Used to rebuild Warsaw by communists, Jewish tombstones return to cemeteries

By Maja Czarnecka ,AFP

WARSAW — Two-year-old Krzys zooms down a slide in Warsaw and shrieks with delight, paying no mind to the workmen who are busy demolishing the playground walls.

At first glance, there is nothing special about the old walls. But take a closer look and it becomes apparent that a couple of stones are inscribed with Hebrew. The tombstones, known as Matzevot, from hundreds of Jewish cemeteries across Poland �X that were abandoned or destroyed following the Holocaust �X were used to pave roads and put up walls during the communist era.

It was part of an effort to rebuild a capital city that had been razed to the ground by Nazi Germany during World War II, a conflict that also all but wiped out Poland’s Jewish community. Those tombstone chunks are now being salvaged and returned to their cemeteries through a project meant to turn the page on a dark chapter in complex Jewish-Polish relations.

At the small playground in Warsaw’s Praga neighbourhood, the stones were used to build an arbour and the walls surrounding a nursery school as well as a dance floor.

Krzys’s mother Kamila Zagorowska, who has been living in the neighbourhood for seven years, was surprised to hear the stones came from a Jewish cemetery.

��If that’s the case, then the Matzevot should be returned to their place,�� said the 42-year-old mother of four.

��And to think that people came here to dance, that they danced on graves,�� added Tadeusz Zbolimowski, 50, a driver and longtime Praga resident. ��They never should have been brought here.�� Once removed, the stones are put on palettes and driven back to Warsaw’s Jewish Brodno cemetery.