Jaroslav Klenovský is a pioneer in the documentation and preservation of Jewish heritage in what today is the Czech Republic. Based in Brno, he has worked since 1980 to protect and preserve immovable Jewish heritage, particularly in Moravia.
In addition to hands-on restoration and preservation projects, he has authored numerous books, monographs, articles and other publications.
In this personal essay Klenovský reflects on his nearly four decades of Jewish heritage work and describes his latest book — an encyclopedia of Jewish heritage in Moravia and Czech Silesia — and the current project creating digital dossiers of Jewish cemeteries in the region.
Looking back on four decades of Jewish heritage work
By Jaroslav Klenovský
I was born in 1954, and my interest in Jewish heritage and history goes back to my youth. When I joined the Monuments Institute in Brno in 1980, after graduating from the faculty of architecture at Brno Technical University, I soon discovered that Jewish monuments were an area of cultural heritage that was utterly ignored. Moreover, it appeared that the communist regime was trying to destroy these monuments slowly, by ignoring them and taking no action regarding their documentation or preservation.
It was then that I began to devote myself to this field, and I gradually became more and more involved.
My aim was to learn about the history and heritage of the individual pre-World War II Jewish communities in Moravia and to convey this knowledge to the public, in addition to carrying out day-to-day fieldwork documenting, maintaining and repairing property owned by Jewish institutions in Moravia. (Since 1993 I have been fully and professionally involved in the field, working for the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic and the Brno Jewish community.)
In the 1990s, after more than 40 years of silence, there was great interest in these issues among the general Czech population. And while this interest has dropped off somewhat in recent years, I am delighted that the Czech Republic remains a great friend of Israel and that there is little anti-Semitism among our population.
It is thanks to local interest and good relations between Jewish communities and Czech society at large that we have been able to rescue and restore so many Jewish monuments over the past quarter century.
I’m proud to have played a role in this process.
In addition to working on the restoration of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in towns such as Boskovice, Dolní Kounice, Strážnice, Ušov, Ivančice, Třebíč, Rousínov, and Uherský Brod, among others, I have written dozens of articles, books, monographs, and other publications on Jewish heritage and history; I have worked on exhibitions and documentary films; I have provided texts for museums and designs for commemorative plaques, and I have worked on other projects, such as a Jewish heritage tourism map of the Czech Republic.
In January, I published what may be my magnum opus — a new book that summarizes my lifelong work, the Encyclopedia of Jewish Monuments of Moravia and Silesia.
The focus of this 400-page volume is a catalog of 128 localities in the territory of Moravia and Silesia where centuries of Jewish history have left material cultural heritage. I discuss sites and buildings that still exist as well as those that have been destroyed, and I supplement these specifics by four chapters dedicated to the general history of Jewish settlements, Jewish quarters, synagogues, and cemeteries in the region. My text is complemented by more than 1,200 contemporary and archival photographs, drawings, architectural plans, maps, and other material – a list of sites, including their German names, a glossary, and a basic bibliography and list of web addresses.
My work – and the work of my colleagues – continues, with a major focus on the Jewish cemeteries.
Gravestones are subject to slow deterioration, even in cemeteries that are protected and maintained. Thus, following on from the restoration and repair phases of work, photographic, film, and other documentation remains a priority, not just on the part of Jewish communities and institutions, but for engaged individuals.
Transcription of the texts found on gravestones, preferably including quality digital photography, is a priority. This requires some skill, including knowledge of Hebrew. I’m proud to say that, working with computer expert Jaromir Hejl, I have been engaged in updating the Brno Jewish community web site with a new cemetery section including digital dossiers and databases of an increasing number of Jewish cemeteries in Moravia.
So far, out of a total of 80 burial sites in Moravia, 57 have been fully documented and made accessible on the web site. Full documentation for another 17 cemeteries is being completed for upload.
Documentation such as this may be the only way to preserve the cultural and historical information “hidden” in gravestone texts for future generations and stakeholders: historians, conservationists, and genealogists alike.
I’d welcome it if you visit our web site and take a look at what we’ve been doing – and I’d be most grateful for your feedback and suggestions!
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March 22, 2019
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Architect Jaroslav Klenovský has worked in the field of Jewish heritage preservation since 1980. Based in Brno, he currently works for the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic and the Jewish Community of Brno, overseeing the documentation, restoration, and preservation of Jewish cemeteries, synagogues, and other sites.