Next November, Havana will officially be five hundred years old. To mark the event, the city council has decided to give the city a new look. As a result, streets are being paved, monuments “refreshed” and historic sites are being restored. Among them is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Cuba.

It was in 1906 when the city’s first Jewish community bought land in Guanabacoa, a district located east of Havana. Four years later, a Jewish cemetery was built there, where Jews who had come, for the most part, from Central or Eastern Europe were buried. Many of these people fled persecution in the period between the two world wars.

According to David Prinstein, the community’s vice-president, many Jews have left Cuba after the communists came to power in 1959. This has gradually led to the gradual deterioration of the cemetery as a whole.  For years the local Jewish community has not managed to raise the $200,000 needed for a complete renovation of the cemetery. At best, some American Jews have provided funds for the maintenance of specific graves.

In an interview on Cuban television, Pilar Vega, an engineer working at the site said that there were about a thousand graves in the cemetery, of which about 50 had already been restored and that another 150 should be repaired before the end of the year. She also confirmed that the burial chamber where the “Tahara” of the deceased was performed had also been restored.

It is important to note, that this cemetery also houses a monument, three meters high, dedicated to the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Half a dozen soaps, which the Nazis manufactured with Jewish fat, are buried at the foot of the memorial.