The remains of 29 Jews were transferred from a cemetery south of Paris to eastern France in an unprecedented operation held to rescue these bodies from eventual cremation. These bodies were slated to be exhumed and placed in an ossuary, as per French law, explained Albert Elharrar, president of the Creteil Jewish community. Creteil is a southeastern suburb of Paris.
When someone dies in France, their families can pay for their bodies to be buried in a cemetery plot for 10, 30, 50 years or longer. Once that time is up, city services can remove remains to make room for other coffins. By paying extra, families can get so-called perpetual rights, but even they only last 99 years.
“The problem is that once bodies are put in ossuaries, when those are full the remains are incinerated. That’s what we wanted to prevent. This operation was a miracle,” said Elharrar.
The Jewish community of Creteil uses the Valenton cemetery for some of its burials. This is where the coffins were slated to be exhumed.
“The cemetery told us that unless we paid €135,000 they would exhume those bodies. But even if we did pay, they said this would only postpone the problem. That’s when I contacted the mayor to ask for an exceptional authorization to transfer the bodies and he miraculously accepted,” said Elharrar.
The community was allowed to transfer graves to the Metz community in eastern France, where the legal system is different and Jewish communities own their cemeteries.
Of note is that graves of Jews killed during World War II cannot be exhumed, as these people often had no descendants to take care of their graves.