When the pickup truck with the two shady-looking characters pulled away from the curb, Michael Kor saw something straight out of Buchenwald.
A survivor of the Nazi concentration camp, Kor, 75, works as a guide at the local Holocaust museum in Terre Haute, Ind. As the two visitors left last Thursday afternoon, he noticed an unusual decal on their truck.
“What struck me as strange was — at the back of the glass on the cab — a Nazi eagle,” he said.
Just after midnight Tuesday, the tiny CANDLES Holocaust Museum — the name stands for Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors — burned to the ground in what officials say probably was an arson attack.
The Midwest office of the Anti-Defamation League offered a $2,500 award for information while an investigation got under way by the Indianapolis office of the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and local police and fire officials.
Law enforcement officials would not comment on Kor’s encounter.
While investigators have unearthed some leads, they still lack sufficient evidence to make arrests, Vigo County Prosecutor Bob Wright told JTA.
At the site of the razed museum, investigators found what is believed to be a fire accelerant and the phrase “Remember Timothy McVeigh” scrawled on one brick wall.
The Oklahoma City bomber, part of a group that adhered to a vision elucidated in a racist, anti-Semitic tract called “The Turner Diaries,” was put to death in Terre Haute’s federal prison on June 11, 2001.
“Around here, people are more familiar with that name than you would be in New York,” Wright said.
The attack stunned the community, where about 200 Jews live and where there is one synagogue, the Reform United Hebrew Congregation, Wright said.
“This is Middle America. I would never have suspected this museum would have been targeted by any type of group,” Wright said. “I don’t know of any incident that has occurred in this county that would have caused one to believe this kind of thing could happen.”
Kor said he grew suspicious when two men came into the museum 20 minutes before closing and looked around but seemed uninterested in hearing about the Holocaust.
When he asked one of the pair if he’d heard of Auschwitz or the death camps, “he said ‘Not really’ with a kind of grin,” Kor said.
Meanwhile, the community has rallied around Kor’s wife, museum founder Eva Mozes Kor, 69, who was among thousands of Jewish children subjected to medical experiments by Dr. Josef Mengele in Auschwitz.
In the two days since the attack, Mozes Kor said, she has received more than 80 phone calls of support. The local council of churches, the synagogue and a local radio station were scheduling candlelight vigils at the site, located near a busy highway.
“If these people tried to stop what we were doing, they have succeeded in doing the exact opposite,” she said.
Several people already have given her money to rebuild the museum. Mozes Kor estimated the damage at $350,000, which insurance likely would not cover, she said.
Mozes Kor, a real-estate agent, founded the 4,500-square-foot museum in a former print shop in 1995. The museum’s education director, Mary Wright, said 2,300 students visited the museum in the first six months of 2002. About 10,000 people visit in a typical year, Mozes Kor said.
She said she mainly tries to explain the Holocaust from a child’s point of view.
“When I was in Auschwitz, the whole world was the camp. To me it was all about how to organize another piece of bread, or how to survive another experiment,” Mozes Kor said. Among the few museum objects that survived the fire were a partly melted silver cup that Mozes Kor salvaged from Auschwitz and a damaged Nazi helmet.
Anti-Semitic attacks in the Midwest have become rare, said Richard Hirschhaut, the ADL’s Midwest director, who is based in Chicago.
In 2002, the ADL recorded 48 anti-Semitic incidents in Illinois, up from 31 a year earlier; 23 in Wisconsin, up from 20; four in Minnesota, down from 18; three in Indiana, one less than in 2001; and none in North Dakota or South Dakota.
The fire “ranks as among the most serious episodes” in the area since 1999, Hirschhaut said, when white supremacist Benjamin Smith went on a shooting spree in Illinois and Indiana, killing two and injured nine, including two religious Jews.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.