Polish prisoners to renovate Jewish cemeteries

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The Polish prison service has signed an agreement with the national Polish-Jewish heritage foundation that enables prisoners to volunteer for conservation work.

Warsaw -- Polish prisoners are to do conservation work in disused Jewish cemeteries, Poland's penitentiary service said Thursday.

Prisons spokesman Ireneusz Mucha said the service had signed an agreement with the national Polish-Jewish heritage foundation enabling prisoners to volunteer.

The foundation estimates that about 1,000 cemeteries countrywide need work. The occupying Nazi Germans destroyed many Jewish graveyards during World War II.

"The voluntary, unpaid work will be run with local authorities or Jewish communities. The advantages will go both ways, because the foundation will also provide courses in history and tolerance for the prisoners," Mucha told AFP.

The plan involves more than a dozen penitentiaries across Poland.

Two initial projects will see the building of a memorial in a cemetery in Radom, south of Warsaw, and the renovation of a graveyard in Zwierzyniec in the southeast.

Jews first emigrated to Poland from western Europe to escape 11th century pogroms.

On the eve of World War II, Poland was home to around 3.5 million Jews, representing around 10 percent of the country's population and Europe's largest Jewish community.

Half of the six million Jews killed by Nazi Germany were Polish. Most perished in camps set up in occupied Poland such as the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In 1945, Poland's surviving Jewish population numbered just 280,000.

Many emigrated to the United States or Israel immediately after the war or during waves of anti-Semitism under the communist regime in the 1950s and 1960s.

According to various estimates, there are about 3,500-15,000 people who identify themselves as Jewish in Poland today, out of a total population of 38 million people, more than 90 percent of whom are Catholic.


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