Plans of Resurrection of Jews Cemetery in Czech Republic opposed by Locals

The US foundation represented by Mr.Jelinek has proposed to demarcate the old cemetery with a knee-high hedge and place some of the recovered tombstones there

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Jews Cemetery in Czech Republic
Jew Cemetery in ruins in Czech Republic.VOA
  • Jew community in Prague, Republic of Czech has been trying to revive its history
  • The community wants to resurrect its cemetery which has met with strong opposition
  • The former head of Jew community in Prague has been trying hard to restore the broken headstones to ensure the town remembers its Jewish past

Prague, Czech Republic, June 15, 2017: The Czech Republic- a nation state in the European continent is home to many ethnic groups including Germans, Romani, Poles and Hungarians from the neighboring nations. Jews have also been an integral part of the ethnic composition of Czech Republic.

On January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist as a separate entity and its territory became two independent nations, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Jewish communities of the various regions hence differed substantially in their demographic, economic, and cultural aspects, with influences of assimilation to the Czech and German cultures prevailing in the West. However, constant conflicts with the Czech community led to the emigration and escape of Jews from the nation (specifically after Munich Conference and German occupancy).

Since then, the Jew population in the nation has been on a fall. It also seems like that Czech Republic may be trying to bury its Jewish history. One can tell so by the poor state of the important structures related with Jews which have now been converted into ruins. But the Jews still living in the country are making efforts to revive their history in the nation.

According to a leading news site, Mr.Tomas Jelinek, the former head of Jew community in Prague, has been trying hard to restore the broken headstones to ensure the town remembers its Jewish past. Mr.Jelinek has recovered 34 headstones in and around Prostejov till date.

He said that every few months, he receives a call from someone from Prostejov telling him that a stone has been found with Hebrew writing.

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Talking to the leading news site, he said “Prostejov had a very bad history in the relationship to the Jews. It was famous for its anti-Semitism in the 19th Century. And it’s still in the population. You can hear it on the street, and you can also see that they just reinvent things which people thought would disappear for ever after the Second World War.”

Prostejov had been an important Jewish centre till 1942 when this history was brought to an abrupt end by Nazi occupancy. In 1943, the town’s Jew cemetery was bought by the town’s mayor and good quality marble was sold in the market leaving the place to be the Czech Republic ground.

Now, it is a small park, bordered by houses and a school. But 74 years after its desecration, plans to rehabilitate it have caused an uproar.

The US foundation represented by Mr.Jelinek has proposed to demarcate the old cemetery with a knee-high hedge and place some of the recovered tombstones there. However, the proposal has led to an uproar of opposition with a petition signed by 3,000 locals. As a result, the town council has withdrawn its support.

“Most of the people who signed the petition live opposite the park or are parents of kids who go to the school. So most people who signed the petition against it actually live there.” Said deputy mayor Zdenek Fiser.

He also dismissed the claims made by Jelinek that Prostejov was a hotbed of anti-Semitism (Antisemitism is hostility, prejudice, or discrimination directed against Jews as a group). He further added, “You’re asking me about anti-Semitic articles in the local press, but we didn’t write those articles, did we? As you well know, journalists need controversy, a ’cause celebre’, to make their articles interesting. If they’d just written about plans to turn a local park into a place of remembrance, no-one would be interested. But put ‘anti-Semitism’ in the headline, and all of a sudden everyone’s up in arms.”

For now, the newly discovered Bernhard Herlitzka’s tombstone is being stored with the rest at Prostejov’s New Jewish Cemetery, a short drive out of town. The town council and the foundation are still to concur over what to do with the tombstones which is going to take some time, considering the atmosphere.

– prepared by Nikita Tayal of NewsGram. Twitter: @NikitaTayal6