Jewish Heritage Europe

On the Road in CZ (and PL): Revisiting the historic Jewish cemeteries in Osoblaha and Biała

The centuries-old Jewish cemetery in Osoblaha, a remote little town on the Czech-Polish border, is unique in the Czech Republic because of the strong influence of Polish/Silesian-style gravestone art.

It has some 313 surviving gravestones (out of possibly 1200); the earliest date from the late 17th century, and many have distinctive exaggerated rounded top parts, richly decorated with carved reliefs based on plant motifs and vivid representations of Jewish symbols and inscriptions. 

Osoblaha is in Czech Silesia and was known in German as Hotzenplotz.

The Jewish community here was important in the middle ages, but had basically dwindled out of existence by the early 20th century; the neo-baroque synagogue dating from around 1808 was torn down in 1933, when only one Jew is believed to have lived in the village.

JHE coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber first visited more than 25 years ago, in the very early 1990s, and she revisited the site this past week on her current Jewish heritage road trip in Czech Republic and Poland.

The cemetery is the most notable historic site in the town (which suffered serious damage in World War II and was rebuilt in a bland modern style), and today it is beautifully preserved and maintained, with signposting from the town center as well signage with historic information at the site.

Even more than 25 years ago it appeared to be in fairly good condition, though parts remained overgrown; restoration work was carried out in 1992-94, and it is possible to note where some stones have been repaired or re-erected.

If visitors get as far as Osoblaha, it’s worth it to cross over into Poland and visit the very similar Jewish cemetery in the little town of Biała, just 15 or so km away. Here the stones also feature elongated rounded tops with vivid carving.

As with Osoblaha, Ruth first visited more than 25 years ago — at that time the cemetery, spectacularly located on a steep wooded hill, was hard to find, and very overgrown with vegetation (including chest-high stinging nettles). She remembers having to ask local people and be led to the site.

Info in Biala, in 4 languages

Today, as in Osoblaha, the cemetery, which has around 900 stones, is well signposted, including from the main road into town.

There is informational signage on site — in English as well as in Polish, German, and Czech, providing the history of the cemetery and Jewish community. It says the oldest legible gravestone is that of a woman, who died in 1621/22, and the most recent is from 1931.

The cemetery is still somewhat overgrown, but a well defined path leads around it and it is possible to make your way past the ruins of the gate and down the steep slope to view many of the stones.

NOTE — We are adding more extensive photo galleries to the Galleries section of this web site.

1 comment on “On the Road in CZ (and PL): Revisiting the historic Jewish cemeteries in Osoblaha and Biała

  1. Fascinating gravestones. Worthy of study for the stone carver’s art and for the various designs and motifs. Good to know none of these people were alive to suffer the holocaust, but awful to know how many cemeteries were desecrated and/or destroyed.

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