PILSEN, Czech Republic (Apr. 24)
The 60th anniversary of the Nazi deportation of the Jews here has been commemorated by inscribing thousands of pebbles with the victims’ names.
Several local citizens, and even some relatives of the victims, turned out to write the names of those who died on 2,600 small stones. They finished laying the pebbles last Friday in a gravel landscape among the ruins of Pilsen’s Old Jewish School, next to the town’s Old Synagogue.
In January 1942, Pilsen’s 2,604 Jews were sent to Terezin, a Nazi transit camp north of Prague, from where they were sent to concentration camps in Poland and Germany, including Auschwitz. Only 204 survived.
Even relatives of victims who were not from Pilsen asked if they could inscribe their family members’ names on the stones. That explains why there are 200 more stones in the Old Jewish School than the number of Jews who died in the Pilsen transport.
The pebble-stone memorial is part of the project “Year 2002 — Year of Memories,” in which the town is hosting various events to commemorate the Holocaust, and in particular the Jewish transport to Terezin, also known by its German name of Theresienstadt.
The stones are lined alphabetically in a structure designed by Petr Novak, an artist and professor at the local art school.
The pebbles are laid out on gravel between wooden beams, which looks a bit like a city or ghetto, according to Radovan Kodera, the founder of the project.
Kodera, a local conservationist and photographer, first got the idea 10 years ago while taking pictures of the synagogue that used to host up to 3,000 people during religious service before the transport.
“I was walking through the empty, decaying building and thought it would be interesting to place stones on the places where the people used to sit,” Kodera said. About two years ago, he revived his idea and decided to use the ruins of the old Jewish school.
Around the same time, Kodera came across a series of photographs of the Jewish transport. One of them showed a family with children, each with a number hanging from their necks.
“Suddenly I wanted to know what happened to those people,” Kodera said. “I went to search the archives in Prague and found them by the numbers” around their necks.
The Rosenbaum family, for example, was transported from Terezin to Sobibor in eastern Poland, where the entire family died.
“It had a very strong impact on me and I thought that it could have the same effect even on other people,” explained Kodera, who is not Jewish. “For most people it is just about statistics, but if they know a name and write it down themselves, they might develop a personal relationship with the victim.”
Local grammar school students, who participated in Kodera’s project from the very beginning, now know detailed information about the fates of the Jewish victims.
“I wanted students to take part in it, to be involved,” Kodera said, stressing how important it is for young people to be interested in history.
The students picked up and washed the pebbles and experimented with different types of paint that would be weather resistant. They also gave special Japanese-made marker pens to visitors who chose a stone and inscribed a name on it.
“Sometimes it is really touching,” Kodera said, noting that some of the visitors are Holocaust survivors themselves. “There have been quite a lot of people who have never been here before and did not even know that the synagogue exists.”
The city of Pilsen gave Kodera $2,000 for the project.