Mumbai's Chinchpokli Jewish Cemetery, Resting Place Of Holocaust Survivors, Restored By German And Israeli Missions

Mumbai's Chinchpokli Jewish Cemetery, Resting Place Of Holocaust Survivors, Restored By German And Israeli Missions

A memorial to European Jews who migrated to India to escape the Nazi regime in Europe was inaugurated on July 3 at the Jewish Cemetery, Chinchpokli, where some survivors of the Holocaust are buried.

Manoj RamakrishnanUpdated: Wednesday, July 03, 2024, 06:36 PM IST
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Mumbai's Chinchpokli Jewish Cemetery, Resting Place Of Holocaust Survivors, Restored By German And Israeli Missions |

Mumbai: A memorial to European Jews who migrated to India to escape the Nazi regime in Europe was inaugurated on July 3 at the Jewish Cemetery, Chinchpokli, where some survivors of the Holocaust are buried. Holocaust is the term for the state-sponsored killing of six million Jewish men, women, and children and millions of others by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II.

Wednesday’s ceremony marked the completion of the restoration project aimed at preserving the heritage and honouring the lives of the European Jews buried there. The cemetery, which has over a thousand graves, is the resting place of many German, Polish, Austrian, and Czechoslovakians who were among the estimated 2500 Jews who sought shelter in British India during the war. A majority of the refugees left India after independence, but some stayed back and died here.

The six-month long renovation project was led by the German Consulate General of Mumbai and the Consulate General of Israel in India. The restoration work includes landscaping, new lighting, and pathways. A plaque marking the cemetery as a site on the 'Jewish Route’, a walking itinerary to promote tours of Jewish sites in Mumbai, has been installed on the gates of the cemetery.

Consul General of Israel to Midwest India Kobbi Shoshani said that Jews found a safe haven in India twice, referring to the waves of Jewish migration to the country’s shores. The first group, now called Bene Israelis, are believed to have landed on the Raigad coast after the fall of King Solomon’s temple in 70 BC. They were followed by Jews from the Middle East in the 18th and 19th centuries, and in the 20th century by Europeans escaping the Holocaust.

Shoshani said that Indian people opened their gates and their hearts to Jews. “Here in India Jews did not suffer anti-Semitism,” said Shoshani. “India has always reflected its strong tolerant democratic fabric by demonstrating inclusiveness in their Indian society, so much so that the Jews who rest here were warmly accepted.”

German Consul General Achim Fabig called the restoration work ‘fruits of a project that took eight months’. He said that the idea of the project was born when he received a call from a German journalist about the Chinchpokli cemetery about which he was not aware. “What I found was a very astonishing testimony to a horrible chapter in German history,” said Fabig.

Fabig added that while there was information about German refugees who moved to South America and even Shanghai in China, very little is known about refugees who came to India. “Mumbai has been left in the shadows in that area,” he said, adding that this was a story of exile. “What we see here today is people who died in exile. People who came here and had no chance to go back to their homeland, absolutely confined to a life in exile, lonely,” he said. "If we do not preserve our heritage and culture, we will lose our memory."

The Chinchpokli cemetery was built in January 1878 by Elias David Sassoon, a leading merchant and banker in Mumbai, in memory of his son Joseph.

Holocaust survivor attends the function.

'How a Havana cigar' guided a Jewish family fleeing the holocaust to a safe haven in America.

Jinx Akerkar, a resident of Breach Candy, Mumbai, has a life history written in three continents. She describes herself as ‘a child of the Holocaust’. She was born in Berlin, Germany, to Jewish parents in 1931. They left Germany two years before World War II started in September 1939. “We escaped to France before they could send us to the (concentration) camps. When the Nazis occupied the north of France we moved to the south which was still free,” said Akerkar who was born Hanna Oppenheimer.

The family escaped by boat to Cuba and from there to the United States. She said the idea to move to Cuba came when her father was smoking a Havana cigar. “My father was looking with his friends where to go and he used to smoke cigars, Havana cigars. And he said ‘Oh look Havana, there is a little island right next to America. Let’s see if they will take us and they were willing to take you if you had 500 dollars to give them. So I went to Cuba before. Before Castro,” she said. Cuba was peaceful and Akerkar said that life on the island was fun.

Akerkar later moved to New York and met her Indian husband when they were students in a college. She moved to India. She was at the ceremony at the invitation of Consul General of Israel to Midwest India Kobbi Shoshani.

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