NEW HAVEN (Jul. 5)
The total destruction by arson of two of the six yew trees that surround the New Haven Memorial to the Six Million was declared an unmitigated act of destruction with overtones of anti-Semitism by the New Haven Jewish Federation’s Community Relations Committee leadership, according to an article by Louise Etkind in the Connecticut Jewish Ledger.
The fires were spotted around 9:30 p.m. Sunday by a police patrol car, and a fire engine was summoned to put out the fires. The New Haven Police Department has carefully patrolled the Holocaust Memorial site, but does not keep a 24-hour guard there. The two trees were doused with a large amount of flammable material, which caused their total destruction, leaving only the remains of two charred stalks. Wood chips surrounding a third tree showed evidence of a small amount of burning, giving rise to the supposition that the perpetrators ran out of the flammable material in their efforts to cause deliberate destruction.
The arson squad is studying the charred evidence in hope that it will yield clues to the materials used, and the people involved, but expressed feelings that it would be most difficult to identify those who committed the crime.
While the Holocaust Memorial has been the target of vandalism three times before, each of those times involved removing the yew trees: the first time, two days before the October 1977 dedication, when the six trees were stolen, the second time in November 1977, removing two trees, and the third time, in early May, when the police stopped teenagers as they were about to yank the trees out again.
“This is totally different,” stated Malcolm Webber, Connecticut regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith in consultation with Community Relations Committee leadership. “One or more persons brought a flammable substance to the Memorial site and deliberately lit the fires. Since the act of fire is symbolic of the burning of bodies the concentration camps specialized in, the act of burning the trees of the Memorial has to symbolize an aggressive act of anti-Semitism.
“The fact that the destruction of the trees on the Memorial occurred on the fourth of July weekend, where youths are involved in setting off fireworks and small explosives, was probably a coincidence. The intent of the perpetrators was more than a teenage prank. The Independence Day weekend of our nation, which was founded because of religious bigotry overseas, was a particularly unfitting time for this act of hate.”
The charred remains of the two trees “will be deliberately left in place for 30 days,” stated Lew Lehrer, chairman of the New Haven Jewish Federation Holocaust Memorial Committee, “so that the citizens of New Haven will have the opportunity to see the evidence of religious bigotry.”