The shame and the hope of the Jerusalem of Haná

František John

Prostějov, nicknamed the Jerusalem of Haná to remind of its one-time strong Jewish community, witnessed unusual scenes last week. Rabbis from a number of countries bowed and prayed on top of the dead of the Jewish people.

More exactly, on top of what remained of the sacred ground, the Jewish cemetery destroyed during World War II (1943). The area in front of the Grammar School, arranged as public space, still covering the bodies of nearly two thousand Jewish citizens of Prostějov, does not tell the story. Equally moving are the pictures of old men in rabbinical attire, kneeling in a yar22d at Drozdovice (part of Prostějov). The honorable men piously labor to read Hebrew inscriptions on fragments of gravestones with which the yard is paved. The names of the dead. The good news is that in all likelihood chickens will not be running on these stones soon, as most of today’s owners of the properties have understanding and good will to give the relics back.

The Ministry of Culture made an important step toward honoring the memory of the Prostějov Jewry by the publication of its intent to declare the site cultural heritage. In this act I see not only the efforts of heritage administrators, the Jewish foundation Kolel Damasek Eliezer and the Federation of Jewish Congregations, but also understanding on the part of Minister Daniel Herman. Himself having Jewish ancestry, he was keenly interested in the history of local Jewish families during his visit of Zábřeh. I witnessed his visit earlier this year of the synagogue at Loštice on the occasion of unveiling a plaque to the memory of the Jewish writer Fanny Neuda. The minister represented honorably the Czech Republic in the presence of visitors from Israel. It is good to see that at last, alas long decades after the war, the tragic past of our country is commemorated. The site deserves restoration.

However, what I find totally alarming is the standpoint of the Prostějov council. It opposes the declaration of the site as cultural heritage. Sure, time has buried many wartime crimes against humanity. But efforts toward a new architectural arrangement of the site of the old Jewish cemetery do not open old wounds; on the contrary, they can refresh the historic memory of the site, and the town can only benefit by this. Moreover, the works would not cost the council a penny. The rabbis give us a hard lesson of respect of life, no matter how long past its earthly end. The difference in the regard for our departed and in the respect we have for the sites of their rest is the core of the contention.

František John | Friday, 2016-7-22

Taken from the author’s blog with his consent.

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