Vandals Damage Memorial at Concentration Camp Site
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Vandals Damage Memorial at Concentration Camp Site

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The desecration last weekend of a sculpture at Buchenwald comes amid a backdrop of increased attacks on concentration camps in Germany.

During the weekend, unknown assailants damaged the figure of a child by partially sawing through one of its legs. The child represents the 9,000 children who survived Buchenwald. An estimated total of 56,000 people died at the camp, including about 11,000 Jewish victims. The damage to the sculpture, which is located in a different section of the grounds than the main exhibition, was discovered Tuesday by visitors to the site.

The sculpture of 11 figures by artist Fritz Cremer, erected in 1958, depicts a group of liberated survivors of Buchenwald.

In a statement, memorial site director Volkhard Knigge said the attack was an attempt to damage and even obliterate the memory of the suffering of Nazi victims.

State authorities said they suspected right-wing extremists were responsible for the attack.

There have been repeated incidents of young right-wing extremists scrawling graffiti or flashing the Hitler salute at Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen, both of which are in the eastern part of Germany. In the early 1990s, one of the former prisoner barracks at Sachsenhausen burned down in an arson attack by right-wing radicals.

But this is the first time that a memorial for former Nazi prisoners has been damaged, according to Rikola-Gunner Luettgenau, the deputy director of the Buchenwald memorial site.

Earlier this month, police in the state of Brandenburg were asked to stop reporting incidents of right-wing graffiti at concentration camp memorials to the media. Authorities at the memorial fear publicity about such incidents has inspired similar acts in the past. In the past 18 months, at least 12 such acts have been reported at the memorial sites at Sachsenhausen and Ravensbruck.

Buchenwald has a private security service but authorities say the grounds are too large to allow permanent surveillance of the entire site. About half a million visitors each year visit the site, up from approximately 200,000 in the early 1990s.

Despite the growth in visitors, Buchenwald and other former Nazi concentration camp sites in Germany are underfinanced. Maintenance projects have been postponed, operating hours reduced and some research projects stopped due to financial difficulties.

Incidents attributed to right-wing extremists jumped by more than a third in Germany last year, according to the federal government. There were 976 anti- Semitic acts reported to federal authorities last year, as compared to 846 in 1996. Most were related to propaganda crimes, although there were 40 desecrations of Jewish cemeteries.

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