Prague Jews build monument from tombstones looted under communism

(JTA) — During and after the decimation of the Jewish populations of Eastern Europe in the Holocaust, even the dead were not spared: the inhabitants, their Nazi occupiers and their Communist leaders looted Jewish cemeteries to find tombstones and used them to pave roads and build countless public buildings. , including schools, park pavilions and even churches.

On September 7, the Jewish community of Prague in the Czech Republic inaugurated a new monument in its cemetery in an attempt to repair some of the damage. The monument consists of around 6,000 cobblestones made from Jewish tombstones that were used in 1987 to pave Prague’s Wenceslas Square, national broadcaster Česka Televize reported. The municipality handed over the stones to the Jewish community in 2020, after the stones were removed during renovations.

The community commissioned artists Jaroslav and Lucie Rona to build the monument, which cost around $32,000 and features a mound surrounded by nine blocks made of paving stones. Although letters from the Hebrew and Roman alphabets can be seen on some of the stones, no individual tombstones used to make the cobblestones have been identified, according to the report.

In a speech at the inauguration ceremony, František Bányai, the president of the Jewish community of Prague, called the cobblestones “a symbol of barbarism, rudeness and archaic cruelty”. The Jewish cemetery in Žižkov, where the monument titled “Return of the Stones” was unveiled, was among the many Jewish cemeteries whose lands were stolen under communism. Authorities built a television antenna over part of the cemetery, in violation of traditional Jewish laws against disturbing burial sites.

The memorial is part of a larger effort across the region to combat the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. Jews consider the desecrations to have added insult to injury, as they even targeted the memory of communities wiped out by the Holocaust.

The use of tombstones as building material has attracted media attention in recent years in several Eastern European countries with complicated Jewish histories.

In 2014, the municipality of Warsaw, the capital of Poland, returned gravestones to a Jewish community that had been used to build a pavilion in a local park.

And last month, Jewish headstones that had been used to build stairs leading to the Evangelical Reform Church in Vilnius, Lithuania, were returned to a local Jewish cemetery after a years-long campaign by members of the Jewish community in the city.

Berta D. Wells