Vandals attack memorial for Strasbourg synagogue destroyed by Nazis in WWII
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Vandals attack memorial for Strasbourg synagogue destroyed by Nazis in WWII

‘Sadly, history repeats itself,’ deputy mayor of French city says; police open probe; Jewish Agency’s Herzog calls for action against European anti-Semitism

A cameraman films the memorial stone marking the site of Strasbourg's Old Synagogue, which was destroyed by the Nazis in World War II, after it was vandalized overnight on March 2, 2019 in Strasbourg, France. (Frederick Florin/AFP)
A cameraman films the memorial stone marking the site of Strasbourg's Old Synagogue, which was destroyed by the Nazis in World War II, after it was vandalized overnight on March 2, 2019 in Strasbourg, France. (Frederick Florin/AFP)

STRASBOURG, France — A memorial stone marking the site of Strasbourg’s Old Synagogue, which was destroyed by the Nazis in World War II, was vandalized overnight, leaders of the eastern French city said Saturday.

Police have opened a probe, and a source said investigators would consult surveillance video and interview witnesses “to determine the origin of the incident, whether intentional or accidental.”

“Once again, enough is enough,” Mayor Roland Ries wrote on his Facebook page before heading to the site for an inspection.

“The site is itself a response to whoever did this repulsive act because it symbolizes both the exactions and horrors of the Nazi regime and the French people’s power of resistance,” he added.

The stone lies next to the Avenue of the Righteous, dedicated to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust, Ries noted.

A cameraman films the memorial stone marking the site of Strasbourg’s Old Synagogue, which was destroyed by the Nazis in World War II, after it was vandalized overnight on March 2, 2019 in Strasbourg, eastern France. (FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP)

The synagogue, which was built in 1898 and was the Strasbourg Jewish community’s main place of worship, was ransacked and burnt to the ground by Hitler Youth on September 30, 1940.

“A new incident of anti-Semitism in our town,” deputy mayor Alain Fontanel wrote on Twitter, posting a picture showing a large black marble slab that had been knocked off its plinth.

“Quai Kleber synagogue was burnt down by the Nazis nearly 80 years ago. The memorial stone, which marked this tragedy, was vandalized overnight.”

The town hall was working with the police to track down those responsible, he said.

The synagogue, which was the Jewish community’s main place of worship in the city, was ransacked by the Hitler Youth on September 30, 1940, then burned to the ground.

“Sadly, history repeats itself,” Fontanel wrote on his Facebook page.

Synagogue du Quai Kleber in Strasbourg, France (Wikimedia commons, public domain)

The region was already shaken on February 19 when 96 graves were daubed with swastikas at a Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, northwest of Strasbourg.

“There is no doubt this was an intentional act,” Thierry Roos, spokesman for the Israelite Consistory of the Lower Rhine region, was quoted as saying by local newspaper Dernieres Nouvelles d’Alsace.

“They wanted to erase the memory of the synagogue on quai Kleber by destroying it twice,” Roos said.

Jewish Agency head Isaac Herzog released a statement Saturday, lamenting the attack and calling for action against rising anti-Semitism.

“The Jewish Agency is shocked by the event in Strasbourg today and calls for a stringent action against the waves of hatred against Jews,” the statement read. “The destruction of the monument in memory of the synagogue that was destroyed during World War II by the Nazis must shock members of all faiths, and is another indication of the difficult chain of events sweeping European soil.”

The main mosque in Strasbourg in a statement said the incident had provoked “sadness, disgust, anger and revulsion” among its members.

It quoted the mosque’s president Said Aalla as condemning “this new anti-Semitic act with the greatest firmness.”

A picture taken on February 19, 2019, shows swastikas painted on graves at a Jewish cemetery in the French town of Quatzenheim close to the German border (Frederick FLORIN / AFP)

A surge in anti-Semitic violence and hate speech has prompted soul-searching for many in France, which has long wrestled with its history of discrimination and prejudice against Jews.

The number of anti-Jewish offenses reported to police rose to 541 last year from 311 in 2017, after falling for two years.

Dozens of Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated, and swastikas have been found scrawled on the doors of people’s homes. One elderly Holocaust survivor was even murdered in a grisly attack thought to be motivated in part by anti-Semitism.

Rabbi Nissim Sultan of Grenoble, France (Screencapture/Dailymotion)

Rabbi Nissim Sultan of Grenoble said this week that half of the regular members of the Jewish community in the city in eastern France have left due to anti-Semitism.

France, home to Europe’s biggest Jewish community, hopes that curbing incendiary hate speech online and an increased focus on anti-racism education will help cut down on the vandalism and threats.

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