We had planned to write about an ambitious, recently carried out EU-funded cross-border project focused on revitalizing the related — and historic — Jewish cemeteries in Osoblaha, Czech Republic and nearby Biała, Poland, but unfortunately we also have to note that vandals struck the Osoblaha cemetery soon after the project was completed, and caused minor damage to six gravestones there.
Officials in Osoblaha contacted by JHE described the damage as minor and easily repaired, and said police are investigating the matter. They said antisemitism did not seem to be a factor.
Jaroslav Klenovsky, who oversees Jewish built heritage in Moravia for the Jewish community in Brno and the Federation of Czech Jewish Communities, told JHE that the vandalism in Osoblaha — which included scrawled and scratched phrases on the stones — took place some time before July 11, within three weeks of the completion of the revitalization project, which included the restoration of many gravestones.
As we wrote last year, the two cemeteries, both of which date back to the 17th century, lie across the Polish-Czech border, just 15 km or so from each other.
The EU-funded project was called “In Search of Beautiful Jewish Cemeteries,“ and came under the cross-border European Regional Development Fund.
It was implemented by the Osoblaha and Biała municipalities as a way of fostering cooperation between the two nearby towns.
The total budget (including both sides of the border) was around €68,000, with the EU providing more than €55,000.
The grand opening — with ribbon cutting by local officials — marking the project completion took place June 19 in Biala and June 20 in Osoblaha.
The goal was to promote cross-border cultural tourism — and one of the facets of the project was charting a tourist trail between the two cemeteries.
The route is signposted with arrows pointing the way to both cemeteries.
The project also included repair of the wall around the Osoblaha cemetery and restoration of gravestones, and installation of new signage.
In Biała, a new, 120 meter cobblestone walkway leading to the cemetery’s entrance was created, with benches, handrails, bicycle racks, new information panels, and other infrastructure, and parts of the cemetery were cleared of vegetation.
There was also the publication of promotional materials, and organization of events.
As we noted last year, both cemeteries already had basic informational signage erected at their entrances.
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.
The Osoblaha cemetery is unique in the Czech Republic because of the strong influence of Silesian-style gravestone art.
It has at least 413 surviving gravestones; 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.
The gravestones in the cemetery in Biała have similar forms. That cemetery, on a hill, is much bigger that that in Osoblaha, with around 900 surviving stones.
The oldest legible gravestone is believed to be that of a woman who died in 1621/22, and the most recent is from 1931.
Last year, we posted these photo galleries of the two cemeteries: