In Slovakia, a retired non-Jewish educator teaches Roma teens about the Holocaust at Jewish cemeteries

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(JTA) — An activist attempting to preserve Jewish cemeteries in Slovakia has recruited several Roma teenagers to help with the task.

Vladimir Spanik, 73, involved the teenagers in cleaning up the Jewish cemetery of Vinodol, a town located some 40 miles east of the capital Bratislava, Reuters reported last week. Spanik has been volunteering to help motivate the teens to improve their socioeconomic situation.

“Part of it was that they wanted to help an old man,” said the retired educator, who is neither Jewish nor Roma. “But for me the main point is for them to learn about the Holocaust and the extremely painful moment it has been for so many Jews and Roma.”

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One of the teenagers, Franko Lakatos, said part of the work is digging and locating headstones that sank into the soft ground or became overgrown with weeds and climbing plants. The absence of fencing around most Jewish cemeteries in Eastern Europe contributes to vandalism. In 2019, dozens of tombstones were destroyed at the Jewish cemetery of Namestovo in Slovakia.

What is now Slovakia was home to about 100,000 Jews before the Holocaust. Today the local Jewish community has about 3,000 members.

Jewish organizations there have enough resources for preserving about 150 Jewish cemeteries among the approximately 750 that are scattered in that country, their leaders have said.

In addition to about 6 millions Jews, the Nazis and their collaborators killed between 200,000 and 500,000 Roma people during World War II, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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