Jewish Heritage Report
Vol. I, No. 2 / Summer 1997
Vandalism and Theft Hit Jewish Monuments

Vandalism and Theft Hit Jewish Monuments

Vandals destroyed 52 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Smolensk, Russia, on the day of Russian Orthodox Easter. The desecrated headstones were turned over and broken and dozens of metal name-plates were ripped off the stones. According to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report, Viktor Vaksman, the head of the Smolensk Jewish community, said that the incident was a clear case of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitic incidents have become "sort of Easter tradition" in Smolensk. Last year, the Jewish community's office was burglarized on Easter Day, and its door was painted with a swastika and anti-Semitic slogans. Two years ago, a few dozen headstones were damaged at the cemetery. Then, the city hall paid to repair the damaged headstones. This year, they have again promised to perform this service.

ELSEWHERE in Russia, it was discovered in late April that vandals had desecrated 10 headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Rybinsk. Each of the desecrated headstones was daubed with a swastika, a skull and crossbones and the word "Jude" (German for Jew). It was unclear when the act of vandalism occurred because there are few visitors to the cemetery in winter, when the graves are covered by snow. The desecrated graves were discovered after a recent thaw. The Russian Jewish community called on local authorities and the federal public prosecutor to investigate the case.

Rybinsk, a city of 250,000, is located northeast of Moscow in the Yaroslavl region, whose governor voiced his commitment to counter anti-Semitism after last April's bombing of the Jewish community center in the city of Yaroslavl. The person responsible for the bombing, which caused no injuries but seriously damaged the center, was apprehended shortly after the governor took control of the investigation. The perpetrator was sentenced to three years in prison earlier this year.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that a 12th-century Torah scroll, along with dozens of manuscripts and rare books, has been reported missing from the Russian State Library. The first inventory of the library's manuscript and rare book collection in nearly 20 years revealed that more than 200 items have disappeared during that period, according to the daily newspaper, Moskovsky Komsomolets. One library employee said the books and manuscripts must have disappeared years ago and were "sold somewhere abroad." The employee, who spoke under a condition of anonymity, said the library -- the nation's largest -- had no money to conduct regular checks of its collections. The lack of funds had resulted in insufficient security and safety measures, the employee added. The Russian State Library, formerly known as the Lenin Library, is where the Schneerson Library has been stored for more than 70 years. The collection -- consisting of 12,000 volumes of books and manuscripts that had been collected by five generations of Lubavitcher rebbes -- was confiscated in the early 1920s by Soviet authorities and transferred to the Lenin Library. Lubavitch officials have been battling in the Moscow courts since 1990 for the return of the books. It remains unclear whether any portion of the Schneerson Library was among the missing items.

The World Jewish Congress reports that the pre-burial chapel at the Jewish cemetery at Cueta, where bodies are cleansed and prepared for burial, was recently set afire by unknown individuals. Cueta is a Spanish territorial enclave next to the city of Tetuan, Morocco.

Hungarian police reported on June 13th that a Jewish cemetery in the northern town of Balassagyarmat was desecrated ahead of a commemoration of Holocaust victims scheduled for the next day. Vandals smashed one tombstone and uprooted several others and painted swastikas and Nazi slogans over the tombstones and surrounding fence. The Federation of Jewish Communities expressed "shock" and said the incident was the result of the authorities' past failure to make full use of the law against "anti-Semites and racists."

A Jewish Telegraphic Agency report by Lee Yanowitch stated that a French court sentenced on April 24th four neo-Nazis for the 1990 desecration of 35 graves at a Jewish cemetery in the southern town of Carpentras. The court sentenced Olivier Fimbry, 26, and Patrick Laonegro, 29, who were identified as the ringleaders, to two years in prison, the maximum penalty under the law. Two other skinheads, Yannick Garnier and Bertrand Nouveau, both 27, each received 20-month sentences for their roles in exhuming the body of Felix Germon and impaling it on a beach umbrella. The four also desecrated 34 other graves during the nights of May 8-9, 1990. They were arrested last year after they confessed to the desecration of the Carpentras cemetery. A fifth member of the group was said to have died in a motorcycle accident.

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Updated: 24-Jul-98