Broken Jewish tombstones used to pave Czech square turned memorial | Czech Republic

The desecration of Jewish cemeteries under communist rule in former Czechoslovakia has been officially recognized with a new memorial fashioned from hewn tombstones used for paving stones in Prague.

The Return of the Stones monument, made up of 7 tons of shattered headstones, was unveiled on Wednesday in the Czech capital’s former Jewish cemetery, itself partly desecrated to make it a public park before becoming the site of the city’s booming television tower.

In the shadow of the 709-foot (216-meter) tower, Karol Sidon, the chief rabbi of the Czech Republic, recited a Hebrew blessing for the new structure, which was commissioned by the local Jewish community after the cobblestones were were unearthed in Prague’s Wenceslas Square in May 2020 at the start of an extensive facelift.

The cobblestones are believed to have been made from tombstones taken from Jewish cemeteries in the northern region of Bohemia during the communist era, which ended in 1989 when the Velvet Revolution ushered in a new era of democratic rule. .

They were placed in Wenceslas Square as part of a pedestrianization project carried out in preparation for a visit by then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to Prague in 1987.

Cobblestones made from Jewish tombstones displayed at a construction site in Wenceslas Square in Prague in May 2020. Photo: Martin Divíšek/EPA

The Prague City Council handed them over to the Jewish community under a prior agreement drawn up amid widespread suspicions that they were made from headstones taken from cemeteries. It was not possible to identify the individuals commemorated by the headstones.

František Bányai, the president of the Jewish community in Prague, called the cobblestones “a symbol of barbarism, rudeness and archaic cruelty” and compared the treatment of cemeteries and religious sites by the former communist regime to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The memorial, the £28,000 cost of which was funded by private donors and a public crowdfunding campaign, was the work of a Czech sculptor, Jaroslav Róna, and his wife, Lucie, an architect.

“The idea is for the memorial to act as a place of meditation and remembrance for those who know that the cemeteries where their loved ones rested were destroyed,” the sculptor said. “They can come here and hang out.”

Other tombstones should be discovered elsewhere in the square during future work. They will be used to extend the memorial.

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