BOSTON (Apr. 22)
On what would have been Adolf Hitler’s 104th birthday, a Jewish cemetery and a temple were vandalized early Wednesday morning in separate suburbs north of Boston.
More than 100 gravestones in a section of the Everett (Mass.) Jewish Cemeteries were overturned, and many were spray-painted with swastikas, the emblem of Nazi Germany.
The Everett High School and a Vietnameseowned convenience store were also defaced, with racist slogans, such as “Niggers are Apes” and “Gooks Get Out.”
Further north in the town of Peabody, Temple Ner Tamid was covered with anti-Semitic graffiti, swastikas and the word “Jude,” which is German for “Jew.”
Police could not immediately determine whether the various incidents were connected.
In the Everett Cemeteries, the perpetrators’ ultimate message was impossible to miss. It was spray-painted clearly on the side of one building, which read: “Happy Birthday, Adolph” (sic).
According to Dorothy and Eugene Green, the caretakers of the cemetery, the damage was discovered at approximately 4 a.m. Wednesday, during a routine “pass-through” by the Everett police. The Greens were contacted at 5:30 a.m., and by 6 a.m., the police had begun searching for clues.
Stanley Kaplan, president of the Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts, said that out of the 30 burial grounds contained within the Everett Jewish Cemeteries, the ones damaged were the Berson Cemetery and the Dorchester Hebrew Helping Hand Cemetery.
The timing of the incidents, occurring during a week of Holocaust observances culminating in the dedication Thursday of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, has left little doubt the cemetery desecration was an act of anti-Semitism.
“From the damage I’ve seen and from the date and from what’s going on and from the hate symbols, this is definitely a deliberate act,” said one Everett policeman, ruling out the possibility of this being a random act committed by youths.
“Everything is connected,” said Cantor Sam Pessaroff of Peabody’s Temple Ner Tamid. “It was planned to happen on Hitler’s birthday, to show that these feelings are still around. People are leaving our temple in tears. I can’t even describe the way we feel.”
‘IT’S JUST WRONG’
Pessaroff said the temple has decided to leave the graffiti up for an undecided amount of time, so people will be forced to view it.
“You have to see it in person to get the true effect,” he said. “I mean you can read about it in the paper and watch it on the news, but only when you see it for yourself does the real anger come out. We’re frightened.”
The school department in Everett has already begun planning an educational program to begin next week, when the students return from spring break, to “relieve any tensions between the students,” said Frederick Forestiere, superintendent of schools.
If the vandals were Everett students, then “it’s no more than a handful of them,” said Forestiere, adding, “We’ve never seen anything like this before.”
A liquor bottle found on the cemetery grounds and whatever fingerprints could be obtained from the overturned gravestones were the only immediate clues the police had at their disposal.
But the police already have a general idea of possible suspects, according to Police Chief James Bonnell.
“Obviously we’re looking for at least three, probably more, but no more than 10,” said Bonnell. “You have to have at least that much of a group for the strength needed to turn over this type of stone.”
Bonnell said the police do not believe the vandalism was spontaneous, but that it was also not an act that was carefully planned out over time. He said the police were determined to make an arrest as soon as possible.
But to people with family buried within the walls of the desecrated cemeteries, the police response was hardly a consolation.
“I feel horrible,” said Michael Schlafman, whose father, aunt and cousins are buried there. “I mean, these poor people didn’t hurt anyone, and they’re already gone. What good does it do? It’s a terrible thing, and it just doesn’t stop. It just goes on and on and on.”
Larry Rosenfield heard about the damage to the cemeteries on the early morning news and rushed there instead of going to his office Wednesday morning. Though he found his relatives’ graves untouched, it did little to calm him.
“I don’t feel any more at ease about the situation that took place just because (my family’s graves) were left alone,” he said. “When you come to your final place, you expect peace and rest, and instead you find vandalism? It’s just wrong.”