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Fires Strike Synagogue, Store in Resort Town in Switzerland

This week’s fires in a synagogue and a Jewish-owned clothing store here are being called rare acts of anti-Semitic violence in Switzerland. “This kind of violence against Jewish institutions in Switzerland is new. Nobody remembers a similar act,” said Thomas Lyssy, a spokesman for the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities.

Police are investigating both cases of suspected arson. Both fires were set on Sunday night and the leader of the local Jewish community said both were acts of anti-Semitism.

The mayor of the city, Giorgio Giudici, condemned the attacks.

The fire at the synagogue in the resort town near the Italian border caused considerable damage, destroying the library before firefighters put it out.

The store was completely destroyed, Etti Stein told JTA from Los Angeles.

Stein’s sister, Pagit Schreiber, lives in Lugano. Her in-laws own the store.

“She’s very, very upset,” Stein said.

Hans Stutz of the Foundation Against Racism and Anti-Semitism told the Swiss Telegraphic Agency that this was the first fire set in a Swiss synagogue in the last 25 years.

But synagogues have been smeared with anti-Semitic slogans and swastikas: in Lausanne in April 2003, in Geneva in February 1998 and in Lugano in 1996. The worst anti-Semitic incident occurred in 2001 in Zurich, when a rabbi was stabbed by an unknown assailant.

Eli Bollag, the chairman of the Jewish community in Lugano and a member of the City Council, said that he was sad and angry over the fires: sad about the stupidity that lies at the origins of the fires and angry at the cowardice of the perpetrators, who chose to attack such a small Jewish community.

Orthodox Jews have lived in Lugano since World War I. At the end of World War II, the city was home to more than 1,000 refugees.

There are now only about two dozen members of Lugano’s Jewish community, and about 500 Jews in the region.

(JTA Foreign Editor Peter Ephross in New York contributed to this report.)

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