On November 27th, I was privileged to be part of a delegation of Viennese Jews who travelled to the Czech town of Prostejov (Prossnitz in German, Prostitz in Yiddish, population: 44000) to pray at the grave of Rabbi Tzvi Yeshayahu ha-Levi Horowitz on the occasion of his 200th anniversary, and to arouse sympathy among Czech government and civic society to protect that cemetery, which had been destroyed by the Nazis. Three days later we were rewarded with the news of the Czech Culture Ministry rejecting a motion to abstain from re-establishing a boundary for and protecting the cemetery. In other words, the national government plans to go ahead and protect the site, which is presently just a set of open patches of grass with a single gravestone, all the gravestones having been smashed or removed and re-utilized by the Nazis during World War II.
The Czech media reported on our visit (Google Translate version here; please remember that automatic translations can be weird and fun to read).
Pictures follow at the end of this post.
This event was the culmination of several years of work and activism, coordinated and funded by New York philanthropist Rabbi Louis Kestenbaum. As the Times of Israel reported in 2015:
The discovery of Prostejov’s lost graveyard was a result of efforts to find roughly 2,000 tombstones that were desecrated and disappeared more than 70 years ago in what was then Czechoslovakia. Dozens of Jewish cemeteries faced the same eradication as the one in Prostejov.
Turned upside down and after a bit of cleaning, the tombstone found at the entrance to the henhouse, in a village outside Prostejov, revealed a Hebrew inscription that was hidden for decades.
New York philanthropist Louis Kestenbaum first drew attention to the cemetery when he was looking for the tomb of Prostejov Rabbi Zvi Horowitz, who died in 1816.
After the war, the cemetery was used as a sports ground. In the 1950s, it was an amusement park for a while. Today, it is a public park where local residents walk their dogs.
“In Jewish law and tradition, cemeteries are sacred places that must not be disturbed,” Kestenbaum said. “The site is a cemetery, plain and simple, and it needs to be preserved as such in keeping with Jewish tradition.”
Well, with the latest announcement, it looks like the cemetery will finally be protected. For us to have a bright future, and to give our future direction, we crave for and indeed need strong roots anchored in the past, allowing us to build a solid future. This is a part of that puzzle of solidifying our roots, and this is true for Jews and non Jews alike. Prostejov is Jewish heritage and Czech heritage; to protect it is to help sustain both a bright Jewish and a bright Czech future.