Thieves take plaques from holocaust graves

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Police in the Czech region of North Bohemia have detained a man on suspicion of desecrating the graves of hundreds of Holocaust victims at the site of the former Nazi concentration camp of Terezín last week. The man is accused of stealing over 300 bronze name plaques from the graves. If found guilty he could face up to eight years in prison. Radio Prague's Ruth Frankova reports on why this is a particularly sensitive crime.

Photo: CTK
During the Second World War the Nazis turned the entire town of Terezín into a Jewish ghetto. More than 150,000 people passed through its gates between 1941 and 1945 and some 35,000 people died there. The rest were sent on to Nazi camps in the east, where most of them perished. After the war, Terezín’s Little Fortress, which served as a prison during the war, was turned into a wartime memorial housing the Museum of the Jewish Ghetto. I asked its director Jan Munk about the extent of the damage. “We have only estimation of the future costs. Out estimation is more than one million crowns.”

How much will it take to repair the damages and also how long will it take?

"It depends on how much money we’ll have this year. I hope that all damages will be solved till the end of this year.”

The reason I am asking is that on May 18 there is a traditional ceremony in memory of the victims of Nazi persecution.

“No. It can’t be solved in such a short time.”

What do you think was the motivation?

“The motivation was to sell it.”

So there was no racial or political reason?

“No. It was simply this economical reason.”

Jan Munk (left), photo: CTK
The bronze plates on the gravestones were also stolen in the past, but a lack of finances prevented the memorial from taking effective security measures. Jan Munk:

“The problem is that this is not only one area. We have four such areas and they are too large for us to have a camera-monitoring system and guarding is too expensive.”

The Terezín Memorial has now decided to replace the stolen metal and eventually all of the bronze plates with a cheaper version made of resin – as a means of discouraging thieves. The Minister of Culture Václav Jehlička said on Wednesday that the ministry will do all it can to help restore the cemetery as soon as possible and help the police to capture the perpetrators.