Researchers are reconstructing a ravaged 19th century Jewish cemetery in the Czech city of Prostejov, once home to a vibrant Moravian Jewish community. The cemetery is believed to have been destroyed by the Nazi in 1943, reported the AP, and once contained 1,924 tombstones; many other Jewish graveyard suffered the same fate.

The renovation project, which began in July, is being spearheaded by New York philanthropist Louis Kestenbaum (whose father Rabbi Zvi Kestenbaum was active in lobbying for the creation of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad) and Tomas Jelinek, who is leading the search for “Prostejov’s lost graveyard.” Among the project’s earliest discoveries is of a Jewish tombstone that was repurposed and used as a hen house doormat in the small village of Žešov. A number of people also responded to an announcement in a local newspaper, with tips that have ultimately led to the unveiling of 150 tombstones and fragments. Reported the AP:

In a recent discovery, a whole backyard of a house in Prostejov was paved with some 50 large tombstone blocs. Anna Holestova said she moved to her grandmother’s home 25 years ago, and was told her grandfather brought the stones there since they were given out for free during the war.

“It feels weird to walk on them,” Holestova said. “They should be taken to the place they belong to.”

Using archival material from the Jewish Museum in Prague, the team of tombstone trackers has been able to attach identities to some of the stones found. Others were appropriated for construction and pavement in nearby villages, and will be returned by the property owners. Starting in December, plans to re-establish the original site of the (reconstituted) cemetery will be considered by local officials. After World War II the grounds were used for sports, then became an amusement park. Today, it’s a public park.

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