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Jewish cemetery vandalized in Russian city of Smolensk

MOSCOW, May 4 (JTA) — Vandals destroyed 52 headstones last week at a Jewish cemetery in Smolensk, a city of 280,000 in western Russia. The desecrated headstones were turned over and broken. Dozens of metal name-plates were ripped off the stones. Leaders of the 5,000-strong Jewish community of Smolensk called on local authorities to condemn the act of vandalism, which occurred on the day of Russian Orthodox Easter. Viktor Vaksman, the head of the Smolensk Jewish community, said in a telephone interview that the incident was a clear case of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitic incidents have become “a sort of Easter tradition” in Smolensk, Vaksman said. Last year, the Jewish community’s office was burglarized on Easter Day, and its door was daubed with a swastika and anti-Semitic slogans. Two years ago, a few dozen headstones were damaged at the same Jewish cemetery. “Then, the city hall paid to repair the damaged headstones. This year, they also promised to do that,” Vaksman said. However, local authorities do not want to attract public attention to the incident, he said. Smolensk television was asked by the police not to show the damaged tombstones in its newscast.