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Around the Jewish World: Prague Jewish Cemetery Dispute Surfaces Again with Protest Threat

May 31, 2000
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Two organizations are warning of renewed demonstrations against construction of an office building above one of Europe’s oldest Jewish cemeteries.

The U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe have expressed concern over a compromise regarding the site.

The compromise, announced by the Czech government in March, involved preserving the site by encasing the remains of several hundred Jews in concrete. The remains of up to another 160 Jews, which had been removed from the cemetery for anthropological research, were also to be returned as soon as possible.

The compromise ended months of speculation over the fate of the burial site, which was unearthed two years ago during construction of an office building being built by a Czech insurance company, Ceska pojistovna.

The burial site is not Prague’s famous Old Jewish Cemetery, a separate site that lies within the walls of the city’s Jewish Quarter.

The agreement followed heavy pressure from Orthodox Jewish groups from the United States and Europe, whose protests over the fate of the cemetery included demonstrations March 1 outside the Czech embassies in London and Brussels.

In a letter to the insurance company, the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe criticized the fact that the removed remains had not yet been returned.

The group also claimed that the insurance company still intends “to violate the sacred ground by digging below the level of the graves, in total violation of Jewish law and tradition and against the assurance we received from the Czech government.”

“We are again being driven to a position where it seems that public protests at Czech embassies and affiliated offices of Ceska pojistovna around the world seem to be the only avenue open to us,” the group added.

Rabbi Edgar Gluck, of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, expressed similar concerns in a recent letter to the insurance company.

“I am quite concerned that world Orthodox Jewry will consider demonstrations and picketing unless these matters can be rectified,” Gluck wrote.

Both the government and the insurance company appear unfazed by the protest threats.

Czech Culture Minister Pavel Dostal has said that even strong protests would not force the Czech government to change its decision to incorporate the cemetery into the construction site.

“No one will tell us what we can do and what not. I know the contents of these ultimatum letters but nothing has changed in the government’s position,” Dostal was quoted as saying in the Czech press.

Ceska pojistovna spokesman Michal Urban said his company is acting according to the decision announced by the government in March and that “everything is going to plan.”

“Some of the requests of representatives of foreign Jewish communities are outside the boundaries of that agreement,” he added.

Czech Jewish leaders appear to be standing by the March agreement.

Prague Jewish leader Jiri Danicek said, “We agree with the decision reached in March. All sides were happy with it.”

He said there was no reason at the moment for foreign Jewish groups to demonstrate.

Some of the parties involved are clearly becoming frustrated at the way the issue has hit the headlines once again.

The March compromise proves that “we mean well with Jewish monuments,” said Jiri Vajcner, an official with the Czech Culture Ministry’s monument care section. “In my personal opinion, this hassle is unnecessary.”

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