Israeli envoys said “justice is being done” this week after builders excavating the centre of Prague returned dozens of Jewish headstones found under the paving.
The discovery on Tuesday was made during work at tourist hotspot Wenceslas Square, with Chaim Kočí of the Chevra Kadisha Society witnessing workers unearthing the cobblestones which revealed headstones with Hebrew lettering and the Star of David, together with the names and dates of the deceased.
Speaking to Jewish News this week, Tomáš Kraus, chief executive of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, said it confirmed suspicions that headstones were taken from Jewish cemeteries sites during the Communist years.
“We didn’t suspect they were there, we knew they were there, we just didn’t know the exact spot,” he said. “Now that’s clear.”
He said a TV tower now stands at the site of the cemetery from which the stones were taken, so the stones may now be buried at a different cemetery not far away which is used by the Jewish community and is where Franz Kafka is buried.
Kraus added that he was negotiating with city authorities. “Officials promised us that they would hand us the stones once the works in the centre starts,” he said. “That has now happened. We are pleased that they kept their word.
“This discovery should remind us what totalitarian regimes are capable of and how they can act against religious freedom, which people tend to forget. Unfortunately we cannot pull down the TV tower, so at least we can respectfully bury the stones.”
Israeli Ambassador to the Czech Republic Daniel Meron told Jewish News that “justice is being done by returning the sacred Matzevot to the Jewish community who will return them to the Jewish cemetery in Prague,” adding: “I am pleased that the authorities are cooperating with the Jewish community on this.”
The decision to pave the centre of Prague, in particular the Royal Way from the Old Town across the Charles Bridge up to the castle, was made by the Communist regime, but contrary to reporting, Kraus said the Communists “did not raid synagogues for building materials – this happened to cemeteries only”.
However, he said the regime “often tore [shuls] down for rebuilding on the site… Only after 1989 were we able to get some of them back. We are now trying to reconstruct them gradually.”