The New Jewish Cemetery in Prague’s district of Žižkov, best known as the burial site of the world-famous writer Franz Kafka, has just finished the renovation of nearly 500 of its tombstones and three valuable family vaults. The restoration work was funded in large part by the Norway Grants and amounted to over six million crowns.
The New Jewish cemetery in Prague’s district of Strašnice is the biggest cemetery in the country and it is still in use today. It was established in 1890 and to this date, there are more than 27,000 tombstones, many of them in bad need of reconstruction. Thanks to a project funded by the Norway Grants, at least a fragment of the cemetery’s thousand tombstones have been renovated and stabilised.
Zuzana Beránková of Prague’s Jewish Community was in charge of the project:
“The project lasted for over a year and we have reconstructed and restored 480 gravestones, and parts of three family tombs, the Fuchs, Kubinzky and Waldstein families. To get an idea, we have got 39 sectors with around 500 graves. So the overall reconstruction of all the 27,000 gravestones would cost some 50 million crowns and would probably last for several years.”
The New Jewish Cemetery was established after the old Jewish cemetery in today’s Fibichova street in the Žižkov district ceased to serve its purpose and it is in fact the only Jewish cemetery in Prague today, where burials still take place. The cemetery is one of the city’s significant and valuable heritage sites, Zuzana Beránková explains:
“Many of the representatives of the Jewish community are buried at the New Jewish Cemetery; rabbis, businessmen, industrialists, and artists, such as the famous Jewish writer Franz Kafka, poet Jiří Ornest, writer Ota Pavel and director Zeno Dostál. The tombstones were designed by leading Czech architects, such as Jan Kotěra, Josef Zasche and Josef Fanta.
One of the most valuable tombs belongs to the Waldes family. It is decorated with two busts, the last pieces of art made by the important Czech sculptor Josef Václav Myslbek, the author of the famous statue of St. Wenceslas on Prague’s Wenceslas Square.
There is also a Memorial of Czechoslovak Jews who perished in the Holocaust and the Resistance or a memorial plaque of Max Brod, friend of Franz Kafka a promoter of his work.
According to Tomáš Kraus of the country’s Federation of Jewish Communities, it is clear that most of the tombstones that have undergone reconstruction belonged to some of Prague’s better-situated families:
“From the signs on the graves we can see that there are businessman, court councillors, owners of sugar and textile factories and bankers. So I would say that this section was really designed for notable families.”
The Prague Jewish Community will now try to gain further subsidies so that it can continue with further restoration works in the future.
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