More than 150 Jewish headstones and fragments have been unearthed over the course of the summer during construction on the main market square in Lezajsk, Poland — a town noted as the center of pilgrimage by thousands of Hasids each year to the grave of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk (1717-1787) in the Jewish cemetery.
News reports and the city web site said the matzevot began to be uncovered in early June, when work on the square commenced. The were found lying flat, many of them facedown, under layers of asphalt, sand, and brick.
Photographs showed that the inscriptions on the stones appeared well preserved and that some conserved painted decoration. Citing an article in Gazetz Wyborcza, the web site Notes from Poland wrote that it was one of the largest such discoveries in Poland in many years:
Almost one hundred of the matzevot are mostly intact, often with just their curved tops hewn off to allow for tighter placement side-by-side. Another fifty had been cut into smaller pieces and spread out. It is likely that more will be discovered.
It quoted the Gazeta article as saying the German occupiers “paved the market using bricks from the town’s demolished synagogue and two bombed-out buildings” in 1940-41 and “when they ran out of material, they began using gravestones from the Jewish cemetary.”
The Nazi occupiers during World War II frequently uprooted headstones from Jewish cemeteries to use as construction material, in Poland and elsewhere. The practice continued under communist regimes after World War II. Matzevot were used as paving and roadbeds; they were also used in the construction of buildings, drainage systems, and even lake beds, such as at Lake Rusalka, outside Poznan, Poland — an artifical lake built by Jewish and other forced laborers during WW2.
In another case this summer, excavations in Lviv, Ukraine uncovered scores of Jewish headstones that had been used by the Nazis to pave the courtyard of the Lontsky Prison — now a National Museum-Memorial. The prison was run as a brutal detention and execution center for political prisoners by both the Nazi and Soviet regimes. In 2018, more than 120 matzevot were found under the asphalt on Barvinok street in Lviv.
It had been widely assumed that Jewish headstones would be found under the Lezajsk market square, as some matzevot had already been found there in earlier years, and matzevot had also been uncovered when a city roundabout was resurfaced around 20 years ago.
The headstones at that time were taken to the Jewish cemetery — and some were used to create a lapidarium memorial.
The headstones unearthed this summer will also probably be taken to the Jewish cemetery — the decision will be made by city officials in consultation with Jewish authorities.