A team of researchers is attempting to recover Jewish tombstones that were desecrated during the Nazi occupation of World War II in the city of Prostejov in what was then Czechoslovakia.
ABC News reports the Nazis took over a Jewish cemetery that contained the graves of about 2,000 people. Many tombstones were destroyed; others went missing.
New York Philanthropist Louis Kestenbaum sparked the project to recover the missing tombstones when he sought to find the grave of Rabbi Zvi Rosenthal who died in 1816.
Kestenbaum said, "His writings are still revered in Jewish communities throughout the world. For Rabbi Horowitz and other great rabbis from the region, Prostejov is known as a major seat of Jewish learning and culture. This makes the cemetery an important monument in both Jewish and Czech history."
Tomas Jelinek is now leading the effort to recover the tombstones. His team announced the project in the newspaper and Prostejov locals began contacting the team immediately. Many tombstones had been used decades ago as building materials; one homeowner’s cellar was constructed from broken pieces of gravestones. Another homeowner’s backyard was paved with them.
Jelinek said, "At the start, we had no clue, experts knew nothing. But we thought that it was impossible for such a big numbers of stones, and some of them were quite big, to completely evaporate without a trace."
The team of researchers has now recovered about 150. The group will next petition the city to preserve the area to keep with Jewish tradition. The land is currently used as a park.
Publication date: December 1, 2015