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Jewish families from Bezdružice (Weseritz), Bohemia, Czech Republic

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This project seeks to collect all of the Jewish families from the town of Bezdružice (Weseritz) in Bohemia, Czech Republic.

See this excerpt from the Action Reconciliation Service for Peace project in Bezdružice:

Report by Dietrich Erdmann, who worked with a work camp group in Bezdružice (Czech Republic) from May 29 to June 5, 2010

In the register documenting all the births, marriages and deaths that had been recorded since 1792, Jakob Folkmann, the last rabbi of the Jewish community of Weseritz, wrote the final words: “Closed, Weseritz, May 18, 1938.’’ With these words the author Ingild Janda-Busl begins her commendable book about the history of the Jewish community in this Bohemian town. We gained a lot of information from this book. We learned about the size of the Jewish community that was documented for more than two centuries by the population census. We learned about families, their names and those of their children, about the “Jewish courtyard,” and the “Jewish houses,” the rights and duties, which were not equal for all population groups, about taxes and jurisdiction, about their occupations, the construction of the synagogue and about the rabbis who worked in the community. We also read about the migration of young people from the countryside to the industrial cities in the second half of the 19th century. We read notes about the cemetery and finally, we read about the disaster, which led to this terse last sentence and which fills history books, but which will never be understandable to us, the later generation.

There is a lot to be done

The Jewish cemetery of Bezdružice resembles the ones we have previously worked in. Most of the gravestones had been knocked over. They lied on the ground, recognizable by the square edge of moss growth and areas of green protruding out of the ground. Following a lesson in work safety measures, we began the work of digging up shrubbery and young trees in the entrance area. A number of large trees had already fallen over and blocked the way. The foundation of the mortuary was located somewhere in the southeast corner. We had to excavate it and make it visible again. At some point the first stones were set upright again. We found richly adorned columns with Hebrew lettering and an unusually large number of ornamental and expressive priest hands in the gesture of a blessing. German inscriptions on pedestals recalled family names that we recognized from the book mentioned above. It was unusual work. And after a few days we could see the progress we had made, which encouraged us to continue.

The mayor visited the cemetery. A high-level employee from the administration of Jewish property in the Czech Republic came from Prague. He had heard about the progress being made in the restoration of other cemeteries and was now able to make his own impression.

Housing

We lived under modest conditions in dormitories. The sanitary conditions were not ideal. But the breakfast and dinner in the castle was excellent! And we were even able to use a well-equipped wellness centre in the evenings.

We spent the last day in Stráž, which used to be the Neustadtl. The local history association had built a nature trail to the neighbouring community. Since “our” cemetery lies along this path we were invited to attend the opening. It was a very warm atmosphere and much joy expressed at seeing old acquaintances again. A number of residents from Stráž, accompanied by a television camera team, wandered along the path. We were also served coffee and cake.

We know that this cemetery will be cared for in the future. Information signs will tell visitors about the significance of the grounds.

There is much more to tell...

There is still much more to tell: The closeness of the group, the friendly atmosphere and willingness to help each other, getting to know one another, the abundance of food served in the afternoons under our tent in the woods near the cemetery, a tour through the castle where a permanent exhibition of the works of contemporary glass artists is shown, the enthralling landscape in the sunshine, impressions of the church interior, speaking with Mr. Kalista, an long-time resident of the city and much more.

After a week of unusual and hard work that spared no one, after the many informative talks well into the evenings, after the many impressions gathered during this time, we began our trip homeward, exhausted. We established carpools again on the return trip. Someone in the group suggested that we continue the work in the fall. Why not?! A few have already committed!

More Summer Camps 40 Plus

Volunteers aged 40 or more are most welcome to join ARSPs international summer camps in Ukraine (Czernowitz), Poland (Wroclaw) and Czech Republic (Nove Sedliste).