Walking on Gravestones
The idea for this post started when I gave a Private Walking Tour to a couple of clients in January 2019 and they asked me about the Jewish Cobble Stones i.e. cobble stones made from the headstones of Jewish people, that they had recently read about. I admit that I was not aware of this but since then I’ve become a little sensitized so whenever you see streetworks in the city you’ll often find me browsing the stones. It did however cause me to do some searching.
You’ll find the link to the original BBC story at https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-46845131. It tells of a Polish man called Leo Pavlat who became director of the Prague Jewish Museum who in 1987 happened to be walking down the street when he saw a pile of cobble stones (common in Prague when repairing the streets). He noticed a couple of the stones had Jewish symbols on them so he picked them up, put them in his pocket and walked away.
30 years later came the BBC story about how Jewish cemeteries were desecrated in both the Protectorate (the WW2 occupied period) and after the 1948 Communist Coup under the communist regime when the headstones were found to be a perfect size for cutting into paving and cobbles. But it’s not specifically a Prague story because although the cobbles were used here, much of it came from other towns. It just depends on the area of the city being worked on and where the stones were brought in from at that time. As well as the original cobbles there was one picture that interested me. It showed the location where he took them from. This was the picture of Leo Pavlat recreating where he took the stones from:
As a tour guide I have an immense knowledge of the city. That picture gave me some markers.
- The bottom left of the picture shows a single line of smooth black pedestrian cobbles coming into shot after a section of white ones.
- In the white block 6 rows back and behind his right foot is a missing or damaged white cobble.
- His left foot is on larger black cobbles with even larger cobbles further to his left.
- A water drain is over his left shoulder but the centre of the drain can’t be more than 12 large stones back from his left foot.
- In the background left is a yellow bike route sign with a cream coloured building behind it.
Some people might think I’m a bit mad but this is the kind of thing that really makes me want to get into the history of the city so here’s my picture of the exact spot which took me 90 minutes to work out. And this is what I showed my Private Tour clients the following day:
My picture shows where Leo Pavlat crouching at the junction where the smoother pedestrian stones meet the larger border stones (the type that he took) and on the far side the road cobbles. You can see the damaged white stone 6 rows back and the location of the drain cover. I love this stuff and you can hear more stories like this at Livingpraguetours.com.
Read the BBC story at https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-46845131 which was from 2019 and then note that as recently as last month (April 2020) street work on Wenceslas Square just 200 metres away produced more stones like these.
In fact, during the Wenceslas Square renovation 2020/21 more than 7 tons of cobbles made from Jewish gravestones were returned to the Jewish community and some will form part of a new memorial at the Zizkov Jewish Cemetery,