The French government vowed Tuesday to catch and prosecute vandals who splashed anti-Semitic graffiti across about 60 Jewish tombstones in a cemetery in Lyon overnight, the third such attack here since May.
The incident came on a day when a Jewish cemetery was found desecrated in the Czech Republic and when lawmakers in New Zealand condemned vandals who wrecked Jewish gravestones in two cemeteries and torched a Jewish prayer house in recent weeks — a sign that governments are struggling to contain anti-Jewish acts.
Haim Musicant, director general of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, said he saw no indication that the incidents were related.
“There is no international conspiracy. It’s just a sign of the times,” Musicant said.
Skinheads not faulted this time
Swastikas and references to Adolf Hitler were painted in black on headstones in La Mouche cemetery in Lyon, France’s second-largest city, the same burial site that was desecrated by skinheads in 1992. graffiti also covered a monument to Jewish World War II soldiers at the entrance to the cemetery.
There was no indication that skinheads were involved this time, authorities said, although a gathering of neo-Nazi skinhead sympathizers took place in France less than two weeks ago.
They also said there was no evidence to implicate young French Muslims, who have been blamed for some of the anti-Jewish attacks in recent years in France. Anti-Semitic attacks have increased in this country as tensions have risen between Israel and the Palestinians.
Authorities questioned two youths who were seen in the Lyon cemetery overnight, prosecutor Xavier Richaud said, but they were not under arrest.
Musicant said perpetrators of anti-Semitic violence in France were often young people with no memory or knowledge of the Holocaust, the systematic murder of 6 million Jews during World War II.
“The majority of those caught are young people, sometimes even children. The Holocaust is far for them. They have no idea what a catastrophe it was for the Jewish people and for the whole world.”
Government promises swift response
The crime drew swift condemnation from French President Jacques Chirac, and Justice Minister Dominique Perben visited the site to demonstrate how seriously the French government considered the case.
“The perpetrators of this outrage are being actively pursued,” Chirac said in a letter to Marcel Dreyfus, a local Jewish leader in Lyon. “They will be punished to the maximum extent of the law.”
In the Czech Republic, about 80 tombstones were found toppled at a Jewish cemetery in Hranice, a town about 185 miles east of Prague, police said Tuesday. Sigmund Freud’s brother, Julius, was buried there in 1858.
In Eastern Europe, dozens of Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized over the last year, although it is unclear whether the acts are driven by the traditionally strong anti-Semitic feeling in the region, an upsurge of anti-Israeli sentiment or both. Just last month, vandals overturned and destroyed gravestones at two Hungarian Jewish cemeteries.
But anti-Jewish attacks have not been limited to Europe and the Middle East. In the last several weeks, New Zealand has experienced the worst anti-Semitic attacks in its history: Vandals wrecked Jewish gravestones in two cemeteries and torched a Jewish prayer house.