Jewish cemetery, saved by Velvet Revolution, finally to be restored

Jewish cemetery in Hranice

A Jewish cemetery in the Moravian town of Hranice dating back to the 17th century, neglected for decades and slated for demolition under Communist rule, is now finally being restored.

During the Second World War, scores of Jewish cemeteries in the Czech lands were destroyed, along with whole communities. Under Communist rule, scores more burial sites were demolished, the headstones broken up for use elsewhere.

The Hranice cemetery survived – but only just – deputy mayor Vladimír Juračka told Czech Radio, as workers removed ivy from crumbling tombstones, and fallen ash, maple and poplar trees on the hallowed ground.

“Some thirteen hundred tombstones have been documented here. I’d say over half did not survive the Bolshevik rage and crumbled to dust. That was the fate of most sandstone tombstones from the 17th century.”

Juračka says the Communist authorities had in fact begun to raze the cemetery in November 1989 – on the eve of the start of the Velvet Revolution.

“The National Committee decided to demolish the cemetery and turn it into a public park. Bulldozers and excavators came, they pulled tombstones from the ground to be taken to a landfill. Fortunately, the revolutionary events put a halt to the devastation.”

Purportedly, Jews settled in Hranice between 1475 and 1553. The population swelled in 1648, with an influx of refugees fleeing mass atrocities from the Chmielnicki Uprising.

Jewish cemetery in Hranice | Photo: Lenka Kratochvílová,  Czech Radio

The Jewish cemetery was consecrated that same year, after the end of the Thirty Years War. Hranice deputy mayor Vladimír Juračka says the town, which in 1996 fully restored the mid-19th century synagogue, has big plans for the burial site. They go beyond just clearing the debris, repairing the tombstones, and restoring the site to its pre-World War II condition.

“There should also be a symbolic place of reverence in the earth made of some stones, arranged in the shape of a six-pointed Star of David. Part of that project will be the planting of new greenery.”

Honouring the dead and caring for burial grounds is among the highest mitzvahs – religious duties or good deeds – that an observant Jew can perform, as it is a service for someone who can never return the kindness.

Among them is Julius Freud, the younger brother of the “father of psychoanalysis”, who died as a toddler. Sigmund Freud suggested that tragic fulfillment of his wish – for the disappearance of the little brother monopolizing his mother’s attention – was the source of lingering guilt all his life.

Authors: Brian Kenety , Lenka Kratochvílová
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