Parts of Jewish tombstones to gradually disappear from Prague’s cobbled streets

Illustrative photo: Martina Schneibergová

The undignified use of pieces of ancient Jewish tombstones as cobblestones in Prague’s pavements should soon come to an end. Under a memorandum to be signed between City Hall and the Jewish Community in Prague, any such stones discovered during repairs or other excavation work will be handed over to the latter.

Illustrative photo: Martina Schneibergová
The streets in central Prague are typically cobblestoned. However, many such pavements in the pedestrian zone at the bottom of Wenceslas Square seem to have in fact been made from pieces of Jewish tombstones taken from a derelict 19th century Jewish cemetery, possibly during repairs ahead of Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit in 1987.

A new memorandum between the Jewish Community in Prague and City Hall, which the two parties are expected to sign in the coming weeks, will seek to gradually remove these ancient gravestones by making it a rule that any such cobblestone found during excavations be handed back to the Jewish Community.

The head of the Jewish Community František Bányai says the memorandum is currently just a proposal prepared by the legal office, which is being reviewed by City Hall representatives and that therefore, its final wording is not yet clear.

“However, I expect that it will result in an agreement with Prague’s Technical Road Administration. Under it, during any excavation work, the investor will have to set aside such stones when they come across them, or invite a member of the Jewish Community of Prague to the site.”

Owned by the city, the Technical Road Administration is in charge of maintaining Prague’s roads and streets. Any alterations to Prague’s pavements need to be first agreed to by the organisation, which then sets out the conditions that have to be met.

Earlier this year, the mayor of Prague 1, Pavel Čižinský, suggested the symbolic placement of information plaques along Na Příkopě street, where many of these cobblestones were found. This idea has since been dropped, Czech Television reports.

František Bányai
Mr. Bányai says the Jewish Community is already decided about what it will do once the stones pass into their ownership.

“Supposing that we find any such cobblestones, we will first have to see how many there are and if we can find any information from them. In any case, we want to place them at the Old Jewish Cemetery in Žižkov.”

He says that although the cubes cannot be remade into tombstones, nor returned to the original cemeteries, they should be honoured through such a symbolic act.

However, in his opinion the whole affair has become a sensation, overblown by the media and there are issues of greater necessity that deserve attention.

“More important for us are the things that we can still fix. That means maintaining current cemeteries, or those that can still be repaired. There is still a deficit ranging in the tens of millions of crowns in this regard. We also want to focus on those synagogues that can still be repaired, as well as social care for elderly survivors.”