Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Jewish Cemetery (Židovský hřbitov), Jindřichův Hradec, Czech Republic

We have been visiting Jewish Cemeteries (Židovský hřbitov) along with our Fulbright colleague, Lynn. Thus far, we have visited ones locally in Southern Bohemia (see previous posting on the Trebon cemetery), taking the time to soak up the atmosphere, see as much as we can (often they are tightly locked), and wonder about the perceptions of the nearly decimated Jewish population in the Czech Republic (now numbering only ~5,000).
Occasionally Neil may write a poem about the experience.
We have found these fascinating, local tributes which speak so resoundingly of the horrors of WWII, the destruction of these cemeteries, their rebuilding (often by American Jews), and posting of as many new cemetery markers as possible. What is particularly fascinating and peculiar is that, despite most cemeteries having impressive surrounding walls, they are often overlooked and not 'seen'. Only the older generation remembers the horrors of the German invasion while the younger generation may not even know anything about what these cemeteries represent in their past. We will continue to offer postings on these sites as we visit them, as stark reminders of the inhumanity our species is capable of towards those that become 'scapegoats' and targets.

Each city or settlement usually has at least a Jewish cemetery and may also have a former Synagogue which are now either residences or a Hussite Church. We posted pictures of the former Synagogue in Třeboň which is now a residence. That building still bears the marks of its original purpose, particularly the white and blue colors on the exterior.

Visit to the Jewish Cemetery (Židovský hřbitov), Jindřichův Hradec, Czech Republic

This past Sunday we visited the Jewish Cemetery in Jindřichův Hradec, a famous city east of Třeboň, which was once the economic center of Europe (see our earlier postings on the castle and Roundel we visited last summer). The cemetery dates back to ~1400 and was surrounded by walls in the 1770s. It is positioned on Pejčoch Hill above the quiet River Nežárka.

It is now surrounded with Soviet-era multistoried flats.

The meeting house still has the Star of David on it but the buildings are now a Hussite Church and a family lives in another one. The gates are only accessible through the Hussite complex. 
Otherwise, it is simply walls which we walked around and peered over to see the very unique terraced cemetery, stair-stepping up from the river to the top of the hill.

This sign posting says (roughly translated): Allowed to enter private property! Attention! Cemetery guarding camera.

The stones vary in age, with the earliest legible one dating to 1714. Most of the headstones were destroyed by the Nazis and have been recently replaced after WWII.

Commonly, most cemeteries are tree-lined and filled with perennial ivy, Hedera helix...vestiges of past plantings of ornamentals within each one. Here the ivy has jumped over the wall and started spreading throughout the trees and forest floor.
On the other end of the cemetery, it was lined with larches, Larix, which is also very unusual.
This end of the cemetery was lined with white birch, Betula, which were clothed in ivy.

As with all other rebuilt Jewish cemeteries that we visited, this one was moving in very different ways on this cold, snowy day. We offer this poem which encapsulates what we experienced. Join us for quiet reflection on past and current perceptions of this sacred place.

(on a visit to the hillside Jewish Cemetery, Jindřichův Hradec, Czech Republic)
24 Feb. 2011

Neil O. Anderson
© 2011

As we park
our Skoda,
a blind man and his dog
bark out
We freeze inside.
Will they see us?
Aged redhead turns;
whitened canine nostrils’ sensing.
As they pass,
we emerge.
Hellos exchange:
Dobrý den,
dobre pes.
We see
are seen.

Lynn, heavy with tripod,
vanishes over hill,
sliding towards Nežárka River,
past terraced gravestones,
climbing to overlook us
at curbside.

Mark and I depart from wheelchair,
meander along
where wall
drops in height at hillcrest.

 Ivy entombs stately birches
with gentleness that ascends the wall
and holds us fast
to carpet the woods
in eternal green.
We lean as frost-heaved tombstones
against the wall,
letting chartreuse lichens
on our northern sides

Up here,
on Pejčoch Hill,
greyed concrete
of jarring Soviet lines
form windowed flats—
balcony vistas lined with red—
gone old of Bohemian coal soot years—
in each,
the windowed view
curtains elderly,
tucked sheer and thin,
we are closely watched.

We are seen.
And yet,
cemetery, walls
are not—in view.

Over again,
repeatedly in walking us ‘round,
he who in blindness with dog—
we are here.

“How”, you ask,
“do eyes that see
these walls?”


We the River Nežárka
on our way
in silence,

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official University of Minnesota or Fulbright Program blog. The views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations, or the University of Minnesota.

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