Austrian leaders have condemned the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in the eastern part of the country that was described as the largest such act of vandalism since the end of World War II.
President Thomas Klestil voiced abhorrence at the incident, in which vandals daubed swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans on 80 of the 120 graves at Eisenstadt, a once-thriving Jewish community on the Hungarian border.
Similar sentiments were voiced by Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky after the desecration was discovered Saturday morning. Police found a pamphlet signed by the “Racist Socialist Aryan Resistance Movement” saluting the head of the right-wing Freedom Party, Jorg Haider. Tombstones were sprayed with “Hitler forgot too many” and other anti-Semitic slogans. Police urged the public to phone in any information on the incident over a special hotline.
Only a few Jewish families today live in Eisenstadt, whose Jewish museum reflects the long history of the community.
Jewish communal leaders visited the cemetery and condemned the vandals’ act of barbarism. “Jews have always been the first victims of xenophobia, but never the last,” said Paul Grosz, president of the Austrian Jewish community.
Although top government leaders condemned the vandalism, Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal expressed his dismay that it took them over 48 hours to do so.
Public action was proposed by the chairman of the Green-Alternatives in the Vienna City Council, Peter Pilz, who called on prominent politicians to join in cleaning the cemetery site.
Freedom Party leader Haider distanced himself from the deed but said the government and its coalition partners encouraged such acts by opposing his policies. The right-wing figure recently offered a 12-point program for restricting the influx of foreigners into Austria.
Local police forces had been alerted by federal security authorities that right-wing extremists were planning actions on the occasion of the 42nd anniversary of Kristallnacht on Nov. 9, when synagogues in Germany and Austria were torched.