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Jewish Cemeteries Vandalized in Newly Free Czechoslovakia

Crude anti-Semitism, principally by ultranationalists in Slovakia who identify with the wartime Nazi puppet state, has drawn a rebuke from Civic Forum, the largest political movement in the Czech region of the Czechoslovakian republic.

Jews too are fighting back against the racism and xenophobia building up in advance of the local elections to be held countrywide Nov. 23.

Civic Forum intervened in response to the vandalization early this month of a Jewish cemetery in the Slovak town of Nitra, about 75 miles northwest of Bratislava, the Slovak capital.

Gravestones were daubed with swastikas and anti-Jewish inscriptions were sprayed on the wall of a house of mourning.

The incident occurred only a few days after President Vaclav Havel unveiled a memorial to 93 Jewish families deported by the Nazis during the war from Dolny Kubin, a town about 100 miles northwest of Bratislava in the High Tatra Mountains.

Civic Forum, Havel’s party, reminded the public that one measure of a society’s dedication to democracy and tolerance is its approach to anti-Semitism.

Referring to the desecrations in Nitra, Civic Forum urged the public, Czech and Slovak alike, to spurn all utterances of a fascist nature and vigorously oppose incitement to intolerance, racial hatred and discrimination aimed against any group.

It denounced the vandalism as a shameful and barbarous act.

NATIONALIST EXCESSES IN SLOVAKIA

The vandalism in Nitra followed a series of nationalist excesses in Slovakia, connected with separatist demands for Slovakia’s independence and exclusive use of the Slovak language in regions inhabited by a large Hungarian minority.

An agreement was reached Nov. 5 by the prime ministers of the Czechoslovak federal government and both the Czech and the Slovak republics on the future distribution of powers.

It is expected to calm nationalist passions in Slovakia.

But displays of anti-Jewish, anti-Czech and anti-Hungarian sentiments are part of the pre-election campaign of the ultra-nationalists who harbor a nostalgia for the Nazi puppet state.

Meanwhile, Anti-Semitism is not the only motive for cemetery desecrations. The Jewish cemeteries in Roudnice, some 20 miles north of Prague, were left alone by the Nazis but are now being vandalized for building materials, dumping and possibly robbery, according to an article in the Nov. 4 New York Times Magazine by writer Helen Epstein, who returned to visit her family’s hometown.

Gravestones have been carted away for building materials from both the new cemetery, which dates from 1890, and the old Jewish cemetery, which dates back to 1611.

The new cemetery has been used as a dump by an auto mechanic, according to Jiri Tichy, a writer for the Prague weekly Respekt who spoke with Epstein.

Some graves were opened, Tichy said, postulating it was done by grave robbers.

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