Jewish tombstones broken up for paving stones made into new Prague monument

A new monument, called The Return of the Stones, has been unveiled at the Old Jewish cemetery in Prague’s district of Žižkov. It is made out of fragments of tombstones from derelict Jewish cemeteries that were cut up into cobblestones during the Communist era and used to pave the base of Wenceslas Square.

Photo: Jewish Community of Prague

Prayers are said by Czech Chief Rabbi Karol Sidon at the unveiling of a new monument in Prague on Wednesday.

It is made of fragments of ancient Jewish gravestones that were broken up in the last decade of communism in Czechoslovakia and used for paving stones at the bottom of Wenceslas Square.

The approximately 6,000 cobblestones with Hebrew letters and dates were found during a renovation on Wenceslas Square in 2020. Under an agreement, signed a year earlier by Prague City Hall, the stones were handed over to the Jewish Community in Prague and deposited at the Old Jewish cemetery in Žižkov.

Earlier this year, the Jewish Community launched a crowdfunding campaign for the creation of a monument made of the stones, says its head František Bányai:

František Bányai | Photo: Jewish Community of Prague

“My idea was that if that every Prague resident who stepped on those stones donated one crown, it would be sufficient to build the monument, but that was of course impossible. That’s why I came up with the crowdfunding campaign, which raised about one quarter of the total cost.”

The Return of the Stones was made by sculptor Jaroslav Róna and his artist wife Lucie.

Mr Róna says he wanted the monument to resemble a ruin of a religious temple, pointing to the fact that the Žižkov cemetery itself has been largely destroyed by the Communists:

Jaroslav Róna with Lucie Rónová | Photo: Vít Šimánek,  ČTK

“The centre is a convex lens that symbolizes the eye of God or creation. The walls stand for the physical world that is gradually undergoing decay and destruction. That’s why the cube walls are gradually receding.

“There are nine of these walls with the highest one directed towards the Jerusalem Temple. In the Kaballah, the number nine signifies the transition from the physical to the spiritual world, which is exactly what this place is about.”

Mr. Róna says the construction of the monument was extremely technically challenging, since he has never worked with cobblestones before:

Photo: Jewish Community of Prague

“I had no idea that cubes cannot be put together like bricks. If I had bonded the blocks together with mortar, they would have all fallen apart in a couple of years.

“So every one of the blocks that you see is drilled and there is an iron wire embedded in it, which is welded to an internal iron skeleton inside each of those walls.”

The monument contains about half of the stones that have been retrieved from Wenceslas Square so far. It is intentionally “unfinished”, so that more stones can be added in the future. Mr. Róna also plans to build a symbolic “Wailing Wall” separating the monument from the path leading to the cemetery.