A private organization that wants to preserve thousands of old Jewish cemeteries in Europe is using aerial drones to map burial sites in countries where the Holocaust decimated Jewish populations that existed before World War II. The European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative said Tuesday that teams of drone operators plan to survey 1,500 endangered Jewish cemeteries in Slovakia, Greece, Moldova, Lithuania, and Ukraine this year. Once the boundaries are recorded, the sites will be enclosed and cleaned. The EU is funding the effort with a $911,100 grant, reports the AP. The chief executive of the initiative, Philip Carmel, said walls fitted with locking gates will be erected around the graveyards both to protect them and to re-establish a physical presence, "so people know there's a Jewish cemetery."
Many of the cemeteries to be surveyed and enclosed this year had to be found before they could be protected. Local residents helped the organization's researchers find some, abandoned and grown over since World War II. Pre-1918 maps and aerial photos that Germany's Luftwaffe used to pinpoint targets for aerial bombing missions helped reveal more. There are about 10,000 known Jewish burial sites in 46 European countries, according to the European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative. "It is vital, especially, that the next generation of Europeans learns about Jewish existence to combat rising anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial," Carmel said. "The cemeteries are so often the last physical proof of centuries of Jewish life in the towns and villages of Europe, which were wiped out in the Shoah. There is no better proof to deny Holocaust denial." (Nearly 100 Jewish graves were recently desecrated in France.)