want to help me, old man. But the central issue for me is that they discover the Holocaust and the evil time for both Jews and Roma,” Spanik explained in an interview with Reuters.

While none of the group have identified Holocaust histories in their families, Spanik believes the topic resonates in the community due to the shared suffering of both peoples under fascist rule, which he says gave his project an extra dimension.

According to Yad Vashem, about 100,000 Slovak Jews — roughly three quarters of the pre-war population — were murdered during the Holocaust, while the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates 10,000 Slovak Romani also perished under fascist rule.

At present, the Jewish population numbers fewer than 3,000, so administering the estimated 700-750 known Jewish cemeteries in the country has become increasingly hard, making Spanik and the Roma boys’ project all the more valuable and heartwarming.