The Romanian ambassador to the United States has expressed his country’s “sorrow and consternation” for one of the worst attacks on a Jewish cemetery in Romanian history.
Romanian police said 12 boys — ranging in age from 9 to 14 — smashed 86 graves in Bucharest’ largest Jewish cemetery on June 15.
But on Tuesday, police said the boys had acted without malice oward Jews.
“The incident has no anti-Semitic character,” said police Col. Serban Stan, adding, “The underage children were not aware of the gravity of their acts.”
A police statement said the youths apparently sneaked into the cemetery to pick berries and “then played by kicking the headstones, which fell over and broke.”
Earlier reports said the headstones had been hit with sledgehammers and an iron club.
Jewish leaders said they doubted that the heavy granite and marble headstones could have been desecrated by children a play.
“It’s hard to believe small children playing could knock down dozens of massive headstone,” said Iulian Sorin, a leader of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania.
Earlier, Sorin had said of the desecration, “Not even during the war did such a thing happen.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, sent a letter last Friday to the Romanian ambassador to the United States, Mihail Botez.
In the letter, ADL urged Romania “to apprehend those responsible for the desecration of graves and to publicly denounce the anti-Semitism and racism which provoked this action.”
Foxman said ADL is concerned that “this horrific incident is further evidence of rising anti-Semitism and racism in Romania.”
In a response to Foxman, the ambassador wrote, “Words will hardly be able to express our sorrow and consternation over such acts of vandalism.”
Since the 1989 overthrow of communism, anti-Semitic acts have been more prevalent in Romanian, whose shrinking community of mostly elderly Jews numbers about 16,000.
About 400,000 Jews emigrated during the Communist rule of Nicolae Ceausescu.
Foxman also expressed concern in the letter about the increasing influence of extremist politicians and the efforts across Romania to officially honor fascist dictator Ion Antonescu.
During the 1940-1944 rule of the pro-Nazi Antonescu, more than 250,000 Jews died in territories controlling by Romania.
He was executed in 1946 in Romania as a war hero, but Jews around the world have been fearful that some government officials are rehabilitating his reputation.
Recently, statues of the fascist leader have been erected and some officials have described him as a patriotic hero for Romanians.