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Tombstones in Bitola cemetery
Actors join forces to restore ancient Jewish cemetery
Israel's Habima and Cameri theaters are to stage joint performance of Polish play 'Our Class,' about Jewish persecution during WWII, with all of its revenues to be devoted to the preservation and protection of thousands of gravestones in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Bitola, Macedonia—the only surviving remnant of the Nazi-annihilated community.

Actors from the Israeli Habima and Cameri theaters will join forces to preserve the ancient Jewish cemetery of the city of Bitola in Macedonia, Which lost its entire Jewish population during the Holocaust.

 

 

Two years after the actors visited, they decided to put on a special show whose proceeds would be devoted to the rehabilitation of the cemetery and about 6,000 of its neglected tombstones.

 

A neglected tombstone in the Jewish cemetery in Bitola, Macedonia
A neglected tombstone in the Jewish cemetery in Bitola, Macedonia

 

The team of actors from both theaters visited the Balkans on their tour for the show "Our Class," which deals with the complicated ties between Poles and Jews during the Second World War. It was staged in four countries.

 

During their stay in the city of Bitola, the actors visited the ancient Jewish cemetery in the city where 10,000 Jews have been buried from 1497—the days of the expulsion from Spain until the Second World War.

 

These graves are almost the only remnant left by the large Jewish community of Macedonia, which numbered 7,144 people on the eve of World War II, and was annihilated by the Nazis.

 

Touched by the sad tale of the city's Jewish community, the actors are set to stage a special performance of "Our Class," directed by Hanan Snir, with all proceeds going towards preserving the ancient cemetery.

 

The special performance will take place at the Habima National Theater on August 27, with ten actors appearing in the performance—five from Habima and five from Cameri.

 

 

The Israeli ambassador to Macedonia, Dan Orian, took the rehabilitation of the cemetery as a personal project and has managed to rehabilitate around 3,800 of its 10,000 graves.

 

"The Jews of Bitola were hit first by the Nazis and then by neglect," said Israeli Ambassador to Macedonia Dan Orian, who took the preservation and protection of the cemetery as a personal project and has managed to save around 3,800 of its 10,000 graves from complete destruction. "We are trying to bring the story back to our consciousness and create a new and unique connection with Israel."

 

"As we were previously worked towards preserving the heritage, culture and memory of entire communities destroyed in the Holocaust, we do so again in an emotional endeavor that brings our trip from two years ago full circle," said Odelia Friedman, Habima General Manager.

 

Top-down view of the Jewish cemetery in Bitola
Top-down view of the Jewish cemetery in Bitola

 

At the outbreak of World War II, the Jewish community of Macedonia was assembled in the capital of Skopje, and in March 1943 all its members were deported to the Treblinka Nazi extermination camp, together with the rest of the Jews of Macedonia, where they were exterminated by the Nazis.

 

There are no Jewish residents left in Bitola.

 

In the last two years, the cemetery was slowly turned into a memorial park for the legacy of the city's Jewish residents, though when it comes to the grave sites, Ambassador Orian said that the project is currently NIS 300,000 short for its overall plan of cleaning, restoring and preserving all salvageable, adding that if they had the funds, they could "complete the entire process within a year."

 

"Our goal is to document all the tombstones on a digital format so that they are accessible to everyone on the internet," Orian said.

 

According to him, the Macedonian government joined the initiative, with three ministers took part in the launch event for the cemetary's restoration.

 

Orian added that the mayor of Bitola promised to maintain the cemetery after its restoration.

 

"There is tremendous importance to the restoration of the cemetery," Orion concluded.

 

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