Jewish communities: 'Race against time' to preserve south Wales history

Image source, Jewish History Association of South Wales
Image caption,
Arnold and Gabriel Krotosky of the Krotosky Butcher Shop - their picture is among those being digitised

Efforts have begun to preserve 250 years of Jewish history in south Wales, after historians warned there was a "race against time" to record stories.

The Jewish History Association of South Wales (JHASW) has been awarded a grant of almost £55,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

It will help them trace the stories of victims of the Holocaust with links to South Wales.

So far 72 oral histories have already been recorded.

More than 6,000 images have also been digitised as part of the ambitious project.

As well as £54,200 of lottery funding, the JHASW has secured another £6,000 towards the project from crowd funding and donations.

Image source, Jewish History Association of South Wales
Image caption,
Pontypridd Hebrew congregation - the town used to have a thriving Jewish community

Project Manager Klavdija Erzen said they were grateful for the support.

"The 16 month project, which started last month will run through to January 2021," she added.

A century ago 6,000 Jewish people lived in Wales; today best estimates put the population in the hundreds.

Migration was driven by the industrial revolution in Wales, combined with persecution in Russia and Eastern Europe.

By the late 19th Century there were thriving Jewish communities in Swansea, Merthyr Tydfil, Brynmawr, Aberdare and Pontypridd.

In the 1940s, so many Jewish workers had come to the area to support the war effort that the predominant languages heard on Treforest Industrial Estate, Rhondda Cynon Taff, were Polish, German and Czech.

Yet by 1999 Merthyr's once 400-strong community had disappeared altogether when George Black, "the Last Jew in Merthyr", died aged 82.

Image source, Jewish History Association of South Wales
Image caption,
Companies on the Treforest Industrial Estate had many Jewish employees

In July, Ms Erzen said historians were in a race against time to record their stories.

"Of the 72 people we interviewed over the last year, seven of them have already died – and almost all of them are getting quite old – so it's vital we create a permanent record of their lives in Wales," she said.

"As well as creating a permanent online archive, the grant will help us train and coordinate volunteers to comb museums and libraries across Wales, as often records and accounts of Jewish people aren't filed as such, so there's so much more out there to discover."

Image source, Jewish History Association of South Wales
Image caption,
Penylan Synagogue: The building has been demolished

The JHASW's first task is to research the stories of people named on the Cardiff Reform Synagogue Memorial Tablet.

The stone was erected in memory of relatives of synagogue members who died in the Holocaust, and whose graves are unknown.

The grant will also allow them to create a digital Jewish heritage trail around Cardiff, work with Rhondda Cynon Taff museums to identify and interpret Jewish material held in their collections, and build a heritage preservation toolkit to enable people to preserve their own family's history.

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