JTA — Even the dead were not spared during and after the decimation of the Jewish populations of Eastern Europe in the Holocaust: the inhabitants, their Nazi occupiers and their Communist leaders all participated in the looting of Jewish cemeteries and used tombstones 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, according to national broadcaster Česka Televize. The municipality returned the stones to the Jewish community in 2020, after removing them during renovations.
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The community had commissioned artists Jaroslav and Lucie Rona to make the monument, which cost around $32,000 and includes a mound surrounded by nine blocks made of the paving stones. Although characters from the Hebrew and Roman alphabets are visible on some of the stones, no individual tombstone used to make the cobblestones could be identified, based on the information provided.
In a speech at the inauguration ceremony, František Bányai, 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, is one of many Jewish cemeteries whose lands were stolen under communism. The authorities had built a television antenna on part of the cemetery, thus violating the laws of Jewish tradition which prohibit disturbing burial sites.
The memorial is part of a larger effort in the region to combat the desecration of Jewish cemeteries. The Jews consider that these desecrations have added insult to injury, because they are aimed even at the memory of the communities destroyed by the Holocaust.
The use of tombstones as building material has attracted media attention in recent years in several Eastern European countries with complex Jewish histories.
In 2014, the Municipality of Warsaw, Poland returned gravestones to the Jewish community that had been used to build a pavilion in a local park.
And last month, Jewish headstones that were used to build stairs leading to the Evangelical Reform Church in Vilnius, Lithuania, were returned to a local Jewish cemetery, following a years-long campaign by members of the city’s Jewish community.
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Paving stones made from Jewish graves, returned to Prague community
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