More than 150 Jewish gravestones have been unearthed during construction work in the Polish town of Lezajsk in recent months, in what is thought to be the biggest such discovery in years.
“No one had expected such a number,” Ewa Kedzierska, an archaeologist overseeing the works, told Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
The gravestones were removed by the occupying Nazis from the town’s Jewish cemetery during World War II to pave sidewalks at the market square. Rubble from a local synagogue that was also demolished by the Nazis was also used as construction material. The city’s mayor, Ireneusz Stefaski, wrote in an announcement that the work appeared to have been done in late autumn, 1939.
Lezajsk, in southeast Poland, used to be an important Hasidic center, where about 3,000 Jews lived before the Holocaust, making up about a third of its population. The grave of the prominent Rabbi Elimelech of Lezasjk draws many Hasidic pilgrims to the town every year.
The construction work during which the gravestones were unearthed began in June and is still ongoing, and officials believe more gravestones will be discovered.
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Most of the gravestones were found intact, but about 50 of them were broken.
The local Jewish community and local authorities plan to work together on preserving the gravestones. Members of the community told local media that according to Jewish tradition, they should be returned to their original location, rather than be placed in a museum.