Efforts to commemorate a destroyed Jewish cemetery and rescue its scattered headstones in the Czech town of Prostejov have met with protests that appear to be tinged with anti-Semitism — a rarity in the Czech Republic.
The cemetery is question is the old Jewish cemetery in the town of Prostejov, in central Moravia, which was in use from 1801 until 1908. The cemetery was demolished during World War II, and its nearly 2,000 gravestones were uprooted and used for construction. After World War II, the site was used as a sports grounds and the site of an amusement park. Today it is a public park — a small commemorative monument marks the area as a historic Jewish cemetery.
(Prostejov has a New Jewish Cemetery, founded in 1908 as part of the municipal cemetery after the closure of the Old Jewish Cemetery. It includes about 500 headstones and is listed as a cultural monument. According to the Prague Jewish community’s heritage site, it includes some stones transferred from the destroyed old cemetery.)
We posted in December 2015 about the efforts led by Czech Jewish activist Tomas Jelinek to recover the stones and fragments and build a memorial at the site. The project has been coordinated and funded by New York philanthropist Rabbi Louis Kestenbaum. A new memorial plaque was unveiled at the grave of Rabbi Tzvi Yeshayahu ha-Levi Horowitz.
In recent months, however, these efforts have been met with what was described in a Czech media report as “an unprecedented wave of antisemitism.”
The new monument at Rabbi Horowitz’s grave was recently smashed in two.
The restoration efforts, correspondent Rob Cameron writes, “have caused uproar.”
“I think the mayor pretty much summed it up when she said the rights of the living must take precedence over the rights of the dead,” deputy mayor Zdenek Fiser told me at Prostejov’s splendid town hall.
He was referring to one of many stormy public meetings held in the town on a proposal put forward by the US foundation Mr Jelinek now represents – Kolel Damesek Eliezer. The foundation wants to demarcate the old cemetery with a knee-high hedge and place some of the recovered tombstones there.
But after a petition signed by 3,000 locals the town council quickly withdrew its support. A visualisation was attached to the petition, falsely showing the park surrounded by a brick wall.
In an interview in January with a Czech news site, Petr Papousek, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, said the extreme reaction was fed by misinformation which “unleashed hysteria.”
The problem is a misunderstanding of the situation. It is a fact that the camp of opponents of the project and the authors of the petition voiced numerous false information that did not correspond to the intentions of the Jewish side. […] I do not know why it all began. What is obvious is that people who are against reverent commemoration were not interested in accurate information. They did not communicate with the Jewish side […] However, it is obvious that if you show a false visualization that shows a two-meter wall, is is easier to get the general public on your side.