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Jewish Graves Vandalized in Rome

December 30, 1996
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Vandals desecrated a Jewish cemetery in Rome over the weekend, tearing Stars of David off some headstones.

One tomb was wrapped with barbed wire and swastikas were affixed to it.

And a sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei” — German for “work makes you free,” the words on the gates of Auschwitz — was placed near a cemetery chapel.

The vandalism in the Jewish section of the large Prima Porta cemetery was discovered Sunday morning by Jews who went to visit family graves.

Later that day, several hundred members of the Jewish community held a ceremony there to reconsecrate the site. The community issued a statement condemning the vandalism as a “vile profanation.”

“This act offends everyone,” said Franco Pavoncello, vice president of the Rome Jewish community.

Rome Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff said he believed that the desecration was “definitely the work of Nazi skinheads.”

Political leaders, including Rome Mayor Francesco Rutelli and Italy’s deputy prime minister, Walter Veltroni, condemned the vandalism and expressed solidarity with the Jewish community.

About 35,000 Jews live in Italy, some 15,000 of them in Rome. In recent years, there have been isolated incidents of vandalism in other Jewish cemeteries.

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