Hate Rising: Holocaust Memorial in Thessaloniki Painted With Swastikas

FILE - A woman places flowers on a rail at the old train station in Thessaloniki, Greece, on (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

With anti-Semitism in Greece – a country rated among the worst for discrimination – picking up, a noted Holocaust memorial in Thessaloniki, whose Jewish population was essentially wiped out by the Nazis, was defaced for the second time in a year.

The work by famed sculptor Nandor Gild, which was finished in 1997 after his death by is son, Daniel, was vandalized with black spray-painted swastikas, the latest hate crime, the Jewish News Syndicate (JNS) reported. The perpetrators have yet to be identified.

The vandalism apparently came during violent anti-government protests on Dec. 17 during which police used tear gas and a water cannon to disperse protesters in a city which before World War II had one of the world’s important Jewish populations.

The Israeli embassy in Athens and the World Jewish Congress condemned the defacing.

“Turning Jews into scapegoats for events that they have absolutely no responsibility for is the absolute expression of anti-Semitism. Such incidents by extreme nationalist circles must be condemned by all and the aggressors must finally be led before justice,” the embassy said, JNS reported.

“It is alarming and disgraceful that a monument honoring the memory of Jews who perished in the Holocaust should become a routine target for those espousing vile expressions of hatred and anti-Semitism,” said WJC CEO and Executive Vice President Robert Singer.

He said the WJC was urging “the authorities in Europe to make good on their Dec. 6 declaration to fight anti-Semitism and develop a common security approach to protect Jewish communities, and to take every possible measure to curb this wave of incitement.”

Most of the city’s 60,000 Jews perished in the Holocaust and only about 1,200 now live in the city. The anti-Semitic Golden Dawn party, accused of using neo-Nazi methodology, is believed behind some of the attacks on Jewish and Holocaust symbols and cemeteries.

“We are extremely concerned by the steady rise of anti-Semitic vandalism facing the Jewish community in Greece and elsewhere in Europe,” said Singer. “

In January, the sculpture was also vandalized with the words Golden Dawn smeared on the base although the party, whose 15 lawmakers and dozens of members are in the fourth year of a trial on charges of running a criminal gang, didn’t take responsibility.

There were other acts this year, including the monument at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki marking the loss of Jewish students during the war sprayed with blue paint and hate slogans. It also designates the site of an old Jewish cemetery destroyed by the Nazis in 1942, part of the grounds where the school sits.

Only 12 days earlier, red paint was thrown at the Holocaust memorial in central Thessaloniki and the flowers surrounding it were destroyed. A month before that, vandals had destroyed nine marble Jewish tombstones in an Athens cemetery.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder in July expressed that “The consternation we feel following such a cowardly desecration is only compounded by the fact that this is not an isolated incident,” the Jerusalem Post reported.

“We will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki and in Greece to combat racism, antisemitism and hatred under difficult circumstances,” he said.

The vandalism then came as Greece joined 21 other countries sponsoring a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council denouncing anti-Semitism and Lauder urged Greece to “follow through on its commitment to combating antisemitism, and treat these incidents with utmost severity, concern, and action.”