Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a letter sent last week to Romanian President Traian Basescu urged Romania to restore and protect the country’s Jewish cemeteries, which fell into disrepair during the communist era. “Cemeteries are an important issue to worldwide Jewry, and Jewish cemeteries are no exception,” Schumer wrote. “For many Jews in the United States these cemeteries are the last link to their ancestry.”

As throughout Eastern Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union, the estimated 800 Jewish cemeteries in Romania, many in towns that no longer have a Jewish community, are largely ownerless and neglected, often with crumbling gravestones and weed-covered grounds. Many of the sites are confiscated for personal or private use.

“To counter the destruction of these historic cemeteries, a solution must be implemented that protects the sanctity of these final resting places while responding to the legitimate needs of nearby communities,” Schumer.

Romania, where more than 800,000 Jews lived before World War II, today has an estimated Jewish population of 10,000-15,000.