Jewish tombstone fragments found in Wenceslas Square renovations

Tombstone fragments are being returned to the Jewish community in Prague, which will place them back in a cemetery

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 06.05.2020 11:24 (updated on 06.05.2020)

Dozens of fragments of Jewish tombstones have been found right at the start of renovations of Wenceslas Square. The stones have Hebrew letters, six-pointed stars and parts of dates in the 19th and 20th century, one seemingly as late as the 1970s.

The find is no surprise, as it has long been known that tombstones from closed Jewish cemeteries were removed and cut into fragments so they could be reused under both the German occupation during World War II and the subsequent communist era, which ended in 1989.

An agreement was reached last year with City Hall that allows the Jewish community in Prague to oversee the dismantling of the paving of the lower part of Wenceslas Square.

The Jewish community has released several photographs showing the initial findings as the first paving stones were dug up.

“The photographs show rows of paving stones in the lower part of Wenceslas Square, which were discovered by hand on May 5, 2020. These are dozens of stones with remnants of texts and hundreds of polished marble stones that come from cut Jewish tombstones,” the Jewish community in Prague said on Facebook.

The fragments are small, each with just a few letters or numbers. “So far, no tombstone or place of origin can be identified,” the Facebook post said.

wenceslas square paving
Paving stones on lower Wenceslas Square / via Raymond Johnston

Under the agreement with City Hall, the stone fragments are the property of the Jewish community. “Everything will be collected, deposited and then taken to the Old Jewish Žižkov Cemetery in Žižkov on Fibichova Street,” the Jewish community stated, adding that they expect to find more stones in other sections of the square’s pedestrian zone as renovations continue.

Most of the Old Jewish Žižkov Cemetery in Žižkov was destroyed in the late 1980s to make way for the Žižkov TV Tower, although a small section still exists. Tombstones from the destroyed part were taken away and broken into pieces, but it is not clear if any of the stones at Wenceslas Square come from that or another cemetery as no exact records were kept.

Old Jewish Cemetery at Žižkov
Old Jewish Cemetery at Žižkov / via Raymond Johnston

The Jewish community in November 2019 said that the stones most probably came from the Jewish cemetery near Údlice in the Ústí nad Labem Region as well as others from around the Czech Republic.

The paving on the lower part of Wenceslas Square was fixed in the late 1980s, just ahead of a visit from then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who toured the square for an hour and a half, shaking hands with the public and promising reforms. The dates on stones as late as the 1970s would coincide with that renovation.

The current work on Wenceslas Square began on April 15, when the site was turned over to Hochtief CZ. The repair project should be completed by 2025 and should cost less than 327 million CZK.

wenceslas square
Visualization of Wenceslas Square. via IPR Praha

The area will get a new look with wider sidewalks to be more inviting to the public. Pedestrian space will expand considerably, with a loss of dozens of parking spaces. Asphalt will be replaced by granite pavement and another row of trees.

The original proposal from 2005 to transform Wenceslas Square was created in collaboration with the Cigler Marani Architects studio (now Jakub Cigler Architekti) and the DUA Atelier. The idea was first raised in the 1990s. Since 2005, there have been a series of delays.