Abandoned Jewish cemetery
Abandoned Jewish cemetery Flash 90

Hundreds of Jewish tombstones from the Belarus town of Brest, on the border with Poland, have been used for years in the construction of buildings, roads, and even garden paving. 

Residents have been making the gruesome discoveries of gravestones in locations all over Brest for the past six years. Hundreds more were unearthed in May during the construction of a supermarket, making the total number of gravestones found close to 1,500. 

Debra Brunner, co-director of The Together Plan, a UK-based charity that promotes the development of skills and education in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, has been engaged in the effort to protect the headstones and turn them into a memorial for Jews.

Brunner visited the supermarket site and said of her experience, "I’ve never seen anything like it. It was bizarre. They were everywhere. The builders were very kind, though, and concerned and wanted to know what they should do with them," she told MailOnline

The story of the gravestones is a heartbreaking one - they were part of a huge Jewish cemetery dating back to around 1832, although definitive records were destroyed in the Holocaust. 

"Every Jew in Brest - bar 19 - was killed by the Nazis," she said. "That’s 30,000 Jews killed. The whole community was annihilated."

The post-war Soviet era did not prove much better. "Jews weren’t allowed to practice their religion. The Soviets desecrated the whole cemetery and removed every single gravestone."

similar horrific incident also occurred in Warsaw, Poland. Tombstones, known as Matzevot, from hundreds of Jewish cemeteries across Poland - that were abandoned or destroyed following the Holocaust - were used to pave roads and put up walls during the communist era.

Those tombstone chunks are now being salvaged and returned to their cemeteries. 

At first, Brest townsfolk used the headstones for building materials without much of a second thought. Most people had no idea what the headstones were. 

Only in recent years, did the suspicion they were using religious artifacts arise, and residents brought the stones to a local priest for his opinion. He knew immediately he was looking at sacred religious objects and urged residents to save them.

The Jewish headstones are currently piled up in the arches of the Brest Fortress, but The Together Plan is hoping to attract the support of the US Commission For Jewish Heritage Abroad.  If funding can be raised, their goal is to build a memorial at the site of the original cemetery using the headstones. 

Brunner believes awareness of the stones will bring the Jewish community empowerment and closure. "If the Jews get their memorial it will empower them - out of death will come new life." 

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