Three anti-Semitic incidents reported in France this week are raising concern that the upsurge of neo-Nazi incidents in Germany may be spilling across the border.
The synagogue of Saint-Avoid, in eastern France, was the target of an arson attack. A 23-year-old local man, described by police as “an outcast,” broke into the premises Monday night and set ablaze the Ark and the Torah scrolls, also burning prayerbooks and the synagogue’s front benches.
Less than half an hour after the fire broke out, police arrested the young man, who readily admitted he was the arsonist.
“I hate Jews and capitalists,” he reportedly told the policemen.
Mahdi Hacene, the region’s highest civil administrator, immediately came to the synagogue at 3 a.m. to assess the damage.
In another incident in eastern France, almost 200 graves at the old Jewish cemetery of Herrlisheim, in Alsace, were vandalized. Some 193 headstones were overturned and about 50 broken, probably with iron bars. None of the graves was opened.
According to local police, the desecration was probably perpetrated by a group, not an individual, because most of the headstones were too heavy to be overturned by a single person.
No graffiti or other inscriptions were found in the cemetery. The Herrlisheim cemetery is almost out of use and is not open to the public. The visitors must ask for the key at the local town hall or at the cemetery keeper’s.
The vandals knew they did not risk being caught red-handed.
Once the desecration was discovered, numerous high-ranking French officials visited the cemetery. The chairman of the regional assembly, Jean-Jacques Weber, said that “the size of the damages rules out that this was just some stupid game and substantiates the idea that this was done out of anti-Semitic hatred.”
Pierre Dreyfus, the local representative of CRIF, the representative body of French Jewish organizations, asked, “When will those profaners leave the dead rest in peace?”
“The culprits must be arrested, justice must be done,” Dreyfus said.
In another incident, three Skinheads were caught Saturday night in Paris in the French capital’s garment center, a largely Jewish business area. The shaven- headed youths were posting anti-Semitic pamphlets claiming that “Hitler was right.”
According to the police, the pamphlets, while written in French, were probably printed in the United States.
The three will be brought to court in coming days.
Jean Kahn, president of CRIF, said, “One cannot but draw a parallel with the racist events of Rostock (Germany). The recent declarations of (French extreme- right wing leader) Jean-Marie Le Pen are also an incitement to racial hatred.”
Le Pen, who heads the ultranationalist National Front, has been campaigning against France’s ratification of the Maastricht treaty on a unified Europe.
Last month, during his campaign, he said, “Those who say they are in favor of secure and recognized borders for Israel are also the ones who want to destroy the borders of France.”
The latest anti-Semitic incidents in France were condemned Tuesday by French anti-racist organizations.
And the leaders of the Jewish community of Alsace decided to demonstrate Sunday near the Herrlisheim cemetery. French officials of the region already announced they would participate.