BERLIN, Nov. 25 (JTA) — A series of attacks on Sachsenhausen death march memorials is likely the work of one small anti-Semitic group, according to a German official. The attacks in the former East Germany appear to be taking place from the end of the death march route to the beginning, Gunter Morsch, director of memorials for the State of Brandenburg, told JTA in a telephone interview. He added that the perpetrators likely were “middle-aged anti-Semites, not those imbecilic skinheads.” In April 1945, the Nazis led concentration camp inmates on death marches deeper into Germany as the Soviet armies approached at the end of World War II. In the most recent act of vandalism, which took place earlier this month, the perpetrators destroyed a memorial to victims of a Sachsenhausen satellite camp in the eastern German town of Leegebruch, north of Berlin. The stone memorial, one of 12 erected in the 1950s, was dedicated to some 6,000 victims who worked in a wartime airplane factory there. The memorial was created by a Holocaust survivors’ association in East Germany that later was banned by the communist government, Morsch told JTA. “It was very unusual,” he said. The vandals “completely destroyed it.” Earlier this year, there were attacks on Holocaust and death-march memorials in the German towns of Raben-Steinfeld, Wobbelin and Boizenburg. On Sept. 5, the night before Rosh Hashanah, arsonists destroyed an exhibition room at a museum about the death marches in the Below Forest. The attack was similar to one in 1992 that nearly destroyed a barrack at the site of the former Sachsenhausen concentration camp. That crime also took place just before Rosh Hashanah. The barrack has been partially reconstructed as part of the Sachsenhausen memorial museum, but some of the charred original structure remains as a reminder of the damage vandals can inflict. Following the attack in the Below Forest, a team of crime experts was set up to investigate the rash of incidents in the former eastern states of Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. In Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the number of such crimes registered during the first half of 2002 nearly equaled the total for the entire previous year. In a few of the incidents, vandals placed pigs’ heads on Holocaust memorials. Morsch said there had been waves of such vandalism since the unification of East and West Germany in 1990. Few arrests have been made. Two young men from Hamburg were arrested Nov. 9 outside the exhibit at the Sachsenhausen memorial for displaying a swastika. The incident took place on the 64th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom against synagogues and other Jewish property in Germany and Austria. The youths had brought their girlfriends along for the day. “It often happens that way,” Morsch said, suggesting the young men had been showing off.
Toby Axelrod is JTA's correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee's Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week. She has won numerous awards from the New York Press Association and the American Jewish Press Association. She has published books on Holocaust history for teen-agers.