New York State Funeral Directors Association

The tiny, hilltop cemetery serves as the final resting place for 228 people who once lived in the eastern European country we call the Slovak Republic today.

Their Jewish community comprised a major portion of the town of Banska Stiavnica’s population – until most of them were sent to death camps by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The 15 residents who returned to Slovakia after World War II moved to Israel, leaving the cemetery as one small piece of evidence this Jewish community ever lived there.

With nobody around to visit those in the cemetery, it eventually became run down and ignored.

But today, every single person in that cemetery is documented, and the cemetery is restored.

This is all thanks to an organization created in the mid-1980s – the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.

The Commission is made up of volunteers – people who are, most likely, successful in their own careers and who have the motivation to embrace their ancestors.

They aren’t paid, aside from travel expenses. And they go about the work of raising money to complete critical projects around the world that will ensure important elements of our cultural past endure.


People carry much of their cultural heritage with them.

But some parts of that heritage that can’t be carried – like cemeteries, burial grounds and houses of worship.Image of a Greek Catholic Church in Semetkovce, Slovakia. Built in the 16th and 17th Centuries, these buildings, considered national treasures, are among preservation projects the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad engages in.

One culture in particular – those of the Judaic faith – endured massive loss of population during the Holocaust.

There are cemeteries throughout Eastern Europe where Jews were buried. In some cases, they aren’t cemeteries but unmarked burial grounds and mass graves.

It’s heartening to know that there’s a U.S. organization dedicated to recognizing and preserving these sites.

The U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad is worthy of recognition. More, I believe, than it’s received.

Founded by Congress in 1985, the Commission is wide-reaching agency has been developing agreements with foreign nations to protect and preserve sites which are endangered in several countries including Albania, Armenia, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Ukraine.

The Commission has reached agreements to preserve sites with all of these countries, and work is underway to draft agreements with Azerbaijan, Greece, Russia and Turkey.

Although those of the Jewish faith suffered the greatest loss to their population in Eastern Europe, the Commission’s work hasn’t focused solely on Jewish heritage.

They’ve restored ancient Greek Catholic churches in the Carpathian Mountains dating to the 1500s and 1600s; they’ve surveyed numerous Muslim cemeteries, monuments and other sites important to this faith community in Bulgaria.

And the Commission has researched important sites in Europe and Eastern Europe that served as the birth place or place of recognition for heroes – those who fought alongside American Colonists during the American Revolution.

General Thaddeus Kosciuszko is just one of them.

Residents of New York State’s Capital Region may recognize that name – it’s the name given to the “Twin Bridges” that carry I-87, or Northway traffic, across the Mohawk River.

I always wondered who that guy was.

He was born in Poland in 1746, studied in military academies in Poland and Paris and offered his services to the American colonists.

Among other accomplishments, Kosciuszko advised that Bemis Heights – one of several critical sites of the Battles of Saratoga – be fortified.

There are heroes of the American Revolution from Ireland, France, Scotland, Germany, Poland, England and Portugal, among others.

For those unfamiliar with foreign-born heroes of the American Revolution, the Commission’s survey of sites associated with their lives and deeds is worth reading – it would answer many of the questions about why particular roads, towns, schools, parks and facilities have the names they’re given.

Remembering where we came from – and where others who helped us be who we are – is important.

So, too, is doing right by those people and making sure they’re never forgotten.

I can only hope the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad continues its work into the future.

EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association