‘You Will Not Erase Our Memory or Our Identity,’ French Rabbi Declares Following Antisemitic Cemetery Desecration
A leading French rabbi declared on Wednesday that the Jewish community would not be intimidated by the desecration with swastikas and other Nazi symbols of 107 graves in a Jewish cemetery in the Alsace region of the country.
“You will not erase our memory or our identity, not with vandalism nor with anything else,” the chief rabbi of the city of Strasbourg, Harold Abraham Weill, stated. “We are here and we will stay here for a very long time.”
Rabbi Weill was speaking as he and other Jewish leaders inspected the damage to the cemetery in Westhoffen — about 25 miles of west of Strasbourg — alongside the visiting French interior minister, Christophe Castaner.
The gravestones were found on Tuesday morning defaced with swastikas. Some were also marked with the number “14” — a tribute to the “14 words,” a racist pledge originally crafted by American white supremacists that has been adopted by neo-Nazi groups around the world. Antisemitic inscriptions were also discovered in the village of Schaffhouse-sur-Zorn, which lies near the cemetery.
Maurice Dahan — the head of the region’s Jewish community — expressed frustration that the perpetrators had not yet been arrested.
“It’s not possible that no one saw anything,” Dahan said on Wednesday. “We cannot accept that people are silent, that those who saw something do not speak.”
Referring to the Italian mafia’s traditional code against informers, Dahan continued: “Omerta has no place in Alsace.”
After condemning the desecration of the cemetery in the name of the French government, Castaner announced the creation of special office within the national police force to combat hate crime.
The new office, Castaner explained, would “be in charge of coordinating for the national gendarmerie both this investigation in Westhoffen, so that all means are mobilized, but also all investigations on antisemitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Christian acts on our national territory.”
The interior minister added that the anti-hate crime office would have “intelligence” and “prevention” capabilities, as well as the power to investigate what he described as “recurrent violations of freedom of thought, religious or philosophical.”
Among the graves at the Westhoffen cemetery are those of the family members of Léon Blum — France’s first Jewish prime minister — and Karl Marx — the founder of Communism who was descended from a rabbinical family in Germany.
Tuesday’s desecration continued a disturbing pattern of vandalism targeting Jewish institutions and buildings in the Alsace region, which is located in northeastern France. According to the local prefecture, 34 acts of antisemitic vandalism have been registered this year — including the desecration in February of 90 graves at a separate Jewish cemetery in the town of Quatzenheim.
One visitor to the vandalized cemetery on Wednesday expressed sheer disbelief and anger at the spectacle around him when approached by reporters
“The people who did this, they are racists, they’re scum,” 66-year-old Eugene Hoffmann told the AFP news agency.
“I don’t understand how someone could do something like this,” Hoffman lamented. “We live in a crazy world.”