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Vandals overturn 103 gravestones in Europe’s largest Jewish cemetery

BERLIN, Oct. 4 (JTA) – A violent attack on Europe’s largest Jewish cemetery has left 103 stones overturned and nearly a quarter of them irreparably damaged, according to the head of Berlin’s Jewish community. “I feel very, very bad and am very concerned,” Andreas Nachama said Monday. Police are investigating the incident at eastern Berlin’s Weissensee cemetery, which contains more than 100,000 stones. “It looks like an army invaded and attacked. It turns my stomach upside down,” said Nachama, who visited the site shortly after the vandalism was discovered. He said some 25 stones had been smashed. He added that a Berlin stonemason firm, hearing the news on the radio, has offered to lift the fallen stones free of charge. “I told the owner, ‘Don’t promise before you have seen it,’ ” Nachama said. “It is a disaster.” But the company has insisted, he said. Berlin has been plagued with a series of attacks on Jewish graves or memorials in recent years. A stone marking the spot from which tens of thousands of Jews were deported during World War II has been defaced and damaged three times since the end of 1997. Nearly a year ago, the gravestone of Heinz Galinksi, former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, was destroyed by a bomb. That unsolved crime led Galinski’s successor, the late Ignatz Bubis, to comment shortly before his death last summer hat he would rather be buried in Israel than in Germany. Nachama said the latest vandalism would “lead to a new discussion” about security for Jewish venues. Synagogues, Jewish cultural centers and even Jewish restaurants have police guards here and in many European cities. Reportedly, such venues here receive more threats related to Middle East politics than to right-wing extremism. But violent attacks by right-wing extremists are on the rise in Brandenburg, the former East German state that surrounds Berlin. Victims tend to be people who may appear to be foreign, often of African or Asian background. Jewish groups have joined with other minority advocacy organizations here to try to reach German youth who are susceptible to the anti-foreigner preachings of extremist political parties. Nachama said it was too soon to speculate on who might be responsible for the recent attack. The Weissensee cemetery currently is patrolled by several police cars, which pass its various entrances a few times per hour. It was protected during the Third Reich as a “symbol” of how Nazi Germany treated its Jewish heritage. Though the cemetery itself was relatively untouched during that time, nearly 60,000 Berlin Jews were deported to their deaths.